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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!

Critter Lit Call for Questions

Authors + Illustrators, Authors, Craft, publishingLindsay WardComment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today I’m reaching out to find out about YOUR questions. Questions about writing, illustrating, querying, submissions, publishing— and everything else in between. Critter Lit will begin featuring a Q & A post every month answering YOUR questions. So send them over to lindsay@critterlit.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

xo

Lindsay

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

WriteOnCon 2019 Blog Post: Working Full-time as an Author/Illustrator

Authors, Authors + Illustrators, Craft, IllustratorsLindsay Ward7 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Earlier this month I had the opportunity to present at WriteOnCon, a wonderful online conference for the Kidlit community. If you don’t know what WriteOnCon is, make sure to check it out next year!

Recently, I’ve been receiving some questions about what it’s like to be a full-time author and illustrator, which oddly enough was the topic of my blog post for WriteOnCon this year. I’ve been making picture books full-time for almost nine years now. There have been many ups and downs. Some years have been fantastic, and others have been scary and awful. (Sorry!) That’s probably not what you want to hear. Okay, let me start again…

Here’s what I know about doing this amazing, terrifying, and creative job that we do as writers and illustrators full-time:

  • If you don’t love it, it’s not going to work. I mean really love it. Like a child. (I don’t say that lightly, I have two kiddos myself). Like children, making books is both exhilarating and exhausting. And you have to be able to roll with that, which isn’t always easy. But, let’s be honest, the best things in life never are.

  • Commit to your craft. Even if you aren’t doing this full-time. Carve out time to be creative, ideally every day (if you can), but whatever time you can dedicate, be consistent with it. Even though I don’t leave my house to work, I still treat it like a job in that I go for a designated time, to a designated space.

  • Your creative space is sacred. Make a space for yourself that you feel completely comfortable in, designated for your craft. A place you can foster creativity. It could be a spare bedroom, a small den, a closet! (If Harry Potter can live in one, you can certainly write in one!) Whatever works for you. But NOT the dining room table or another shared communal space. This space should be just for you and your craft.

  • Respect your craft. Nurture it. Let it flourish. Take care of it.

  • Patience. Patience. Patience. Practice patience every day. You’ll need it. Especially if you are able to make the jump to creating books full-time. Publishing is notoriously slow.

  • Balance. I can’t stress this one enough. I do not believe in working a creative job like a normal, full-time, eight-hour-a-day one. Creativity requires balance. It means taking a break and going for a walk. Or stepping out of your studio to run some errands. Or going for a swim. I’m not talking about procrastination. Think of it more as meditation. I may be going for a walk, but I’m contemplating my work. Mulling it over. Considering all the pieces in order to understand how to put them together.

So here’s what a typical day for me as a full-time author/illustrator looks like:

5:00 a.m.  - Wake up, make coffee, head to my studio.

7:00 a.m. - Get my kiddos up, eat breakfast, get ready for the day (at this point I’ve already worked two hours, uninterrupted by kids and life, which for me, is an incredibly productive and positive way to start the day).

8:00 a.m. - Go for a family walk with my husband (who also works from home), my two kiddos, and our dog. We live in a national park, so walking and hiking is a big part of our day to day and the balance I try to maintain in my workday. 

9:00 a.m. - Come home, put my 15-month-old down for a nap. If it’s not a school day for my three-year-old, then my husband watches him while I go back to work for another two hours.

11:00 a.m. - Make lunch. Take over watching the kiddos while my husband works in his office. I’m done working for the day. I typically only do four hours of creative work a day. It doesn’t sound like much, but I find I’m incredibly productive in those four hours.

The rest of the day is filled with a mix of naps, errands, taking care of stuff around the house, and making dinner.

7:30 p.m. - kiddos are in bed. I tackle emails, play catch-up (writing blog posts like this one), and do some editorial work, either with my husband or on manuscripts submitted through Critter Lit.

Then I get up and do it all over again. This may sound crazy. But somehow we make it work— watching our kids ourselves and working. Don’t get me wrong, there are days where life is nuts in our house, but most days it works. Most days it’s a balancing act. A dance of sorts.

Now, I’m going to tell you this next part to push you. Because the one thing I hear all that time from aspiring writers and illustrators is that they don’t have time to commit to their craft. But here’s the thing…time is what you make it. And if you don’t respect your craft enough to make time for it, then you may as well let it go. You have to believe in the value of your work. No one is going to do it for you.

My plate is full. Like really full. Just like all of you. We are all super busy. In addition to writing and illustrating picture books, I run a small stationery and design business with my mom. Two years ago I decided to start a Critter Lit, offering free critiques, interviews, and advice to up-and-coming writers and illustrators. I have two kiddos under the age of four. We live in a constant state of renovation because my husband and I decided to buy a total fixer-upper. This is my life. I tell you this not to impress you. I tell you because if I can make time, then so can you.

Now go make time for your craft. You totally got this!

Happy New Year Critters!

Authors, Authors + Illustrators, Craft, Debut Interviews, Illustrators, Interviews, publishing, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy New Year Critters! Can you believe it’s 2019?! I feel as though 2018 flew by! I’m excited to dive into this year and see what exciting adventures await. 2019 will be filled with three new book releases for me as well as a fabulous list of upcoming debut and veteran interviews! Check out some of the authors, illustrators, and author/illustrators who will be stopping by Critter Lit this year:

Lindsay Leslie

Meera Sriram

Sue Fliess

Cathy Breisacher

Shawnie Clark

Jamie L. B. Deenihan

Cathy Ballou Mealey

Julie Falatko

Sheri Dillard

Scott Magoon

Mikela Provost

Ishta Mercurio

Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Jenn Harney

Christopher Denise

June Smalls

Sue Reagan

Amanda Jackson

Tara Lazar

and more! I’m so excited to share with you what these amazingly talented people have to say about their process and work. This year is your year! Finish that novel, picture book, middle grade, young adult…you got this!

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” - George Eliot

So go out there and start writing!

Check in with me on Twitter for some Critter Lit Writing Resolutions that I’ll be posting throughout the month of January. Have a writing resolution of your own? I’d love to hear it!

Until next time…

xo

Lindsay

Interview with Debut Author/Illustrator Lindsay Moore

Authors + Illustrators, Debut Interviews, Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay Ward3 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Can you believe it’s already the end of the year?! This year has flown by. We have just a couple interviews left in 2018 before we make the leap into the new year. One of the wonderful experiences I had this year was traveling to Bowling Green State University here in Ohio to speak with teaching students about writing and illustrating books. During my visit I had the opportunity to meet our guest on Critter Lit today, Lindsay Moore.

It’s rare in this business to get face time, so anytime I can connect with a fellow author or illustrator in person, it’s always lovely. And Lindsay is no exception. Her debut picture book, SEA BEAR: A JOURNEY FOR SURVIVAL will be released January 22, 2019 and has received a starred review from both Kirkus and School and Library Journal, with many other rave reviews. A lovely and lyrical text set against stunning watercolors and delicate line work, you won’t want to miss this book. I’m thrilled to be sharing her story and work with you today!

So without further ado, please welcome Lindsay Moore!

Just a couple of Lindsays hanging out.

Just a couple of Lindsays hanging out.

Where do you live?

I live in Bowling Green, Ohio. It is a small town south of Toledo, surrounded by corn, with a state university and railroad tracks running through it. I am new to town, but my family and I like it here.

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

This question has 2 answers. When I was in third grade my teacher, Mrs. McDonald pulled me aside and told me that I was good at writing and I could grow up to be a writer someday. It was the first time I thought of authors as actual people and I believed her. 

And then...

Around the age of 13 I was reading lots of books by Madeline L'Engle. She had become my favorite author and I came across a her biography at our school library. I read about the challenge she had finding a home for A Wrinkle in Time and the amount of rejection she had to push through in order to publish it. I came to the conclusion that if Madeline L'Engle had that much trouble, then there was no hope for me. Madeline L'Engle was special and I was completely aware of how absolutely ordinary and un-special I was. So, I put any real dreams of being published aside, but continued to enjoy writing for school and for whoever would read it.

It wasn't until I was five or so years out of grad school, living in Ann Arbor, when I went to a Caldecott panel with Brian Floca, Chris Raschka, Erin Stead and Phil Stead, that I really thought seriously again about publishing. I scribbled this quote into my notebook from Erin Stead about working on books:

"Constant state of anxiety with deep shades of regret."

It spoke to me because that summed up a good deal of my experience in the creative process. I didn't know you could be apprehensive and make books.

I read two really good books after that panel at the Kerrytown Bookfest: Writing With Pictures by Uri Shulevitz and Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom by Leonard Marcus. They kind of confirmed that...I'm struggling on how to say this...making picture books made sense to me in a way that fine art didn't. I needed a story. I wanted there to be words. It was the way my brain/heart/hands worked. I felt like I found the perfect form of art.

Interior spread from SEA BEAR: A JOURNEY FOR SURVIVAL

Interior spread from SEA BEAR: A JOURNEY FOR SURVIVAL

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

It will have been about 4 years from the time I seriously decided to write to SEA BEAR coming out in January 2019. I think it is important to say that it wasn't clear from the get go that I would ever be published. I didn't believe in myself or even tell many people that I was writing.  

Ann Arbor is a great place for writers though. That is where I started. They have this wonderful program through the Ann Arbor District Library called The Emerging Writers Workshop. They meet twice a month and I met a few aspiring children book writers there. We formed a critique group and met every two weeks to work on our manuscripts. I owe all three of them so much because they patiently and attentively listened to draft after draft of the same story.

SEA BEAR was my first manuscript and I worked on it for about a year, but I was told that maybe it was a bit too serious for children. I put it aside to write manuscripts that were more "fun".  I wrote this really quirky one about a traveling lobster, but everyone my agent submitted it to said it was too off beat for them to follow. Probably the hardest critique I got was unsolicited from another agent that said my artwork looked dated. Her opinion came out of nowhere and it kind of stopped me in my tracks. Like, maybe I should just give up. I was looking up jobs online, thinking maybe I should find a job in the field of medical illustration. That is in fact what my degree is in.  

Around the same time I (somewhat reluctantly) shared my work with another author, Phil Stead.  He encouraged me to submit SEA BEAR and challenged me to experiment with new mediums in my illustrations. So, I finally got a dummy together, but my agent still had to call me for a pep talk because I was so deep in self doubt that I needed someone else to say it's time to submit. I went into the submission of SEA BEAR telling my husband to get ready for a suite of rejection and that it would probably lead to me crying in the shower like Tobias Fünke. Thankfully, that didn't happen. SEA BEAR found the perfect home at Greenwillow Books.

Interior spread from SEA BEAR: A JOURNEY FOR SURVIVAL

Interior spread from SEA BEAR: A JOURNEY FOR SURVIVAL

Can you share a bit about your process?

Sure! So, I'm really slow at the beginning. I research a lot. Even though SEA BEAR is fiction, it is based-off radio collar data that tracked the long swims polar bears make in the Arctic. I read a lot of journal articles and books. The library was an indispensable resource. Honestly, I get a little giddy when I find out that I have interlibrary loan holds ready for pick up. Then I read and think.  Like...I sit in silence and stare at walls and ceilings and light fixtures and focus.

My favorite part is storyboarding. I feel like if there was a job, just making story boards, I would be the happiest person.  

My illustrations are done with watercolor and two different kinds of drawing ink. The inks have slightly different properties and so they interact differently with the watercolor. I also use conte crayon and colored pencil.  My goal with SEA BEAR was to say, "I think the Arctic is a wonderful, mysterious, large, beautiful space, worthy of our awe and conservation." 

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

Walking in the woods clears my mind. I also just try to keep my eyes and ears open to the world, because it's really full of small stories that are just waiting to be noticed. That all being said, I am currently suffering from a bit of writer's block. So….

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

I really like silence and time. Also, I like to read the Psalms. 

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Absolutely. There are so, so many. So many, Lindsay.

I'm going to name two, because otherwise there would be too many and I wouldn't want to leave anyone out.

1. Lynne Rae Perkins - When I read her books, I can feel my heart. She draws out very real childhood feelings and places them honestly on the page and its like she just explained to me something that I had been confused about since I was a kid. I really love The Broken Cat and the artwork in Snow Music makes me pause every time I read it.

2. Erin Stead-  Erin is just brilliant. The illustrations in The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine made me weep because she handles her figures (both animal and human) with such care that you can feel their sorrow.  

Dream project to work on?

That is a good question. It would probably have to do with the water, but I'm really not sure.

Interior spread from SEA BEAR: A JOURNEY FOR SURVIVAL

Interior spread from SEA BEAR: A JOURNEY FOR SURVIVAL

Tell us about your debut book.

SEA BEAR is a 48 page picture book about a long distance swim a polar bear makes from the pack ice to dry land. It's based on field research in the arctic. It focuses on the relationship between polar bears and their sea ice habitat.  

What’s up next for you?

I'm working on a second book with Greenwillow. It's in really early stages though...research phase, so I won't say too much, other than I need to go for a walk in the woods.

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

Oh, I'm not much of a movie person, but "When Cameron was in Egypt's land......"


Thank you so much for stopping by Critter Lit today Lindsay! We are so excited to see SEA BEAR out in the world!


Lindsay Moore is an artist and writer with roots in Northern Michigan. She studied Marine Biology and Fine Art at Southampton College on Long Island and figure drawing at the Art Students League in New York City. Lindsay earned her Master of Science in Medical and Scientific Illustration from Medical College of Georgia (now Georgia Regents University) and has received recognition for her work from both the Association of Medical Illustrators and the Australian Institute of Medical and Biological Illustration. After 5 years spent primarily in Queensland and Ontario, then some time Ann Arbor, Lindsay now lives Bowling Green, Ohio with her family.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Lindsay and her work visit her website: www.lindsaykmoore.com or follow her on Twitter @YesPlankton.

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of SEA BEAR: A JOURNEY OF SURVIVAL?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, December 27th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for a Critter Lit Interview with debut author Monique Fields!


Interview with Author/Illustrator Corinna Luyken

Vet Interviews, Interviews, Illustrators, Authors + Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay Ward3 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today CORINNA LUYKEN is here! I’m such a huge fan of Corinna’s work, as I know all of you will be too. Her first book, THE BOOK OF MISTAKES, was my favorite book of 2017. Corinna’s books are incredibly beautiful and insightful, and I can’t wait for all of you to see MY HEART, her newest picture book that will be released on January 8th. It is simply exquisite.

So without further ado, please welcome Corinna Luyken!

Author photo_Corinna Luyken.jpg

Where do you live?

In Olympia, WA, at the base of the Puget Sound.

How many years have you been in publishing?

My first book, THE BOOK OF MISTAKES, came out in 2017.

How many books have you published?

MY HEART is my third book as illustrator, second as author/illustrator.

Do you write/illustrate full-time?

I do!  It’s been an eighteen year dream of making picture books, and I feel incredibly grateful to be doing this full time.

Interior spread from MY HEART

Interior spread from MY HEART

What inspires you to create picture books?

I’m in love with the form of the picture book, the way that words and images can work together to make something bigger than either one alone. Although I love to draw, and I love to write, it’s the magic that happens when they come together that thrills me.

What surprised you the most working as an author/illustrator?

After having a debut book that was well received, it really surprised me (in retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised) how difficult the second book became. Because suddenly I started to worry about what other people would think, and if the second book would measure up to the first one. I stressed myself out about all of this a lot more than I thought I would. Doubt and self judgement can be useful tools as an illustrator, but they can also paralyze you if you don’t keep them in perspective. I re-started a morning meditation practice in the midst of my second book, which helped a lot. Sometimes it’s good to remember that we are tiny specks on a spinning planet in a vast universe. Which helps me to create from a place of love, instead of fear.

What is your favorite thing about being an author/illustrator?

Finding out that a book I’ve made has touched someone else’s heart.

What do you find difficult working as an author/illustrator?

Balancing my devotion to my work and the amount of time it takes to make beautiful books with being a mom can be very difficult. But being a mom has also opened up my heart in a very big way. It’s a balancing act, but worth it.

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

Going for walks is great. Being near the ocean or any water also helps me to quiet my mind, which makes me more receptive to new ideas. Slowing down, in general, is a good thing. When I’m rushing around too much, it’s hard for me to make room for anything new. 

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

I try to start every day with quiet meditation time. Whether things are going really well, or I’m struggling with something… either way it helps to keep it all in perspective. A hot cup of tea or coffee is also necessary!

Interior spread from MY HEART

Interior spread from MY HEART

Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the kid lit community?

I’ve found this community to be full of many kind, generous people. Some of the most meaningful experiences have been small kindnesses early on in my career from people who were further along in the journey. Marla Frazee showed some interest in a dummy that I brought along to my first national SCBWI conference, and even went on to share it with an editor. The editor didn’t end up acquiring the story, but the fact that both of them saw potential in the project meant so much at the time. And then, a few years later (after many revisions) that dummy went on to win the SCBWI Don Freeman Work In Progress grant. And now, almost five years (and many more revisions) later, it is going to be my next book, MY HEART.

What is your favorite picture book?

I have SO many favorites!  I can’t choose just one…  but THE VERY PERSISTENT GAPPERS OF FRIP by Lane Smith and George Saunders is the book that made me want to make books.  

I also adore WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES by Julie Fogliano and Julie Morstad, EXTRA YARN by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, EMILY’S BALLOON by Komako Sakai, WAVE by Suzy Lee, MIGRANT by Isabelle Arsenault and Maxine Trottier, SCHOOL’S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson, DU IZ TAK by Carson Ellis, ALL THE WORLD by Marla Frazee and Liz Garton Scanlon, NOTHING by Jon Agee, THE IRIDESCENCE OF BIRDS by Hadley Hooper and Patricia MacLachlan …. and many many more.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

There have been so many highlights! Watching my daughter hug our first copy of THE BOOK OF MISTAKES tightly to her chest (the book was inspired by and is dedicated to her), getting my first packet of thank you art from a classroom full of kids in the mail, receiving a note that I had won the Leo Award for my first book (Leo is a young boy who has created his own award for his favorite book of the year!), and also hearing from Lane Smith, who illustrated the book that made me want to make books (see above) that he loved THE BOOK OF MISTAKES.

What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing/illustrating?

Persistence is more important than talent. Persistence, and truly loving the work.

Interior spread from MY HEART

Interior spread from MY HEART

Tell us about your newest book?

MY HEART is coming out January 8th. It's a celebration of the heart (in all its varied emotions), as well as an ode to love, and to keeping your heart open. 

What’s up next for you?

I’m just finishing up illustrations for WEIRD LITTLE ROBOTS, which is a middle grade written by Carolyn Crimi and coming out from Candlewick in fall 2019.  

I’ve got a few other exciting things lined up, but I can’t talk about most of them yet! But I will be making another book as author/illustrator with Dial that has a lot of arguing in it. And the next picture book I’m working on is called NOTHING IN COMMON by Kate Hoefler. It is about an old man, a hot-air-balloon-flying dog, and two kids who appear to have nothing in common, but perhaps do where it counts most.  

Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors and illustrators?

I think it’s really important to read as widely as possible. To fall in love with an enormous variety of work. Not just the work that is similar to what you want to make. The more books you love, the wider the pool of words and images that will filter through you and into your work. If you only love a few artists or writers, often, without even meaning to, the work you make will end up being overly influenced by them. And the world doesn’t need another Carson Ellis or Isabelle Arsenault or Jon Klassen. The world needs YOU and your voice. For me, the best way to create a unique style is to open your heart very wide and study the vast web of work that came before you. The more that you can find to love, the more varied your influences will be and the more you will, without even trying, develop a unique voice and style.

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

Labyrinth!


Huge thank you to Corinna Luyken for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited to see all of your upcoming books!


Corinna Luyken grew up in different cities along the West Coast, and after studying at Middlebury College, she settled in Washington State, where she draws inspiration from nature, her family, and the human form.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Corinna and her work visit her website: www.corinnaluyken.com or follow her on Twitter or Instagram @CorinnaLuyken.

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for a Critter Lit Interview with author/illustrator Lindsay Moore!


Happy Thanksgiving Critters!

Authors + IllustratorsLindsay WardComment

Today is my absolute favorite holiday, I love Thanksgiving! The pies, the turkey, the stuffing, the sweet potatoes, the football, and of course being thankful that I get to share it all with friends and family. We cook Thanksgiving dinner here at the Tupta house (I’ll be running off to make a pie after this post), and spending a few days preparing food for the ones I love is one of my favorite things. I wish all of you a wonderful Thanksgiving this year!

xo

Lindsay


What’s up on deck? Join me next Thursday for an interview with the wonderfully talented Tricia Springstubb!

Book Reviews: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Authors + Illustrators, Authors, CraftLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today’s post is all about handling reviews: the good, the bad, and the ugly. After almost ten years in this business, I’ve received them all. Glowing reviews, a starred review, bad reviews, and reviews that ripped my heart out. And I’ve learned something from all of them. Even the really bad ones.

Obviously, the glowing ones are fantastic. They give you confidence to keep creating and putting your work out there. Readers are connecting! It’s a wonderful feeling. But the bad ones…well those can leave you feeling angry, misunderstood, defensive, and make you want to crawl into a hole. I say that having felt that way myself. But here’s the thing— not everyone will love your work. And that’s okay. Truly. I took me a long time to understand this, and it’s something I wish I had known earlier in my career. If you created something that everyone loved, I’m not sure if it would really speak to the quality of the work, right? I mean, the point of storytelling is to spark a connection with your reader. That may not be every reader. And again, that’s okay.

So here are my tips for handling reviews, whether you’ve been doing this for a while or your first book is about to come out:

  1. Be proud of the creativity you put forth.

    Be proud of what you’ve done. You’ve published a book! That’s a tremendous accomplishment. Before I send in anything, whether it’s a manuscript draft, dummy, or finished art, I always ask myself if I’m proud of what I’ve done. If the answer is yes, I send it. If I’m hesitant, then I still have things to work out. Know that once your book has come out, you were at one point incredibly proud of what you’ve done. Hold onto that as reviews begin to come in.

  2. Decide if you are going to read your reviews. Then commit to that decision.

    I have friends who refuse to read their reviews. They have no interest in reading about someone else dissecting the work they’ve created. They know what they did, they don’t need to read about it. That’s one way to handle reviews. But if you are anything like me, then you can’t help but read them. You want to know. Do you people love it? Do they hate it? Either way, commit to how you want to handle reviews. Read them or not. But once you make that decision, stick to it. Don’t second guess yourself. If you choose to read them, see my next tip. (Also, please note, I don’t mean read every single one…that’s not a good idea. Online consumer reviews, for example, can be especially frustrating. Specifically when someone gives you a one star review because they can’t figure out how to read the e-book version on their tablet…seriously.)

  3. Take every review with a grain of salt.

    When reading reviews of your work, take them with a grain of salt. Constructive criticism can be great, it can push you to develop your craft further. Find what you connect with and leave the rest. At the end of the day, it’s your work and you have to be confident in what you’re doing. I can honestly say I’ve learned something from all the reviews I’ve ever read about my work. The great ones gave me a boost of confidence to try new things. And in a weird way, so did the bad ones. Those are the ones that taught me to get back to work and keep creating. Being kicked off the horse every once in the while is not a bad thing. It forces you to grow and really consider your work. Which leads to my next tip…

  4. Push yourself.

    How can these comments, good or bad, help you grow? I look at each book as another chance to push myself. To try something new. To stretch myself in a new direction.

  5. Keep creating.

    This is the most important thing. Don’t stop creating. Certainly not because of a bad review. Keep writing. Keep drawing. Keep putting yourself out there. You are capable of wonderfully creative endeavors.

Until next time,

Happy Creating!

Lindsay

Fighting the Writing

Craft, Authors, Authors + IllustratorsLindsay WardComment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today’s craft post is all about fighting the writing.

Being Type-A, I work around a pretty structured schedule, it’s the only way I can get anything done—and I stay pretty busy between all of the plates I’m spinning on any given day. That being said, there are days, more than I would like to admit, where getting words on the page is like pulling teeth. I sit, staring at the computer screen, waiting for something brilliant to come to me, which to be honest, never does when I try to force it. The cursor blinks at me, laughing. Or so it feels…

So how do you pull yourself out of that? How do you sit down and write when it’s the last thing you want to do? The answer is pretty simple, but you’re not going to like it: YOU JUST HAVE TO WRITE THROUGH IT. Write through the fog and the self-doubt and the fear. I’m a firm believer that you have to write a bunch of crap to get to the good stuff. I wish there was a more eloquent way to say that, but I’m sorry, there’s just not. The muse is fleeting and unpredictable, but when she shows up everything suddenly clicks into place and the magic starts to happen. Getting there…well, sometimes it’s hell.

I make the mistake of self-editing while I write. I want it to be perfect the first time I do it, which as anyone who writes knows, is just ridiculous! Writing is revision and inspection and constant consideration. We write because we have too. You wouldn’t put yourself through the agony of it all if you didn’t absolutely have to do it. If it wasn’t apart of who you are, right? Otherwise, you would be miserable constantly.

For me the trick is consistency. Make a commitment to your craft. Do it every day, in some form or another. Now, I say that because I’m not someone who physically writes every day. I tend to be very cerebral with how I work. I used to beat myself up over that, feeling as though I wasn’t writing enough. Conceptually, most of the framework for my books happens in thought, not with actual pen and paper. But I make time for contemplating my work every day, usually on walks with our dog. And when I say contemplating, I don’t mean procrastinating. I mean actual problem-solving. I generally only sit down to write and/or sketch when I feel ready (unless I’m trying to force it, as previously mentioned, which is never a good idea). Sometimes that’s days…months…or years (WHEN BLUE MET EGG is a perfect example of years).

Creatively, everyone works differently. Each manuscript is its own challenge and will require flexibility in variation from you. So don’t do that thing where you go on Twitter and you read about fabulous book deals while your blank document glares at you with its oppressively, blinding light. That certainly won’t help you get to the good stuff. Nor will it inspire you. As much as I love how connective and supportive social media can be, it can also be incredibly distracting and isolating. You have to learn to tune out the white noise. Which I realize is a lot easier said than done. Whether that white noise is you, your peers, or the internet, find a way to unplug and focus on the work.

So now that I’ve told you to make a commitment to your craft, I’m also going to tell you to take a break from it. Often. Creative work, and life for that matter, is all about balance. But it’s really easy to throw yourself off balance and continue stumbling around without even realizing it’s happening. So make time to get away. Experience the world. See new things. Spend time with loved ones. Read a book! Whether it’s for a ten-minute walk or month-long vacation, just step away. I can’t stress the importance of getting out of your own head and re-charging enough.

I’m a list person. They give me a sense of control and accomplishment in my busy life. Which, I know, sounds silly, but it’s oh so true. So I’m going to suggest this: write down your commitments. Your commitment to your craft and to taking a break. How much time will you allow yourself for both? Make a note of that. Then try to stick with it. I find that writing it down makes it more important and real. Preferably in a place where you can see it, first thing, every day.

I know how easy it is for life to get in the way. Day jobs, relationships, kids— they all require precious amounts of your time. But if you are really serious about writing (and/or illustrating) you have to make time for it amidst everything else. Because you have to. It’s what you are passionate about, right?

So go out there and write some good stuff!

Until next time…

Happy Writing!

Lindsay


What’s up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author/illustrator and art director at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Lucy Ruth Cummins!

Interview with Debut Author Aidan Cassie

Debut Interviews, Authors + IllustratorsLindsay Ward4 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today, I’m very excited to share with you the work of debut picture book author and illustrator Aidan Cassie! I received an F&G of Aidan’s debut book, STERLING, BEST DOG EVER, this past summer and immediately fell in love with little Sterling.

Sterling the dog has always wanted a home. But no home has ever wanted him. So when Sterling sees a sign on the side of the Butlery Cutlery Company advertising free "shipping to homes around the world," he is determined to become the most terrific fork ever! For what home doesn't need flatware?

Sterling is delivered on time and undamaged to the Gilbert family's front door. He is not, however, what they ordered. . . . But he may be exactly what they need. A humorous, heart-tugging picture book about finding a family, who wants you just as you are.

Sterling is quite lovable. Just look at the adorable cover below. Our family dog, Sally, was a rescue, so I immediately connected with Sterling’s hope of finding the perfect family and home. The illustrations are wonderful and the story is charming. I hope you enjoy Aidan’s new book as much as I do.

So without further ado, please welcome Aidan Cassie!

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Where do you live?

I live on a west coast island, on the side of a small mountain, in Canada’s Salish Sea, just north of Seattle. It’s a quirky, rural pocket of co-op farmers, naturalists and artsy-folk, but most people here are urban-transplants, like myself. I love island life - our daughter takes a ferry to school while my husband and I work from our home studios (to the great delight of our big red dog, Sooka).

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

While I was working on my degree in animation I started telling stories visually and fell in love with the process. After creating my wordless animated film, I thought I’d naturally write wordless picture books. Instead I discovered my voice, and the wonderful space between the text and illustrations.  I’m fascinated by the way readers/listeners/viewers construct what is happening with what is on the page, as well by the unsaid words and implied images. 

Can you share a bit about your process?

Assuming I’ve settled on a promising story idea nugget, I start by sketching characters to help me visualize the story. Then there’s the “walking and talking in the woods phase” as I envision it playing out like a little movie that I tell myself aloud… rewind, revise, and tell again. Sooka just chases sticks and is very non-judgmental. 

At the point my tale feels relatively solid I often enjoy a burst of drawing and writing. I pare things down to the important visual “shots” and make a series of thumbnail drawings, the same way I’d storyboard for animation. Later I might redraw with a bit more detail onto recipe cards, so I can reorder, add to, and edit the elements. I constantly flip between modifying drawings and editing words. Often the words are last to come.

 When I’m happy with the final flow I scan my sketches and create a digital dummy that has all the text in place for my crit group to read and edit. Later, many revisions later, if my agent likes it, I’ll make some final art samples for prospective publishers. I go back to the tiny 1’ drawings again, this time digitally. I experiment with the color narrative, palette and tonal balance for the whole book laid out on one page. I do each tiny spread’s colour very roughly so as to have a guide when doing final art. I use a Cintiq to create final art, usually with digital water color layers and textures that sit beneath my drawings. 

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

Of course ideas must be caught and gathered as they show up. Sometimes they come from mining strong childhood feelings of my own, but most often they come from the outside; like overheard conversations, observing something strange, a great line in a song, bizarre news stories or by mashing together unlikely things, like dachshunds and forks. And sometimes I just need to put myself somewhere new; we just came back from taking a year to live in Provence; every day in France was brimming with “new”!

Art supplies you can't live without?

It’s a short list; my 2B pencils, and a good eraser.

Maybe some run-of-the-mill photocopy paper too.  All my creations are born of a pencil line on cheap photocopy paper. It allows me feel free to let loose and make oodles of useless doodles. And useless is important. For me, being too precious or careful cramps my creativity and exploration. I like the erasable nature of pencils, so when it comes to watercolor painting (not a forgiving medium), I find I take more risks when I work digitally, because I know there is an “undo”.

Favorite illustrators?

Oh, yes, I love sharing my art crushes!! Birgitta Sif, Isabelle Arsenault, Emily Gravett, Kady MacDonald Denton and, and, and… Chris Riddell, Carter Goodrich, Pierre Pratt and Shaun Tan!

Dream project or book to work on?

I’m feeling pretty lucky that I’m working on a bunch of my own books right now, so things are pretty dreamy as it is. One day I’d love to work collaboratively with a funny author (like Emily Jenkins or Aaron Reynolds), preferably on a ridiculous story jam-cram-packed with dogs - you know, if we’re talking DREAM project.

Tell us about your debut book.

My debut book was inspired by a childhood dog I had, an odd little dachshund. Sterling, Best Dog Ever is about a dog who’s had a hard time finding a home, so he lives in a damp box. When he discovers a fork factory that ships to good homes he thinks he’s found his ticket to happiness. When it occurs to him that the new family, surprised by the little stow-away, may not need a fork, Sterling decides he could be anything if they would just keep him. He’s an expert at adapting, but it takes him a while to understand what this loving family really wants.

What’s up next for you?

I’ve just finished up the final cover art for my second book, Little Juniper Makes It Big, about a wee raccoon who feels too small for everything, and that will come out in 2019. While waiting for edits and feedback on that book I’ve been working on my third book (still at the untitled dummy-book stage) that will come out the following year, both with FSG Macmillan.

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

Wow, “80s movie” feels like a genre in itself – like I need an answer that features the Neutron Dance. But I have to go with animation! As a 9 year old I was completely spell bound by the The Secret of Nimh in 1982. 


Aidan Cassie studied animation and earned a media arts degree at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design as well as Edinburgh College of Art. Sterling, Best Dog Ever is her first picture book.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Aidan and her book, visit her website at www.aidancassie.com.

TO ORDER a copy of STERLING, BEST DOG EVER, ring up your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of STERLING, BEST DOG EVER?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, October 18th! US and Canadian addresses only please.

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

The Subtle Art of Pagination

Craft, Authors + Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay Ward3 Comments

Hello Critters! This week’s craft post is all about pagination, something that I think can make or break a picture book. All great picture books demonstrate a strong grasp of pacing, which is ultimately determined through the final pagination of the text and development of the manuscript itself.

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Take, for example, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. Maurice Sendak has some seriously long, run-on sentences in that book that would even give Nathaniel Hawthorne a run for his money. But it doesn’t matter, because Sendak is a genius. He understood that it wasn’t the structure of the sentence that mattered so much as how he broke it up amongst the pages. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is the greatest picture book of all time for many reasons, but pagination is a big part of that. Sendak breaks sentences in the middle, straddling them across the pages throughout the book, not necessarily in conjunction with the punctuation. In 1963, that was pretty revolutionary for a picture book. Even today, I rarely see authors do that without an ellipsis.

I remember the first time I re-read WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE as adult. On the final page, the text reads “and it was still hot.” The line is in reference to Max’s dinner, which we know Max’s mother sends him to bed without in the beginning of the story. The pagination of this line is brilliant. It’s the perfect ending. It leaves the reader wondering how much time has actually passed? Did Max really leave? So many questions arise from this simple collection of words. It’s satisfying, and yet leaves us wanting to know more. It allows the reader to understand that even at our worst, there is still love. Max misbehaves and lets his inner monster out, but it doesn’t change his mother’s unconditional love for him.

Sometimes I wonder what Ursula Nordstrom, Sendak’s editor, thought of his manuscript the first time she saw it. I imagine it would have looked a bit like a short paragraph. The entire book is only made up of 10 sentences, totaling about 338 words. But it’s how Sendak broke those 10 sentences that created such dynamic pacing and anticipation for the reader.

For me, pagination is a feeling. I sit down with my manuscript and read it aloud to myself over and over and over again. I like to test raw manuscripts out on my three-year-old too. I’m always surprised by the lines or details he connects with instantly. As I read, I make a mental note of all the places I naturally pause in my speech to formulate or process the next set of words. Those pauses become part of my timing. I also note any hiccups I come across. Places where I stumble over my own words, or find myself self-editing as I read them aloud. Those are sections that still need revision work, which I finesse until I no longer struggle with them. The placement of one word can make all the difference.

I can’t stress enough the importance of reading your work aloud, whether it’s to yourself or a group. It’s the easiest, fastest way to hear issues in your manuscript. You have to understand how your words sound together when read aloud. It’s absolutely impearative as a picture book author.

Once I feel like the text is in great shape, I consider the reveal. I think of the page turn as a curtain on a stage. Every time the reader turns the page, I’m pulling back the curtains. Showing them what’s coming next. It’s my job to get them excited about turning that page. This is where pagination really helps. As an illustrator, I have the advantage of visualizing the illustrations as I do this, which is incredibly helpful. However, if you are an author-only, practicing and understanding how to paginate your own text will help your writing tremendously. It forces you to really look at your pacing and how it works in relation to your story.

Here’s a great exercise to try for this:

Print out three copies of your manuscript. Paginate each manuscript differently. Cut up the text and paste/tape them down inside of a dummy mock-up. You can use copy paper stapled together for this. Read each version aloud and see how the pagination has changed the pacing of your story. Is there a version you gravitate towards? A version that surprised you? A version that clarified a problem area for you? Usually one pagination will just feel right when you read it aloud.

Generally, if you are an author-only, you most likely won’t need to paginate your own text, the editor or illustrator will do that. BUT, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn to do it and get so darn good at it that it becomes second nature. It will only help you improve as a writer and storyteller.

Until next time, happy paginating!

Lindsay


What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with picture book author Anika Denise!

Interview with Debut Picture Book Author/Illustrator Jen Betton

publishing, Illustrators, Book Reviews, book release, Authors + Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay Ward4 Comments
Jen-photo.jpg

Happy Thursday Critters! Today, I’m thrilled to share an interview with Jen Betton, the debut author and illustrator of HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG. I met Jen while we were both in school at Syracuse. I was working towards my BFA in Illustration when I took an intro class on Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, taught by Jen, who was an MFA Illustration student at the time. Adobe Illustrator is actually the only program that I use when I work digitally…which I have Jen to thank for. I’m not sure I would have learned it otherwise. Thanks Jen!

I'm so excited to share Jen’s work with you all today, and I’m sure you’ll see why. Her watercolors are GORGEOUS! And she has this tremendous ability capturing light….I’m a huge fan of her work and I hope you will all go out and read HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG!

So without further ado…please welcome Jen Betton!

Where do you live?

I recently moved to the Dallas area, so I’m still getting connected with the Kid Lit community here.

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

I always loved picture books; I never really grew out of them. It just took a while to give myself permission to pursue it because I thought I needed to do something more practical! I loved painting and I loved stories, so creating picture books was a natural combination of those loves.

Tell us about your debut book as an author and illustrator?

HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG is the first book I’ve written as well as illustrated! It is about a Hedgehog who feels down in the snout and droopy in the prickles and so goes looking for a hug, but other creatures don’t want to get close to his spines! Fortunately, he finds someone else who is feeling the same way. 

 I came up with this story while I was brainstorming story ideas that involved animals who have a physical characteristic that is at odds with what they want. I love stories where the character has a goal that inherently creates conflict!

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One thing that helped me figure out my story structure was understanding the heart of the story. This is the essential, core theme of the story, beneath the surface-level action. I was brainstorming the ending and I had to decide how Hedgehog would finally get his hug. Hedgehog could have hugged another hedgehog (someone just like him) or a turtle (someone who would not be hurt) but I had an “aha” moment where I understood that empathy was important to the story, and I quickly realized that Hedgehog needed to give Skunk a hug.

Can you share a bit about your process?

If I’m writing the story, then I start with an outline. I really have to get the structure of the story right, and the first draft is almost in bullet points. After that I might start weaving small thumbnail sketches into a storyboard while concurrently revising my manuscript. After I have the basic story arc hammered out, I keep writing, tweaking, polishing. At the same time I’m working on the storyboard with rough sketches, trying to get the composition, the page turns, the expressions right. I try to not to get too far into the drawings until the manuscript is fairly firm, because it’s like working a Rubik’s Cube – every change affects every other part of the puzzle. 

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Next, I start working on finished drawings. For this stage I usually gather a lot of reference materials, sometimes getting friends to pose for photos or taking a trip to the zoo. Then I’ll do some color studies. After all those steps are approved by the art director, I’ll start on the finished paintings. I transfer the drawings to my illustration board, and then I jump in with watercolor. After I’ve taken the painting as far as I can, I’ll often add a bit of colored pencil or pastel for details. Once it is scanned, I’ll touch it up a little bit in Photoshop. 

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

Inspiration, community, and perspiration! I get inspired by both books and people. Reading the beautiful books that others have created and seeing how they solved problems teaches me a lot. I find conferences to be energizing - rubbing shoulders with creative pals. My imagination also responds well to discipline, so participating in Storystorm or checking in with critique buddies for some accountability really helps me. And sometimes it’s really helpful to just do something for fun without expectations of how it will turn out. 

Any art supplies you can't live without?

Strathmore 500 Illustration board. Totally different way to watercolor, and I love it! 

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Favorite authors/illustrators?

Soooo many!! John Singer Sargent’s watercolors are stunning. I love Trina Schart Hyman, Min Ji Kim, Lizbeth Zwerger, Christian Birmingham, Scott Gustafson, Greg Manchess. A couple newer illustrators I love are Jessica Lanan and Corinna Luyken. 

Dream project or book to work on?

Something with a sense of wonder or otherworldliness, like Ocean Meets Sky by the Fan Brothers or The Brilliant Deep by Kate Messner and Matthew Forsythe.

What's up next for you?

I’ve been working on a new story, called ANITA’S FLOWERS, which is about perseverance, failure, friendship, and finding your gift. Hopefully it will be ready to submit soon!

I’ve also been working on some goodies for HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG: coloring pages, an activity kit, bookplates, etc. There is also a teacher’s guide by Marcie Colleen. You can download them here. 

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

Princess Bride and Adventures in Babysitting


Jen Betton loves to draw and make up stories with her pictures. In Kindergarten she got into trouble for drawing presents on a picture of Santa, and she has been illustrating ever since. She wrote and illustrated HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG, published with Penguin-Putnam, and she illustrated TWILIGHT CHANT, written by Holly Thompson, published with Clarion.

She has a BA in English, and a BFA and MFA in Illustration. She lives in the Dallas area with her husband and two children.

For more information about Jen Betton and her books, visit her online at www.jenbetton.com or follow her on Twitter: @JenBetton.

TO ORDER a copy of HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG ring up your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, September 20th! US addresses only please.

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

Interview with Picture Book Author + Illustrator Betsy Snyder

Interviews, Vet Interviews, Authors + IllustratorsLindsay Ward2 Comments
Photo Credit: Donna Von Bruening

Photo Credit: Donna Von Bruening

I'm very excited for today's interview because it's with the lovely and incredibly talented Betsy Snyder, who also happens to be one of my critique partners and a very good friend. I actually knew Betsy's books before I knew her. As a bookseller, I fell in love with HAIKU BABY, Betsy's debut book, the first time I saw it. The art is charming, bright, and fresh. Anyone who walked in to the bookstore looking for a baby gift walked out with a copy of HAIKU BABY. 

Skip ahead a few years later. I had just moved from Boston to Cleveland with my future husband and started making connections with other writers and illustrators in the area. And who did I meet? Betsy Snyder. Sometimes it's really amazing how small the world can be. We had lunch and I clicked with her instantly. Eventually Betsy and I, along with three other lovely and talented women, created a critique group together, which we've been doing for almost seven years now.

Spread from HAIKU BABY by Betsy Snyder

Spread from HAIKU BABY by Betsy Snyder

I have learned so much from Betsy, watching her come up with creative new ways for kids to interact with books, and I'm thrilled to share her work with you today!

So without further ado, please welcome Betsy Snyder! 

Where do you live?

Independence, OH

How many years have you been in publishing?

12 (What? Twelve?!)

How many books have you published?

21

Do you write and illustrate full-time?

Yes (mostly). My life is a mix of mothering my books and my small children and that balance changes as it needs to. But I write/illustrate as full-time as I can.

What inspires you to create picture books?

I love the way kids learn and explore the world and I seek to make books that support that process and inspire a similar sense of wonder. I was lucky to have a childhood filled with good books and I can remember poring over the pages, studying the details of the pictures and getting lost in the magical worlds books create.

What surprised you the most working as an author/illustrator?

I didn’t anticipate that along with becoming published would come requests for author programs and needing to get comfortable with public speaking. Being in the spotlight can feel intimidating for somewhat introverted creative-types like me that are most cozy in their quiet studios—YIKES! But now, I can genuinely say I LOVE getting out and sharing what I do with schools, libraries, museums and the author/illustrator community. More experience, consulting with educators to hone my programs, and seeing those eager little (and big) faces in the audience have really helped grow my confidence and minimize the jitters.

What is your favorite thing about being an author/illustrator?

Every project is a new adventure! I like the feeling of immersing myself in whatever I’m working on—I learn a little (or a lot) more with each new book I make. It’s so rewarding to be able to help a vision evolve from start to finish and then to finally see a book in print and be able to share it with others.

What do you find difficult working as an author/illustrator?

Starting a new book is exciting, but with that, there is also a murky place where I have way TOO many ideas and no direction or anchor. That’s when I feel lost and stuck and unsure—and sometimes it’s hard to see a way out of that. Each book is a new challenge, so I don’t think this process gets easier—but I am getting better at trusting that my good ideas will eventually take shape and get there with practice and persistence. As Dory would say, “Just keep swimming!”

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

I find inspiration in my kids, browsing at the library or a bookstore, creative chats (like with my critique group), nature walks, and travel.

I especially look at what’s out there and what’s not—my best ideas are often born around opportunities.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

Making lists (and losing them—ha!). But seriously, I love making lists and when I broke the index finger of my writing hand earlier this year, I almost went crazy. I have actually found that for me, this brainstorm process is less about holding on to the ideas, and ironically, more about letting them go to clear up more creative space in my head. 

Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the Kid Lit Community?

Having work from Tons of Trucks (written by Sue Fliess) accepted into the Society of Illustrators Original Art Show and attending the opening in NYC was definitely a kid lit highlight for me. Mingling with that much talent and passion in one space was pretty dreamy.

What is your favorite picture book?

Do you really think I can pick just one? 

As a kid: Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, and The Funny Thing by Wanda Gag

Now: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee, and When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano and Julie Morstad

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What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

It’s still hard to beat my first-ever submission becoming a 3-book (and later 5-book) contract with Random House. I’ll never forget my agent’s email with the subject line “Get out the champagne!!!” I’m so grateful my editor Heidi Kilgras saw something in me and helped me get my start with writing my own books.

What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing and illustrating?

It’s supposed to feel hard—but that struggle doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough. 

Tell us about your newest book?

I Can Dream and I Can Explore (May 2018) are the two newest books in the interactive series published by Chronicle Books. In terms of a theme, I Can Dream is centered around aspirational occupations, like a firefighter, astronaut, marine biologist, artist and more. I Can Explore is about being on-the-go—traveling by land, water, air and even snow.

The entire series shares the same format solution, text direction, and empowering message celebrating both independence and teamwork. Touch-and-feel covers and interactive holes on every page invite the reader to animate the characters by wiggling their fingers. Every book ends with a surprise gatefold finish, bringing all the characters together for an inclusive grand finale. 

I had so much fun developing this format and rolling it out over four books (and I still have more ideas!). Working with my Chronicle team was a dream (special shout-out to Ariel Richardson, Tara Creehan and Amelia Mack)—our visions were on the same page from the beginning, so our partnership felt easy and effortless.

What’s up next for you?

I’m working on a picture book with Susanna Leonard Hill. And thinking up new book ideas!

Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors and illustrators?

There is no one secret path (and certainly no shortcut) to getting published. It’s a journey and experience unique to each person, because we each come from different places and bring along our own influences and talents.

Networking with other authors and illustrators (via SCBWI, critique groups, workshops, etc.) is a great way to learn from the paths of others—and begin to forge your own. Plus, it can be a long road, so wouldn’t you rather have some travel buddies on your journey?

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

The Princess Bride and Dirty Dancing

Thank you so much for stopping by Critter Lit today Betsy!


Author and illustrator Betsy Snyder has twenty years of experience creating for the children's market. Her smile-inspiring art can be found on everything from social expressions products, board games, plush, decor, fabric, wallpaper, and of course—children’s books! Since making her publishing debut in 2007, Betsy has teamed with a diverse mix of publishers, earning recognition from groups including the Society of Illustrators, The New York Times, Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine, Indie Next List, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center and Please Touch Museum. Her newest titles, I Can Dream and I Can Explore (May 2018), join the earlier I Can Dance and I Can Play in an innovative board book series with Chronicle Books.

Betsy lives in Independence, Ohio, where she enjoys cozying up to doodle with her art-loving family of four and venturing out to schools and libraries to encourage kids (and even grown-ups) to share their stories and chase their dreams.

For more information about Betsy and her books, visit her online at www.betsysnyder.com. Follow her on Twitter @betsysnyderart or on Facebook: www.facebook.com/betsysnyderart.

TO PURCHASE A COPY of I CAN DREAM or I CAN EXPLORE visit your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of I CAN DREAM or I CAN EXPLORE by Betsy Snyder?! Comment on this post below or share it on Twitter. Two lucky winners will be announced Thursday, August 30th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next Thursday for an interview with picture book author Josh Funk!

Get That Raccoon Off the Table: Why Voice Matters in Picture Books

Authors, Authors + Illustrators, CraftLindsay Ward2 Comments

Sometimes I think one of the hardest parts of my job as a children’s book author is to keep my own voice in check when I’m writing. I’m constantly asking myself, would a kid say that? I think this is one of the reasons that creating a strong voice is incredibly difficult. We, as children’s book authors and illustrators, have this wonderful task to create meaningful literary experiences for children. We get to introduce them to new places, experiences, and voices. But in doing so create a new challenge for ourselves. How do we keep our own feelings, opinions, and reactions out of the voices in our books? How do you write a character that can make their own decisions, without your bias?

Now, that’s not to say you shouldn’t write your own experiences into a character. Obviously writers do that all the time. I myself do it. But what I’m talking about are the characters we write that aren’t us, who have an entirely different experience than we had, intentionally. It’s our job to offer up a fully developed voice in the context of the world we’ve created for them. And that’s no easy feat! 

Many times, I have read manuscripts where I see authors infiltrate the text. A character starts saying or doing something that seems odd or inconsistent with what we know about them. It’s really easy to let yourself slip in under the radar without realizing it. I've done this many times. For me, it’s not until I read the words aloud that I can catch myself and make the correction. To avoid this, I try to get to know my characters as best I can so they become fully independent from me.

I start by determining who they are. What are their likes? Dislikes? Hobbies? What is their environment? Who surrounds them? What do they care most about? Least about? How do they fit within the story I'm trying to tell? The list goes on and on. I make an entire character chart with this information. Keep in mind I write picture books. I don’t write novels. But I try to approach my characters as if I do.

I can tell you that Dexter T. Rexter’s favorite ice cream is Mint Chip, with rainbow sprinkles. I’ve never used this detail about him in any of the Dexter books, but I’ve spent enough time getting to know him, writing and rewriting him, that I know without a doubt, he's Mint Chip all the way. This may sound silly. But there is a method to the madness. The more you know your characters the better you will be able to write them and, in my case, draw them, independent of yourself.

When I sit down to write Dexter’s voice, I don’t even feel like I’m writing anymore. It’s as if he’s sitting beside the computer, telling me what to type, and I'm simply listening. He's very indecisive, neurotic, and slightly bossy because that’s just who he is. It isn’t so much that I can hear his voice when I'm writing, but I can hear the pacing, syntax, and structure of how he would speak. I know immediately if he would or wouldn't say something and if he would, how he would deliver it. Which takes time to develop with a character. I’m three books in with Dexter and I’m still learning things about him.

Age is equally important in developing voice too. Especially when you write for kids. You need to understand the age group you are writing for. How old are they? Where are they cognitively and behaviorally? What is challenging for them? How can they connect with your story? If you’ve written a character, who's supposed to be four years old, but acts and talks like an adult, then you aren’t paying attention to age and you won’t connect with your readers.

Before I had kids, I wrote about my experiences as a kid. I am an only child, so my voice seeped into my work. When Blue Met Egg is my love letter to New York City, after living there one summer during college. I was inspired to write Please Bring Balloons because my parents met painting carousels at an amusement park. This worked for me then because that was the point. I was trying to speak to the type of kid that I was. My early books are all about adventure and escapism because that's what I loved to read about as a child.

But now, it’s become more about being a witness, than first hand experience. I’m watching my kids see the world for the first time. And in doing so, I’m seeing things in ways I haven't since I was a child. As an adult it's really easy to forget how small moments can be so impactful when you're young. I find myself writing about their experiences as I witness them unfold. My books have become more and more voice driven, because those are the type of books that make my kids laugh and connect.

Recently, I was reading Secret Pizza Party by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri, (the same creators of Dragons Love Tacos) with my oldest son, who’s three. He loves that book. The first time I read it to him, I thought, I don’t get this. Why does he think this is so funny? And then it dawned on me. Duh! It’s silly. There isn’t anything to get. That’s the point. It’s a ridiculous book about a raccoon who loves pizza but rarely gets to have any because he’s always being chased off by the pizza man wielding a menacing broom. Thus the Raccoon Sniffing Broom Bots. I could continue the synopsis…but you should probably just read Secret Pizza Party because it is silly, ridiculous, and your kids will love it. The narrator's voice is written in a way that not only makes my son laugh, but it makes me laugh too because phrases like 'sweet sassy molassy' are hilarious. If that doesn't make you laugh when you read it, then I don't know what will. When driving to get pizza recently, my son shouted "GET THAT RACCOON OFF THE TABLE!" I couldn’t stop laughing. It was random and completely out of the blue. Just like Secret Pizza Party. And I knew exactly what he was talking about when he said it. 

My son also sings the Dexter song constantly (so much so there are days I regret writing it in the first place.) He doesn't understand that I wrote Don't Forget Dexter, or even the song for that matter. He doesn’t care. He’s three. But he’s my barometer now. He's in my target age group. If he likes it, then I must be doing something right. Right?

I mean isn’t that the ultimate test? Not how much you love your work? That's easy. But a kid. A real, live kid, who doesn’t get caught up in the bias. They just like it because they like it. It makes them laugh. Or think. Or feel connected. They are seeing your book for the first time, fresh and new, absorbing everything you have to offer them. And that's the best part about this job. Writing a book that a kid wants to read over and over again and becoming apart of their reading experience with their family.

I have read Secret Pizza Party more times that I can count. It's got 'pizza' and 'party' in the title. This book was always going to go over well with my son (who loves pizza). But the narrator's voice is what really sells it. It's the way the narrator tells Raccoon's story, empathizing with Raccoon's plight in life (lack of pizza), while pointing out the humor of it all. Kids connect with Raccoon. They get him. They are him. Because voice matters. Always.

So go out there and write some amazing voices. 

Until next time, happy writing!

Lindsay

What's Up On Deck? Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse Blog Tour Stops by Critter Lit! Check back next Thursday to read my interview with debut author Marcy Campbell.

Raising My Market

Authors, Authors + Illustrators, IllustratorsLindsay WardComment

These days, I'm surrounded by trucks. Literally. If it's not the toy trucks I'm constantly picking up around my house, it's the real ones driving up and down my street. We live in a national park, so there are always front loaders, dump trucks, and skid steers readily on display, working on the trails, dealing with fallen trees, or some other park-related need. And this week, my neighbor is having his driveway paved, so bonus, we have a cement mixer on full display. My two-year-old is in heaven. He could sit and watch these trucks all day long. Seriously. Needless to say, he loves trucks. Here's a sampling of our current bedtime rotation:

Notice a pattern? All trucks, all the time in this house! I had always heard that kids go through phases. The truck phase. The dinosaur phase. The princess phase. And so forth and so forth. But it's not until you're in the midst of it that you realize how all-consuming it is. Obviously, my household is currently living through the truck phase.

This is the first time I've experienced being a parent of the same age group I'm writing books for. It's a rather strange thing. Every night we read three books, and my son always requests at least one book he specifically wants to read. The rest are up to me, which allows for some variation. Thankfully, most of the books he loves, I love too. But then again, I do this for a living so I'm picky about what I add to our home library.

Over time I started to notice a pattern amongst all the books he loves. And no, it's not trucks. We do actually read books without trucks in it...sometimes. Trucks or not, all the books we end up reading together over and over again offer additional details in the pictures for my son to spot. He pours over each page, trying to find Goldbug (Cars and Trucks and Things That Go) or Zombie Truck (Monster Trucks) or identifying all the different types of trucks (Truck Truck Goose). More importantly, though, he can connect to the characters. He's at an age where he understands wanting to help (Little Blue Truck), being sad or protective (The Digger and the Flower), getting confused (The Mixed-up Truck), or being impatient (Sheep in a Jeep). All of these books have total kid appeal. Does it get cuter than Betsy Snyder's elephant driving the fire truck on the cover of Tons of Trucks? No, it doesn't. Could you get a better hook than Anika Denise's Monster Trucks? Nope. Because kids LOVE monsters and trucks! It's brilliant. We literally read that book on repeat.

The 2-3 age is amazing. Kids are sponges, soaking up everything you give them. His memory astounds me and he is learning words at such a rapid rate. One night we were reading Truck Truck Goose, which if you haven't read it, only contains a few words. My son didn't know the word "piano" before reading that book. But he kept seeing Goose pulling around a big, red piano on each spread. Which is a hilarious thing to drag to a picnic in the first place. But that's what makes this book so great. Because kids drag around ridiculous things all the time. Like when my son goes to the potty and has to bring his monster truck with him. He's not going to play with it in there. He just wants to know it's close by. Like Goose and his piano. My son kept asking me what the piano was until he'd committed it to memory. Now we read that book and he points out the piano every time. The word piano isn't even in the book. But the story and illustrations provided him with a new vocabulary word and an interactive way to learn it. Now that's pretty cool.

So what does this all mean? It means don't underestimate kids. Ever. THEY ARE REALLY SMART. Seriously, they pick up on everything. Recently, I had a conversation about using the word "digger" vs. "excavator" in one of my books. The concern was that kids might not know the word "excavator," which is a fair point, some may not. But in all the time I've heard my son talk about trucks, he's never once said "digger," unless he's referring to a name like Digger in The Digger in the Flower. Because he knows it's an "excavator." It's like those kids who can't spell their own name, but they can rattle off the most ridiculously long dinosaur names, unpronounceable to most adults. Unless of course, your household is going through the dinosaur phase...in which case, kudos to you!

So if you don't have a kid on hand to watch like a science experiment for your next book idea like I do, then you need to do your research. Read everything you can get your hands on in the age group you are writing for. Which books are doing really well in that group? Which books aren't? Find the pattern, then find the hole and figure out how you can fill it. I don't think I would be creating a wheel-based board book series with HarperCollins next summer if it weren't for my two-year-old and his obsession with wheels and all things trucks. It's a strange thing to be raising my market, but I'm having a blast.

Until next time, happy writing!

Lindsay

(Want more info on the books I mentioned? Click on the cover images above.)

What's up on deck? Check back next Thursday for an interview and giveaway with GO FISH and KNOCK KNOCK author Tammi Sauer!

Interview with Author/Illustrator Sandra Salsbury

Illustrators, publishing, Authors + Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay WardComment
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This past spring, I had a wonderful experience participating in Writing with the Stars, a contest for aspiring authors and illustrators to win a free three-month mentorship with a published author or author/illustrator. The contest is run by Tara Leubbe and Becky Cattie, two sisters, who not only write together, but take the time to run this contest, offering wonderful opportunities to unpublished authors and illustrators. Which as you know, is what we are all about here at Critter Lit.

Make sure to check out Tara and Becky's website if you haven't already done so: www.beckytarabooks.com. The contest will start up again this December.

Contest applicants get to submit their work (either a manuscript or dummy) to a mentor of their choice. I was stunned with all the amazing work I was sent as a mentor. It was such a difficult decision to pick one mentee to work with, but ultimately Sandra Salsbury's work stood out to me immediately. The first thing I noticed was how well she handled her medium, watercolor. But the second, and what really struck me, especially with regards to picture books, is how great she is at composing different perspectives of storytelling.

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I've had the opportunity to get to know Sandra and her work these past few months while mentoring her on her book dummy, MR. FLUFF IS MISSING. I hope you enjoy her work as much as I do!

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So without further ado, I'm thrilled to introduce Sandra Salsbury!

Where do you live?

I live in Berkeley, CA, just below hills full of hiking trails and down the street from one of the best bakeries.

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

I originally enrolled in art school because I loved to draw, but I spent most of my time floundering around with my art, not really knowing what I would do with it after graduation. It had never even occurred to me that there were people out there making picture books. In my last semester I ended up, on whim, enrolling in a children's illustration class with a local illustrator, LeUyen Pham. This was back in 2006, so there was no way for me, nor any of my classmates, to know what a gift it was to be taught by someone like LeUyen. It felt like there was suddenly a place where my art made sense and it was almost absurd that it hadn't occurred to me before. I ended up enrolling in an MFA program after to focus my portfolio on children's illustration and creating picture books has been my goal since then.

Can you share a bit about your process?

My process sort of looks like thinking, then writing, then drawing, then rewriting, then redrawing, and then more thinking and drawing and writing. My stories go through many iterations, first in my head, then in a word document, then on sheets of paper with squares printed out. I usually work in three different sizes of sketches. The smallest is to figure out the overall flow of the story and the pages are small enough that they all fit on one sheet of paper (I will do 3-6 of these, typically). The next size is to figure out the composition of each page. I try to draw 4-8 versions of the page to find the best one. Sometimes the first one is the one that works, but sometimes it's the 8th. The largest size is the most refined version and it's the pages I use for my dummy. Some pages will only have one version, but some will have to be drawing again and again, as I made small changes in the story. And even at the end, you don't know how well a story works until you have put it together into a little book with pages that turn, so I end up with 5-8 final dummies. While working on the dummies I will also do character sketches and art samples to figure out my style and by the time I get to the final paintings, all the hard work is done so I put on an audiobook and get some "reading" done while I paint.

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

I am lucky to live right next to a number of beautiful trails and it seems like my brain does its best thinking while my legs are moving. If I am stuck on a project or I can't think of an idea, the solution is always to take a long walk. Sometimes I have to take a lot of walks, but eventually when I let my mind drift away from the problem at hand or I stop trying to come up with a good idea, something will pop into my head. The best answers are the ones that feel obvious because then you know they are simple enough to work.

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Art supplies you can't live without?

Arches 140lb cold press watercolor paper. I have tried switching papers, but I am so familiar with the way the paper absorbs paint and water, that using anything else feels like learning how to paint all over again. People always ask about paint brands and brushes, but paper is the true hero of watercolor paintings.

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Favorite illustrators?

What an impossible question! I love Holly Hobbie's watercolors, Judy Schachner's expressions, Dan Santat's design, Jon Klassen's simplicity, LeUyen Pham's body language, Lorena Alvarez's colors, Chris Appelhan's characters...

Dream project or book to work on?

My dream project is just to write and illustrate (and get published!) my own story. I want to take something from an idea in my mind to a book on a shelf.

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

The Princess Bride. Any other choice would be inconceivable.

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Want to know more about Sandra or her work? Visit her online at www.sandrasalsbury.com or you can follow her on Twitter @SandraSalsbury

Q+A: A Quick Note on Art Notes

Illustrators, Authors, Authors + IllustratorsLindsay WardComment

Recently, I was asked a question about the placement and use of art notes in a picture book manuscript. I get this question a lot. Especially from picture book authors-only. Most illustrators understand when they do and don't need to art note, especially since they have the advantage of knowing what will or will not be illustrated along with the text. So if you're an author only, you have to get creative, and consider the illustrations as you write your text.

So, when should you art note your manuscript? Here is my simplest explanation:

ONLY INCLUDE AN ART NOTE WHEN IT IS IMPERATIVE TO UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT.

Here's an example: say your story is about a monster that only exists in the art. You never mention the monster in the text. The story isn't about the monster. It's about the boy the monster follows around. But in order to know that the monster exists when reading the manuscript, you need to include an art note. Make sense?

Or....

Let's say your story has an action sequence, with a lot of sounds and fun read-aloud bits. But it's not necessarily clear what is actually happening in the action. Art note it. This means the illustrator will understand your intention, but be able to amplify the sounds you've provided to marry the art and text together fluidly.

Now that you know when to art note, what should an art note look like?

I prefer to italicize and change the text color of my art notes. So if the manuscript text is in black (which all of yours should be, this isn't fourth grade, and pink isn't an acceptable font color for submission!), then I like to pick a light to medium gray for my art notes. And yes, even as an illustrator I use art notes. I probably use more art notes that an author-only does. I know what I want spreads to look like, so sometimes I will be very specific in my art notes, especially during the submission process. Editors are not always visual people, and the art director won't be reading your manuscript first, an editor most likely will. So make it easy for them to understand. Don't give them a reason, like lack of clarity, for them to pass on your manuscript.

This is what an art note in one of my manuscripts typically looks like:

[Art Note: ... ]

For me, using italics and changing the text color to gray, helps the art notes stand out from the body text. Not only do I think this helps anyone who is reading my manuscript for the first time, but it also helps me during the revision process.

Where should you place an art note within the manuscript? Before or after the scene to which you are referring?

Usually, I place my art notes after the scene I'm referring to in the art note. But you can also list them first. It just depends on what the scene requires and why you are using the art note in the first place. For example, if you need the art note to set a scene, that either has no text or very minimal text, I would suggest listing it before. I've done this from time to time when I'm planning to use an art note as a way to clarify what I will be showing in the art, that won't be explicitly said in the text.

So what should you keep in mind when including art notes? Here is a few tips that can go a long way:

TIPS FOR USING ART NOTES

- Always read your manuscript aloud. To yourself and to others. You should be doing this regardless, but it will definitely help you understand if you need an art note or not.

- If you are an author-only, consider how your text will allow an illustrator to add their mark to the story. Have you left enough room for them? A truly successful picture book is one that effortlessly marries the art and text together, even if it's done by two different people.

- Don't be descriptive. Again, only art note if it's imperative to understanding the text. Don't add in art notes with descriptions of the characters, what they are wearing, the setting, etc. If the reader will need any of these things to understand your story, then you need to art note it. But otherwise, you are trying to micromanage the illustrations and you need to stop. As an illustrator, I can tell you, it's very annoying.

So go out there and art note correctly, or not. Either way, now you know, and hopefully this post will help you when deciding whether or not to include an art note in your manuscript.

If you have a question you'd like to see answered here on Critter Lit, please email me at lindsay@critterlit.com.

Until next time, happy writing!

A Bad Case of the Hypotheticals

Authors + Illustrators, publishingLindsay WardComment

They'll always be a reason not to do the work. Not to write. Not to draw. Not to read. Trust me, I get it. With two boys under the age of 3, my stack of books to be read is epic. I feel like there is never enough time in the day and I find myself wishing I could do more of a lot of things. But the trick is to make it count, right?

I happen to work some unusual hours seeing as my husband and I both work from home and we've decided to stay at home with our boys, splitting work shifts while the other watches the kids. It's a bit crazy, and every day is different, but it works for us. My first two hours of work happen first thing, from 5-7am. And I have to make them count. If there's one thing having kids taught me it's that procrastination is simply NOT an option. I literally don't have time to waste time because at the end of those first two hours, my eight-month-old will want to eat, and he doesn't really care that I need five more minutes to finish up. Or that I didn't accomplish everything I wanted to because I spent the first hour wasting time online.

So how do we make time to get the work done? Create books? Write? Draw? Read? If you're just starting out, unpublished, and trying to get your foot in the door, you probably have a day job. So there goes a vast amount of time you could be dedicating to your writing or drawing. The good news is, that day job can actually help you tremendously. I haven't had a day job for a long time now, but I did when I first started out. Before I was published, I worked at a children's book store in Brookline, Massachusetts. (Shout out to Terri and The Children's Book Shop!) It was a great experience and I learned a ton about the picture book market. I had the chance to read the latest books and see what contemporary authors and illustrators were doing in the business. It also got me out of my own head sometimes, which as a creative, can be imperative.

I worked five days a week, then I'd go home, eat dinner, and sit down in my make-shift studio space, and work again. But this time on writing or illustrations for my portfolio. I spent three years sending out postcard mailers, every three months, to any art director whose address I could find. Years went by and I never heard anything. It was a tough time, filled with a lot of self-doubt and a bad case of the hypotheticals.

It's really easy to get caught up in playing out all the scenarios that can happen. I'm super type A, which means I generally overthink things to death. As I sat at my drawing table night after night, I would obsess over getting published, breaking through, or meeting the right art director who'd finally give me a shot. Here's the thing though-- I had to give myself a shot first. If I didn't believe I was talented enough to publish a book, then how could I expect anyone else to?

Unfortunately, the kidlit industry, is a one in a million. Literally. Not everyone gets to do this. So many things have to line up. It's like fate. Or a romantic comedy (although at times it feels like a tragedy). But at the end of the day, you either do the work or you don't. All the stars could align and you finally get your shot, but if you don't have the work done and haven't put in the time, it won't matter, and the opportunity will pass you by. It's easy to say you'll get around to it someday. But let's be honest, you won't. You have to make time for your craft. Ideally everyday, and if not everyday, regularly in a schedule that works for you. Even if it's just an hour a week you carve out for yourself to write or draw, take it! It's a start, and hopefully that one hour will become important enough to you, that you'll make time for another hour, and another hour, until you find you've created enough time for yourself to follow your dream and really make a go of it.

I tend to get caught up in the hypotheticals particularly when I'm in the midst of a submission. After all this time, I still do it, even though I know better. I worry over if anyone will like my work or the dummy I've spent months fine tuning. Will it sell? Will it ever see the light of day? Or will it just end up in a drawer? If it does sell, who will buy it? Will I be working with a new publisher? Which then brings on a whole new list of worries: Will we work well together? Will our visions for the book align? The list goes on and on. Thus, a bad case of the hypotheticals.

But none of that really matters at the end of the day. Because it's about the work. Once it's out there, you've done your job. And whatever the result, you have to be okay with that. Trust what you've put out there. And if it's not that one that makes it, try again. And again. And again. This industry is a numbers game. Be your biggest advocate. Pick yourself up and keep going.

Even now, I'm still not used to rejections. I think it's safe to say that none of us are. But with each one, you can get a bit tougher, a bit stronger. Be open minded. Listen to constructive criticism about your work, and then discard the stuff that doesn't resonate with you. I find that the criticism that I get the most upset over, or react the strongest to, is usually the one thing I need to address. At the end of the day it's your work, and you have to do what feels right for you and your book.

Ideally, when I go out on a submission, I always want to sell the book, obviously. I try not to worry about how I will feel if it doesn't sell. Which is tough, because I've put months of work into something that may never make it on a book shelf. I recently went out on submission with a new project, that I knew was a long shot, considering the concept. But it made me laugh every time I worked on it, so I wanted to try it out in the marketplace. Unfortunately, although I had a lot of editors think it was funny too, it ultimately wasn't the right fit for anyone. And that's okay. I can't control what other people think about my work. Nor can you. But you have to keep trying.

So I still get up every morning and do the work. I write about what I think is funny. Or what my hilarious (I know, I'm biased) two-year-old said the other day. And I keep going. Because I love this job. It truly is the best job in the world.

So keep going. Keep writing. Keep drawing. And keep those hypotheticals at bay. Get up each day, and put in the time. Because dreams need nourishment and only you can provide that for yourself.