With Susan L. Roth’s signature collage illustrations and Cindy Trumbore and Roth’s detailed narrative, it’s clear that Roth and Trumbore’s styles are a perfect match. Their award-winning books, The Mangrove Tree, Parrots Over Puerto Rico, and Prairie Dog Song are a testament to their effortless collaboration style and their shared passion for conservation. In this interview, Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore discuss their writing process, their stylistic differences, and working together to create the perfect story.
What does your collaboration process look like?
Susan L. Roth & Cindy Trumbore: First, we agree on a topic that we’re both excited about. Then one of us “goes first” drafting the manuscript, and we bat it back and forth until we agree on the structure and the wording. The structure can change completely the first few times we send the manuscript back and forth. After that, we focus on wording. As the manuscript is being edited by our editor, Louise May, Susan starts thinking about the artwork. She’ll do a “scribble dummy” to show Cindy, Louise, and our designer, Christy Hale. Somewhere in there we take a research trip to get the details right and do interviews. Then Susan begins snipping and pasting to make her collages.
When you both first started collaborating was there any difference in style or technique?
SLR & CT: Yes, and there still is. If each of us drafted a manuscript and then we compared notes, our approaches would be entirely different. Susan is very lyrical and Cindy focuses first on capturing the most important elements of the research. Over time we blend those styles together.
Did you both feel that you worked effortlessly together?
SLR & CT: Yes. It’s rare that we strongly disagree on anything, and our research trips together are enormously fun. We interviewed Gordon Sato for The Mangrove Tree. We saw Puerto Rican parrots fly over our heads for Parrots Over Puerto Rico. And when we visited New Mexico grasslands for Prairie Dog Song, we were chased by a cow!
How did you both meet? What made you both decide to collaborate on different projects?
SLR & CT: We’ve known each other for over 25 years. Cindy is a former children’s book editor who had edited six of Susan’s books. We stayed friends, and Susan showed Cindy the first draft of the book that became The Mangrove Tree just to get her opinion of it. Cindy suggested that it have a cumulative structure like “The House That Jack Built” and quickly drafted another version as an example. Susan said, “You are co-writing this book with me!” and we’ve been collaborating ever since.
Tell us an example of a time you both had differing viewpoints but found a way to compromise.
SLR & CT: Cindy thought the cover of Prairie Dog Song should have lots of burrows. Susan thought the cover should just be the prairie grass. We compromised with a cover that shows prairie dogs in lots and lots of grass. We also get a lot of ideas from Louise and Christy. Our books are more like a four-way collaboration!
Are there any future projects you both will work on together?
SLR & CT: Yes, once we find the perfect project. We supply each other with possible book ideas frequently, but our approach to researching and writing takes a long time. For instance, before we can plan a research trip we need to have done enough research to know what questions we still need answered. We also always have a science consultant and might need to revise the manuscript several times to make sure the consultant is satisfied with it. (Prairie Dog Song had four consultants!) We do photo research, too, for our notes in the back of the book. So we have to both really love a topic in order to decide to write a book about it. As soon as we reach that point, our next collaboration will be on the way.
Susan L. Roth creates unique mixed-media collage illustrations that have appeared in numerous award-winning children’s books, many of which she also wrote. Her book, Listen to the Wind, spent a year on the New York Times best seller list. The Mangrove Tree, which was released in 2011 and addressed Dr. Gordon Sato’s mangrove tree-planting project, was the winner of Jane Addams Children’s Book Award. Roth lives in New York. You can find her online at susanlroth.com.
Cindy Trumbore has been involved with young people’s literature for most of her career. A former editor in children’s book publishing, she now writes children’s books, edits books for classrooms, and teaches writing. Her past titles include The Genie in the Book, Discovering the Titanic, and The Mangrove Tree with her friend Susan L. Roth. She lives with her family in New Jersey. Her Web site is cindykane.net.