Got the Super Tuesday blues like I do? Here’s a ray a sunshine for you!

Dario cover

Happy pub day to DARIO AND THE WHALE, a picture book by my client, the wonderful Cheryl Lawton Malone, illustrated by the talented Bistra Masseva, and published by Albert Whitman & Co.

Cheryl was one of my earliest clients and she makes her beautiful debut with this book about a lonely boy who befriends a whale on the Cape Cod shore. I love Cheryl’s soft, lyrical style–you can tell she is a poet! I also love how this book is from the perspective of a Brazilian boy, an immigrant who speaks Portuguese, the son of a seasonal, migrant worker. Dario feels lonely because of the cultural and language differences, and because he finds himself in a new place where he doesn’t know anyone. His story parallels that of the whale, who is also only in Cape Cod for the season. Simply put, it’s a beautiful story.

I met Cheryl over two years ago in a coffee shop in Newton, MA where she lives (I happened to be in town). I signed her on as a client based on a different book. When she showed me DARIO, I knew we had something very special. And now it’s here in our hands! Below is a little interview I did with Cheryl.

Cheryl Lawton Malone

Cheryl Lawton Malone

What inspired you to write DARIO AND THE WHALE?

DARIO was inspired by a true-life experience – I spent the month of April, 2011 at the Norman Mailer Writer’s Colony in Provincetown, MA finishing a YA murder mystery. The wonderful people who run that program let me bring my dog, Chief. On our last day, I took him for a walk on Race Point Beach very early in the morning. April is the month when whales of all kinds, including the North Atlantic right whale, migrate through the Cape. You can see their tails and spouts in the distance. Chief and I were walking when we heard a whoosh about fifteen feet off shore. It was a whale! In shock, I stopped. Chief barked. And the juvenile right whale raised its head out of the water. He looked right AT US, as if he was just as curious as we were. Those few seconds—as we three connected—inspired me to write about a boy who meets a whale and a whale who meets a boy. I share the experience with readers in the author’s note at the back of the book.

What was your favorite part about writing your manuscript?

Learning about North Atlantic right whales. There are less than 300 – 500 left in the world. In the nineteenth century, whalers nicknamed them the “right” whales to hunt because they swam so slowly. I also enjoyed crafting a story from two different points of view—Dario’s and the whale’s. I worked hard to write Dario’s side of the story, and even harder to keep the whale true to his authentic whale self. 

What was your least favorite part about writing your manuscript?

The uncertainty that came with writing draft after draft after draft, not knowing if DARIO would resonate with anyone. I even tried a nonfiction version of DARIO, which my saintly and patient writing group reviewed, and liked, sort of. In the end, of course, the journey was worth it.

Where and when do you write?

It’s a bit embarrassing to admit but my best writing time is very early in the morning, after my husband goes to work, and my dogs are still sleeping, after I’ve made a cup of coffee and slipped back into bed in pajamas. No phones. No internet. No email. Just writing. Typically, I write 5 pages of a WIP per day or some corresponding amount for pbs. Around 9:00AM, the dogs need to go out, and my day starts. As a professional writer (no longer wearing pajamas), I move to my home office where I attack whatever needs to be done, including the balance of daily pages not completed in the pajama phase. If a scene or a twist isn’t working, I’ll take my dogs out for a long walk or I’ll head to a coffee shop.

What was the most surprising part about the editorial process?

I’d heard stories about how unresponsive publishers were to new writers and writers in general. When Wendy McClure and Albert Whitman asked for my opinion on the preliminary art in DARIO, I was thrilled.  

Who are some writers who inspire your work?

There are so many. For picture books: Jane Yoland, Jon Klassen, Kevin Henkes, Maira Kalman, Marla Frazee, Mo Willems, and David Elliott to name a few. For MG: Jeanne Birdsall, Rebecca Stead, Karen Hesse, Pam Muñoz Ryan and a new favorite Kwame Alexander. I also read YA and adult, but the list would never end. 

What advice can you give to aspiring children’s book writers?

Write! Write in the morning. Write at night. Write on your lunch hour. Write while your kids are at the dentist. Write when your house is asleep. When you’re not writing, read widely in your genre. Also, notwithstanding the burning need to get published, a writer needs to hone her craft. So take classes, go to kid lit meet ups, join writing groups online and in person, attend conferences. Get to know your local writing community. Participate in your local writing community. These are the resources that will help you through the long cold winter of rejection. In yoga, they define ‘stealing’ to include wanting something before you have prepared for it. I think there is much truth in that concept.

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