Jessie Sima is the author-illustrator of Not Quite Narwhal, Harriet Gets Carried Away, and Love, Z. Sima’s forthcoming picture book, Snow Pony and the Seven Miniature Ponies, was written by their editor, Christian Trimmer, formerly executive editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and now editorial director of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. We asked Sima and Trimmer to interview each other about their new collaboration, a playful retelling of “Snow White” that features ponies with distinct personalities in all of the major roles.
Christian Trimmer: Jessie, do you remember how we first met? Not our first IRL meeting, but the reason we know each other. (Hint: It concerns your first book.)
Jessie Sima: Christian, of course I do! Let me set the stage.
The year was 2015. It was a hot July day and I was visiting family in a town where my cell phone reception was spotty at best. My agent, Thao Le, had recently sent my first book, Not Quite Narwhal, out on submission. I was shocked to learn that we quickly had multiple offers and that I would be speaking to the interested editors as part of the decision-making process. One of those interested editors was someone named Christian Trimmer. Because my cell phone couldn’t be trusted, I asked my agent to have you call me on the landline and I hid in a dark bedroom while we had a deep conversation about family and identity. I could tell you really got Kelp and his story, which sounds a little pretentious, but you know what I mean. I could tell we’d be a great creative match, and I think we have proven me right.
Trimmer: I loved our first conversation so much. Winning Not Quite Narwhal was one of the highlights of my career, and I was very sad to leave S&S before its publication. (Congrats on its amazing success, BTW.)
Sima: Did our experience working together on Not Quite Narwhal influence the decision to ask me to illustrate Snow Pony and the Seven Miniature Ponies?
Trimmer: When Justin Chanda (our editor) and I talked about what look we wanted for Snow Pony, it was always, “Someone like Jessie Sima.” Because you and I were working together at the time, Justin and I didn’t feel we could reach out to you with my manuscript. But then I left, and Justin made the phone call... and I’m so glad he did!
Sima: I’m glad Justin made the call, too! It was really nice to have my first experience as illustrator-only be with an author I already knew. It took away a lot of the anxiety I think I would have felt otherwise. Plus, I love fairy tales and drawing ponies, so it really couldn’t have worked out better.
Trimmer: Switching gears a little, we haven’t really talked about your experiences as a published author-illustrator. Are they what you expected? Do you have any advice for folks who are on the path to becoming published?
Sima: Honestly, I didn’t have many expectations for what being a published author-illustrator would be like. I knew going in that there were no guarantees that my books would do well or that this would be a sustainable career. There were a lot of things I couldn’t control, so I tried not to dwell on them. The thing that has surprised me about making books is how collaborative it all is. So much work goes into editing and making the book stronger at every step. I was also surprised by how much I loved that collaboration. Having agents and editors and art directors to bounce ideas off of and to give you feedback is both fun and challenging, and it really takes your book to a new level. It’s magical!
I have lots of advice for people on their way to publication, but since we’re on the topic of collaboration, I’ll settle for: Find a good critique partner or group. Get comfortable with critique now, and learn how to identify suggestions that will make your work better and reject those that don’t fit with what you’re trying to do. It’s great practice for when you eventually work with your editorial team. Plus, it’s nice to have people to celebrate and commiserate with every step of the way.
Christian, you and I did an early signing for Snow Pony and the Seven Miniature Ponies at BookExpo, and I got to see you in author mode. I’ve been wondering, what is it like being an editor as well as an author? Do you feel like you have to put on different hats for different situations?
Trimmer: I’m more comfortable in my editor hat (a sleek little Trilby) than my author hat (a more relaxed Panama). 98% of the time, I’m an editor, so it is a little challenging for me to pivot into author mode. I’ll say that I work much harder editing a book than I do writing one. As a picture book writer, once my manuscript has been accepted, I mostly sit back and wait to see what happens, which is totally the opposite of what I do as a picture book editor, where I’m deeply involved in everything. Isn’t it weird how little we talked through the process of making Snow Pony, particularly since we were so in touch in the development of Not Quite Narwhal? Justin absolutely involved me on Snow Pony, but there were a handful of moments, where I was like, “I should just reach out to Jessie directly.” But I didn’t! Because I trust the process. That said, it is nice that they’re letting us talk again.
Sima: Yeah, it was weird working on a book with you but not with you, especially since we’d worked so closely in the past. But I think you were right to trust in the process. I’m so happy with the end result!
One final question from me, if that’s okay. It’s the most important one of all. The miniature ponies in Snow Pony and the Seven Miniature Ponies each have a job that contributes to the household (stablehold?). If you were a miniature pony, what would be your job?
Trimmer: I would absolutely be the stable’s bartender. I have long dreamed of living in a Melrose Place-like arrangement, with all of your closest friends just steps away. The miniature ponies are living that dream. In situations like that, you need at least one person/pony who has an eclectic mix of glassware and a fully stocked bar and who understands the importance of gathering to unwind after a long day of work. That’s me. Same question for you, as well as your drink of choice this steamy summer. I always enjoy an Aperol Spritz, but they go down like water so I have to be careful. I’ve also fallen back in love with greyhounds.
Sima: I’d be a barista pony! If I’m being honest, my summer drink of choice is cold brew, so I feel like I’d be the pony providing everyone with caffeine! Buzz buzz. Wait, that sounds like bees. There’s already a pony with that job. I’m a coffee pony!
Trimmer: Perfect! We have our morning coffee and our evening cocktails!
Sima: Exactly! Thanks for sharing this experience with me, Christian! I can’t wait for all of our upcoming Snow Pony events. Good-bye for now, but not for long.
Trimmer: See you at our launch party!
Snow Pony and the Seven Miniature Ponies by Christian Trimmer, illus. by Jessie Sima. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 Aug. 21 ISBN 978-1-4814-6268-6