|Reprinted with permission from Twelve Dancing Unicorns © 2014 by Alissa Heyman, |
Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Illustrations by Justin Gerard.
My editor felt that retelling this fairy tale with unicorns instead of princesses would be a fresh and appealing approach and asked me to come up with an idea for an adaptation. I was intrigued by unicorn mythology, especially the lore behind the famous medieval Unicorn Tapestries, which led me to explore the idea of captivity and the role of young maidens in taming these wild creatures. I wanted to have a strong female protagonist who had a special bond with the unicorns.
2. Most people don't realize just how difficult picture book writing is because of the length restrictions. How do you keep things short while still telling a full story?
I write more than I have to and then I pare it down, figuring out what is essential. I write poetry, and poetry, with its necessary concision, is perfect training for writing picture books.
3. Do you write other genres?
I write poetry and prose for all ages.
4. Do you have a favorite fairy tale?
I’ve written poems based on some of my favorite fairy tales—Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, and Rapunzel, among others. I also enjoy Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales and Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince.”
5. How do you know if a picture book idea might work?
I think an idea works if it has a strong story, memorable characters, appealing, age-appropriate writing, and is something that would interest young children.
6. Tell me about some authors who have inspired your own writing.
Paul Zelinsky’s Rapunzel has inspired me because it is such a beautiful retelling of the fairy tale. Also fantasy writers such as J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, Lloyd Alexander, and Susan Cooper, because of the way they create completely believable worlds in which to explore human nature.
7. What’s next for you?
I’m working on several picture books, a collection of poetry, and a young adult novel.