Author Spotlight: Bridget Heos
Welcome back to Picture Book Spotlight! Thank you for stopping by this little nook of the internet. Nook. What a great word. But that's not why you're here. You're here to read about how awesome Bridget Heos is! At least...that's why I'm here. Enough of all that.
Time to spotlight the phenomenal, mustache queen herself! Please welcome Bridget Heos!
What’s something you absolutely must have in your refrigerator or pantry?
Salad! I feel best when I eat my veggies (though I like not-so-healthy foods, too.)
Name three things you can’t do your job without.
I couldn't be a children's book writer without the kids who read my books, the grownups who share my books, and the team that helps produce the books and get them out into the world.
Where do you feel most inspired and why?
Right now, I’m feeling most inspired in schools. They are places with one goal: to build up kids. All the ingenious ways they do that—from the gold standards they instill to the quiet down songs they sing to the special words for rough drafts to the coats they provide—it never ceases to amaze me.
I’m also a proud Kansas City dweller. What’s something you love about living in the Paris of the Plains?
I love how friendly and open-minded people are. Cool that you also live here in Kansas City!
What does a workday involve for you?
When I'm not doing a school visit, I'll start the day at 8, either researching or writing. I'll do that for 4 hours. At some point I'll take a break to run or do yoga. Then at the end of the day, I'll email. If I have lots of pressing emails, marketing, or other business matters, I'll spend the whole day doing that. By 4pm, my kids are home, and I shift gears.
Your website outlines an impressive curriculum of options with your school visits. It’s evident you're very passionate and intentional about your time in schools. What is your favorite workshop to do? How have your author visits evolved over your career?
Thank you! I love school visits! Starting out, I only offered the STRONGER THAN STEEL AND STRANGER THAN FICTION presentation because, at that time, I only wrote nonfiction. It was chalk full of amazing facts about our wondrous world, with the purpose being to get kids excited about nonfiction. With MUSTACHE BABY AND MORE, I kept some of that but added a fiction component. I talk about the process of writing because teachers like kids to see how their own school-based writing process mirrors other writers’—and it does! I also encourage kids to see the stories in their own lives—a worldview that has been helpful to me. As the heroes of our stories, we can push through tough times to get to a happy ending or to accept a difficult reality that is only part of our story. I offer some other presentations, too. Through it all, I consider my top two jobs to be to entertain and to speak from the heart. If kids are falling asleep, they won't get anything out of the presentation. (Unless, they really, really needed the sleep.) If I don’t speak from the heart, then what is the point of me being there? At the end, I love the questions.
Tell us about an unforgettable moment (whether good or bad) that you experienced at a school visit.
Well, I do an interactive demonstration about what it's like to try to sell your story to an editor in New York. The kids come up front, and one acts as the author, and the others, as the editors. The author asks each editor, "Will you buy my story?" All the editors say no, except for the last, who says yes. The lesson is to persevere when people tell you no. But one time, the boy who was being told no started crying. I felt terrible. He bravely pushed through until he got to the last editor, who said yes, and our intrepid author was so, so happy and the kids and teachers were all cheering! It was the most touching re-enactment I’ve ever seen.
As I write this question, my son is sporting a stegosaurus onesie...that feels like fate. I loved Stegothesaurus so much. Definitely on my list of favorites from 2018. I have to wonder...how in the world did you come up with the idea for this book?! Have you played around with any other dinosaur themed English language mashups? Is this a standalone or are there other Stego books in the mix?
I’ve seen the picture on Twitter of you with your brand new tiny little baby dinosaur-so sweet! And I love this twist of fate! Maybe he’ll like reading STEGOTHESAURUS someday. I tell kids that STEGOTHESAURUS took me a week to write, but also 30 years. In 5th grade, I had a teacher, Mrs. Lynn, who loved synonyms and the thesaurus. As you can imagine being a writer yourself, I felt quite at home in her class. At some point, all these years later, it got in my head that stegosaurus sounds just like thesaurus, so that's how the mashup happened. Yes, a second book is in the works, which is also about a dinosaur with a language arts concept incorporated into his name, but for now, it’s a secret!
Stegothesaurus was definitely a story for the writers. For word lovers. But I also noticed a fairly hefty theme of anti-conformity and embracing your own self expression. Was that an intentional element of the story, or am I reading too much into that?
Yes, it's there! One of my favorite themes in stories is learning to fit in by being yourself. To some extent, we all must fit in because we all need love and companionship. But no one can tell you where or how to fit in. In some stories, the character needs to leave an unaccepting environment; in other cases, they are surprised to be embraced within their home community by more fully living their truth. In STEGOTHESAURUS, it's the second version. One reader told me that while she was sharing it with her grandson, he asked, “Is he going to be made fun of?” I guess I wanted kids to see a version where that didn’t happen.
I’m so glad to see mustache baby continuing his adventures. Tell us a little about what we can expect in Arrr, Mustache Baby!
I’m so happy to see the series continue, too! It’s hard to express how important MUSTACHE BABY has been both in my professional and family life. In ARRR, MUSTACHE BABY, Billy and Javier are co-captains sailing through the neighborhood swimming pool. Then they encounter pirate babies! Can they keep their cool--and their good guy mustache and beard? I doubt it!
The concept of a baby with a mustache is wonderfully absurd in the best way possible. Beyond being inspired by your boys, what is the genesis of a baby with a mustache?
The idea came from the cover of the book CRASH, by Jerry Spinelli. I was in the library with my (then) first grade son and his friends, and they started falling on the floor laughing at the picture on the cover. I'd just finished reading 100 popular fiction picture books in hopes of writing one of my own. Now, it was like the old saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I was just a little surprised that the teacher would be a baby with a mustache! (P.S. that 1st grader is now 16!)
The body of your work is overwhelmingly nonfiction, which is how you got started as a writer. Talk to us a little bit about the difference in process for writing fiction vs. nonfiction. Are you hoping to spend more time with fiction in the future? Which gives you more joy?
For me, nonfiction is like building a real bridge, and fiction is like building a pretend bridge that still must be crossable. The real bridge is more labor intensive, but the pretend bridge often doesn’t work! When it’s going well, I love writing fiction. But sometimes I prefer the straightforward (but every bit as wondrous) nature of facts.
What advice or encouragement do you have to offer querying authors, and authors timid about even starting the querying process?
For me, the goal has always been to make a living at this. That puts the focus on my entire body of work, and not any one manuscript. A lot of stuff I write still gets rejected. Sometimes it makes me sad because the character is based on one of my kids, or it's a story that started out as a tell-aloud story that they loved. But if it doesn't sell, it doesn't sell, and then I have to write something else. I guess this is to say, most people get rejected most the time. It's something I plan on and then am pleasantly surprised when it doesn't happen. Maybe that will take some of the pressure off.
What are some picture books that have come out recently that inspire you?
As a writer who mostly writes comedy, I really identify with your voice. You also have a great balance of heart and humor, and I find that challenging to achieve in my own work. I find that a funny book without a driving emotional through-line can’t go the distance. When you’re developing the architecture of the story, how do you ensure you have a good mix of both heart and humor?
Well, thank you. All my picture books are based on real life, to some extent. Humor is just a way of seeing things. It doesn’t go away when you’re sad or scared or bursting with love for someone. I don't see it as, "Whew, everything's fine. We can laugh now." If that was the case, when would you ever get the chance to laugh? Give us a zoomed-out view on your writing process from initial spark of inspiration to finished form. For fiction, it starts with what I think of as a two-part spark. The first spark may be the title character—STEGOTHESAURUS. Then I ask, what does it mean to be a STEGOTHESAURUS? If there is no answer—no second spark, then there is no story, or, at least, not for now. If there is an answer, which hopefully comes in the form of a nice neat plot, then I write the story. It starts with a sloppy copy (one of those school terms that I love.) Next, I’ll revise it about 100 times. Finally, I’ll turn it in to my agent or (if it’s already been sold) the editor. The editor may want a completely new story, or perhaps just a new ending. I’ll do that, and then it goes to the illustrator, who brings it to life! This is, of course, the best-case scenario. As I stated before, almost everything gets rejected. But hope springs eternal!
As we dive headlong into 2019, what are some goals you have for yourself personally and your career?
My career goal has always been the same: to make a living as a writer. Personally, it’s to have quiet time after dinner so that we can get all our quiet family stuff done, from speech therapy to homework to reading.
What are you currently working on that you can tell us about?
MUSTACHE BABY videos! I’m working on promoting the books, and have discovered Animoto, which is a fun way to create videos, and they have all these great songs that I love to pair with the videos. Of course, I have to listen to all 50,000 of them. I’m impressed by all the niches artists find for their beautiful works. Plus, there are the school visits—100 in 2019-20! I haven’t been writing as much, but it all feels creative, and I love it.
What do you think of the state of kid lit at this moment in history?
I think a lot of truths have been brought to light, from the demand for diverse kids' books and Own Voices to gender bias in the Caldecott’s and author-illustrator promotion. How will this be seen through the lens of history? Hopefully as a time when assumptions were set aside, doors were opened,