Critter Lit

Write. Draw. Read. Repeat.

debut picture book

Interview with Debut Author Ashley Franklin

Authors, book release, debut interview, InterviewsLindsay Ward8 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today, I’m thrilled to feature debut author Ashley Franklin! Her new picture book, NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE, illustrated by Ebony Glenn, released this past July with HarperCollins. I love the story, message, and charming illustrations in this book, which I think Kirkus Reviews sums up perfectly:

A feel-good picture book and a great reminder that classic princess roles can be reimagined to embrace inclusion, diversity, and body positivity.”

So without further ado…please welcome Ashley Franklin!

IMG_5065.jpg

Where do you live?

I currently live in northwest Arkansas. 

When did you know you wanted to write/illustrate picture books?

I didn’t know I wanted to seriously write children’s books until I had kids of my own. I wanted to write books that had characters that looked like them and their family members. I also wanted to write books that I felt I needed as a kid.

Can you share a bit about your process?

I’m a work from home mom, so my process is probably a bit unorthodox for most. For example, I don’t write every day. I spend a lot of time thinking things over in my head and taking notes on my phone.

I’m still trying to get the hang of waking up early to write, but I do find that I am most productive once the kids are in bed and I’ve chugged some coffee.

I’m a quick writer and a slow reviser when it comes to picture books because those early drafts are really me compiling those mental and phone notes and seeing what comes of them.

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

Honestly, I do two things: watch cartoons and consult with my kids. I watch cartoons to check out popular themes and see how they’re tackled and why they worked. My kids are in elementary school, so their perception of things is still pretty spectacular.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

A good pen! I prefer to draft using pen and paper, but I cannot stand a pen that doesn’t write smoothly!

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Tara Lazar—I admire people who can be funny on purpose. That’s not my gift at all!

Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow—I love her way with imagery. She’s very detail oriented and can really paint a picture. Reading her work challenges me to slow down and really be more deliberate with imagery in my own work.

Vashti Harrison—Everything she does is ridiculously gorgeous. She’s just amazing. That’s not much more you can say.

Dream project to work on?

That’s a tough call. I don’t really have an answer for that because right now I feel like any project I’m working on passionately is a dream project.

Tell us about your debut book.

NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE features a talented young girl named Tameika who is great at singing, dancing, and acting. Tameika auditions for the lead role of Princess Snow White in her school’s musical because it’s one of the few roles she hasn’t played and Snow White is her favorite princess. Unfortunately, Tameika’s confidence is shaken when her peers question if she is right for the part because of her appearance. Tameika has to decide if she will let what others say keep her from pursuing her dream role.

What’s up next for you?

I’m continuing to write picture books, but I’m expanding into middle grade. The middle grade bug bit me thanks to a middle grade short story I wrote as a contributor to an upcoming middle grade anthology. It’s called Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices and is scheduled to be released May 5, 2020.

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

Umm...I was born in the 80s, so I’d have to go with a movie I remember most vividly, and that’s Oliver & Company.


Huge thank you to Ashley for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on your debut book— we can’t wait to see what comes next for you!


ASHLEY FRANKLIN is a writer, mother, and adjunct college professor. Ashley received her M.A. from the University of Delaware in English Literature, where she reaffirmed her love of writing but realized she had NO IDEA what she wanted to do about it. Ashley currently resides in Arkansas with her family. Her debut picture book, NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE, was released July 9, 2019 by Harper Collins.

 FOR MORE INFORMATION about Ashley visit her online: www.ashleyfranklinwrites.com or follow her on social media:

Twitter: @differentashley

Instagram: @ashleyfranklinwrites

Facebook: Ashley Franklin

TO ORDER Ashley’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, August 29th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author Hannah Stark

Authors, Interviews, debut interviewLindsay Ward2 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with debut picture book author Hannah Stark. Her first book, TRUCKER AND TRAIN, illustrated by Bob Kolar, comes out on August 6th with Clarion Books and has received fabulous reviews. Vehicle books are big in our household so I can’t wait for this one to come out! We are so excited to have her with us today to share about her debut book and her road to publication.

So without further ado…please welcome Hannah Stark!

Hannah Stark Author Photo.JPG

Where do you live?

I live in Brooklyn, NY.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

Ever since I was a kid I enjoyed writing but never thought I’d share it with others, namely keeping travel journals and pocket notebooks. In 2004 I started teaching third grade in the New York City Public Schools.  We did a project with the book Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier. I was inspired by how this picture book grew awareness for the organization Heifer International and was positively impacting so many people.  

My boyfriend at the time ran a non-profit in Senegal and we spent a summer living in Dakar. While he worked I did a ton of reading, writing, and exploring. I started writing down stories I heard the kids tell and making up stories of my own. By the end of the summer I had a notebook of stories drafted. I never did anything with those stories but for the first time my writing had arc. For the first time, I wondered if I could someday write my own picture book. 

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

In 2013 I decided to apply to author/illustrator Pat Cummings Picture Book Boot Camp in Brooklyn with half a draft of TRUCKER AND TRAIN.  Pat saw potential in the story from the beginning. She really challenged me to walk out of Boot Camp with a polished project and somehow I did. Afterwards, she encouraged me to start submitting the manuscript. Five editors passed on the project before Lynne Polvino at Clarion Books/HMH Kids believed in it and helped me bring my story into the world.

Can you share a bit about your process?

As a third grade teacher and single mom I write in spurts when my schedule (and energy level) allow. The first drafts of TRUCKER AND TRAIN were actually pecked into my phone while riding the subway to work. There are post-its of first lines hanging on my kitchen wall. I add to them when I cook or clean. Sometimes my boys help me with them over dinner.

I like writing by hand and draft in pencil in an oversized artist’s book. When I feel ready to move forward with a page or draft I type it up, print it, and then revise on that page in pencil. When I’m happy with my revisions I edit them on the computer, print it, and repeat the process over and over.  

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

For me, there are many ideas but not enough time. When I don’t get to look at a project for a few weeks because things are busy I usually start by just sitting and reading beautiful writing. These days that tends to be something by Jacqueline Woodson or Mary Oliver.  

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

There’s nothing concrete. I think the only thing I really need is a reminder to be patient with myself.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

I’m really inspired by Sophie Blackall and how she persisted with her career as a single mom. The Horn Book just printed her Caldecott Medal acceptance speech and she describes working on books at the kitchen table while her kids did their homework. That sounds a lot like my home.  

I’m also inspired by Rob Sanders who I was in a course at the Highlights Foundation with in 2018. He’s also an elementary school teacher and has been creating books in the hours when school is not in session. I’m so inspired by his career that started as a teacher with a writing passion side hustle. I’m so happy to see his career really take off with the releases of PRIDE and STONEWALL. He’s also a super sweet person.  

Dream project to work on? 

I’d love to write humor. We laugh a lot in my classroom and I think I get kid humor but I’ve never tried anything like it before.  

Tell us about your debut book.

My book TRUCKER AND TRAIN is about a big rig named Trucker who loves to rule the road with his size, strength, and mighty horn. One day he meets the larger, stronger, and louder Train. Trucker quickly realizes that Train is bigger, stronger, and louder but isn’t using his might for power. Instead, Train is well-adored by the other vehicles. TRUCKER AND TRAIN is a story about using our strengths for good. 

I was inspired to write the story when my son was three. I saw how some kids in his class relied on their size and strength during play since their verbal expression was just starting to develop. I hope the book is seen as more than a book about trucks and trains for vehicle loving toddlers. I hope young readers and their adults will use it to open up conversations about kindness, compassion, and the idea that with great power comes great opportunity.  

What’s up next for you?

I’ve been working on three non-fiction and historical fiction manuscripts. I love history and untold stories that kids can connect to today. The projects are geared towards an older reader than TRUCKER AND TRAIN but they are true passion projects and I love developing them. My goal is to get two of them submitted this summer. Fingers crossed!

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

Without a doubt it has to be Sixteen Candles.


Huge thank you to Hannah Stark for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on your debut picture book, we are so excited for you and can’t wait to see it on shelves!


HANNAH STARK grew up watching her mom, Marisabina Russo, create picture books in her studio. She remembers a house filled with children's books as well as bags of teaching materials because her father was a teacher. Today Hannah's home is filled with picture books and teaching materials, too. Hannah has been teaching elementary school in the New York City Public Schools for fifteen years. She loves making and sharing resources for other educators and teaching kids to write. She was inspired to write her debut book, TRUCKER AND TRAIN, while playing with her sons, Jackson and Travis. When not writing or teaching, Hannah can be found taking road trips and train rides to unfamiliar places.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Hannah visit her online or follow her on social media:

Twitter

Instagram

TO ORDER Hannah’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of TRUCKER AND TRAIN?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, August 8th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author Ishta Mercurio

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with debut author Ishta Mercurio. I’m thrilled to have her with us today and I can’t wait for you to hear about her wonderful debut picture book, SMALL WORLD, illustrated by Jen Corace, which will release with Abrams Books for Young Readers on July 2nd.

So without further ado…please welcome Ishta Mercurio!

Ishta-high res happy author - square.jpg

Where do you live?

I live in Brampton, Ontario! I haven't always lived here, though. I grew up in Cincinnati, OH. I come from a long line of people who moved around.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

I've always loved storytelling, and I studied theater in college. There was something about using my whole self--my body, my gestures, my facial expressions, my voice--to tell a character's story that I really loved. But when I had kids, I realized that paying someone to look after them was going to cost more than I was earning! So I decided to stop working for a while and stay home with my littles. I read to them every night at bedtime, and I fell in love with the storytelling in picture books: the rhythm of the language captivated me, and the way the words and pictures came together to make something that is greater than the sum of their parts is an alchemy that I had to be a part of.

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

Reading! I didn't know the first thing about how to get published, so I googled it. This is what's so great about living in the 21st century--you can google how to do almost ANYTHING! So I googled it, and I read a whole bunch of blogs by agents (like Nathan Bransford and Rachelle Gardner) and writers (like Shannon Messenger and Casey McCormick and Shannon O'Donnell and Debbie Ohi), and I joined SCBWI and CANSCAIP (which is like SCBWI, but Canadian), and I invested a lot of time (years!) in learning how the industry works.

I also learned very quickly that my writing was not very good, but I knew that that was okay because you can improve as a writer, so I focused on doing that. I joined critique groups through SCBWI. I took a class in writing for children at the University of Toronto. I became part of the community of kidlit writers in the Toronto area. I went to conferences where I paid for my work to be critiqued, and I kept revising and writing new things until the rejections I got sounded less like one-line form rejections and more like "I loved these things about your story, but this part just isn't working." Meanwhile, a friend from my critique group was writing non-fiction in a series for a publisher, and she asked me if I wanted to write the next non-fiction book in the series with her, so I did, and that was great. It was my first experience working with a publisher, but I was doing it with someone who had worked with them before, and that was really valuable.

And then eventually, an agent pulled my query for a chapter book out of the slush and loved it and asked to see more and loved that, and we met and I knew that I wanted her on my team. She really got me, which is important. You want an agent who really gets you and who absolutely loves your work. And the thing is: that chapter book still hasn't sold, but the next thing she sent out did. And that book is SMALL WORLD. So even after all that, you have to know and accept that rejection is part of the process, throughout your career. And that's okay. Write the next thing.

Can you share a bit about your process?

I usually get an idea that's just a seed, and I write that down--just a sentence or two--and let it marinate for a while. Then I jot down ideas and doodle until I think I have enough to make a story, and then I write out what I call a "bare bones" draft: it's mostly flat, language-wise, with maybe a couple phrases that touch on the lyricism or whatever tone I'm going for, but it has the basic plot. And then I doodle some more, and think about what layers I can build in, and at that point I write one sentence that encompasses the heart of the story, and I tape that to my desk where I can see it while I work through the multiple drafts it takes to get the story right. It's like my compass: it keeps me heading in the right direction.

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

I read a lot, and I watch movies. I take walks and garden and watch the bugs do their thing. I catch up on the news. Mostly, though, I go out in the world, to museums or to parks, and I just take it in. And I have conversations with people about things that have nothing to do with writing children's books. Ideas are everywhere; you just have to be open to them.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Coffee! But everyone probably says that. I also have a process book, and that's where I write early drafts and doodle and work out niggles in my manuscripts. Even when I reach the type-it-all-out stage, I like to have my process book close by.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Oh, gosh--so many! It would be easier to list the ones who don't, but that would be mean.

I love Marla Frazee's work; her illustrative style is just so gorgeous, and at the same time, so rooted in the messy reality of childhood. She's amazing. I am in awe of Angie Thomas and S. K. Ali, whose books feel so effortless (even though I know they take A LOT of work!). Ekua Holmes' experiments with different illustrative styles and art techniques is blowing me away. Linda Sue Park and Kate DiCamillo both wrote books that made me want to be a better writer. And John Green's books always feel like home.

Dream project to work on?

I have a HUGE bucket list, but one of the things on it is to write a wordless picture book. I know that sounds contradictory, and it's hard to pull it off, but there's no fun without a challenge, right?

Tell us about your debut book.

SMALL WORLD follows Nanda from the day she is born, wrapped in the circle of her mother's arms, right up until the day she goes to the Moon and looks back at the Earth from far away. It's about wonder, and the amazing places your explorations can take you. It's about dreaming big for your future, and finding your place in the vastness of the Universe. It's my love letter to this planet, which is our shared home and which contains innumerable wonders. And it's about joy. Jen Corace illustrated it, and it's a match made in heaven. My editor is a genius for pairing Jen's art with my words.

What’s up next for you?

I'm not allowed to say yet, but I sure hope everyone likes it!

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

The Princess Bride, of course!


Huge thank you to Ishta for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait for your debut to come out! Congrats!


ISHTA MERCURIO is an author and actor. Raised in Cincinnati by an Irish-German-Italian-American father and a Polish-American-Filipino mother, she has traveled to England, Scotland, Italy, France, and all over the United States. She now lives in Brampton, Ontario, where she films and photographs plants and wildlife, from the tall to the small, in her backyard. Small World is her debut picture book. Find her online at www.ishtamercurio.com, on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/theoneandonlyishta/ , on twitter at @IshtaWrites and on instagram at @ishtamercurio.

TO ORDER Ishta’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of SMALL WORLD?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, June 20th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author and Illustrator Mikela Prevost

Authors + Illustrators, Interviews, Debut InterviewsLindsay Ward3 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have a fabulous interview with debut author and illustrator Mikela Prevost whose book, LET’S HAVE A DOG PARTY! came out in March. I adore this book so much! It’s cute, funny, and oh so charming with a lot of heart— my favorite combination. Here’s a sneak peek for those of you who haven’t read Mikela’s wonderful debut yet…

Kate and Frank are best friends. To celebrate Frank's birthday, Kate throws him a party with all her favorite things: lots of friends, dancing in circles, loud singing, and sparkly confetti everywhere. But best friends don't always have the same taste in parties. Frank prefers quiet, sun-drenched naps on his favorite rug. So he hides. Kate must find a way to bring Frank back to the party--on his own terms.

I’m thrilled to have Mikela with us today, so without further ado…please welcome Mikela Prevost!

MPrevost_headshot3.jpg

Where do you live?

In the Valley of the SUN! Phoenix, Arizona.

When did you know you wanted to write/illustrate picture books?

As a kid, I wasn't terribly good at reading but I always had the pictures in books to help guide me through the story in one way or the other. But by 2nd grade, I had started to grow in my reading abilities and at that point, the Harry Potter books of my day were Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Light in the Attic. I devoured these books, for the brevity of the poems and the child-like pen and ink illustrations. 

Silverstein's illustrations seemed so approachable, something that I could do. Drawing came much easier to me than reading, so seeing how a story could be encapsulated in such a brief poem along with an outlandish drawing was so attractive to me. The worlds he created through his poems always had me wondering what else happened beyond that last sentence. 

As a writer and illustrator now, I want to try and give young readers that sense of  "seen" as Shel Silverstein did for me.

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

Signing with a literary agent was the best way for my work to evolve. I attended SCBWI's Winter Conference in 2017 where Rebecca Sherman of Writer's House came across my work. She loved my illustration work and knew that my writing had potential. Over the course of several months, I was writing stories and sending sketches to Rebecca but she really wanted to start my career off on the right foot, so she pushed me to produce my best work. I'm so thankful she did, as I look back and see those earlier stories - I would not want them out in public! When the story idea for Let's Have a Dog Party! came, Rebecca made me feel like I had struck gold! We sent the text, dummy and two finished illustrations out, it went to auction and we found a great home for the story with Joanna Cardenas who (at the time) was the editor for Viking/Penguin.

Can you share a bit about your process?

Writing and illustrating is such a balancing act - having just enough of the best words while allowing the illustrations to do some heavy lifting. I  try to write more than I need then weed out what is superfluous to the story. 

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

I "squeeze the sponge dry" on a topic until I've exhausted every possible story idea. I write out ideas until I reach the end of the page. 95% is garbage worthy, but I will stumble on a gem that makes me so excited, I won't sleep at night.

Anything you can’t live without while you write/draw?

While writing, I listen to a curated instrumental playlist that cues up my brain to stay focused on just that story. While illustrating I binge podcasts and watch/listen to old Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes. And I keep the coffee flowin'.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

My illustration friends Molly Idle, for her graceful, luscious line work and joyful colors and Juana Martinez-Neal, who captures the essence of children so innately. Also, her talent with patterns is second to none! An author I aspire to emulate is Jon Agee - his humor is so wry yet it translates to children in the perfect way. My Rhinoceros was my own personal masterclass in writing.    

Dream project to work on?

Anything that results in a kid loving a book so much, it falls apart. That, to me, is the true mark of a successful book.

Tell us about your debut book.

With Let's Have a Dog Party! I was sitting in my office, wracking my brain for a good story idea, while my kids and a few neighbor kids were running back and forth by my door chasing our little dog Pepper. She's a good-natured dog that will tolerate anything, but I knew eventually the chaos would reach a crescendo and she would take off running. If I wasn't there to stop this fiasco, I imagined a party breaking out. That's where the idea came from - I liked the idea of the kid characters just deciding out of the blue that "today" was Frank's birthday and using whatever they had on hand to celebrate. Like my kids, I knew a point would come that the characters would realize the poor dog had hit his limit and need to de-escalate the situation.

What’s up next for you?

I can't say just yet - but I can say I'm excited!

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

Ghostbusters! And it still is my favorite movie! I saw it in the theater with my Dad, so I'll always have the good memories to associate with the movie.


Huge thank you to Mikela for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait to see your debut book and all that you do!


MIKELA PREVOST is an author and illustrator currently residing in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband and their three kids. Born and raised in Southern California, she received her BFA from the University of Redlands, and an MFA in Illustration from California State University of Fullerton. Writing and illustrating for children has been her life-long pursuit and passion. Her work is driven by the desire to capture the whimsical innocence and unique perspective from which a child sees the world. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Mikela visit her website or follow her on social media:

Instagram

Twitter

Facebook

TO ORDER Mikela’s books, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of LET’S HAVE A DOG PARTY?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, June 6th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author Cathy Ballou Mealey

Authors, book release, Debut InterviewsLindsay Ward7 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with author Cathy Ballou Mealey! Her debut picture book, WHEN A TREE GROWS, illustrated by Kasia Nowowiejska, just released this month with Sterling Children’s Books. I’m so excited to share this brand new book with you all today! Here’s a sneak peek:

When Moose sees the inviting tree where Squirrel has built his nest, he rubs his itchy antlers against the trunk—and sets in motion a chain of comic catastrophes. The tree falls and wakes Bear, who stumbles into Moose, who causes a truck driver to swerve off the road. But then Squirrel jumps onto that truck and ends up in the city, all alone. Who will help him get home? And how will Squirrel thank them? Kids will love this adorable picture book, with its irresistible animal characters and rhythmic text that’s made for reading out loud.

So without further ado…please welcome Cathy Ballou Mealey!

Cathy Mealey headshot.jpg

Where do you live?

I have lived in Massachusetts all my life. I grew up just below the Vermont/New Hampshire border, and went to college in Metrowest. After a decade in Cambridge, I’m currently on the fabulous North Shore.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

I wrote my first picture book in 2010 to enter the Cheerios “Spoonful of Stories” contest. Even though “Ozzie the Oyster” was definitely not ready for publication, my prize was discovering a passion for the craft of picture book writing. After attending conferences, classes and workshops, I joined SCBWI, the 2012 12X12 Challenge and two critique groups. I have been writing, revising and studying ever since.

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

Drafting TREE took roughly 6 weeks before I had a preliminary version to share with critique partners. I used multiple revision tactics to trim text and tighten the storyline. I plastered sticky notes on my door to rearrange the scene sequence. I pasted sentence strips into a book dummy loaded with stick-critter sketches. When friends urged me to send out the revised TREE, I started to query agents. In May 2015 I signed with Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency and by December TREE was putting down roots at Sterling Books for Children.

Can you share a bit about your process?

Scribble my idea into a notebook and mull it over. Develop a pitch. Research some related non-fiction titles from the library about moose, squirrels, bears, etc. Mull some more. Write a long, rambling draft. Chew on word choices. Revise, re-write. Plunk text into a word cloud generator like WordItOut or Wordle, draft a few rhyming lines, make a dummy with stick figures. Revise until it is ready for critique group. Mull over feedback. Revise, rinse, and repeat until ready!

WHEN A TREE GROWS WordCloud.png

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

Go for a long walk outdoors. Visit a museum. Browse the greeting card section of my favorite stationery store. Bring my son to a playground and eavesdrop on the kid chatter!

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

A window. Natural light. Being able to gaze at the sky or trees. I watched a lot of squirrel activity while writing When A Tree Grows, and kept my camera close at hand.

AAA prize squirrel.JPG

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Every up-and-coming writer yet to be published inspires me. Making book dreams come true is tough, especially when balancing the demands of career, family life, and community responsibilities. Those who consistently carve out time to nurture that writing spark inspire me to work harder, write better, persevere.

I have so little drawing ability that I am floored by almost every illustrator’s work in one fashion or another. Particular favorites to pore over include Catherine Rayner, Hadley Hooper, and Melissa Sweet. I’m so grateful to Kasia Nowowiejska for her dedicated efforts to make WHEN A TREE GROWS the very best book it could be.

Dream project to work on?

This is such an interesting question! I can’t name a specific dream project. However, there are certainly manuscripts that I’ve pored blood, sweat and tears into that I would love to see become real, live books one day.

Interior Spread - WHEN A TREE GROWS

Interior Spread - WHEN A TREE GROWS

Tell us about your debut book.

WHEN A TREE GROWS is a rollicking read-aloud that follows a zany chain of events triggered by a broken tree, a cranky Bear, a nut-loving Squirrel and his loyal friend Moose. Kirkus gave it a lovely review, saying “Laugh along as a story about a tree in the forest comes full circle, bringing three creatures along for a bumpy but fun ride.”

What’s up next for you?

Next up for me is a still-secret picture book with an amazing publisher in Canada. A sloth and a squirrel team up for a special mission. Look for an announcement soon, and a book sometime in 2021!

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

An 80’s movie set in 1963 - Dirty Dancing.

RIP Patrick Swayze.

“Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”


Huge thank you to Cathy for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited for your debut and can’t wait to see what’s next!


CATHY BALLOU MEALEY lives with her family north of Boston, where she delights in watching silly squirrel antics and is waiting patiently for a moose to appear. Her favorite nut is the hazelnut and her favorite cupcake is cardamom crème.

Her debut book, WHEN A TREE GROWS, is a rollicking read-aloud that follows a zany chain of events triggered by a broken tree, a cranky Bear, a nut-loving Squirrel and his loyal friend Moose.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Cathy and her work, visit her online here or follow her on social media:

Twitter: @CatBallouMealey

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cathy.mealey

Instagram: @catballoumealey

TO ORDER Cathy’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of WHEN A TREE GROWS?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, April 18th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with debut author Natascha Biebow!

Interview with Debut Author and Illustrator and Husband and Wife Team Megan and Jorge Lacera

Authors + Illustrators, Authors, Debut Interviews, Illustrators, InterviewsLindsay Ward7 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today, we have an interview with debut author and illustrator Megan and Jorge Lacera! A husband and wife team, their debut picture book, ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES!, released this week in both English and Spanish! I’m thrilled to share their work with you today!

So without further ado…please welcome Megan and Jorge Lacera!

Where do you live?

Our home is Cypress, Texas, y’all—a suburb of Houston. 

When did you know you wanted to write/illustrate picture books?

Collaborating has always been our jam. We met while we were both working in the kids’ entertainment studio at American Greetings in Cleveland, Ohio. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we both love everything about stories—reading them, watching them, critiquing them, arguing over them! Creating stories together is magical.

Once we got married, we started thinking more about picture books. We loved that we could create something from beginning to end and execute the full vision that we collectively dreamed up. Super appealing.

After Jorge attended a week-long illustration seminar with faculty that included amazing creators like Adam Rex, James Gurney, and Rebecca Leveille Guay, we were both inspired and excited so we started to really go for it. Our first attempts didn’t exactly come together (re: they were a mess), but we kept evolving. When a little zombie kid character named Mo shambled his way into Megan’s brain, we knew we were onto something that we couldn’t let go.   

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

We put a ton of time and energy into learning and sharpening our craft. Years. We attended local and national SCBWI conferences. Read countless books, studied their structures and forms. Founded a critique group that was very focused on achieving publication-level work. Completed a seminar with Mira Reisberg’s Children’s Book Academy. Made dummies, critiqued the heck out of them, threw them out, started over.

After all that we felt confident in querying agents. We’re now represented by John Cusick at Folio Jr. (he’s awesome!). ZOMBIES wasn’t on submission all that long before the offer from Lee and Low came in. We absolutely love Lee and Low and have so much respect for their integrity and dedication to multicultural stories and creators. Editor Jessica Echeverria’s offer letter was unbelievable….she got EVERYTHING we were going for with ZOMBIES and more. Perhaps cliché, but collaborating with Jessica and Lee and Low feels meant to be.

From signing the deal to the book’s release, two years have passed. Much of that time has been on revising, revising, revising. Some days were challenging, but holding the final book in our hands is totally worth it!

Can you tell us about how you work together as a husband and wife team? 

Usually when we tell people that we work together they look totally mystified. “On purpose?!?” they ask.

Yep. We really do love working together. 

We work at home. After we get our son off to school, we talk over coffee and breakfast. Usually that includes some debate over the latest news stories or a movie we watched the night before. But there’s also a review of our goals for the day, ways to divide up the work, reminders of our big vision and where we’re headed. In addition to our books, we also consult and freelance for companies together—so there are those projects that require collaboration and sometimes quite a bit of negotiation on how it will all get done on time.

The day from there depends on where we are in the process. At the concept stage of a book, we’re together a lot….sketching out ideas, outlining a plot, building art reference, watching movie clips. Once we’re on the same page, we both go off separately; Megan to write the manuscript, Jorge to draw. Then we come back together to review and critique everything we’ve both done. 

People often want to know if we argue. Of course we do! Part of we’ve learned while collaborating at companies is how important healthy disagreement and creative conflict are to the process. Ideas and stories get better when you can push each other to go even further. Respectfully, while keeping your focus on the work. We welcome the “conflict” now because we know it means there’s room to grow…our standards are pretty high and holding each other accountable to those standards is key to our process.

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

Consistent exercise is really important to both of us. Jorge does Cross-fit and Megan does hot yoga. Sweat seems to clear space for creative work. We take walks most days and talk about where we’re at with a project or hammer out details of what’s working and what isn’t. 

It isn’t always easy to remember (okay, you might have to drag us kicking and screaming) but taking days off from working to go see a movie, eat Torchy’s Chips and Queso (it’s amazing and totally dangerous), or just do a whole lot of nothing can open up room for ideas and fresh energy. 

Getting new ideas isn’t really an issue; it’s zeroing in on the ones that speak to us most urgently, knocking them around enough to slough off the dust and craggly parts, and then carefully cultivating them into the special somethings that they become.

Anything you can’t live without while you write/draw?

Jorge: I work digitally primarily. I recently made the switch to a Dell Canvas and I’m not sure how I survived before. It’s upped my game and I love it. 

Also, Cuban crackers. Nom, nom.

Megan: My Macbook Air. So not unique, but I love me some coffee while clicking and clacking away. 

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Gosh, there are tons. To name just a few…

Adam Rex

Paulo Coelho

Yuyi Morales

Kate DiCamillo

Judy Blume

Peter Brown

Mac Barnett

William Joyce

Tony and Angela DiTerlizzi

Alice and Martin Provensen

Jon Klassen

Dream project to work on?

This is our dream. We loved creating ZOMBIES, we love our current projects, and we really can’t wait to get started on all the stories we have popcorning around in our heads. We’ve been planning for this time in our lives, working day and night to make it happen. So eternally grateful!

Tell us about your debut book.

Mo Romero is a zombie who loves nothing more than growing, cooking, and eating vegetables. Tomatoes? Tantalizing. Peppers? Pure perfection! The problem? Mo's parents insist that their niño eat only zombie cuisine, like arm-panadas and finger foods. They tell Mo over and over that zombies don't eat veggies. But Mo can't imagine a lifetime of just eating zombie food and giving up his veggies. As he questions his own zombie identity, Mo tries his best to convince his parents to give peas a chance.

The Spanish edition ¡Los Zombis No Comen Verduras! is also available and features details exclusive to that edition. Our story has a lot of puns and zombie jokes that wouldn’t work with a straight translation. Yanitzia Canetti adapted ZOMBIES and did a wonderful job!

We hope you’ll love our quirky story about family, self-discovery, and the power of acceptance!

 What’s up next for you?

We signed a two-book deal with Lee and Low Books (their first for picture books!) so we are already working on book #2 (monsters may or may not be involved). We also have several other projects in the works, including more picture books and illustrated middle grade series.

We’ve also created several animated series for kids. One is currently in development…stay tuned for more news on this in the coming months!

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

Megan: A hard choice of epic proportions, but I have to go with The Neverending Story. What I wouldn’t do for a luck dragon like Falcor!

Jorge: Impossible to pick just one. Okay, fine! Monster Squad.


Huge thank you to Megan and Jorge for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on your wonderful new book, we can’t wait to see all your upcoming projects!


JORGE LACERA was born in Colombia, and grew up in Miami, Florida, drawing in sketchbooks, on napkins, on walls, and anywhere his parents would let him. After graduating with honors from Ringling College of Art and Design, Jorge worked as a visual development and concept artist for companies like American Greetings and Irrational Games. As a big fan of pop culture, comics, and zombie movies, Jorge rarely saw Latino kids as the heroes or leads. He is committed to changing that, especially now that he has a son. 

MEGAN LACERA grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, with a book always in her hands. She became a writer and creator of characters and worlds for entertainment companies like American Greetings, GoldieBlox, and Hasbro, and later formed her own creative company (Studio Lacera) with husband Jorge Lacera. After reading many stories to their son, Megan realized that very few books reflected a family like theirs--multicultural, bilingual, funny, and imperfect. She decided to change that by writing her own stories.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Megan and Jorge and their work, visit them online here or follow them on social media:

Twitter: @Jlacera @MeganLacera

Instagram: @Jlacera

Facebook: @MeganAndJorgeLacera

LinkedIn: @Jlacera @MeganLacera

TO ORDER Megan and Jorge’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, April 11th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with debut author Cathy Ballou Mealey!