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Interview with Debut Author Ashley Franklin

Authors, book release, debut interview, InterviewsLindsay Ward8 Comments

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

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

So without further ado…please welcome Ashley Franklin!

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Where do you live?

I currently live in northwest Arkansas. 

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

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

Can you share a bit about your process?

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

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

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

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

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

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

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

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

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

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

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

Dream project to work on?

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

Tell us about your debut book.

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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


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


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

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

Twitter: @differentashley

Instagram: @ashleyfranklinwrites

Facebook: Ashley Franklin

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

Interview with Debut Author Cathy Ballou Mealey

Authors, book release, Debut InterviewsLindsay Ward7 Comments

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

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

So without further ado…please welcome Cathy Ballou Mealey!

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Where do you live?

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

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

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

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

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

Can you share a bit about your process?

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

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

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

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

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

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Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

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

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

Dream project to work on?

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

Interior Spread - WHEN A TREE GROWS

Interior Spread - WHEN A TREE GROWS

Tell us about your debut book.

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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

RIP Patrick Swayze.

“Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”


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


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

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

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

Twitter: @CatBallouMealey

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

Instagram: @catballoumealey

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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

Interview with Debut Author Meera Sriram

Authors, book release, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward14 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today, we have a fabulous interview with author Meera Sriram, whose debut book, THE YELLOW SUITCASE, illustrated by Meera Sethi, will be released with Penny Candy Books on March 12th! Filled with brilliant patterns and colors, THE YELLOW SUITCASE, explores the complexities of living in a new country and dealing with loss. Both poignant and extremely relevant, this is a picture book everyone should read.

I’m honored to share this beautiful book with you today.

So without further ado, please welcome Meera Sriram!

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Where do you live?

I live in Berkeley, California. I was born and raised in India, and moved to the U.S about two decades ago.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

When I had my first child, my daughter and I read tons of picture books together. We went to the library several times a week, carried books everywhere, and enjoyed story-times. This was all fascinating to me as I grew up without access to picture books. Eventually, I started reviewing and recommending diverse books. When I went back to work in the corporate world (as an electrical engineer), I realized I had left my heart behind in picture books.

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

I started out with no relevant academic or industry background in publishing. At first, I wanted to write for children in India, to sort of give back what I had missed as a child. I went on to co-author four books that were published in India. A few years ago, I decided I wanted to work towards addressing the void here, in the U.S – kids that looked and lived like my own were missing in stories. I was obsessed with learning the craft, knowing the process and resources, attending workshops and conferences, and of course writing and reading. But the most important contribution came from my critique groups, my diligent and talented writer friends! I’ve learned from them and leaned on them, and they’ve guided and encouraged me at every stage. I’m thankful for being part of a supportive cohort on this journey because the road to publication is far from easy, particularly when you think about revisions, harsh rejections, and long waits. Many submissions later, someone liked my work – believed in its importance and liked it enough to put it out in the world. And I’m very grateful for that.

Can you share a bit about your process?

Sure, I usually pick an idea and mull over it for a few weeks. When I sit to write, I make a mental checklist of story elements for my specific work – characters, conflict, plot, resolution, takeaway – to ensure that the story I want to tell allows for a structure with these elements. Then, I write in burst mode and revise until I lose count. In fact, I don’t really shelve it until it’s reasonably polished (my CPs must hate me for this :)

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

Honestly, I don’t struggle with ‘seed’ ideas. However, I’m often challenged to come up with a good plot. Then, I go back and read my favorite authors, to consciously study plots and story arcs. I also brainstorm with friends (and my own kids) to get my juices flowing. Sometimes, I distance myself for a few days before returning to tackle it.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Chai, and it’s no secret. Also, a dictionary, and windows that look out into the sky or patches of green.

Any authors who inspire you?

Oh, so many! If I were to name a few picture book writers, then I’d say Jacqueline Woodson, Allen Say, and Patricia Polacco.

Dream project to work on?

Maybe a middle-grade on social justice set in India.

Tell us about your debut book.

THE YELLOW SUITCASE is a story about a little girl who returns to India to attend her dear grandmother’s funeral. She is devastated and confused, until she finds comfort in a special gift. The narrative fleshes out the universal emotion of grief while telling the experience from an immigrant perspective. The inspiration for this story came from my own family’s experience when my children lost their first grandparent in India. I hope THE YELLOW SUITCASE helps open up conversations around death in classrooms and families. The book is illustrated by Meera Sethi who has brought in many wonderful colors and cultural details to the spreads.

What’s up next for you?

I’m excited about a couple of projects that are out (or about to go out) on submission. Currently, I’m trying to promote my debut alongside revisions of work-in-progress. In the long run, I aspire to write stories on experiences, themes, and people less visible in picture books.


Thank you for stopping by Critter Lit today Meera! We are so excited to see THE YELLOW SUITCASE on bookshelves! Congrats!


Meera Sriram grew up in India and moved to the U.S at the turn of the millennium. An electrical engineer in her past life, she now enjoys writing for children and advocating early and multicultural literacy. Meera has co-authored several books published in India. She believes in the transformative power of stories and writes on cross-cultural experiences that often take her back to her roots. Meera loves yoga and chai, and lives with her husband and two children in Berkeley, California, where she fantasizes about a world with no borders.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Meera and her work visit her website: www.meerasriram.com or follow her on Twitter @Meeratsriram and Facebook.

TO PRE-ORDER Meera’s debut book, ring up your local bookstore, or visit IndiBound, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of THE YELLOW SUITCASE?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, January 31st! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author Sue Fliess!

Interview with Picture Book Author Anika Denise

Interviews, Vet Interviews, book releaseLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we are joined by the fabulously talented Anika Denise. I had the pleasure of meeting Anika and her husband, illustrator Christopher Denise, a little over three years ago at a writing workshop. It turned out we were represented by the same agent. Both are such lovely and talented people, and I’m thrilled to be sharing Anika’s books with you today.

I was first introduced to Anika’s work through her book MONSTER TRUCKS, illustrated by Nate Wragg, which is one of my oldest son’s absolute favorites. So much so that it was the theme of his 2nd birthday party. I mean you can’t beat monsters and trucks in the same book! Seriously—we are on our third hardcover copy. That’s how much we read this book. Thankfully, MONSTER TRUCKS is now available as a board book too, should we need a fourth copy….

Needless to say, we are big fans of Anika’s books in my household!

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So, without further ado, please welcome Anika Denise!

Where do you live?

We live in Barrington, Rhode Island — a tiny town in the tiniest state.

How many years have you been in publishing?

Gosh *counts on fingers* nearly 12 years! 

How many books have you published?

I have six books out in the world right now, and four more coming soon.

Do you write full-time?

Up until recently, yes! For the next year, I’ll be working in-house as a copywriter for a toy company. It’s fast-paced, fun, and different. But I haven’t abandoned my personal writing projects. I do my best to schedule in writing time on my days off. 

What inspires you to create picture books?

My kids, for sure! Having children allows me to experience the world through their lens. It also makes me pause and really consider the world they’re inheriting. In the current climate of divisiveness and isolationism, I’m inspired to create (and support) diverse stories of hope, empathy, and inclusion — especially “own voices” books that invite readers to step outside themselves and see the world through the perspective of marginalized communities.  

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

I think at first I was surprised by how much the work of promoting a book and connecting with readers falls to the author. Now that I’ve been doing this awhile, I have a greater understanding of how many books are on a publisher’s list and the limited resources a single title might have. I’ve come to embrace and enjoy making my own connections.

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

The fame and money. HAHAHA! (Just kidding.) What I love most is the feeling of creating something that didn’t exist until I put in on a page. It’s the closest I’ll ever come to having a super-power. There’s magic in it. And most magical of all is the fact that a kid somewhere is sitting and enjoying a story I conjured. It’s truly rewarding.

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

Well, I suppose (as evidenced in my recent acquisition of a day job) it is making a sustainable living with writing. I’m married to a children’s book illustrator, so supporting a family in a two-freelance income household can be challenging at times.

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

I love creativity journaling. I just received an early copy of a book written by my friend and mentor, Leigh Medeiros, called The 1-Minute Writer (forthcoming from Simon & Schuster.) The book offers a series of unique 1,10, and 20-minute writing prompts. It’s amazing how the ritual of a daily writing practice, even at 1 minute a day, can clear the cobwebs and provide fertile ground for your next story idea. If you’re a doodler—check out Peter Reynolds’s Start With A Dot journal.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

Before I write, I light a candle and get the essential oil diffuser in my studio going. I sit for a few quiet minutes and express gratitude. I ask my muses/ angels to show up to support me. It’s a little like prayer, a little like mediation, and a little like visualization. I’m always happier and more productive when I begin this way.

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

The kid lit community has been such a gift, it’s tough to pick just one — but last March, I traveled to the UK with a group of writers and illustrators. We visited famous children’s book sites in England the first week; then spent the next week writing in a castle in Scotland!

And oh! I flew an eagle owl on the castle’s falconry grounds.

What is your favorite picture book?

The Snowy Day is one of my favorite books from childhood. 

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

There have been many highlights, but perhaps the most special was holding the first copy of my forthcoming book Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré, illustrated by Paola Escobar. My husband brought the envelope to me as a surprise at my book launch party for Lights, Camera, CARMEN!. For many reasons, but particularly as an author with Puerto Rican heritage, this book is dear to my heart. It took me several years to write. My only regret is my father didn’t live to see it published. He knew I was working on it, and he was very proud. 

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

Don’t ever compare your career to others. In the age of social media, it can be difficult not to. But comparison almost always leads to unnecessary suffering. You do you.

Tell us about your newest book?

My newest book is Lights, Camera, CARMEN! illustrated by the amazing Lorena Alvarez Gómez. It’s the follow-up to Starring Carmen! (Abrams 2017). In this installment, everyone’s favorite one-girl sensación is back, and has her sights on winning a contest to be in a commercial. She enlists the help of her adoring hermanito, Eduardo, but things don’t go exactly to plan.

What’s up next for you?

2019 will be a busy year for book releases. Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré will be on-shelves January 15. Bunny in the Middle, a new picture book collaboration with Chris, releases July 2. And in December, The Love Letter, illustrated by the incomparable Lucy Ruth Cummins, will be out in the world. I’m also revising a new picture book biography on Rita Moreno!

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

Keep going, you’re almost there!

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

The Goonies

Thanks so much for stopping by Critter Lit to chat with us today, Anika! We can’t wait to check-out all of your upcoming books!


Anika Denise is the celebrated author of many picture books, including Lights, Camera Carmen!Starring Carmen!, Monster Trucks, Baking Day at Grandma’s, Bella and Stella Come Home, and Pigs Love Potatoes. In 2019, to coincide with Women’s History Month, HarperCollins will publish her forthcoming book, Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré illustrated by Paola Escobar. Other new titles coming in 2019 include Bunny in the Middle illustrated by Christopher Denise, and The Love Letter illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins. Anika lives in Rhode Island with her family.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Anika and her books, visit her website at www.anikadenise.com.

TO ORDER a copy of LIGHTS, CAMERA, CARMEN! ring up your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of LIGHTS, CAMERA, CARMEN!?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, October 4th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for Critter Lit’s Must Reads for October!


Interview with Debut Picture Book Author/Illustrator Jen Betton

publishing, Illustrators, Book Reviews, book release, Authors + Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay Ward4 Comments
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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 Debut Picture Book Author Marcy Campbell

Authors, book release, Book Reviews, publishingLindsay Ward3 Comments
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I was lucky enough to meet Marcy Campbell a couple years ago at the Buckeye Book Fair in Wooster, Ohio. I was participating as an author/illustrator when Marcy walked up and introduced herself. She told me how she'd just signed with an agent and they'd recently sold her first picture book, ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE. It's funny because at the time, I remember getting a feeling that the book she was describing was going to be special, different, maybe even make a mark. And I was right. It's been wonderful to watch the word spread about this book. It has gained incredible buzz. In addition to Marcy's wonderfully powerful text (I cried the first time I read it), the illustrations are by the extremely talented Corinna Luyken, whose debut picture book last year, THE BOOK OF MISTAKES, was my absolute favorite of the year. Needless to say ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE is a must read!

I'm incredibly honored to interview Marcy and thrilled for you all to hear about her stunning, poignant, and extremely relevant debut picture book: ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE.

So without further ado....please welcome Marcy Campbell!

Where do you live?

Wooster, Ohio.

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

I’ve always been a writer, since my preschool years when I taped books of my pictures together, but I was never encouraged to pursue it as a “career” and so I did other things first, primarily marketing and public relations. I finally decided to take the leap and got a graduate degree in creative writing. I wrote strictly for adults, however, and after publishing a bunch of short stories, started working on what I’d hoped would be a great literary novel. Then, I became a parent and filled my home with picture books. I think any writer, after spending a lot of time with a certain type of book, will entertain the thought of writing those books. Still, it took me quite awhile to set aside my adult novel projects. I kept a list of picture book ideas and kept adding to it. Then, one rainy afternoon, I was sick and tired of editing my novel, and I opened that idea file and got to work on Adrian. It felt right almost immediately. I won’t say that writing for kids is any easier than for adults (and in many ways, it’s more difficult), but it feels natural, like what I’m supposed to be doing.

Can you share a bit about your process?

I have a very different process for picture books versus novels (I just finished drafting a middle grade.) I’m very methodical about novels and have all sorts of steps throughout the phases of outlining, drafting and revising, but so far, my best picture book ideas have come in a moment of inspiration and were written pretty quickly. I think about the idea for awhile and jot down some notes, but then I wait for that moment when I hear the voice in my head and have a sense of the story’s arc. The writing can then happen in a day. After that, I’ll sit on it for a few weeks, revisiting, tweaking individual lines. I’ve found that the picture book drafts that took me a long time to write tend to not work out in the end. Of course writing processes are very different for each writer, and even different for the same writer across different types of books. It can take some experimentation to find what works best.

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

Nothing beats surrounding myself with a stack of new books. When I’m in idea generation mode, I’ll be at the library a lot, and you’ll see towering stacks of picture books on my coffee table. Inevitably, something grabs me and turns me onto a new idea. I also find that long walks in the woods help a great deal (for many maladies, not just a lack of book ideas). I like to clean or paint (walls and furniture, not canvases) or rearrange things in my house, anything that keeps my hands busy while letting my mind wander. When I’m coming up with ideas, I have a spotless house! When I’m finishing a manuscript…not so much.

Anything you can't write without?

I’m pretty adaptable in terms of location. I write nearly everything on my laptop, so I’m kind of lost without that, though I’ve certainly been known to jot down ideas on scraps of napkin in a pinch. The most important thing to my writing, and general well-being, is a great cup of coffee.  

Favorite authors/illustrators?

Oh gosh, such a hard question. I will say that the picture book that I found most inspirational while writing ADRIAN was Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson’s Last Stop on Market Street. There are so many fabulous picture book authors and illustrators out there, and, having entered the kidlit world kind of late, I’m discovering new ones every week. Jacqueline Woodson’s books have really touched me. When I want some fun, I love Mac Barnett and Bob Shea and Ame Dyckman (especially her work with Zach O'Hora, whose illustrations I love). Lane Smith is a perennial favorite of mine. I’m certainly partial to Corinna Luyken’s illustrations (and I loved her before she did my book, so I’m only a little bit biased). I’m beyond fortunate to be working with her. The most recent picture book I can’t put down (from both a text and illustration perspective) is Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love.

Tell us about your debut book. What inspired you to write it?

I did know a boy when I was a kid who said he had a horse, but he said he had a lot of things, and his family seemed to be doing well financially, so there was probably some truth to his boasting. I remember, however, that I thought he was lying about the horse in particular. That childhood memory became one line in a list of picture book ideas I started keeping after having my own kids. “Boy says he has a horse and girl doesn’t believe him.” One rainy afternoon, I was struggling with a rewrite of an adult novel and decided to try my hand at a picture book. Chloe's voice came to me quite clearly, and the story took off from there. Over the last few years, I’ve put in a lot of time volunteering at my kids’ public elementary school, which has a high percentage of children with economic need, and I believe those experiences helped shape the story beyond just a couple of kids arguing about a horse and toward issues of class and empathy.

Dream project or book to work on?

That’s a tough one. Thankfully, my dream book is usually the one I’m working on right now. I do think it would be fun to collaborate on some kind of science series with my husband some day (he’s a biologist).

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

Hands down, Back to Future (the first one; I don’t care much for the sequels). I had a huge crush on Michael J. Fox, and there was a year where my friends and I were listening to all this old 50s and 60s music for some reason. It hit all the right buttons. I still get chills when he’s playing “Earth Angel” at the dance, and his parents kiss, and his hand reappears.

Thank you Marcy for chatting with us today! Wishing you heaps of success with your stunning debut and future projects!


Marcy Campbell lives in Ohio with her family and menagerie of rescued pets. Her writing for adults has been published widely in journals and magazines, including Salon. She grew up on a farm filled with cows, chickens, cats, and dogs, but she never had a horse. Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse is her debut picture book.

For more information about Marcy Campbell and her books, visit her online at www.marcycampbell.com or follow her on Twitter @marcycampbell.

TO PURCHASE A COPY of ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE visit your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, August 23rd! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author + illustrator Betsy Snyder!

Making Brobarians - A Look Back At Last Summer

book release, Authors + Illustrators, Authors, IllustratorsLindsay WardComment

To say that last summer was crazy would be an understatement. Within a matter of three months I finished Brobarians and we sold our house. By the end of the summer, we were in tow with a baby and dog and no place to live (our house sold much faster than we anticipated). Thankfully our parents were willing to take us in until we could close on a new house (we bid and lost out on FOUR houses until we found our current house, which was totally worth the wait, but still it was crazy!) Here’s a look at some of the photos I took while making Brobarians last summer:

The beginning of making a picture book. Lots of staring at a wall filled with drawings.

The beginning of making a picture book. Lots of staring at a wall filled with drawings.

This was the first color sample I did for  Brobarians .

This was the first color sample I did for Brobarians.

The tiniest Brobarian you've ever seen!

The tiniest Brobarian you've ever seen!

Making a Brobarian in cut paper (back + front!)

Making a Brobarian in cut paper (back + front!)

Illustrating my own dog Sally into the book.

Illustrating my own dog Sally into the book.

Seen here with her own Brobarian.

Seen here with her own Brobarian.

Adding in the rain.

Adding in the rain.

In order to make the Map of Brobaria endpapers look like it was actually drawn by a kid, I drew it left-handed. It was much harder than I thought it would be.

In order to make the Map of Brobaria endpapers look like it was actually drawn by a kid, I drew it left-handed. It was much harder than I thought it would be.

The red squares = complete. This is how I kept track of which spreads I had finished as I typically don’t work chronologically.

The red squares = complete. This is how I kept track of which spreads I had finished as I typically don’t work chronologically.

The aftermath of a picture book. I’m usually finding bits of paper from a book months after I’ve finished it. The paper gets EVERYWHERE!

The aftermath of a picture book. I’m usually finding bits of paper from a book months after I’ve finished it. The paper gets EVERYWHERE!

Not to worry, even thought I finished the book, I still have my own little Brobarian who keeps me on my toes.

Not to worry, even thought I finished the book, I still have my own little Brobarian who keeps me on my toes.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Lindsay

Making BROBARIANS - The Cover

publishing, Illustrators, book release, Authors + Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay WardComment

Making the cover for any book is stressful. So many things factor into the design and overall look. And of course there is the ultimate question bouncing around in the back of your mind...Will this cover sell this book? For most books I work on, I go through many revisions before I settle on the right look for the cover. So far my record is 40 cover sketches (When Blue Met Egg). Thankfully Brobarians didn't require quite that many. Here's a look at the sketches that lead up to the final cover I chose for Brobarians with the wonderful team I worked with at Two Lions:

Brobarians  Cover Sketch 1

Brobarians Cover Sketch 1

I think I was a little gung-ho on this one. We ultimately didn't go with this option because we didn't want to give away the fantasy scenes included in the interior of the book. This is where the reader sees how the brothers actually see themselves in their imagination.

Brobarians  Cover Sketch 2

Brobarians Cover Sketch 2

Although this really conveyed the action and energy of the story through the movement of the brothers running, we wanted readers to connect with the characters, which is tough through a profile image.

Brobarians  Cover Sketch 3

Brobarians Cover Sketch 3

Now we were getting somewhere. We could see the brother's environment, we had a head on perspective to connect with them. But, by closing Iggy's eyes, the reader loses the connection with him. So this cover option didn't make it either.

Brobarians  Cover Sketch 4

Brobarians Cover Sketch 4

I tried a variation on Cover Sketch 3 by doing more of a close-up on the brothers. Obviously Iggy's eyes closed was still an issue, but I wanted to see if a close-up would make a difference. Ultimately, we felt that we understood the context better if we could see more of the background and the objects they were holding on to.

Brobarians  Cover Sketch 5

Brobarians Cover Sketch 5

Again, super gung-ho. I loved the idea of this cover, but it would have given away too much. And this spread in the book is one of my favorites. Having gone this way for the cover would have taken away from the climax of their battle scene.

Brobarians  Cover Sketch 6

Brobarians Cover Sketch 6

While I was sketching all of the cover options, this was one of my favorites. But after some back and forth over it with the team at Two Lions, we decided the attitude the boys had was a little too much and didn't really reflect the feel of the book. 

Brobarians  Cover Sketch 7

Brobarians Cover Sketch 7

Finally, we had a winner! I say finally like seven sketches is a lot, it's really not. But I was thrilled with this sketch and so happy that the team at Two Lions loved it too. It showed the environment, the brother's personalities, and the feeling of the book. It was the whole package! You'll also notice we dropped the hyphen in the title. We thought this would be much easier for readers when looking for the book in a search engine. Next, we had to make the jacket...

Brobarians  Cover Sketch 7 - Final

Brobarians Cover Sketch 7 - Final

Here's the final sketch.

Brobarians  Jacket Sketch

Brobarians Jacket Sketch

Then I created the rest of the art for the jacket. Now I needed to add color...

Brobarians  Jacket - Color Finish

Brobarians Jacket - Color Finish

This is how the art looks when I send it to my editor and art director for approval. Everything is taped down so that I can still make changes. I had run out of drafting tape at this point and all I had left was floral wasabi tape, thus the patterned tape everywhere. I don't glue anything down until the very end.

Brobarians  Jacket

Brobarians Jacket

Then the book designer goes in and lays out all the copy on the flaps and spine of the book. We went through a few changes with this until we settled on the perfect one. I'm thrilled with how it all came together. I worked with an amazing team of people at Two Lions.

Brobarians  - Final Cover

Brobarians - Final Cover

Ta-da! Here's the final cover! I'd come along way since the cover I submitted with my book dummy during the submission process:

Brobarians  - Original Book Dummy Cover

Brobarians - Original Book Dummy Cover

So all that for one cover - no big deal right? I hope you enjoy Brobarians as much as I do. For more information about the book or to pre-order Brobarians, click here.

Until next time, Happy Reading!

Lindsay

Making BROBARIANS, or How to Be Inspired to Write a Picture Book by Arnold Schwarzenegger

Illustrators, Authors + Illustrators, Authors, book releaseLindsay WardComment

At the end of this month, my newest picture book BROBARIANS with Two Lions, an imprint of Amazon Publishing, will pub on March 28th. I'm so excited to share this book with all of you for many reasons, but mostly because I never thought this book would be published. I honestly didn't think anyone would get it. It's weird and quirky and has nods to the writing of John Milius, who isn't exactly the poster boy for childhood. Yet here we are, a month out from publication thanks to all the fabulous people at Two Lions who believed in it too.

Let me start from the beginning. My husband has this list of must-see movies. He's very particular about them and feels that they are necessary to be a well-rounded viewer/human being. In other words, if you haven't seen them, he won't think much of your movie taste. What can I say, he's particular about his movies. One of the movies on his list is Conan the Barbarian, written and directed by John Milius, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. I know what you're thinking. Really, that's on the list? Yes. And like all of you, I thought could this movie really be worth two hours of my life? But my husband insisted. Apparently my life would be stunted without it this viewing experience. So we watched it. And to be honest, I hated the first half hour of it. It was campy, cheesy, and completely ridiculous. But then something strange happened, I started to enjoy the campy, cheesy, and completely ridiculous dialogue. It was so over the top. This movie represented everything I would typically pass on, but for some reason it all worked. By the end of the two hours I loved it. And better yet...and book idea was forming.

I realized that the voice of Conan the Barbarian is what really sets it apart. I don't mean Arnold's voice, but rather the words of John Milius, the writer. This is the same guy who wrote Red Dawn, Apocalypse Now, Dirty Harry, etc. An over the top, larger than life writer and director in the movie business. In fact, if any of you have seen The Big Lebowski (another movie on my husband's list) the character played by John Goodman is based on Milius. I imagine you have to be pretty bold to create his resume. Days after watching Conan, the voice stayed with me.

And then I remembered a story my husband told me about he and his brother when they were little. My husband is two years older than his younger brother. By the time his younger brother was walking around with a bottle, my husband had already been weened off of them. But that didn't change the fact that he still wanted one all the time. So on occasion my husband was known to steal his younger brother's bottle and go hide behind a chair while he gulped it down. This lasted a whole of five minutes before their mom would figure out what had happened and take the bottle away. Apparently this became a household routine.

So between the Conan voice bouncing around in my head and the story my husband told me...BROBARIANS was created. As soon as the idea popped into my head, I wrote the first draft in one go. The story went through many, many, many drafts and revisions. But finally I was ready to create a dummy and send it to my agent. She must have thought I was crazy the first time she read BROBARIANS. I knew it was going to be a tough sell because the voice was so adult. But I also knew that's where the humor was. This idea of babies juxtaposed with this over-the-top narration was too funny not to try.

We went out on two rounds of general submission and magically two houses were interested! I couldn't believe someone was going to let me publish this book. Even now I still feel that way. Ultimately we felt that Two Lions and Amazon were a great fit for BROBARIANS.

After finishing the book, I received the best editorial letter yet, to which my editor said:

"I can say with certainty that this is the only time I have ever said this to anyone: thanks for watching Conan the Barbarian."

So...here's the point of this post: you never know where your ideas will come from, least of all a movie night with your husband starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Who'd of thought?

I'm thrilled to share BROBARIANS on March 28th! I hope you all find it as funny as I do!

Lindsay

To pre-order BROBARIANS, please click here.

Make sure to check back during the month of March for more posts about the making of BROBARIANS!