Happy Book Birthday: GOOD NIGHT, OPPY! Plus Giveaway

I’m totally smiling! I absolutely LOVE days when I can sing Happy Birthday to a brand new book! And please make sure you read through this jam-packed post…plus don’t forget to leave a comment BECAUSE there is a giveaway of a copy of this awesome book!

Written by James McGowan – Illustrated by Graham Carter – Published by Boyds Mills & Kane

Here’s a little bit about the book from the Amazon sales page:

Learn all about the Mars Opportunity Rover “Oppy” in this fictionalized account of the space exploration robot’s time on the red planet.

Mixing humor with solid space and rover facts, this picture book gives an inside look into Opportunity’s time on Mars. An interplanetary detective, Oppy spent 15 years on the red planet taking thousands of pictures and making groundbreaking discoveries that she transmitted to scientists and engineers back on Earth. From joyriding on Olympus Mons, to racing away from a treacherous dust storm, Oppy’s adventure in space–combined with her grit and perseverance–will inspire and educate young readers of all ages.

And here are a couple of wonderful reviews:

A valedictory tip of the hat to the Opportunity rover…(a) timely addition considering that interest in sending new probes—and people—to the red planet is ramping up.” —Kirkus Reviews

“For more than 14 years, the Opportunity rover on Mars followed instructions from NASA scientists and sent back information. McGowan lightly fictionalizes the rover’s story, while Carter’s dynamic digital artwork brings Oppy to life as an appealing character on an important mission. An attractive picture book introducing the Mars Exploration Program.” —Booklist

Kids are going to LOVE this story…and so will teachers and parents! And guess what, dear writers? The talented author, James McGowan, who is also a FABULOUS AGENT, has stopped by to share the story behind the story…and how his path to publication unfolded.

ME: Welcome, James. Thank you so much for spending time with us!

JAMES: It’s a pleasure to be here, Vivian!

The story of Good Night, Oppy! spans something like 18 years, lots of late nights, one tireless agent, two editors, one incredible illustrator, and one BIG pivot.

That’s a lot to unpack. Allow me:

After the Opportunity completed its mission following 14 years of service (over 200,000 photos and 28 miles driven), I wrote a book. Ask anyone in my writing circle, this book is not what was published today. That book was interplanetary silliness. It featured a rover who did NOT want to work, and only wanted to go on joy rides across the red planet, and eventually completed her mission with joy. She was humorous, in competition with a certain twin rover, and she was kind of clumsy. It was cute.

It wasn’t right.

I love astronomy too much to think that completely fictionalized book was the story I wanted to tell. So, I rewrote it before sharing it with anyone. I scaled back some of the silliness, I added some sidebars, there was a glossary. It was closer to what it is today. I sent it to my agent, they submitted it, we sold it.

Enter: my editors.

Once we landed Oppy at her new home, I was digging into the manuscript again. My first editor, Jes Negrón had some incredible feedback about developing Oppy’s character and the message of the book. When Jes moved on from Boyd’s Mills & Kane Press, I began working with Joy Bean, who completely supported the vision of making Oppy more fact than fiction.

Enter: the late nights.

I knew Oppy was missing the most crucial element of the story, to me: the science. There were so many amazing things to come from her time on Mars, from discoveries to records being broken. (One of my favorite details that didn’t make it into the book were her human friends on Earth hosting a marathon celebration when she crossed 26.2 miles driven). So, I dove back in. This time, Oppy became so much more than a playful story about a Mars rover: it became a tribute to her achievements, her (at times, tense) journey on the rough terrain, and yes, even the more scientific conclusion of her mission. My sidebars became more in depth. I brought science into the main text. There’s an incredible scientist named Shoshanna Freedman whose fingerprints are all over this book in fact checking and nuggets of detail I likely never would have found in research. There’s an author note and bibliography, and photographs from Oppy in the backmatter.

It felt more like the book I wanted to write.

Don’t get me wrong: there is still much of that first draft in this book. Oppy is still the lovable rover she was in my first draft. But everything I wanted this book to say, to do, and to teach is very much on the page now. I struggled for a long while that maybe my book wouldn’t be taken seriously because of the fiction. I thought it wasn’t the type of book that could be taught, that could be credible to the more serious nonfiction readers. You can probably see that apprehension on the first page, where I disclaim that a lot of the story is fictionalized, but the science is real.

I no longer believe that. With each book, it’s important to follow your vision, and to tell the story the only way you can. I agonized that I wasn’t doing the best I could for readers, that I kind of overlooked that I was doing the best for what I wanted to write. When approaching a new topic for a book, let it flow out of you. How does it arrive on the page? Once it’s there, was that how you envisioned it? How can you revise it to get you to the place you want it to be? Does it have all the right bits of science or history? Does it have too much? (Hey, to each their own, yeah?) Did this draft show you you’re not the right person to write this book?

What I’m saying is… trust the process of drafting and revising. Trust your circle of writers and editors. I’m proud of what Good Night, Oppy! is today, only because I let the book develop as it was supposed to and shoved all that silly apprehension of what people would think of it aside.

Exit: my soapbox.

Thank you all for reading, and I hope you’ll enjoy Good Night, Oppy! Out now from Boyd’s Mills & Kane Press.

ME: OH MY GOSH! Thank you so much, James! You’ve given us all such an amazing inside look at your journey…with so many incredibly helpful insights and suggestions.

Dear friends, if you’d like to find out more about James and this incredible book:

Bio: James McGowan is a book person. He works with books as an Associate Agent at BookEnds Literary Agency. He reads books for fun. And he writes picture books. Good Night, Oppy! is his debut. While he’s not an astronaut, James wears tons of NASA shirts, and has always been interested in outer space.

Please remember that the best way to thank an author for a book that you love (like this one!) is to buy it, review it, tell friends about it, and ask your local library to purchase copies for their collection.

And here’s the blog tour schedule for GOOD NIGHT, OPPY!

I hope you all have a wonderful week – make sure you leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway thanks to the publisher…maybe you can tell us what planet you’d love to visit if you could become an astronaut.- and then please come back tomorrow for another wonderful book birthday celebration!

40 thoughts on “Happy Book Birthday: GOOD NIGHT, OPPY! Plus Giveaway

  1. Wow! Congratulations, James, and thank you for shedding light on Oppy’s exciting journey.

    If I were brave enough to visit a planet I would choose Saturn, because…rings! Thank you, Vivian, for this fun, inspirational post. Happy Birthday Oppy!

    Like

  2. Congratulations, James! I can relate to the apprehension to write a story, questioning whether you’re the right person to tell it. Looking forward to reading it.

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  3. Congratulations, James, Thank you for sharing your process. I’m glad you allowed yourself to change and grow in all the ways you needed to in order to make Oppy’s experience connecting and engaging for your readers. I absolutely agree with you that it’s important to trust your inner voice and vision for our stories and surround yourself with those who truly feel your words.

    Like

  4. Congratulations, James. I can’t wait to read this book. I will be presenting on a Nonfiction Meets Informational Fiction panel at CBA’s Picture Book Palooza and will include your cover and a link to this wonderful interview about your journey.
    Thank you, Vivian!

    Like

  5. Congratulations, James. And thank you for sharing your process and advice…”trust the process of drafting and revising. Trust your circle of writers and editors. I’m proud of what Good Night, Oppy! is today, only because I let the book develop as it was supposed to and shoved all that silly apprehension of what people would think of it aside.”

    Like

  6. Congratulations, James! Thank you for sharing the journey that you went on when writing Good Night, Oppy! I think I would like to visit Mercury because it’s fast. It circles the sun in 88 days! Of course that would make me four times older…hmm. Perhaps I should rethink that one!

    Like

  7. Interesting to hear about the development of Good Night, Oppy! I’ll remain an earthbound astronaut cheering from the NASA control room.

    Like

  8. So fascinating to hear about the evolution of your book. I’d love to take a look at Venus and explore beneath its clouds. Can’t wait to explore your story.

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  9. Congratulations James. Thanks for sharing your writing journey for this exciting new picture book. I’m a big fan of informational fiction and it sounds like your book does a terrific job of mixing in the science. I look forward to reading it!

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  10. HEY JAMES!: I’ve been looking forward to your FIRST book birthday! I’ve been watching your BookEnds YouTube videos over the last six months, almost daily. A BIG THANKS to you and Jessica Faust for helping newbie writers navigate the world of publishing. I would be TOTALLY LOST without all of your WONDERFUL information, guidance, suggestions–and your humor, too!
    As to Vivian’s questions about which planet I would choose to visit: I would HAVE TO go to Mars, because I LOVE Mars chocolate! I mean, a planet made of chocolate–how could I NOT visit that one!!!?!!! THANK YOU both for a WONDERFUL post!!!

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  11. What a fun interview! I love knowing the story of how picture books came to be. Congratulations, James. I can’t wait to share this with my youngest grandson.

    Like

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