Today we welcome Joe McGee and his new picture book Peanut Butter & Brains: A Zombie Culinary Tale, published by Abrams. Joe is a member of the Allies in Wonderland and describes himself as: “Quirky, weird, dark and bizarre...those are the words most used to describe what I write, whether it be a picture book, a middle-grade novel, or a YA book. I've known I wanted to write and publish since the fourth grade and now I'm forging new worlds, one word at a time.”
"BRAINSSSSS! moan the zombies as they shuffle through Quirkville, scaring the townspeople. But Reginald isn't like the other zombies.
The only thing that Reginald's stomach rumbles for is sticky peanut butter and sweet jelly. He tries to tell his zomby pals that there's more to life than just eating brains, but they're not interested.
Can Reginald find a way to bring peace to Quirkville and convince the other zombies that there's nothing better than PEANUT BUTTER & JELLYYYYY?
Peanut Butter & Brains is a delicious tale about being true to yourself that will make readers hungry for more.
What was the spark that ignited this idea?
My middle son, Logan, was going through a tough time where he was apparently not wearing the sneakers that all the "cool kids" were wearing (which were, incidentally, lest you are 9 and not wearing the proper sneakers, Lebron James sneakers) and so he was being teased and given a hard time by other kids. It really bothered him and so, it bothered me. Up until this time, he had never seemed to care about doing what everyone else was doing and I have pretty much NEVER cared about doing what everyone else was doing, and so it really struck a chord. Since we both love zombies, I started thinking about zombies, and about people who just shuffle along with what everyone else is doing, and I was hungry for peanut butter (because I seriously crave peanut butter) and .... BAM! Story idea. WHAT IF (favorite words EVER) there were a zombie who did NOT want to eat brains like the rest of the crowd...but wanted peanut butter and jelly instead? And there you have it, story inspiration.
Tell us about selling this book.
This is such a funny and bizarre business (and I really mean that in the best sense). But it's like this carnival game of skill and luck and daily weather phenomena. Imagine trying to throw a ring on a bowling pin while riding a llama...and then a pre-tornado wind kicks up. You had a much better chance before that tornado rolled in...and is your llama hungry? Tired? Irritable? My point is, there are SO many variables. We had a lot of editors who loved the writing, but were so afraid to touch zombies. "Zombies in a picture book? No thank you. We'd love to see what else Joe is working on, though." And that's ok. I can respect that. It just takes the right person to get it. And Abrams got it. They said, "zombies...in a picture book? Where do we sign?" So, it was just a matter of finding a publisher who was willing to take a risk on a new picture book author who was writing about zombies. We sold the book pretty quickly, I think within a couple weeks of going out on sub. My agent is Linda Epstein, of the Jennifer DeChiara Lit agency and she ROCKS! You can imagine I was estatic when she told me. I was in 4th grade when I was one of only a few kids from my school invited to a regional "Young Authors' Day" and I swore I was going to become a published author. Well, now it's happening. And this is only the start.
Can you give us a nugget of craft advice?
I think one of the greatest things we can do as writers and as people, is to trust ourselves. Listen to what your heart is telling you. Listen to the story that is swirling around inside you like a maelstrom of sharknados and write it. Ignore the doubt, the fear, the questioners, the perplexed, the haters (especially the haters, cue "shake it off") and trust yourself. Do this for you, do it for the art, do it for the story and then cast it out there into the carnival game of writing for publication. Trust yourself and write the story you want to write and you want to read. This holds true for writing and for life. And trust me, I can speak towards both of those paths.
Who were your advisors?
Sharon Darrow - picture book semester (who was instrumental in teaching me/opening the door to that world. I got my agent based off my picture books and sold this book in my second semester, so THANKS, SHARON!), Tom Birdseye (working on a MG novel that he and I worked on together. My Yoda and trail guide and dear friend, miss you, Tom!), Amy King ( in my 2nd round of revisions on another MG novel that she and I worked on together, with a YA novel in the chute that we also explored. Amy is actually my sister, a little known fact. Love ya, sis!), and finally, Kathi Appelt, Mama Cardinal, the sweetest lady ever (Russell says hello, Kathi - gonna sell this book as soon as I'm done revising! Miss you, lady.).
What is your favorite VCFA memory?
Laying on the front lawn of College Hall, in a circle of my fellow Allies in Wonderland, barefoot, hand in hand with the absolute love of my life, watching shooting stars race across the clear, night sky and knowing...just knowing...that this (coming to VCFA) had been the absolute best and most important decision of my life and for my career. If Darth Vader were there, he would have said something like "Joe...it is your destiny..."
Visit Joe at www.joemcgeeauthor.com
Check out the review of the book at http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-4197-1247-0