Author-Illustrator Interview: Deborah Marcero on Whole-Hearted Creating

By Stephani Martinell Eaton

I am excited to welcome author-illustrator Deborah Marcero to Cynsations today to talk about her latest work as well as what she loves about the creative process of writing and illustrating books.

Welcome, Deborah! What do you love most about the creative life/being an author? Why?

I love waking up to a life every day that encourages, begs, and demands me to bring my whole heart, my passion, my hope, and my imperfect self to what I am doing and making with my time. I love the feeling of being in the flow, where boundaries of time and space begin to dissolve because I am just being. There is both surrender and active agency in writing and drawing; there is an energy that I am holding, moving, and being moved by all in the same moment. This is the spiritual part for me.

Technically, I love all the parts of the process–from the muddy early notions of a first draft to discovering and deepening the narrative layers through revision. I also love working with a team of brilliant, kind and encouraging editors, art directors and designers. Their outside perspective and questions always help me craft stronger images and stories, and as a consequence, I become a stronger artist and author.

Could you tell us about your newest release?

My newest release is an Early Reader Graphic Novel Series, Haylee and Comet: A Tale of Cosmic Friendship (Roaring Brook Press, 2021) and Haylee and Comet: A Trip Around the Sun (Roaring Brook Press, 2021).

Book One sets the stage for the series by introducing the characters, showing how they meet and launching them into future books and adventures. One night, Haylee is ready to make a very special secret wish on a falling star. The star, Haylee quickly learns, is not a star at all, but a comet named Comet, who shoots straight to Earth and tumbles head-on into her life. The universe brought them together at just the right moment and in finding friendship, they are each other’s wish come true.

Each book is seventy-two pages with three stand-alone stories that interconnect into a loose, broad arc related to a central theme that comes to full circle in the end. I rendered the art in a limited palette (using watercolor, gouache, and colored pencil) to highlight the differences in the characters and the worlds they know and come from. Haylee is brought to life with cool blue tones and Comet is a vibrant warm yellow that glows day and night. The palette expands a bit for Book 2, Haylee and Comet: A Trip Around the Sun which releases October 5, 2021.

I intuitively craft story beats in frames and started using this “comic” technique in my picture books more and more over time and especially in In A Jar (Putnam, 2020) and My Heart Is A Compass (Little Brown, 2018). Haylee and Comet Stories are told with about 95% dialogue, and only 5% narration paired and wordless moments that propel the story forward.

This series came about by drawing, dreaming, and creating these two characters, then developing a structure that could anchor the series and could serve as a strong guide and template for each book.

I have fallen in love with this early reader graphic form, not only from a creative perspective but also because of the audience for whom I am writing and drawing. The possibility of reaching an emerging or perhaps even struggling reader with my stories and characters brings so much joy, meaning and purpose to my work. Creating lifelong readers feels like a legacy – a way to leave a mark on the world to make it a little bit better.

Reflecting on your personal journey (creatively, career-wise, and your writer’s heart), what bumps did you encounter and how have you managed to defy the odds to achieve continued success?

So many bumps. Self-doubt. For years I perceived (and believed) the wall of publishing was impenetrable. I’ve experienced loss in the midst of trying to build my career. Over the years: Rejection upon rejection upon rejection.

I sincerely love reading about the journey of other authors because every path is so unique. Each story to making this writing life work and earn enough to live and create more books is so different and winding, usually long and full of struggle, ups, downs, heartbreaks, and joys.

The love of the process keeps me going, not the product. What keeps me going is a belief in myself over the successes or failures of any one project. This, I know is certain: every new character, every new book, every new story, drawing, and draft has something to show me and teach me about who I am. There are worlds inside of me that are waiting to be discovered. Being there, in that place–of seeking and finding-is everything.

What are you working on next?

I am working on a picture book, Out of A Jar (Putnam, 2022). It is a stand-alone sequel to In A Jar following a young rabbit named Llewellyn in a world where he collects magic jars. In A Jar focused on the journey of collecting experiences with a new friend, Evelyn, and how they learn to continue their collection after she moves away. Out of A Jar is about emotions. When Llewellyn stuffs his emotions away into jars…he slowly discovers that he’s walking around not feeling much of anything at all.

In this book, I turn color into characters. Colors become anthropomorphized (and symbolically atmospheric) emotional beings that once put away, stop appearing in Llewellyn’s world. I wanted to model for kids in a slightly humorous and also sincere way that we are not our emotions.

It’s a story meant to show that feeling our feelings and sharing them isn’t a sign of weakness, rather, that it takes courage and strength, and with that comes relief, freedom, and a richer and more vibrant world.

Cynsational Notes

Deborah Marcero is an author-illustrator with a passion for storytelling in many media. She is currently working on an early reader graphic novel series for Macmillan titled, Haylee and Comet: A Tale of Cosmic Friendship and a picture book, Out of A Jar, (Putnam, 2022). Her picture book titles include In A Jar (Putnam, 2020) and My Heart Is A Compass (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers). Her books have been chosen as Junior Library Guild selections and translated into twelve languages.

Deborah has a BFA from the University of Michigan in drawing, photography and printmaking, an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Poetry, and a K-8 teaching certification from Northwestern University. During her tenure as a Literacy Specialist in Chicago Public Schools, Deborah was teaching a Young Authors unit to her fifth graders and realized that making books for children was what she wanted to do with her life. You can find more of Deborah’s books and drawings on her website.

Stephani Martinell Eaton holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts where she won the Candlewick Picture Book Award and the Marion Dane Bauer Award for middle-grade fiction. She is represented by Lori Steel at Raven Quill Literary Agency. Connect with her at