Sue Fliess is the author of the new children's picture book Flash and Gleam: Light in Our World. Her many other books include The Princess and the Petri Dish and How to Meet a Mermaid. She lives in Northern Virginia.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Flash and Gleam--a book that focuses on different types of light?
A: It’s kind of a funny story. A handyman named Ron came to my house to hang a series of 35 photos in all different sizes from a vacation we took. (Husband did not want to tackle it and I don’t blame him.)
Ron happened to see a photo of my boys near a lighthouse. He was very chatty and we got to talking, and once he learned I was a children’s book author, he told me I should write a book about lighthouses. As I tell many who offer up ideas, I said, “Oh, thank you. I’ll think about it.”
But what he didn’t know, was that I’d been toying with the idea of a picture book about light, not lighthouses, I just didn’t know what it would look like. So you could say his visit was the “spark” I needed to start brainstorming the idea. Thanks, handyman Ron!
Q: What do you think Khoa Le's illustrations added to the book?
A: I’d like to think my text was illuminating all by itself, but this was one book where the illustrations definitely did the heavy lifting! I had ideas/art suggestions in mind for each stanza, though, which I included in art notes.
For example, Spark, fly, fill the sky. This one I said could be Yi Ping festival in Thailand, but it also could have been the fourth of July. But the scenes Khoa illustrated brought my poem to life in a way I could never have imagined. She’s a fantastic artist and a genius!
Q: Did you need to do any research to write the book, and if so, did you learn anything especially surprising?
A: As with any book, fiction or non-fiction, I research the topic. For the main text of the book, I probably didn’t have to do much research, but I’m so glad I did. Even though it’s a very spare poem, you never know when you come across a word that you simply must use to describe what it is you are trying to say, or discover something you suddenly need to include.
I was researching the numerous light festivals around the world, and I came across Diwali. Of course, I had known about the festival, but decided right then it needed a stanza in the book (Burst, create, illuminate). So, in that way my research informed my text.
I didn’t know which (if any) publisher may want the manuscript, so we submitted it with a note that said “Author willing to do research on any aspect of light mentioned in the book.”
It was a perfect fit for Millbrook Press, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group. And they did, in fact, want backmatter. So at that point, I did a lot more research on the science of light, fireflies, lightning, aurora borealis, all the festivals in the book, and more.
Q: The Kirkus Review says, "The book successfully depicts both scientific and cultural experiences in impressive variety and connections." What do you think of that assessment?
A: I’m always grateful for any positive reviews, but it’s especially lovely when the reviewer really understands what we were trying to do with the book. Light connects us all, across all cultures and even species—it’s universal, something we all need and share.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m currently revising a barnyard story for an editor. She hasn’t bought it yet, so you know, no pressure! Thankfully, my critique group is all over it and has helped me brainstorm ideas to solve the problem spots.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Well, since you asked, I just launched a picture book critique service! I really enjoy critiquing, but felt like I didn’t have the time to commit to it fully. Now that in-person school visits are a big question mark for 2020-2021, I’m finding I may have the time, so I just went for it. Here is the link to more info, in case your readers are interested: https://www.suefliess.com/manuscript-critique.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Sue Fliess.