KidLit in Color author Tonya Abari interviewed author Anne Wynter about her new picture book, Everybody in the Red Brick Building, illustrated by Oge Mora.
Tonya: What inspired you to write the story Everybody in the Red Brick Building?
Anne: I grew up in a house, but I spent most of my adulthood in apartments. So I was always noticing the unique aspects of apartment living - especially the relationships between apartment neighbors. For a long time, I tried to write about that theme in a full-length play for adults. I loved the idea but my scripts kept falling flat.
Once I started trying to write picture books, Everybody in the Red Brick Building was the second manuscript I wrote. The writing process was relatively quick, probably because I had spent so much time thinking about these themes and working through plot possibilities. It turned out to be a much better fit in a picture book.
Tonya: This picture book is rich with onomatopoeia. Can you explain your process for selecting which middle-of-the-night sounds to use for this book?
Anne: This was one of the hardest parts. I tried to pick onomatopoeia that was a little truer to the actual sound - in the way that a “woof” is usually closer to the sound a dog makes than a “bark.”
I also wanted to make sure the sounds didn’t have too many similarities when it came to assonance and consonance. This was challenging because, for the quiet sounds, it was tempting to use multiple sounds with “shhh,” so I had to play around a lot to make sure the text had enough variety.
And I took several nighttime walks for inspiration!
Tonya: You captured such an intricate moment (waking up and going back to sleep in the middle of the night) so beautifully. Regarding this manuscript, does art imitate life?
Anne: Thank you! And yes, definitely. I wrote this when I had an infant and a toddler, and there was a lot of waking up in the middle of the night. When each of my kids were babies I would think about the person on the other side of the wall in the apartment building. I’m sure they could hear the baby crying - and I always crossed my fingers that they were heavy sleepers or were able to fall back to sleep fairly easily.
I think about sleep a lot because it’s one of my favorite activities!
Tonya: What advice would you give to a new picture book writer who is mining their world for smaller moments to write about?
Anne: If there’s something that really captures your attention or imagination, make note of that and don’t automatically dismiss it because it seems too silly, strange or trivial. If you’re around kids, notice what fascinates them. Kids are wonderful at picking up on the smallest details and moments.
Tonya: Oge Mora’s collage-style illustrations really compliment your words perfectly . Tell us about the author/illustration process for this book – working with Oge Mora.
Anne: I didn’t work directly with Oge for most of the process, and we only (virtually) met and communicated after the final artwork was done. Getting to talk with her, pick up on her energy (she’s a great presenter and speaker) and receive practical tips from her - it has been inspiring and invaluable.
Tonya: Many authors have said that their debut picture books are the ones they least expected to be published first. As a debut picture book author, was this the manuscript that you expected to debut first?
Anne: When I sent out Everybody in the Red Brick Building to agents, I only had one other picture book manuscript, and I knew Everybody in the Red Brick Building was the stronger one. So if my querying process was successful, I expected that one to be my debut.
But I have to say, I had practically zero expectations for this manuscript. I was hopeful, of course, but after years of submitting for short story and playwriting opportunities, I learned not to expect anything. So getting an agent and a book deal was a wonderful and surprising ride!
Tonya: We all know that publishing is very top secret, but can you give us the scoop – or at least a subtle hint – on what you’re working on next?
Anne: I have two board books coming out in January - One Big Day and Hands On! - both illustrated by Alea Marley. After that is Nell Plants a Tree, a picture book illustrated by Daniel Miyares that’s scheduled for 2023.
I have two more unannounced picture books coming out (I’ll give you one hint about the first one - it has to do with Texas) and I’m also working on chapter books - which feels a bit scary because it’s new to me. But I’m having a lot of fun.
Originally from Houston, Anne is an author and playwright who currently lives in Austin, TX with her husband, her two children, and her cat. Her debut picture book, Everybody in the Red Brick Building, is illustrated by Oge Mora and will be published on October 19, 2021 by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins. She also has two board books coming out in January 2022 - One Big Day and Hands On!, both illustrated by Alea Marley - and a picture book that will be published in Winter 2023 - Nell Plants a Tree, illustrated by Daniel Miyares.
To learn more or say hi, follow Anne on Instagram (@anne_wynter) or visit annewynter.com.