French Snail Adventures: Joy and Laura G Interview Dashka Slater

Article by Joy

ESCARGOT, the story of a fabulous French snail, is one of our favorite picture books here at Brazos. So of course, Laura and I were totally over the moon with excitement when Macmillan told us that they’d accepted our pitch for events and school visits for its fabulous author, Dashka Slater, for the sequel, A BOOK FOR ESCARGOT. And then came the spread of COVID-19 and events began to cancel one by one. 

Dashka was scheduled for mid-April though, so we held on to hope until a few days ago when alas, the physical tour was sadly cancelled.  Our school visits will be happening virtually, and we’re crossing our fingers that we can bring Dashka to the store one way or another!

Until then, Dashka was kind enough to take time to answer our many questions that we might have asked her in person! We hope you find her responses as fascinating as we do, and we also hope that you will order A BOOK FOR ESCARGOT and let us ship it to you. When you order, please state if you’d like a signed book plate, which at this moment, we have been told is possible. And now for what Dashka had to say to us! 

 

Joy Preble: You have written some of our absolute favorite picture books - Escargot, obviously, and also The Antlered Ship, come immediately to mind. But you also write amazing non-fiction for older readers, such as The 57 Bus, as well as journalistic pieces for The New York Times and other publications. So we’d love to hear about how this very broad  and prolific writing career developed.What’s your trick for shifting from true crime narrative in The 57 Bus (and your NYTimes article on the same), or your recent piece on parole to picture books about adorable snails?

 

Dashka Slater: I love that you’re letting me pretend that I genre-jump in a thoughtful, pre-planned way instead of randomly hopscotching from category to category! The truth is that I started out as a poet, stumbled accidentally into journalism, took time off from journalism to write a novel for adults, had a baby and started writing children’s books while still working as a journalist, and now have a secret hope of hitting all the squares on the writer’s bingo card because I’m already halfway there and so I might as well go for the brass ring. I suppose I write exactly like I read, which is widely and with little respect to genre. (I’m usually both reading and writing several books in several genres at once.) While it sometimes feels like complete lunacy to do so many things at once, different kinds of work allow all the parts of my personality to have an outlet. I definitely find that writing fanciful or humorous picture books can be a welcome respite from my darker nonfiction topics. I don’t think I could handle writing about hate crimes if I didn’t also write about snails who want to be your favorite animal.


 

Laura Graveline: Definitely! Writing needs a balance and happy snails definitely provide us comfort as well right now! And speaking of that delightful little snail, Escargot is such a character-centric book. What was your process for coming up with the idea? Did Escargot come first or did you start out with a story of a picky eater? Was the main character always going to be a snail?

 

DS: It all started in 2006, when my first picture book, Baby Shoes, came out and I was faced with my very first bookstore event. I discovered that if I read the book very slowly and with a lot of audience participation, I could fill six minutes of my thirty minute appearance. What on earth was I going to do with the rest of the time? In a panic, I ransacked my son’s toy box and discovered a snail puppet he’d received as a gift. I put the puppet on my hand, and he began speaking in a French accent and demanded to come to the event, where he talked to the kids for well over 24 minutes because that’s how he is. For years afterward, Escargot came to every event I did for children and a few that I did for adults.


 

LG: Hah! What a great origin story - and it may explain our next question. We love how Escargot speaks directly to the reader. It makes for such a fun story time (and many times the kids will answer back!). Was there any special reason to include this in the book or did it happen organically?

 

DS: Some of the credit has to go to Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) who saw Escargot the puppet in action and insisted that I give him his own book. The problem was that I had no idea how to translate what I did – improvising conversations between Escargot and audience members – to the page. I tried a lot of different things over several years before I finally figured out how to get that interaction to feel natural. I love it when kids answer back! Sometimes the adults will shush them thinking they’re being disrespectful, but they are doing exactly what I wanted them to do. They know Escargot is talking to them and waiting for an answer!


 

JP: I guess we were right about the puppet being the key! With a bonus Lemony Snicket anecdote! Which reminds us that Lemony Snicket in real life is married to amazing illustrator Lisa Brown and leads to our next question. 

 

LG: We are also very much in love with the character design for Escargot. Was there a collaboration with the illustrator, Sydney Hanson? Was her artistic vision what you had in your head? We are quite curious. 

 

DS: All the credit goes to Sydney! After the book was sold to Joy Peskin at FSG, I was really curious how Escargot would look on the page, since I knew he wouldn’t look like my puppet. How was Sydney Hanson going to make him appealing? She had drawn one of the cutest bumblebees I’d ever seen, so I felt optimistic, but my delight when I saw her sketches was beyond description. Not only did she draw the world’s most adorable snail, but she keeps finding amazingly cute things for him to do!


 

JP: She certainly does! As do you! And speaking of you, what’s next for Dashka Slater?

 

DS: Since I’m still trying to hit all the squares on the game of writer’s bingo, I have my first middle grade novel, a fantasy called The Book of Fatal Errors, coming out in July.  I’m working on the sequel to it as we speak, as well as on the third Escargot book and a new nonfiction YA narrative. Those three should keep me busy for a bit, but I have some new genres in mind for 2021!

 

JP: Wow! That is one busy schedule and we are very excited to read everything that’s coming! Thanks for such a great interview, Dashka!  This was great fun!

 

For more information on Dashka Slater and her work, go to: https://www.dashkaslater.com

Staff Pick Badge
A Book for Escargot Cover Image
By Dashka Slater, Sydney Hanson (Illustrator)
$16.99
ISBN: 9780374312862
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) - April 7th, 2020

Escargot Cover Image
By Dashka Slater, Sydney Hanson (Illustrator)
$16.99
ISBN: 9780374302818
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) - April 11th, 2017

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