It’s a nonfiction #BookBirthday pre-celebration with award-winning Megan Hoyt today. A GRAND IDEA (Illus. Dave Szalay / Quill Tree / releasing Jan. 23rd) is her fifth nonfiction picture book, and gives a fascinating glimpse of the creation of one of NYC’s most famous buildings. But don’t take our word for it:
Starred Review: “Anyone who has ever set foot into Grand Central Terminal in New York City knows what an iconic hub it has become. But who had the vision?”
“VERDICT A charming tale, and to think it’s all true! Whether readers are train and construction buffs or not, this is a living, breathing biography of a building, and the man who believed in it from the ground up. Extraordinary.“
“A rare introduction to one of New York City’s more influential but lesser-known builders, and his “Grand” work.” —Kirkus
And we have questions!
Q 1. Where did you first learn about William J. Wilgus? When did you decide his story should be in a picture book?
Megan Hoyt: Well, here is a little sneak peek at how publishing sometimes works, although I don’t know how often this happens. I had been working with my editor at Quill Tree, Karen Chaplin, on two other books when my agent, Deborah Warren, happened to be in NYC.
She caught up with Karen and asked what other non-fiction topics she might be interested in. When she said she’d love to create a really lush, beautiful book about Grand Central, Deborah recommended me to write it! I was thrilled, because I’d really enjoyed working with Karen and was sad that it might soon come to an end. And now, fast forward a couple of years, and we have two MORE books we are working on together! But I can’t discuss them yet.
Once I began digging in to research Grand Central, I saw that William J. Wilgus was instrumental in constructing it and also the genius visionary behind the whole idea of electric trains instead of coal-powered ones. From there, I uncovered all the juicy tidbits that happened – it was a dramatic Gilded Age situation, complete with Vanderbilts, spats between architects, and a colossal masterpiece, grand and magnificent!
Q 2. How did you go about researching A GRAND IDEA?
Megan Hoyt: I found a couple of great books, took many deep dives on the internet, and went to Grand Central Terminal itself to take pictures, experience the grandeur, and mill around, soaking up the atmosphere. It really is a spectacular building. There was so much factual information available that it became a challenge to choose what not to include in the book.
Q 3. What surprises or discoveries surfaced while you were working on this project?
Megan Hoyt: I was so surprised to discover all the extra businesses that were once a major part of Grand Central Terminal. There was a movie theater, a tennis court, a hospital, and even a ski slope inside the building!
And there are many urban legends surrounding it. Some say a ghost haunts the tunnels. And did you know at one time during World War II, Nazi saboteurs hid out in the Grand Central movie theater? They were eventually captured. And there was once a highwire act! They had to stretch a long cable way, way up high near that celestial ceiling.
Q. 4 What surprises did the illustrator David Szalay bring to the project?
Megan Hoyt: I was already a fan of his work, and he did not disappoint! I wasn’t surprised, but delighted to see how he brought New York City to life. It has been a wonderful partnership, and I hope to work with him again soon!
Behind the scenes…
Q 5. It’s such a daunting task to decide which parts of someone’s story will move a picture book bio forward and which equally fascinating parts you must leave out. Can you tell us about some of the parts that didn’t make it into the book?
Megan Hoyt: Most of the tidbits that didn’t make it into the story arc ended up in the back matter, but I did have a lot more about the Vanderbilts in the original version. It seemed to be more William Wilgus’s story than theirs, though. I mean, you could write a whole novel about the lives of the Vanderbilts, and it would be so engaging. But once I found out William Wilgus had been sort of forgotten, I knew I wanted to tell his story. Oh, and I had a lot more about his childhood and early work, too. It just didn’t fit in anywhere.
Q 6. What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Megan Hoyt: There are so many educational tie-ins here, from learning about construction, steel, electric and coal-powered trains, and the historical time period. But I really hope young readers will just love owning a special book about trains! It is also such a fascinating, engaging tale of an underdog engineer making his dreams come true, and we don’t see many of those.
Q 7. How is designing Grand Central Station like writing a picture book about it? Were there times when you might have been on similar journeys? What are the differences?
Megan Hoyt: Oh, what a fabulous question! I don’t claim to completely understand all that goes into drafting and architecture, but putting together the right facts and anecdotes in the best order to move a biographical story arc forward while also telling the story of a building and its impact on a city has to be similar, if not in scope and magnitude, in style and late night effort!
I had some previous experience writing my book about Carnegie Hall, THE GREATEST SONG OF ALL. It’s difficult, and sometimes you crumple up the design, toss it in the trash, and start over. I’m sure William Wilgus did that a few times, too!
Author Fun Facts
Q 8. I know you often visit the locations of your book. For example, you have traveled to Italy before and after writing BARTALI’S BICYCLE. Do you have a personal Grand Central Station story?
Megan Hoyt: My sister lives part-time in New York City, and I went to visit her around Christmas time while working on the book. She said, “It’s not far – let’s just walk to Grand Central!” Well, for this North Carolina girl, it was a loooong walk from my sister’s apartment in breath-steaming cold weather! But we made it, and when we stepped inside and I saw the Oyster Bar and the majestic ceiling, the clock and the whispering gallery, it was just magnificent. But my legs were so tired!
Q 9. You have written pb biographies about some amazing individuals. Which of them seems most like you:
- William Wilgus A GRAND IDEA
- Kati Karikó KATI’S TINY MESSENGERS
- Isaac Stern THE GREATEST SONG OF ALL
- Gino Bartali BARTALI’S BICYCLE
Megan Hoyt: I am most like Dr. Katalin Karikó, I think. Not that I am Nobel Prize material by any stretch! But she just quietly spends her time doing what she loves and studying what she finds fascinating. That’s what I do, too!
Q 10. What projects are you currently working on?
Megan Hoyt: I am finally taking the leap and working on two Middle Grade novels (not simultaneously!). And they are fiction! It’s slow-going because I am also studying the craft of writing Middle Grade as I write. I have to remember that the story arc trickles out more slowly in a novel than with a picture book. That’s obvious, of course, but doing it is harder than I expected! I am very excited about telling these two stories, and I think readers will love them!
We can’t wait!
Thank you, Megan, for joining us on the blog today–
and Happy #BookBirthday–next week!
To find out more about Megan Hoyt and her work,
Check out her web site: www.meganhoyt.net
And follow her on social media: