Critter Lit

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Interview with Debut Author + Illustrator Jessica Love

Authors + Illustrators, Debut InterviewsLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today’s debut author and illustrator interview is with Jessica Love, and I’m beyond excited to share her book, Julián is a Mermaid, with you! I absolutely love this book! It’s gorgeous and wonderful and full of love, which seems quite fitting seeing as it’s part of her name. This is one of those books where you have to hug it after you read it. And the art is stunningly beautiful.

So with out further ado, please welcome Jessica Love!

jess love.JPG

Where do you live?

I live in Brooklyn, in a very tiny apartment, with my very tall fiancee. But I consider Green-wood Cemetery to be our yard. So we have 478 acres of outdoor space and like 350 sq. feet of indoor space. 

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

Before I made Julián is a Mermaid it hadn't really occurred to me that I wanted to work in the picture book form, but looking back it seems strange it took me so long to get there, because picture books are a confluence of all my points of interest. Up until this past May, when Julián was published, I'd been working as a theater actor in New York for the last 13 years. I started working on Julián between jobs and backstage during shows. But as a kid, I would sit and draw all day long, all summer long, making up narrative stories as I went, sort of illustrating aloud.  And even working as an actor I found it very difficult to stop looking at the story from the outside, with a framer's eye. I always wanted more control than I was able to have from within the frame. Working on Julián allowed me an opportunity to direct the play, and also play all the parts. 

Can you share a bit about your process?

Because I've only made one book I don't yet have a strong feeling for the steps in the process. What's interesting though, is I have a very strong sense of the "steps of the process" for acting in a play, and while the tasks I need to perform aren't the same, the stages of excitement, boredom, frustration, despair-despair-despair, resignation, hope, exaltation are similar. So I can recognize the feeling I have when I hate everything I've done and want to forswear art forever as just one of the stages you have to pass through when you are making something new.

It occurs to me that you were perhaps asking about my illustration process, not my tortured creative process. My illustration process is very, very character driven. I have to understand what a character looks like, feels like, how they carry themselves, the way they stand, what they want, what they're afraid of. I suppose I approach it like an actor. But the story comes to me visually, sort of like a dream. I sort of see the story, and then draw it down. The language is the last part, and the part that always feels the least organic, for me. I always feel, a little bit, like I'm putting words into the characters' mouths. 

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

That's such a good question. I guess I like the very slow-cooked ideas. You gather them over time, putting them in that idea-fermenting-crock. But to shake them loose or figure out how they fit together I have to be physically moving. I walk, or swim. Something where my mind can float around while my body is engaged. That seems to be a very crucial part of the connection-making.

Art supplies you can’t live with out? / Anything you can’t write without?

I cannot live without Stonehenge paper. They make a brown kraft paper which is what the artwork for Julián is painted on. It's heavy, smooth like vellum, holds wet media like a dream, but can take an absolute beating. 

Interior spread from  Julián is a Mermaid

Interior spread from Julián is a Mermaid

Favorite authors/illustrators?

Maurice Sendak. Hillary Knight. Bill Waterson. Shel Silverstein. Jon Klassen. Mac Barnett. Carson Ellis.

Dream project or book to work on?

 Mark Twain's The Diary of Adam and Eve, in pen and ink.

Tell us about your debut picture book?

Julián is a Mermaid is my debut picture book! I worked on it for five years, and had drawn the entire thing several times over before I got an agent. I lived with the story for a long time, and worked on it steadily. It was actually a real privilege to get so many opportunities to revise, revise, go deeper.

What inspired you to create Julián is a Mermaid

I have a friend who transitioned later on in his life, and I was deeply moved by his story, and his courage. He lives in sort of rural Pennsylvania and the reaction of his community was...mixed. It made my heart heavy that he'd felt he had to wait so long to be himself, and it made me wonder what kinds of books there were for kids on the subject. I simultaneously became interested in drag, I started watching Ru Paul's Drag Race, and went down a Paris is Burning rabbit hole. I was interested in how an early encounter with an ecstatic, communal self-love might impact a young person discovering who they might be. I wondered if I could create that encounter in a book.

Interior spread from  Julián is a Mermaid

Interior spread from Julián is a Mermaid

What’s up next for you?

I'm taking some time off acting to do another book with Candlewick Press. It's about fathers and daughters, mothers and trees. I'm in the character design phase but I'm excited about the idea. It feels like a live wire. 

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Amadeus and Little Shop of Horrors tied for first place.

Jessica Love is an illustrator and Broadway actress. She has a BA in studio art from the University of California, Santa Cruz, as well as a graduate degree from Juilliard. She lives in New York.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Jessica or her book, visit her online at

TO ORDER a copy of Julián is a Mermaid, ring up your local bookstore, or click here.


Want a chance to win a copy of Julián is a Mermaid?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, November 15th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for a Critter Lit Craft Post.