is the first-time author of Fair Coin (Pyr, 2012). From the promotional copy:
Sixteen-year-old Ephraim Scott is horrified when he comes home from school and finds his mother unconscious at the kitchen table, clutching a bottle of pills. The reason for her suicide attempt is even more disturbing: she thought she’d identified Ephraim’s body at the hospital that day.
Among his dead double’s belongings, Ephraim finds a strange coin—a coin that grants wishes when he flips it. With a flick of his thumb, he can turn his alcoholic mother into a model parent and catch the eye of the girl he’s liked since second grade.
But the coin doesn’t always change things for the better. And a bad flip can destroy other people’s lives as easily as it rebuilds his own.
The coin could give Ephraim everything he’s ever wanted—if he learns to control its power before his luck runs out.
What were you like as a young reader, and how did that influence the book that you’re debuting this year?
When I was a kid, I pretty much read everything I could get my hands on, whether it was meant for boys, girls, or adults. (I probably shouldn’t have been reading those Ed McBain87th Precinct police procedurals about drug pushers and prostitutes at the age of 13, but the books were only 10 cents!)
I was fortunate in that my mother didn’t really pay attention to what I
was reading, or she trusted me enough to handle anything I came across.
As an adult reader, I still read broadly, but I tend to stick to the genre stuff and YA. As a writer, I don’t want to set up boundaries either, so I’m comfortable crossing genres and throwing bits of everything I like into the mix.
Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an “ah-ha!” moment in your craft? What happened, and how did it help you?
I had been writing and submitting short fiction for five years or so without much success, and I was ready to throw in the towel and focus on my professional career, when I was accepted to the Clarion West Writers Workshop. It was an amazing, intense six-week critique workshop, in which I learned from science fiction greats like Octavia E. Butler and Connie Willis.
It absolutely changed my life. I learned more in those six weeks than I had in the previous five years; my craft vastly improved by the end of the workshop, and shortly afterward, I started selling stories. It was the first real sign that I might have a chance at success, which gave me the push I needed to prioritize writing in my life.
As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?
Photo by Monika Webb
What works best for me is getting up a little earlier and writing in a coffee shop for an hour or so before work every day. That’s my protected time, so no matter what else happens with my job or personal life, I’ve already gotten some words down.
I also try to write on my lunch breaks and in the evenings, and especially in longer stints on the weekend–basically whenever I can. You have to make the time, whether that means skimping on sleep or watching less TV.
But you also have to make time for your family and friends, and be forgiving of yourself when life inevitably gets in the way of the work. Just try to keep writing high on your list of priorities and make progress, no matter how small, as often as you can.
How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?
I’m trying to do anything and everything I can to let people know I have a novel and hopefully convince them to take a chance on it–hopefully without being too annoying.
By far the best thing I did was joining the Apocalypsies, a group of other authors debuting in 2012. I really recommend joining or starting a community like that to share advice, ideas, and help promote each others’ work.
I also followed a lot of recommendations I found online: checklists to prepare for your book launch, that kind of thing, and decided what I did and didn’t want to do, and what I couldn’t do because of financial or other constraints.
I’m really lucky to have a great marketing team at Pyr to collaborate with. I was warned that the onus is on the author to do a lot of marketing, but I’m discovering that the more you do on your own, the more they can do for you.
Some other advice: Start promoting early, as early as you can manage. In fact, start before you even have anything to promote. I already had a website and blog in place and had been using Twitter (@ecmyers) and Facebook for a while, so it wasn’t like I appeared out of nowhere and started trying to connect with the online community to sell my work. A lot of opportunities have come my way because of relationships I’d already made at conventions and in social media.
I enjoy some aspects of promotion, especially meeting new people and discovering lots of other great books and authors–but it’s definitely work. It’s hard not to resent it some days because the time I spend promoting this book is time away from writing the next one or time away from my family, and my free time is already so limited.
It’s rewarding too: My book publication feels like more of an event than it would otherwise, and it’s gratifying to see people share in that and help the book succeed.
How did you go about connecting with your agent? What was your search process like? Who did you decide to sign with? What about that person and/or agency seemed like the best fit for you? What advice do you have for other writers in seeking the right agent for them?
E.C. Myers’ desk
I did it the old fashioned way: I researched agents who represented young adult genre fiction and compiled a list. Publishers Marketplace and AgentQuery.com were indispensable in that process, and I read as many interviews with agents as I could find online.
I built a spreadsheet to keep track of my queries, and after fine-tuning my query letter and synopsis for about a month, I started sending them out.
I sent them in batches of three or four a week, or whenever I received responses, and I worked through my list until Eddie Schneider at JABberwocky offered representation.
I didn’t accept right away because I had a few other agents looking at the full manuscript, but I had a good feeling about him after we talked about my book and future writing career.
It was really an easy decision; JABberwocky is one of the best in the business for science fiction and fantasy, and Eddie was not only enthusiastic about Fair Coin, but he really understood it and had terrific suggestions for making it as good as possible.
When you’re looking for the right agent for you, you should keep in mind what’s important to you as a writer, and think beyond your first novel. You’re hoping for a long relationship with him or her, and there’s a lot more to consider than just a track record of sales.
Character Trait Thesaurus: Curious from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: “Characters who are curious easily stumble upon secretive things, or
involve themselves in things they shouldn’t; as such, they can
conveniently introduce conflict into a story line.”
Cynsational Blogger Tip: consider positioning any peripheral notes about the guest author or his/her subject at the end of the post rather than front load them in a long introduction. Grab the reader, in a focused way, right away.
How To Button a Chapter by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: “What you never want to do with your chapter button is make your reader feel at peace. Unless it’s the last chapter.”
Hunger Games Movie Adaptation: review by Katie Bircher from The Horn Book. Peek: “The few changes to the plot mostly enhance the story by deepening relationships between characters.” Note: includes spoilers.
Listen by Katie McGarry from Adventures in YA and Children’s Publishing. Peek: “Now I had a choice to make: I could listen or ignore the comments. I
loved my story—loved. It hurt to think that someone didn’t love it as
much as I did. My initial reaction was to discount the judges; to say
they were wrong.”
Why Aren’t Chapter Books on Agents’ Wish Lists? from DearEditor.com. Peek: “Study the websites and acknowledgement pages of established chapter book
authors to identify their agents. Then study those agents’ websites,
blogs, and online interviews to see if their literary sensibilities
match your own.”
My Top Ten Middle Grade Heroines by Stephanie Burgis from Word Spelunking. Peek: “I am an enormous fan of strong middle grade heroines! Aeicha asked me to write about my very favorite middle grade heroines, so here they are in no particular order: ten girls who made me sometimes cheer, sometimes laugh out loud, and sometimes even cry. I love them all.”
Enter to win a signed copy of Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith (Clarion, 2012) and a T-rex puppet! Runner-up prizes: two more signed copies of Chronal Engine.
To enter, comment on this post and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at
cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email me
directly with “Chronal Engine giveaway” in the subject line. Note: For extra chances to win, blog, tweet (hashtag: #chronalengine), facebook or Google+ this giveaway and list your efforts in your entry!
Author-sponsored. Eligibility: North America. Deadline: midnight CST March 31.
To enter, comment on this post and include an email address (formatted
like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email
address. Or email Cynthia directly with “Sinister Sweetness” in the subject line. (If you’re on LiveJournal, I’m also taking entries via comment at the Cynsations LJ.)
Author-sponsored. Eligibility: North America (U.S./Canada). Deadline: midnight CST April 9.
The winners of ARCs of Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood were Victoria in Ohio, Gaby in Georgia, Laura in Tennessee, and Cassie in Tennessee. Note: still waiting to hear from the fifth winner; check your email!
More personally, I got a sneak peek at the flap copy for Smolder. I’m expecting copy edits soon.
What a glorious spring! Texas wildflowers blooming in my yard.
Savvy Sensation: Cynthia Leitich Smith from Laura B. Writer. Peek: “I’m active online, but I put my creative writing first. When I’m stuck on a scene, I dance to the soundtrack to ‘Xanadu.’ For the first time today, I received a check from a publisher in Turkey. And my latest revision went to my editor this morning.” Note: that was actually a while ago.
Tantalize: Recommendation from Reading Is So Much Fun. Peek: “This story had lots of action to it and twist and turns in it. Just
shows some times you can’t trust those who you thought you could even a
family member or one who you start to have feelings for….an excellent read.”
Chronal Engine from BookMoot. Peek: “Of course there are dinosaurs, big dinosaurs, little dinosaurs, baby
dinosaurs, flying dinosaurs and ginormous alligators. The action is fast
paced and gripping as the rescue party discovers they are no match for
the sheer mass of these animals, much less their claws and teeth.”
Let me paint the scene for you: a high school foyer toward the end of Author’s Night, with a dozen writers of YA fiction – including me – scattered behind six-foot tables, signing stacks of books. The turnout during the evening had been moderate, but better than the faculty expected.
I watched as a young woman in a cheerleading outfit came in from the gymnasium, merely passing through the foyer to the parking lot. She was accompanied by a woman I assumed to be her mother. The mom glanced at some of the author tables as she walked past, and asked her daughter if she’d like to stop and see some of the books.
The cheerleader’s response? She rolled her eyes and said, “Only dorks read.”
If that makes you groan, you’ll appreciate the mom’s reaction even more. She hugged her daughter, looked me straight in the face, and beamed a look that said, “Isn’t she adorable?” And off they went.
Those us who are involved in the young adult literature world (whether as an author, publisher, teacher, or librarian) have more than a vested interest in the state of education.
Sure, our careers are built around it, but we’re also involved on a
passionate level. When I hear so many parents cry out about “fixing
education,” I always think back to that one mom.
Too many people are under the impression that education can be “fixed” through legislation or mandates or school board decrees. I’ve been working with students for almost twenty years, and I’m convinced that the answer lies primarily with a student’s attitude toward education.
Yes, it’s nice that people donate hundreds of books in an annual book drive; but if a student believes that “only dorks read,” or that reading and straight A’s will paint them as a “nerd,” then a million books won’t be the answer.
An attitude shift is what’s required. Our culture today – with an assist from mass/social media – have reinforced the notion that smart kids are socially awkward and dorky. Television and music videos have reinforced that the most important thing you can do with your life is be famous and be cool.
An education? Who has time for that when we’re all gonna be stars?
Now throw in the all-too-pervasive apathy of parents, and you’re left with classrooms full of students who have little-to-no desire to even be there. Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s slash school budgets, increase class size, and then demand that the teachers work miracles with cross-armed students.
Fixing education doesn’t begin in Washington, your state capital, or even your local school board. It begins with a cultural shift in young peoples’ attitudes toward the mission. The solution begins by emphasizing that Smart Is Cool, and that requires a concerted effort by teachers, parents, authors, bloggers, and (although likely the last to come around) pop culture.
Besides writing YA novels and hosting the top-rated morning show in Denver, I also run a non-profit foundation called The Big Brain Club. Our mission is to show young people that Smart Is Cool, that they don’t have to choose between being cool and using their brain.
I would encourage all of the readers of Cynsations to take up the challenge in their own communities, to stop waiting on the government to fix a problem that’s right in front of them, and to begin the process of working directly with the students themselves.
This is a cultural revolution…and you know where revolutions must begin, right?
Dom Testa is the author of the award-winning Galahad series of books, including The Comet’s Curse (Tor, 2012), a Top Choice of the American Library Association. His foundation, The Big Brain Club, works with middle school students across the country to help them recognize that Smart Is Cool.
Dom will be speaking at the 2012 Texas Library Association meetings in Houston, April 17-19. If you’d like to reach out to him personally, he’ll be signing copies of his books at three stops in Texas:
Calliope Meadow Anderson is terrified to start seventh grade. Not that the summer has been so great— her overachieving best friend, Ellen, is slipping away, her parents’ marriage is falling apart, and to top it all off, she has to get glasses the day before school starts. Life isn’t going too smoothly.
But things get unexpectedly weird when Callie meets her wacky optometrist and receives a pair of glasses so ugly they make braces and headgear look cute. But pretty soon, Callie makes a freaky discovery. Her glasses have magic powers: they can read people’s thoughts (and she’s pretty sure they repel boys, too).
Callie uses her new glasses to navigate middle school life and learns things she never knew about the people around her. That overachieving Ellen isn’t so super confident, after all. That neither of her parents are who she thought they were. That it’s a good idea to make sure your crush Knows Your Name before you spy on his thoughts.
But when the glasses show Callie that Ana Garcia—a new student from Mexico and Callie’s Spanish tutor—has become a real-life Cinderella in her uncle’s house, she has to make a choice.
Will she stay in the shadows and hide behind her magic glasses, or step out of the background and stand up for her friend?
What were you like as a young reader, and how did that influence the book that you’re debuting this year?
Jenny as a young reader.
As a young reader I was shy and introverted much like Callie, my main character in Seeing Cinderella.
I was less mature emotionally than my friends and often felt confused/overwhelmed by the changes everyone else seemed (on the outside) to embrace about middle school.
Back then books—specifically middle grade, coming-of-age books—were my consolation and helped me make sense of my world.
Once I started writing seriously, I wanted to add to that body of literature. To give back, in a way, to a genre that helped me survive a tough phase in my life.
How do you psyche yourself up to write, to keep writing, and to do the revision necessary to bring your manuscript to a competitive level? What, for you, are the special challenges in achieving this goal? What techniques have worked best and why?
I have a really simple way I psych myself up to write: I stare at the stack of dirty dishes in my sink and ask myself if I’d rather wash them or start writing.
Yeah, writing usually wins. I’ll never win the Homemaker of the Year award, but I’ll always meet my deadlines! Although if you plan on stopping by my house, you might want to call first…
When it comes to revisions, I think I’m probably odd because I love second, third, fourth…tenth drafts way more than my initial attempt. I could revise forever—I’d probably still be revising Seeing Cinderella if my editor hadn’t cut me off.
I spend a lot of time journaling and asking myself how I could improve my story.
When I’ve gotten stuck, I’ve taken a page from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (Pan Macmillan 1992) and journaled three pages of free writing to get the creative juices flowing. It works wonders.
I also like to interview my characters and write journal entries from their perspective; it helps me get to know them better.
As someone who’s the primary caregiver of children, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?
I began writing when my younger son was only a few weeks old, so I’ve struggled with this a lot. At the beginning I took advantage of every stay-at-home-mom’s secret weapon: Nap time! The second my kids were asleep, everything else stopped and I began writing. Food could be fossilizing on my kitchen floor, but I didn’t care. When the kids were napping, I was writing. No exceptions.
I spent the evenings reading: middle grade books, young adult books, craft books, any books I could get my eager little hands on. (One thing I love about being a writer: spending hours reading a good book and calling it “research!”)
I struggled a lot with fatigue and took several writing courses not only to improve my craft, but to give myself deadlines. The good girl in me would never miss an assignment due date, regardless of how sleep-deprived I may have been.
I also made the decision not to get involved with social media (other than reading blogs) until after I had a book contract. I realize this is a different choice than many other writers make, but time was an issue and I felt I couldn’t manage a blog or Twitter account on top of all my other responsibilities.
Now that my younger son has started kindergarten things are a lot easier. I consider the morning and early afternoon my “office hours.” But once my kids are out of school, I take off my “Writer” hat and put my “Mom” hat back on until they go to bed.
The best advice I could give to other stay-at-home-moms is to try to find balance. I want to pursue my dreams, and write the stories that are whirling around in my head. But my sons will only be young once, and I don’t want to miss out on them while they still think I’m cool.
Some days I’m able to accomplish a lot on my work in progress, other days, not so much. I’m learning to take it all in stride and not sweat the small stuff.
Frances was nine when she first saw the fairies. They were tiny men, dressed all in green. Nobody but Frances saw them, so her cousin Elsie painted paper fairies and took photographs of them “dancing” around Frances to make the grown-ups stop teasing.
The girls promised each other they would never, ever tell that the photos weren’t real.
But how were Frances and Elsie supposed to know that their photographs would fall into the hands of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? And who would have dreamed that the man who created the famous detective Sherlock Holmes believed ardently in fairies – and wanted very much to see one?
Mary Losure presents this enthralling true story as a fanciful narrative featuring the original Cottingley fairy photos and previously unpublished drawings and images from the family’s archives. A delight for everyone with a fondness for fairies, and for anyone who has ever started something that spun out of control.
The enchanting true story of a girl who saw fairies, and another with a gift for art, who concocted a story to stay out of trouble and ended up fooling the world.
How did you approach the research process for your story? What research sources did you turn to? What roadblocks did you run into? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?
In a former life I was a reporter, so I knew I wanted eyewitness accounts.
I’d seen The Coming of the Fairies by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Bison Books reprint 2006). I looked at Elsie’s smile, her hand extended in greeting to the little gnome, and I knew right then that I wanted to do the story.
The Coming of the Fairies turned out to be a fascinating, detailed description of the investigation that Doyle and another man, Edward Gardner, conducted into the mysterious Cottingley Fairy Photographs. It’s full of these great, oddball details that I could never have made up.
Both Doyle and Gardner believed that Elsie and Frances were simple little village girls, wide-eyed and innocent. I knew they weren’t any such thing.
But who were they, really?
To me, that was the mystery, not the photographs. I knew I wanted to build my book around two real-life kids and what it was like for them as the story unfolded.
From an archive in England, I obtained copies of letters the girls wrote to Edward Gardner, but they were just polite thank-you notes, not revealing much. The real breakthrough was when I found Frances’s autobiography, which had just then been published by her daughter Christine. Frances’s memories of her first encounters at the age of nine with what she believed were fairies were beautifully told, in what seemed to me to be an authentic child’s voice.
And when I went to England and compared Frances’s account with Gardner’s letters in the English archive, I noticed that the sequence of events in Frances’s autobiography and in the letters meshed in almost every detail. So that was Frances.
Elsie was much more of mystery. I think that was the greatest roadblock. Elsie had kept the secret of how she faked the photographs from her husband, her son, and her grandchildren for most of her long life. She had thwarted hoards of reporters who tried to pry it from her. And she hadn’t written much–she was a terrible speller and always hated school.
But when I visited her son Glenn in England, I saw Elsie’s paintings on the walls of his house. In the family photo albums, I saw black-and-white photographs she’d colored by hand. Those images, more than anything she’d written or said, were the window into her character I needed.
The Cottingley Fairy Photographs were her artistic vision. I think that’s why they still have the power they do.
There were also a couple of mini-coups. One was finding a facsimile of the manual for the box camera Elsie used to take the first photograph. It showed clearly how primitive and complicated the camera was. Elsie, who had never taken a photo before in her life, would have had to study the manual very carefully to take the perfect, clear photo that she did.
Another great moment was when Glenn showed me his mother’s copy of The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1912). Sir Arthur sent it to Elsie as a present, hoping he could win her over and she’d reveal more about the fairies. Inside, I found this very odd illustration. I wondered, what did Elsie think when she saw this? (photo of the Lost World title page signed “yours sincerely, Arthur Conan Doyle )
I could go on and on about my research, but I’ll spare you! A lot of what I found I didn’t use because it was about grownups, or about Elsie and Frances as grownups, or turned out to be just fun facts that didn’t lead anywhere.
I think that’s part of the secret of nonfiction—leaving out things that may have been great to discover, but in the end don’t advance the story you set out to tell.
How did you go about identifying your editor? Did you meet him/her at a conference? Did you read an interview with him/her? Were you impressed by books he/she has edited?
I found my editor after my incredible agent, George Nicholson, submitted another children’s book I’d written to Candlewick. Like The Fairy Ring, that book is narrative non-fiction. Its hero is a wild boy found in the forests of France in 1797.
And (by an incredible stroke of luck for me) it so happened that one of the editors at Candlewick, Deborah Noyes Wayshak, was already interested in the subject of wild children. She’d written a picture book based on the true story of two wild girls discovered in India in the 1920’s, When I Met the Wolf Girls by Deborah Noyes (Houghton Mifflin Children’s Books, 2007).
She bought my wild boy book, which will be out in 2013 from Candlewick.
(It’s called Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron. And to my amazement, the illustrator they’ve chosen is Timothy Basil Ering, who did the illustrations for the Newbery- Award-winning The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick, 2003). I am still in awe about this.)
Just a few weeks after George had submitted the wild boy manuscript to Candlewick, he submitted The Fairy Ring, too, and Deb took that as well.
And it was about that time that I learned about Captivity by Deborah Noyes (Unbridled Books 2010). It’s a novel based on the true story of the Fox sisters, two girl spiritualist/hoaxers.
I must admit it was kind of eerie – as writers, we’d been exploring many, many of the same paths.
So I felt as though it wasn’t research at all, but two happy coincidences that steered me toward my editor.
Mary’s office door
Deb understood from the beginning what I was trying to do, and my hope that it might be something a little different in children’s nonfiction. She gave me sure and steady guidance and supported me right down the line on issues like the Fairy Ring’s sometimes quirky voice and the massive amount of source documentation at the end.
We included the source notes to make sure people knew it was a true story, even if it is called The Fairy Ring. That’s also why the marketing department at Candlewick put “A True Story” on the cover below the title.
But still, I’ve been seeing mention of it here and there on the web as fiction or historical fiction. One website put quotation marks around the word “true.” It’s frustrating, but understandable, I guess.
And there is such a thing as a true story about fairies.
On your facebook page, you have a very intriguing illustration of a man cutting the hair of a girl wearing a crown. The girl looks both stunned and thrilled. What’s happening in this picture?
This picture is actually my favorite illustration from the last book I finished illustrating. The story tells about a princess who couldn’t see and the king tries to find a cure in almost every way: a doctor, witchdoctors from around the world, witches and magicians, but not one of them succeeded. Through the whole story the royal tailor tries to clue the king into the solution—her hair is just too long to let her see! After the king was so desperate from trying, he gave the tailor permission to solve the problem.
The author, Cigal Shaul, had an interesting idea of making the illustrations ambiguous, so when you ignore the text you get a different aspect of the story.
The idea was not to show the face of the princess so the reader wouldn’t know the solution is that simple. This illustration describes the moment when he finally cut her hair after years of stumbling and getting stuck at walls! Thrilled is correct for describing her feelings.
By the way, the character of the tailor is based on my boyfriend David. It was a brilliant idea that made me love making the illustration even more.
Tailor cutting the princess’s hair
You have re-illustrated two books by Levin Kipnis, a well-known author in Israel. Was this intimidating? What did you do to enable yourself to re-imagine the books?
It wasn’t intimidating at all. It was very exciting! I had the honor to work in front of Levin Kipnis’ son and his wife. To be honest, I didn’t grow up on these two books, I was busy drawing all day rather than reading, but Ziona showed me all the versions ever made for these two books.
The fact that I didn’t grow up on these books helped me to think purely about the text and not to get stuck with the old illustrations in my head.
The work on the first book, Daffodil the King of the Swamp, began after I came back from my first visit to the Bologna book fair in 2009. I was so inspired by the great variety of colors and characters I saw, my first the thought about frogs (the main characters) painted in green suddenly sounded weird, so I picked blue, pink and yellow instead. Ziona preferred to stay loyal to nature. Nevertheless, it still became a wonderful book with a lot of color and imagination!
Nature played the main role in the second book, The Three Butterflies. The plot takes us to the north of Israel were there are fields of flowers—lupines, poppies, irises, etc.
The fact that Ziona has studied nature and is so connected to nature didn’t make it easy on me! Every little detail was given careful attention, the leaves and the wings of the butterflies, the proportions between the flowers had to be correct. Now I can only thank her for schooling me. She really got the best out of me at that time. These days I’m working on another text of Levin Kipnis, which is a version of the familiar story about the lion and the mouse.
Of the twenty books you have illustrated, which is your favorite and why?
My favorite book is definitely Roni and the Zodiac Wheel. This is a wonderful and original book written by the astrologer Anat Pinto, who is passionate about exposing children to astrology in a special way. Luckily, she was advised by a mutual friend to choose me as an illustrator. It was a great opportunity for me to use a new technique I was developing at that time and was so eager to use!
Dealing with the text wasn’t simple at all. It was nothing like an ordinary text that leads you through a simple plot. Each spread was explaining one of the 12 zodiac signs in lovely way.
I had to decide which characters were describable in the illustration, and sometimes it was quite amorphous. Finally, I created very special illustrations. Most of them are complicated and encourage the reader to identify the meaning of the text in the illustration.
Working with Anat was a deep and meaningful journey. That time Anat’s book was the only project in my schedule, which made me very productive. Almost every day I created a spread, so every day Anat received a phone call or an email with an illustration, a sketch or consulting about the next zodiac sign.
At the beginning of February, an exceptional quantity of copies were requested by stores. We were very happy for our new “baby.” Now anyone can find it standing proudly on the bookshelves!
In looking at your illustrations, I am struck by your strong use of color and the way you often seem to include multiple characters with different emotional points of view. What are your goals as an illustrator?
Since I was little I was attracted by strong color. I dressed very oddly, painted my room in orange, green and yellow and excluded black and gray completely from my vocabulary.
I believe in happy illustrations, in a contrast to what’s happening now in the world of illustration. The phenomenon of depressing and dark illustrations is becoming wider, and it quite concerns me, I must say. When I illustrate I see from the children’s point of view, I want the children to enjoy the world I create and to dream about it when they fall asleep.
Expressing emotions is something I’m good at. Since I was a child I used to draw cartoon-y characters in different situations. The illustration becomes alive when you make the characters look emotional and helps the children to empathize with them.
The text of children’s books is pretty short and correct, so you should avoid using too many descriptions because every word is calculated. I’m here to fill the holes in the text. Most of all, I like to get into details.
Lately, I have been working on the famous tale about the lion and the mouse in the Israeli version. Every time I had a close up of the lion I drew each and every line in his mane. It’s inexplicable. I just don’t like minimalism.
You write on your SCBWI member profile that you enjoy learning new techniques. What techniques are you exploring now? How do you think you might use them?
The last year was all about finding my style and trying to develop a unique technique of my own. Since I can remember I have been working digitally. Twelve years ago, the books we self-published were drawn with a Wacom, when it was very rare. First, I used a simple drawing program, but then I upgraded myself to the Corel Painter 11.
Thanks to being in Bologna three times, I came to some very important conclusions about what I should do next. I understood that I’m too digital, that in my illustrations there was no personal touch. The days after the fair weren’t easy at all, but it made me change myself from the inside.
I began to explore new techniques, things no one usually does. I took a sculpting tool and engraved with it on a thick paper, later I colored over it with pencils. It wasn’t such an invention, but it wasn’t something I saw in children’s books. I felt like it wasn’t enough for me, so I continued trying.
I took artist’s canvas and flipped to the raw side of it. I drew with soft pastels. It becomes a little blurry but the colors can be mixed in a very special way. I sprayed fixative so it wouldn’t powder my whole studio and scanned it.
On the computer, I continued working with Painter and drew over it in a new layer. This option gives me a lot of freedom. The drawing on the canvas can even be abstract but in the computer I can define whatever I want and let my imagination go wild! I’m so glad I have discovered this technique. It’s something I have never seen, even not after three times at the book fair.
Since July 3, I have illustrated books this way. I’m sure there will be many more but none of them will look the same. I also know that this technique will take me far.
Inbal Sarid is the illustrator of 20 books for children. She was born in 1986 in Tel-Aviv, Israel and raised in a home that encouraged art—pencils, markers and papers were everywhere—with her brother and sisters.
Her first illustrated book was created as a gift for her sister to illustrate a story she wrote.
At the end of 2005, Inbal volunteered to serve in the rescue unit of the home front command and therefore had a two-year break from illustrating.
She resumed her career as a freelance illustrator in 2008. Through book after book and year after year of attending the Bologna Book Fair, she has developed herself, her style and her personality as an illustrator and now has illustrated 20 books for children. In addition to being a freelance illustrator, Inbal works as an art director at iMagine machine, an applications company.
From The Tale of the Rooster Who Lost His Voice app
Liz Steinglass lives and writes in Washington, D.C. Her poems “Which Water?” and “A Book” have appeared in Babybug and Ladybug magazines. She regularly posts original poetry on her blog, Growing Wild.
Congratulations on the release of your latest rhyming picture book, A Leaf Can Be…, illustrated by Violeta Dabija (Millbrook, 2012). How did this book come about?
Thanks, Kate! I am so excited about this book.
I already was very happy about it, and once I saw Violeta Dabija’s artwork for it…wow.
Okay, A Leaf Can Be… came about partially because I was wanted to diversify. I had two poetry collections in the publishing pipeline, but poetry is such a hard sell. I wanted to write something different next. That way, my agent could continue submitting my poetry collections but also have work in a different form.
I love when poetry and nonfiction collide.
Sometimes, that’s in poetry collections. I love Joyce Sidman’s Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night, illustrated by Rick Allen (Houghton Mifflin, 2012), for instance. I have some unpublished manuscripts that use a similar format, including “My Wild and Wacky America: 50 State Poems,” where each poem pairs with a brief prose passage giving a little more detail or background for the reader.
Rhyming nonfiction books rock! And there are not enough of them out there. So I started digging through my idea stockpile, my incomplete projects, my projects that didn’t sell but might be adaptable to this format, etc.
I tried a couple of topics that just didn’t work. One was geology-based, and I couldn’t make the science simple enough nor find the right rhymes to make the manuscript dance. Then I looked through one of my poetry collections, Chatter, Sing, Roar, Buzz: Poems About the Rain Forest (Capstone, 2008).
I came across the poem I wrote about Honduran tent bats, these tiny cotton balls of bats that huddle along the spine of a large leaf frond. They chew through the leaf’s ribs so that the fronds of the leaf collapse around them like a tent and shelter them from rain and predators. Brilliant! Nature is so amazing!
I had recently been cautioned by my editor that animal poetry collections would be an almost impossible sell to that house because their list was already full of them. So I looked at the other side. Not the bat, but the leaf. Here was a leaf playing a role that was unexpected. It made me think about what other things leaves might do.
After just a bit of research, I was hooked! I tend to think of the beauty of leaves: the flaming ones in fall, the stark brown ones in winter, etc. Learning about the varied things leaves do was exciting, and I couldn’t wait to write about them.
I wrote it mostly in rhyming couplets. I wanted a really short book that kids would listen to, that grown-ups would look forward to reading aloud, and that would spark new interest in kids for a common object.
The manuscript went to two editors. I submitted it to Carol Hinz at Millbrook, and my agent sent it to an editor at another publisher. I had had close calls at both publishing houses but no books accepted. Carol had really liked my 50 State Poems collection, in fact, and had taken it to Acquisitions, but it was not accepted. She was really enthusiastic about A Leaf Can Be…, and this time, Acquisitions said yes. Yay! It felt like magic that one of the first two editors who read it wanted it. (And the other editor had some leaf books already, so I just got an encouraging rejection from them.)
I’m not sure I should confess this next part. I write fast, and each poem in a collection might come out fast, but a poetry collection always goes through tons of revisions as I try to figure out the right format and structure. And A Leaf Can Be… is not a collection, just one rhyming text. Anyway, it happened at warp speed!
Writers talk about those manuscripts that just flow, that just happen. Well, they don’t happen to me! But in this case, I was slamming out that first draft, and when I finished it a couple of hours later, I knew I had something I liked. The rhyming part of the text was only 105 words, and it was just there. I only spent about four hours on it before showing it to Carol, though, which is just insane. I’ve never sent out a manuscript that was written that fast!
Of course, it still went through revisions, and my critique groups looked at it, and I worked with my editor on it…but still. That initial writing was a whirlwind that kind of makes my head spin!
What was the biggest challenge for you in writing this book?
The biggest challenge for me was that the format of the rhyming pairs of words (shade spiller, mouth filler, etc.). It was so restrictive that I had to leave out several leaf roles I wanted to include.
For instance: mistletoe. In keeping with the two-word structure, all I came up with was “kiss stealer.” But mistletoe doesn’t steal the kiss; it lets the person steal the kiss. And it was perhaps not a child-friendly enough role to play. A couple of times, I came up with two-word descriptions I loved, but then I couldn’t come up with a rhyming line that showed another role leaves play.
Luckily, leaves do so many cool things that I didn’t run short. But it was like yanking off a Band-Aid™ every time I deleted a leaf role that I loved.
You have written a great many poetry collections. What role did poetry play in your childhood? When did you first consider yourself a poet?
I am chagrined to say that it didn’t play any role in my childhood, to my knowledge. I read voraciously, and books were absolutely crucial to my survival. But I don’t remember reading poetry. That said, I have a terrible memory and don’t recall many specific books.
I remember reading a Tennyson collection of my parents’—my hands would come away from the crumbling leather cover brown and suede-y. And in ninth grade, I got a poetry anthology as a reward from my English teacher. But I mostly immersed myself in story as a kid. Not much poetry or nonfiction—two of my favorite things today!
Poetry came into my life after hearing the late Barbara Juster Esbensen speak at a local SCBWI conference. I started reading poetry for kids after that—she was so inspiring.
Then, during a family health crisis, my SCBWI mentor, Lisa Westberg Peters, suggested I do some freewriting about the crisis.
Freewriting! I am not a freewriter. I am terribly prosaic and results-oriented! But I gave it a try. And poems came out.
Bad poems. But honest ones. That’s where my poetry started, and it’s been about 12 years since then, I think.
About five years ago, I realized that for every topic that catches my attention, I immediately see it as a poem. It’s my first response. When I’m angry, I want to write a poem. If I read a novel I love, there’s always a line or two that I take away and save as a kernel of a poem. That’s when I started cautiously thinking of myself as a poet. Privately.
This wonderful Charles Ghigna poem captures some of feelings about it. A lot of self-identified poets are all talk, no poetry! So I don’t go around bragging about it. But I am finally comfortable identifying myself that way because it’s me. It’s true. I can’t help it.
You also have quite a few picture books and poetry collections that focus on nature. Could you talk a little bit about the role that the outdoors played in your childhood and the role that it plays in your life today?
I grew up in Florida. I hate hot weather. These two facts do not play nicely together.
I spent much of my childhood avoiding going outside, but my parents were great believers in fresh air (and staying out from under their feet). So, outside I went. But I usually had a book in my hand.
When it wasn’t summer or if I was at the water, I loved to be outside. Some of my favorite memories are jumping on our trampoline (a rarity in those days), reading in my tree house, swimming, canoeing, going to the beach, walking endlessly around the block with my best friend, bike riding to see the peacocks, walking and reading the gravestones at Rollins College, hiking the Appalachian Trail, whitewater rafting on the Chattooga River…
I would never have referred to myself as an outdoorsy kid, but I guess I was. I wasn’t a sitter and watcher of nature, though. If I was outside, I was either doing something active, or I was reading.
Today, I still love and value nature. But I mostly get it in tiny bits. A month spent writing in a cabin in the north woods sounds like heaven. But it’s not gonna happen. I get tiny bits and pieces. A bit of Nordic skiing in the winter (still waiting for winter right now!). A few minutes lying on a football field, watching gnats and a butterfly buzz around. The sugar maple tree in the parking lot at my gym.
The natural world is totally miraculous to me. I love to read about it, I love to write about it, and I love to see it firsthand when I can. I’m just usually on my way somewhere else when I do see it!
What routines or rituals have you built into your day that help you focus on your writing?
Every day is different, but I try to start each morning with morning pages, a quick visit to the blogosphere, and getting organized for the day. My most important habit is that I do my creative writing early in the day, before I have time to get too busy/frantic/efficient to write anything good. I also read at least a few poems every day. And I especially like writing by candlelight (real, electric, or my cool “genii lamp” I got from a writer friend for Christmas.
What is your favorite part of the writing process?
I have two favorite parts.
The first is when the idea is hot and heady, and I’m writing and the words are coming fast. The words might be all wrong, but at that point I don’t care.
My second favorite part is when the structure/format of a piece finally gels. I struggle with this. I’ll have a good premise and some decent scenes or individual poems. But the piece doesn’t work.
Finding the right structure is where I fail the most. But then (if I’m lucky) there’s that a-ha moment when the structure becomes obvious and the various pieces of the manuscript all come together in a way that works. It doesn’t happen with every project. But it does with the all the ones that get published.
What do you do to promote your books? Has your style of promotion changed over the years?
With Stampede, I did an online launch and a bunch of in-person events like storytimes and book signings. I was incredibly uncomfortable with those and found them to be unproductive, so I’ve cut them out except for at indie bookstores or events that don’t feel like I was just the plug-an-author-in-here choice. I do school visits and sometimes have been lucky enough to appear on panels at ALA, NCTE, etc. Those can really help raise visibility—if anyone attends your session!
I am not a salesperson. Much of my promotion effort involves having materials there and ready so that if someone hears about my book, they can find extension materials to make the book even better.
And being part of the children’s book community, especially online, is huge. I do need to get better at connecting with teachers and librarians, not just other writers, though!
The biggest difference with my newest books (A Leaf Can Be… and BookSpeak! Poems About Books, illustrated by Josée Bisaillon (Clarion, 2011)) is that I’ve learned which promotional efforts I hated or seemed like wasted efforts and I’ve knocked those off my list. I just try to be realistic and do the things I know I can do as painlessly as possible!
My newest books have gotten some nice reviews, and I’m hoping those might help sales and send people online to discover some of the materials I’ve created. But who knows? I just keep on writing.
You do a great deal of poetry education for writers, and teachers. What advice do you have for new poets?
For beginning poets, my best advice is:
1) Read. Read tons of children’s poetry being published today.
3) Write poems daily. I say that, but when I started writing poems, it was hit or miss. For a long time, I only wrote poems about very emotional topics. But if I had realized then that I actually wanted to be a poet, I would have written more regularly. So if you know, reading this, that you want to write poetry, then do it as often as you can!
4) Have fun! Poetry is an adventure! Write freely. Write new things. Write stupid things. Write unsellable things (you will do this whether you’re trying to or not).
5) Eventually, get feedback. Once you’ve been writing for a while, share your poems with your critique group or with a professional critique. It took me that long before I even had any idea what I was doing. I could have shortened that time with some good feedback. But a lot of stuff I had to learn just be writing one poem and then another and then another. And I still am learning what I’m doing! So give yourself some time to grow as a poet.
I am half of Mentors for Rent, an hourly mentoring service for people who write for kids and teens. Lisa Bullard and I are happy to work with poets, but sometimes people write a quick verse and expect to sell it. It takes a lot of poems, hundreds for most people, before you’re at the point of being ready to submit regularly.
I say that not to discourage people but because poetry is both an art and a craft. You have to work on your craft before your work is ready to submit. The art of it—well, some people are just born poets, and they have it, that magic, right away.
But the truth is, they need that time learning the craft, studying the marketplace by reading poems voraciously, and getting feedback to learn whether they’re achieving what they hope to just as much as any other poet.
I hope this doesn’t sound snotty. I love working with beginning poets! But because children’s poetry can look easy, many people underestimate the time and effort it takes to do it well. And they underestimate the joy it will bring them.
It’s always a treat to work with people who are just getting passionate about poetry, who are discovering everything it can offer them.
Before becoming a writer, Kate worked as a foster care worker, a
teacher, and an illustrator.
Kate is publishing three picture books with
Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group: Big Bouffant (spring, 2011), its sequel, Big Birthday (spring 2012), and Infinity and Me (fall, 2012). She loves writing picture books, children’s poetry and middle grade novels.
She has lived in India, Germany and Hong Kong, but presently resides in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and two sons.
A deliciously spooky middle-grade debut that’s Coraline meets Hansel and Gretel.
Lorelei is bowled over by Splendid Academy–Principal Trapp encourages the students to run in the hallways, the classrooms are stocked with candy dishes, and the cafeteria serves lavish meals featuring all Lorelei’s favorite foods. But the more time she spends at school, the more suspicious she becomes. Why are her classmates growing so chubby? And why do the teachers seem so sinister?
It’s up to Lorelei and her new friend Andrew to figure out what secret this supposedly splendid school is hiding. What they discover chills their bones–and might even pick them clean!
Mix one part magic, one part mystery, and just a dash of Grimm, and you’ve got the recipe for a cozy-creepy read that kids will gobble up like candy.
To enter, comment on this post and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with “Sinister Sweetness” in the subject line. (If you’re on LiveJournal, I’m also taking entries via comment at the Cynsations LJ.)
Author-sponsored. Eligibility: North America (U.S./Canada). Deadline: midnight CST April 9.
Greg Leitich Smith launched Chronal Engine (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) on Saturday with a party at BookPeople in Austin, followed by a reception here at the house. The novel is about three kids who go back to the age of the dinosaurs to rescue their sister and solve a family mystery.
A fair amount of prep work goes into such an event–shopping….
Finally the big day arrives! Greg decided to do an author presentation and signing. For the full scoop on that portion of the day, see Chronal Engine Launch Week Recap & Party Photos (including dino cookies by author Anne Bustard, a Chronal Engine cake from Greg’s Clarion editor Daniel Nayeri, who’s an author himself, and more reception pics, too) from GregLSBlog.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to be in two places at once. While Greg was at the bookstore, I was busy with final setup and working with the catering team from Whole Foods.
Decorating the table with banana leaves.
Moving the sculpture to the mantle.
Setting up the buffet.
Hooray for Whole Foods staff! (I don’t believe in letting guests into the kitchen.)
We had leftover shrimp and pinwheels, plus just a few eggs.
Passed hors d’oeuvres were mini pinwheels (an assortment of bite-size pinwheels of carne asada, grilled vegetable and roasted turkey with fig spread on a variety of colorful tortillas) and traditional deviled eggs garnished with fresh Italian parsley.
The buffet included vegetable crudites with red pepper ranch dressing; large shrimp poached in a court-bouillon and served with a choice of traditional cocktail sauce or
spicy gazpacho sauce, along with fresh lemons, limes and dill; smoky miniature cowboy meatballs (fresh ground natural beef, cheddar cheese, bacon and jalapenos baked in a savory barbecue sauce); continental fruit and cheese display (peak season fruits paired with cheddar, Jarlsberg, Havarti and Gruyere cheeses, served with baguette and crackers); roasted tomato and thyme pissaladiere (seasonal roasted tomatoes on top of flaky puff pastry dough with caramelized onion-garlic puree and Kalamata olives); garden paradise sushi (avocado rolls, cucumber rolls, carrot rolls and dragon vegetarian rolls) and an assortment of berries, dried fruits, pretzels, sandwich cream cookies and more–all coated with rich chocolate.)
We hosted about 100 people at the house. The bookstore had an even bigger crowd, and Chronal Engine was a sell out title that day! Folks in attendance included young readers, parents, grandparents, authors, illustrators, teachers, librarians, and university professors of youth literature. Guests came from all points in Texas (Houston, College Station and San Antonio) and from as far away as Nashville and New York City!
Thanks to all who pitched in to make both events such a success!
Congratulations to Greg on his new release!
Cat not included.
Enter to win a signed copy of Chronal Engine and a T-rex puppet! Runner-up prizes: two more signed copies of Chronal Engine.
To enter, comment on this post
and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at
cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email me
directly with “Chronal Engine giveaway” in the subject line. Note: For
extra chances to win, blog, tweet (hashtag: #chronalengine), facebook or
Google+ this giveaway and list your efforts in your entry!
Author-sponsored. Eligibility: North America. Deadline: March 31.
Barbara McClintock is an author and illustrator of numerous picture books, which delight with humour and fine details. Her books have won four New York Times Best Books awards, a New York Times Notable Book citation, a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor as well as an assortment of other awards and starred reviews.
Barbara, I can’t keep up with your projects… I know that apart from working on Adele & Simon in China, you’ve been illustrating another Jim Aylesworth story, a sequel to Mary and the Mouse, The Mouse and Mary (Random House, 2007) and as if that weren’t enough, you’ve just illustrated a book of poems – Leave Your Sleep! How do you work on so many projects simultaneously?
The secret to my success is lots of coffee and little sleep! Also, ample studio wall space to tape up layouts and sketches from multiple books and flat file drawers dedicated to various projects helps me keep things in order.
This is going to be a big fall for me. I have three books coming out.
12 Kinds of Ice is a book of twelve vignettes about ice written by Ellen Bryan Obed with black and white drawings throughout, published by Houghton Mifflin.
Next, Leave Your Sleep, a picture book of Natalie Merchant‘s album of late 19th / early 20th century poems, which she adapted to music as a gift to her young daughter, published by FSG/Macmillan.
And last but not least, David R. Godine is reprinting Animal Fables From Aesop.
I’m currently working on Maria and Mouse Mouse, the sequel to Mary and the Mouse, written by Beverly Donofrio, with Schwartz &Wade, and My Grandfather’s Coat, written by Jim Aylesworth, with Scholastic.
There’s an Emily Jenkins book on the docket with FSG and more books with Scholastic and FSG in the wings.
I’ve had to put Adele & Simon in China on hold as I’ve been working on Leave Your Sleep.
Scheduling multiple projects and publishing dates is a challenge. My editor Frances Foster, my agent Jennie Dunham and I have had to shift projects around to accommodate adding LYS to the schedule.
Can you describe a typical work day?
I’m usually up early, sometimes by 4 a.m. I totter downstairs, make coffee, and sit down at the computer to answer emails, tend to business details, read the The New York Times, the Guardian, and The Huffington Post online. Then I start work around 7 a.m. or 8 a.m.
I listen to the radio, music, or audio books as I work, although I’ve recently discovered instant download programs on Netflix, so… I’ve churned through “Desperate Housewives,”“Mad Men,” which provided artificial comfort in making me feel like I was working in an office, and am now onto “Downton Abbey.”
By noon, I’ve probably kicked the cats off of my drawing board at least once. I eat lunch at my drawing board or in front of my computer. I sometimes eat dinner at my drawing board, too, especially if I have a tight deadline. It’s not unusual for me to work ’til 10 or 11 p.m.
Another peek into her studio
I really can’t do all-nighters anymore and try to get at least six hours of sleep.
A late night at work.
I usually ink all of the drawings in a book at once, and then color everything at once, so I’ll either set out my Higgins waterproof ink bottle, dip pen, and the rag I use to wipe off the pen, or I have my side table covered with ceramic watercolor nests for mixing paint, my watercolors, brushes and bowls of water for cleaning my brushes as I’m working.
Inking in progress
The finished piece
My life is made up of sheets of paper, scraps of paper, thousands of little pieces of tape that I use to put drawings up on the wall, pencil stubs, ink, books, tubes of watercolors, and my computer and iPad. And sleeping cats!
Emma in the back yard.
My partner David Johnson is an illustrator, and he’s very respectful of my need for privacy while I work. He’s understanding of my long work hours. It’s wonderful having him around for support, and I depend on his good eye when I’m stuck on a problem with a drawing.
Barbara and David
He’s a fantastic cook and an amazing gardener; from May ’til October, there’s a riot of roses right outside my studio window. It’s a joy watching him draw – it’s like, “Wow! How does he make those lines come out of a pencil and form a portrait of James Joyce?” I’m witness to a miracle, watching him work!
I do try to have some semblance of a social life. David and I get together once a week with four friends to cook dinner and watch an HBO series episode. I nip over to the local T.J. Maxx on occasion. Going to the grocery store is a big outing for me. I drive / take a train into NYC once every few months to meet with an editor, or my agent. My son lives in Providence, Rhode Island, and we have dinner with him every other week.
When I’m really on a roll with work, I don’t talk on the phone, and barely answer emails. I try to take an hour-long walk every day, which means I take a walk every third day – I have to make myself go out, or I suddenly realize I haven’t left my house for days. I never have lunch with friends because it punches a huge hole in the middle of my workday. I just stay focused on the work at hand.
Next lifetime, I’ll have some sort of job that entails lots of travel and intrigue. Maybe espionage, or a career as an international trend-spotter for Target? Or I’ll just be independently wealthy, and sleep in.
What’s your favourite part of the creative process?
Getting into the ‘zone’ when I’m working, where I’m so totally into the process that I don’t really think about the act of drawing, or painting. All of the research and years of study and practice, even my pen and brush seem to dissolve, and there’s a direct communication between the image forming on the paper and the act of forming it. The image seems to draw itself.
It becomes an almost out-of-body experience; I’m just a vessel for the visual information to pass through on its way to the paper. This all sounds totally weird, I realize, but it’s a sensation that’s pretty amazing.
It’s a little like asking a mother which one of her children she loves most – but is there a book that you’ve written and/or illustrated which is closest to your heart, and why?
Oh dear! Tough question! Every book is an opportunity to reflect on who I am, and how that relates to common things in all people, even if the story is about a gingerbread man, or a whale in a nightie.
I’ll say my favorite book is the one I’ll do ten years from now, because maybe I’ll finally figure out the answer to some profound questions about childhood, or learning, or creativity, or compassion, or curiosity.
I love the elegant and detailed art you create – every book is different but you have a distinct style. What influences drew you to develop this style?
Maurice Sendak has been a huge inspiration. I’m a big fan of 18th, 19th, and early 20th century French and English artists. Why?
The mystery, beauty, humor, and wide lapels on men’s jackets from that time period really appeal to me.
You often set your art in the past, but if you had a time machine (which could take you backward or forward in time) and a month to spare, where and when would you choose to visit, and why?
I think I’d do a lot of moving around to different centuries in my month abroad in Time Travel Land…
Or maybe all of these artists and I could rent a very big house in Gascony for a month and hang out, take walks, sketch, paint, and eat. We would of course have the best chefs from each century preparing our meals – and why not? Nothing encourages good drawing as much as the smell of good things being cooked in the kitchen.
I love the story about how, as a college student, you phoned Maurice Sendak out of the blue to ask his advice. Has this ever happened to you, and if it did, what advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator?
There have been many aspiring illustrators and authors who have emailed me, or talk to me at book signings.
I always encourage folks who want to be published illustrators and authors to join SCBWI – there’s no better way to be in the loop about how to find an agent, format and submit a manuscript, develop a dummy book, and find a vast support network.
And I believe that one has to keep trying and not give up – read, research, write, draw, revise, and do it all over again and again. I think hard work, patience and persistence ultimately pays off.
Lastly, I’ve been dying to find out where Adele & Simon are going next – any plans?
Once there’ve completed their tour of China, maybe Mexico? Russia? Kenya? The world is their oyster!
Many thanks, Barbara, for taking the time from your busy schedule to talk to us!
Mio Debnam is currently working as a writer and an editor of children’s books, having ‘retired’ from the world of journalism, where she worked as the Editor in Chief of two daily children’s newspapers for several years. She has had short stories and articles for both adults and children published, as well as a middle grade fantasy novel, four picture books, and several educational readers.
After a decade working in the
financial markets in London and Hong Kong, she returned to her first
love and has been working with words ever since.
To get inspiration for
her writing, and to keep up with ‘what’s hot’, Mio has become expert at
eavesdropping on her children’s conversation, as well as those she
encounters at school visits and the creative writing workshops she runs.
She is the Regional Advisor of the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators, Hong Kong Chapter.