What Will It Be, Penelope? (Skyhorse Publishing, June 2013) is member Tori Corn’s picture book debut. With equal doses of humor and playful illustration, What Will It Be, Penelope? tells the story of a girl who has trouble making up her mind. Tori lives in New York City, where her book was chosen for the city’s early learning program reading list.
Are you indecisive like Penelope in What Will It Be, Penelope?
Not when it comes to important things. I tend to have trouble deciding silly things like what color notebook to buy! Unlike Penelope, if I have trouble deciding which flavor ice cream I want, I order two flavors!
Did you get to decide what the illustrations in your books would be of? What about the speech bubbles in What Will It Be, Penelope?
A lot of people are surprised when I explain that the publisher chooses the illustrator, not me. When I write picture books, I envision what my characters are doing on every page. I include a lot of illustration notes, especially when my story calls for a wordless spread. For instance, in Dixie Wants an Allergy, Dixie has delusions of grandeur, so as soon as she hears that her friend—who has a food allergy—gets a special meal at a restaurant, she imagines that the special meal is something grand. I asked for an over-the-top illustration of Dixie imagining herself at a restaurant being served food on silver platters. The illustrator, Nancy Cote, did a wonderful job of making my vision of Dixie come to life!
How long did it take for you to find an agent and publisher?
When I began going to writing conferences, I had many opportunities to send my manuscripts to many agents, but I only sent them to people who seemed genuinely interested in me and my work. I mostly sent my manuscripts to editors so it took about five years for me to find an agent. Once I signed with Liza Fleissig, she sold two manuscripts within a few months.
How old are your kids? Have they read your picture books?
I have three kids who are 17, 14 and 12 years old. They used to enjoy reading my manuscripts, but now that they’re older, they have better things to do. They usually run in the other direction when I ask them to read something!
How do you balance writing with spending time with your kids?
My kids are in school all day so I have plenty of time to write. However, sometimes I’m so immersed in my writing, I don’t want to stop and that can be frustrating for my family, especially when they want immediate attention!
Your picture book Dixie Wants an Allergy will be released in 2014. What can you tell us about this book?
These days, so many children—including my son—have allergies, so I thought it would be a good idea to write a funny story that puts a positive spin on the subject. Dixie Wants an Allergy is a funny story about a girl who thinks that having an allergy has perks, so she wants one. Of course she ends up getting an allergy and she isn’t happy. The book teaches children that the grass isn’t necessarily greener and to watch what they wish for!
Can you tell us what the YA historical fiction novel you’re working on is about?
My YA historical fiction novel takes place in Europe during World War II. It’s an inspiring and positive story that focuses on the power of love and courage.
Have you illustrated any books?
I have taken picture book illustration classes at The School of Visual Arts and I would like to illustrate my picture books, but I’m hooked and focused on my writing right now. I did illustrate the cover of my website and I’d love to write and illustrate a story about those mice! It’s on my long list of future projects!
Marlena Idrobo interned for Women Who Write during the summer of 2013. She was a sophomore at Wellesley College, where she is majoring in Latin American studies. She is interested in both journalism and creative writing and writes for her campus newspaper.