What You Need to Collaborate by Amy Fellner Dominy and Nate Evans
You’ve probably heard of authors collaborating on novels. Each author writes a chapter, and back and forth they go. But what happens when two authors cook up a picture book together? It’s not as if we’re writing an epic. It’s 330 words. How does that work?
As it turns out, it takes respect, open-mindedness, and a raw egg.
We weren’t really sure what to expect when we met five years ago. We struck up a conversation at a dinner hosted by a local librarian and continued chatting online. We talked about a collaboration—Amy was publishing teen and tween novels but had always wanted to write picture books. Nate was already a successful picture book author and illustrator; he was looking for a new partnership and new inspiration.
One of the first things you have to do as part of a team is also the scariest. You have to share. You have to take those crazy, half-baked ideas floating around in your head and then actually speak them out loud for your partner to hear. And maybe laugh. Or roll their eyes. Or secretly think, What am I doing with this person?
That’s where the egg comes in. Because what we both learned is that an ideas is as fragile as a raw egg. When your partner tosses one out, you have to be gentle in the way you handle it, or you end up with a mess on your hands. We don’t literally hurl raw eggs at each other, but we do pitch ideas back and forth. And sometimes they’re crazy and sometimes they’re plain awful. But we always start with open minds and a willingness to play.
That’s how Cookiesaurus Rex was hatched.
As our first picture book is about to launch, we thought we’d take a look back at how the idea evolved. It went something like this:
NATE: I had this crazy dream last night. It was about a little dinosaur cookie who came to life. A Tyrannosaurus Rex. And in the dream it started to rampage through a Lego village. Like Godzilla. Stomp! Crush! Kick! Grrrrrr!
AMY: Oh. Um! Well, I love a dinosaur cookie. That’s a great idea. I’m not so sure about the rampaging…
NATE: What about the crushing and kicking?
AMY: I think our cookie could want to crush and kick the other cookies because he’s a T Rex. But…I don’t know why, but I see him just baked and still on a cookie sheet with the other cookies.
NATE: Oh-kay. He’s just lying on a cookie sheet?
AMY: I know, it doesn’t sound as fun as rampaging, but I’m remembering that when my kids were little, we’d decorate gingerbread men. They loved that. And then, even more fun that eating the cookies, was plotting out which body parts to eat first. Maybe our Cookie could get decorated and then eaten one limb at a time?
NATE: I like that. And he’s a dinosaur so maybe he’s a bully so he deserves to get eaten. Yeah! By the end of the book he’s just a head on a plate.
AMY: (Eyes bulging) A head on a plate? This might end up being the picture book version of Game of Thrones. You know…maybe our main character shouldn’t get eaten.
NATE: But I like that he’s a Dino with attitude.
AMY: I do, too. And he’s a T Rex. He sees himself as King of All Cookies…
NATE: So maybe he wants to look like the King of All Cookies.
AMY: YES! But the other cookies look better than he does.
NATE: What if we see this story from the perspective of the hands that are decorating him?
AMY: Yesyesyes! So it’s a battle between Cookiesaurus and the kid who’s decorating him? And he’s green and gloppy and he doesn’t like it.
NATE: Maybe he has his own ideas of how he should look. His own costume ideas.
AMY: That could be so funny! He keeps demanding to be redecorated. But is the kid going to be bullied by a cookie?
NATE: No! And so he eats the cookie until it’s just a head on a plate!
AMY: (Muttering to herself) Don’t drop the egg.
This conversation actually happened over a period of time. We followed all of our ideas, even the ones that were half-baked, until Cookiesaurus Rex became the cookie he is today. It took the two of us six months, eleven versions, and a whole lot of coffee to write the 330 words of Cookiesaurus Rex.
We hope you love every one of them.
AMY FELLNER DOMINY is an author of teen and tween novels, including DIE FOR YOU, A MATTER OF HEART, AUDITION & SUBTRACTION, and OyMG, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Teens. Amy is a former advertising copywriter and earned an MFA in playwriting. Her plays for adults and children have been staged across the country. Amy lives with her family in Phoenix, AZ. Visit her online at amydominy.com or on Twitter at @amydominy.
NATE EVANS is the author or author-illustrator of more than forty children’s books, including PONYELLA with Laura Numeroff. His most recent picture book is BANG! BOOM ROAR! A Busy Crew of Dinosaurs. Before turning to his true love–children’s books–he was a greeting card artist. Nate is also a seventh grade English teacher and loves to share his passion for books with students. He lives in Gilbert, AZ. Visit him online at nateevans.com.