word craft


Summer Blog Series: Brian Floca

From Avi: As I did last sum­mer, I’ve invit­ed 13 admired mid­dle grade authors to write for my blog for the next three months. I hope you’ll tune in each Tues­day to see who has answered these three ques­tions. You should have a list of ter­rif­ic books to read and share and read aloud by the end of the sum­mer … along with new authors to follow!

Your favorite book on writing:

bk_writing_with_pictures_200pxMy favorite book on writ­ing, as my stu­dio mates may have heard too often, is Uri Shulevitz’s Writ­ing with Pic­tures. It’s addressed par­tic­u­lar­ly toward writ­ers and illus­tra­tors of pic­ture books. Shule­vitz is astute on ques­tions of sto­ry and form — on action vs. sto­ry, on how a read­er relates to a char­ac­ter, on pro­gres­sion, on pac­ing, on the inter­de­pen­dence of image and text, and on end­ings. (“A good end­ing should add focus and sig­nif­i­cance to the unfold­ing that has pre­ced­ed it.”) His writ­ing is clear, direct, at times a touch hard-nosed. The point of writ­ing is not to try to make your­self hap­py. (“When work­ing on your first book, you may ask: Am I hap­py with the book? Am I hap­py with the illus­tra­tions? These seem­ing­ly inno­cent ques­tions actu­al­ly shift the impor­tance from the book and the illus­tra­tions to your­self. A hap­py book will inevitably make a hap­py author. There­fore ask: Is the book hap­py? Are the illus­tra­tions hap­py?”) The point is not even, or at least not always, to imag­ine how you might make your read­er hap­py. (“Sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty, unfor­tu­nate­ly, is no help; in fact it is a hin­drance. Sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty does not replace the craft that is essen­tial in mak­ing good children’s books. Your first oblig­a­tion is to the book, not the audi­ence.”) The task is to under­stand and hon­or the sto­ry you are try­ing to tell. Only then, maybe, will you have a shot at pleas­ing both your­self and your reader.

Reading aloud from my books:

I read my pic­ture books aloud reg­u­lar­ly as I write them, again and again, revis­ing as I go, hop­ing to find the words and rhythm that work best for sto­ry and read­er. Which of my books I would rec­om­mend most changes depend­ing on my mood, but today I will say Moon­shot: The Flight of Apol­lo 11.

Where do you write most often?

Most writ­ing starts on what­ev­er scrap of paper I have at hand, as an idea or phrase enters my head. It may then move to a writ­ing pad on the table in my apart­ment or, in an effort to sep­a­rate myself from the dis­trac­tions of home, to a qui­et cof­fee shop. When I’m ready to start break­ing the text down page by page I enter it into a lay­out pro­gram, InDe­sign, on my com­put­er, so I can start to see and expe­ri­ence the sto­ry some­what as it will appear in book form. Much revis­ing ensues. Most of that hap­pens in the stu­dio I share in the Gowanus neigh­bor­hood of Brook­lyn with five oth­er pic­ture book authors and illus­tra­tors, Sophie Black­all, John­ny Mar­ciano, Doug Salati, Dasha Tol­stiko­va, and Row­boat Watkins, each of whom will prob­a­bly be asked to lend an eye at one point or anoth­er. After a lot of rework­ing, that lay­out will get print­ed and cart­ed back to the apart­ment or cof­fee shop for revi­sion and mark­ing up, and then the whole thing repeats. I’m not a quick writer.


About Bri­an’s recent book, Pub­lish­ers Week­ly said in a starred review, “With his sig­na­ture affec­tion for archi­tec­ture and keen sense of urban space, Calde­cott Medal­ist Flo­ca pays trib­ute to the front­line work­ers help­ing to make New York City run dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. Flo­ca brings pre­ci­sion and expert drafts­man­ship to ren­der­ings of work­ing vehi­cles, cen­ter­ing the heroes work­ing to get sup­plies out and save lives, and to the equip­ment that helps them do it.”

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