Joint Interview: Author Teresa Robeson and Editor Christina Pulles
Updated: Jul 29, 2020
I’m happy to feature my dear friend and critique partner, Author Teresa Robeson. Plus, I have the pleasure of welcoming Editor Christina Pulles. Teresa and Christina worked along with Illustrator Junyi Wu to create TWO BICYCLES IN BEIJING, which was recently published by Albert Whitman.
Teresa’s debut picture book biography, QUEEN OF PHYSICS: HOW WU CHIEN SHIUNG HELPED UNLOCK THE SECRETS OF THE ATOM, was published by Sterling Children's Books and edited by Christina.
Congratulations to Melissa Stoller for winning the special prize!
Hi Teresa! Congratulations on your second picture book, TWO BICYCLES IN BEIJING!
Please share your submission pitch to your editor, Christina.
Thank you, Manju! And thanks, also, for inviting me to this joint interview with Christina, who is one of my favorite people.
This was the pitch my agent, Natascha Morris, sent out to editors, including Christina:
“One, two; yi, er.
Side by side, two bikes, Lunzi and Huangche, came out of the factory.
Side by side, they watched the city of Beijing.
But when Huangche is bought one day, Lunzi begins an epic race around the sights and sounds of the city to find her friend again.
Teresa Robeson is the winner of the 2017 We Need Diverse Books mentorship for nonfiction. Her debut book, QUEEN OF PHYSICS: HOW WU CHIEN SHIUNG HELPED UNLOCK THE SECRETS OF THE ATOM, publishes in Fall 2019 from Sterling.”
Hi Christina! Why did Teresa’s Beijing manuscript appeal to you? Please explain the acquisition process at Albert Whitman.
I loved working with Teresa on QUEEN OF PHYSICS, so I was very excited to see another project from her when I moved publishers, and TWO BICYCLES didn’t disappoint. I love any sort of friendship story; in fact, I wrote, “I like the way that the bikes’ search for each other leads to a human friendship,” when I sent the manuscript to another editor.
My fellow editor and my publisher agreed they wanted to pursue the project, so I took it to a Creative meeting. After, I wrote to Natascha: “I’m so taken with Teresa’s language here, and I get such vivid imagery in my head when reading this, so I shared the manuscript with the Creative team today, and they are interested as well.”
At Albert Whitman, we like to pair a picture book text with a possible illustrator before bringing the project to an Acquisitions meeting to share with Sales and Marketing. Our Designer Aphelandra Messer found a fantastic artist, Junyi Wu, and the project passed easily. I have in my notes from the meeting that the book was deemed “Great for our market.” Albert Whitman’s primary market is the school and library market, and we do well with books that show readers something about the world, which this story does by taking them on a tour of Beijing and including Mandarin words.
Teresa, after your Beijing manuscript was accepted, were further edits requested? Could you give use an example art notes that you included?
There were a number of edits that Christina asked for, but none of them were major and I completely agreed with them. Some of those were straightforward to deal with, while others required a bit of thinking to consider how best to rephrase something.
I try not to use a lot of art notes in my manuscripts, but looking back at that version that was submitted to Christina, I think I could have cut out even more of them. Funny how those notes felt so important to me at the time, but now, I see that they really weren’t vital (that’s probably a takeaway lesson for most people…LOL!). One art note that I did think was important was at the opening of the story:
[art note: Lunzi and Huanghe are bicycles, red and yellow respectively. In the pages leading up to this opening, could have illustrations showing how they struck up a friendship as they were made together; this should deepen reader’s understanding of their emotional attachment]
Christina, take us through your role as editor of Teresa’s Beijing manuscript.
The text was quite clean and I had very few line edits, but I remember that Teresa and I worked to add some dramatic irony to the story, hinting to the reader where Huangche might end up even as Lunzi sets off to search for him. I think we actually added an art note for that!
We also made sure Lunzi’s route made sense geographically, and shared reference images of Beijing with Aphelandra and Junyi in an attempt to be as accurate as possible. And Teresa expanded her ideas for back matter before we finalized the manuscript.
Going over Junyi’s sketches and art (which is always one of my favorite parts of the process) was especially delightful here; Aphelandra and I were so charmed by the compositions Junyi chose and the way she interpreted Teresa’s words.
Teresa, how did your path to publication differ for QUEEN OF PHYSICS at Sterling Children's?
QoP went out on submission waaay back in 2013--in a very different form--with my first agent. As detailed elsewhere, the period of time between 2013 and 2017 went through many ups and downs for me and this story, including my former agent quitting the business after being unsuccessful at selling the manuscript and my winning a mentorship with Jane Yolen through We Need Diverse Books. I attended NESCBWI’s 2017 annual conference to meet with my wonderful mentor and, fortuitously, Christina was one of the faculty (even though we never ran into each other there) that all attendees were able to submit to afterwards.
With Christina’s interest, I queried a number of agents, signed with Natascha, and the rest is history!
TBiB, on the other hand, had a much shorter, easier journey. I wrote it in the spring of 2018. It went through some revisions with feedback from my critique groups and Natascha. Natascha sent it out at the close of 2018 and then Christina expressed interest in it early 2019, I believe. During this time, my agent didn’t quit and I got to work with Christina again! Win-win, right? LOL!
Christina, how was the acquisition and editing processed different for QUEEN OF PHYSICS at Sterling Children's?
When Teresa submitted QUEEN OF PHYSICS to me at Sterling following the NESCBWI conference in 2017, Sterling had a couple of successful science-based bios out and in the works, so it wasn’t difficult to get the team on board with C.S. Wu’s story.
It’s been a little while now (I think we were working on edits in early 2018) but I don’t remember there being a lot of back-and-forth. Teresa’s writing really resonates with me so I don’t often have that many changes. One major difference is that QUEEN OF PHYSICS is 48 pages, whereas TWO BICYCLES is 32. Pacing is still tricky at a higher page count, because you want to make sure you’re keeping the reader engaged, but it was nice to have room to take the reader through all of C.S. Wu’s (many!) accomplishments.
Thanks very much, Teresa and Christina!
Teresa Robeson was born in Hong Kong, raised in Canada, and now lives on a mini-homestead in southern Indiana with her scientist husband, younger son, and quirky chickens. She draws upon her Chinese heritage, Canadian-American sensibilities, as well as her background in science and love of nature when she writes. Teresa’s picture book biography, QUEEN OF PHYSICS (Sterling Publishing) won the 2020 APALA Picture Book Award, in addition to being named the NCTE Orbis Pictus Recommended Book. Her second book, TWO BICYCLES IN BEIJING (Albert Whitman), released in April of this year.
Christina Pulles joined Albert Whitman & Company in December 2018, and before that worked at Sterling Children's Books and Simon & Schuster’s Simon Spotlight imprint. In addition to Teresa’s books, she’s edited A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks by Alice Faye Duncan and Xia Gordon, When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree by Jamie L.B. Deenihan and Lorraine Rocha, Howard Wallace, P.I. and its sequels by Casey Lyall, and Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus and its sequel by Dusti Bowling.
Prize offer: Christina will consider one direct submission (PB, MG or YA)! To win this special prize, leave a comment on our Kidlit Creatives page (must be a member) and share this interview on Twitter or Facebook. Deadline to enter is Monday, July 27th.
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