Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Writing about a Relative: An Interview with Hannah Holt and her Picture Book Debut The Diamond and the Boy, posted by Tina Cho

I'm excited about a new picture book biography, The Diamond and the Boy: The Creation of Diamonds and the Life of H. Tracy Hall, written by my critique partner, Hannah Holt, published by Balzer & Bray.

This picture book biography is unique in that Mr. Tracy Hall was Hannah's grandfather. Below is my interview of Hannah. Welcome to the Grog Blog!

1. You were blessed to have an important figure in your family. When did it occur to you to write about your grandfather’s life? I’m sure your family was ecstatic when they heard the news. What were their reactions?

First, thanks so much for having me. I’m a fan of your book Rice From Heaven and am thrilled to answer your questions!

My grandfather, Tracy Hall, made important contributions to high pressure research, but he isn’t a household name. In fact, one of the rejections I received was, “We don’t think there’s enough interest for a book about Tracy Hall.”

Obviously this book still sold, but its unique format was probably as much of a hook as the subject. “How” a story is told is much more important than “what” it is about.

People reading this post probably have family members that are more historically significant than my grandfather. I hope they write these stories. Famous or not, it’s a delight sharing family stories. And who knows but it could be picked up for publication as well!

2. What kind of research did you do for this book? Were you able to get some first-hand interviews from people who knew your grandfather?

I had heard stories about Grandpa while growing up, but I developed more detailed questions while working on this project. I interviewed my mom as well as other family members. That was fun!

I also read my grandfather’s boyhood journal. Through his own words, I “met” Tracy Hall before he had his life all figured out. He had crushes on girls that weren’t my grandmother, notes about the odd jobs, and interestingly signed the inside cover in his own blood.

3. The Diamond and the Boy is told in a parallel structure. How did you come upon this idea? Did you use a certain mentor text?

The free verse style format was inspired after reading Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.

The parallel structure came to me on its own. However, after writing it, I researched similar picture books. I wanted to get a feel for how it might fit into the market. Different is good, but there’s a point when your book can be too different. I wanted to it to be unique but still accessible.

4. How many drafts before this manuscript sold? Tell us about your sale to Balzer & Bray.

Over 80 drafts. I worked on this story for many years before landing on the dual telling and querying agents.

Even after I signed with an agent, I kept revising. My agent, Laura Biagi and I, spent three months fine tuning the story before submitting to editors. After that, it was picked up fairly quickly by a publisher. In fact, I received interest from multiple houses for The Diamond & the Boy. My agent arranged phone calls with the interested editors, so I could hear their editorial ideas. Kristin Rens had a fantastic vision for the story, so I accepted the offer from Balzer+Bray.
In the end, all that revising was worth it!

5. What kinds of marketing are you leaning toward for this book?

Most of my marketing has been online. I have a young family and marketing while my children are sleeping or at school works best with my schedule.

I’ll be participating in several local events and story times; however, most of my marketing efforts have been on social media.

6. You have led the Epic 18 Debut Picture Book group this year. What have you learned about leading a group? What have you learned from this group?

First, I have learned about so many fabulous books coming out this year! This week I read We Are Grateful: Ostaliheliga by Traci Sorell. Wow, what a wonderful celebration of gratitude and a beautiful portrait of Cherokee life!

Second, having a group of people at a similar place in their careers is a fantastic way to learn more about publishing as a career. Other members have pointed me to helpful websites, shared marketing opportunities, compared contract language, offered practical career advice, and more.

Finally, a lot of anxiety goes into publishing a book for the first time, and a debut group is like group therapy. Many of us have similar worries. As authors, we can’t always change what’s happening (or not happening!) with our books, but it’s nice to know other people going through similar experiences.

7. You have another book, A Father’s Love, coming out in April. Can you describe this book in a sentence or two?

Sure! Throughout the animal kingdom, in every part of the world, fathers love and care for their babies. This book takes readers around the globe and across the animal kingdom, showcasing the many ways fathers have of demonstrating their love. 

8. You are very busy lady with two books coming out and raising your four children. What else are you working on?

I have many other projects in the works. My fingers are crossed that something new sells this year. However, in between writing books and driving my kids to soccer, I train for marathons.

Thanks so much for having me!

Hannah Holt is a children’s author with an engineering degree. Her books, The Diamond & The Boy (2018, Balzer+Bray) and A Father’s Love (2019, Philomel) weave together her love of language and science. She lives in Oregon with her husband, four children, and a very patient cat named Zephyr. She enjoy reading, writing, running, and eating chocolate chip cookies.


  1. Congrats, again Hannah! Glad you are here on the blog. I am writing about a lesser well-known man so I appreciate that this book got published. Woot. Gonna grab it when I get back from Boston. Cheers to your debut.

  2. I loved this advice Hannah: "Different is good, but there’s a point when your book can be too different. I wanted to it to be unique but still accessible."
    Can you share some of the titles you researched that also had parallel structures?
    TY! And Congrats once again!

    1. Sure thing. On the double biography angle I looked at titles like Martin and Mahalia, also Bird and Diz. For the structure, I looked at:
      What grandmas do best; What grandpas do best (Numeroff, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

      What's up, what's down? (Schaefer, Greenwillow Books)

      What the Sun Sees; What the Moon Sees (Tafuri, Greenwillow Books)

      You are a gift of the world; The world is a gift to you (Duksta, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky)

      Ten Dirty Pigs (Roth, NorthSouth)

      A long way away: a two way story (Viva, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

  3. Wonderful interview! Thanks, Hannah and Tina.

  4. Your work itself is amazing, Hannah--then you hit us with "train for marathons" in your spare time. Now I'm thinking you're some advanced alien species!!

    1. 😂 Napping & training for marathons are my specialties.

  5. Hannah, you are amazing in all you accomplish! I'm a person who also likes to play with structure, and I really enjoyed what you did with this story! I tried out various options with Ben and Noah's story until the best one emerged. I think that structure is something we don't play with enough when revising, and that revising is too often just changing words and sentences. Wonderful interview! Congratulations!!

    1. Every so often it's good to dare to try something that might not work! Glad you found the right approach for An Inconvenient Alphabet.

  6. Congrats, Hannah! Thank you for sharing your journey :) I look forward to reading your book.

  7. Great interview! And congrats, Hannah! So interesting to see how you shaped the story to make it sellable. Thanks for your insight!

  8. Congrats on the new book, Hannah! Loved the interview :)

  9. Congratulations! Best wishes on the book birthday!