I've started working on a new picture book idea (YAY!). After I pick an idea I'm excited about, I start writing the text. Because I tend to think visually when writing, I also usually start paging out the manuscript and scribbling stick figure thumbnail sketches to help me figure out pacing.
Welcome to Inkygirl: Reading, Writing and Illustrating Children's Books (archive list here) which includes my Creating Picture Books series, Advice For Young Writers and Illustrators, Writer's and Illustrator's Guide To Twitter, interviews, my poetry for young readers, #BookADay, writing/publishing industry surveys, and 250, 500, 1000 Words/Day Writing Challenge. Also see my Inkygirl archives, and comics for writers (including Keiko and Will Write For Chocolate). Also check out my Print-Ready Archives for Teachers, Librarians, Booksellers and Young Readers.
I tweet about the craft and business of writing and illustrating at @inkyelbows. If you're interested in my art or other projects, please do visit DebbieOhi.com. Thanks for visiting! -- Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Entries in picture books (36)
Behind-the-scenes: How new picture book PIRASAURS! was created, with insights from author Josh Funk and illustrator Michael Slack
Back in May 2013, I posted an interview with Celia Lee, an editor at Cartwheel Books / Scholastic, and Celia invited Inkygirl readers to submit manuscripts for a limited time; apparently Celia received over a thousand submissions (!). A couple of years later, I met Josh Funk at nErDcampMI and found out that he had sold one of his picture book manuscripts to Celia as a result of my Inkygirl post, and it was being illustrated by Michael Slack.
"Picture books create readers from the ground up. Don't rush children out of them." - Jarrett J. Krosoczka.
Advice For Young Writers, Patience, ELLA AND PENGUIN STICK TOGETHER: Three Questions with Megan Maynor
Megan Maynor is a former advertising copywriter and author of picture books ELLA AND PENGUIN STICK TOGETHER and ELLA AND PENGUIN: A PERFECT MATCH (coming 2017), both from HarperCollins Children’s Books. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and three children.
ELLA AND PENGUIN is a new picture book written by Megan Maynor, illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet, published by HarperCollins Children's Books in January 2016. You can see reviews in Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.
Yay, my copy of LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST by Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney (Sterling) just arrived! Such a delicious read, plus I love the surprise fold-out ending. This would make a great readaloud, with lots of potential discussion with young readers about the fun art details, food and friendship.
If you haven't already, do read my Three Questions interview with Josh Funk.
You can also find out more about the book (plus there's a free activity kit) on Josh's book page.
"Picture books create readers from ground up. Don't rush children out of them." - Jarrett J. Krosoczka.
Advice For Young Writers, Tea, Books and Office Owls: Three Questions With Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple
Today, I'm delighted to have Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple visiting Inkygirl. Jane and Heidi are co-authors of YOU NEST HERE WITH ME, a new picture book that recently came out from Boyds Mill Press, illustrated by Melissa Sweet. I've also been a longtime fan of Jane's work, especially her fairy tale retellings.
I asked both Jane and Heidi to answer Three Questions for me, and here are their answers:
For Part 2 of the YOU NEST HERE WITH ME series, please see Three Questions With Jane Yolen.
Heidi Stemple didn’t want to be a writer when she grew up. In fact, after she graduated from college, she became a probation officer in Florida. It wasn’t until she was 28 years old that she gave in and joined the family business, publishing her first short story in a book called Famous Writers and Their Kids Write Spooky Stories. The famous writer was her mom, author Jane Yolen. Since then, she has published twenty books and numerous short stories and poems, mostly for children.
I had a chance to hang out with Heidi at the SCBWI Summer Conference last year. She's smart, she's funny and she's so supportive of others in the industry. Then partway through a group conversation, I also discovered that her mom is Jane Yolen (!!).
Heidi and Jane run a Picture Book Boot Camp (next one is Sept. 10-13, 2015), which is a Master Class in Jane's home:
Where to find out more about Heidi:
Synopsis of You Nest Here With Me (Boyds Mill Press, 2015):
This rhyming bedtime book is part lullaby and part introductory field guide for the smallest ornithologists. But, at its heart, it reminds baby birds and children alike that home is wherever you are safely tucked in with your family. If you look in the back of You Nest Here With Me , you'll see that part of the dedication is to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. If you want to know more about birds--including listening to owl calls, visit them at: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/Page.aspx?pid=1478.
Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?
I love birds. All birds. But, especially owls.
I have about a hundred owls in my house. Actually, I’ve never counted them, but there are a lot.
My mother, author Jane Yolen, wrote a book you might know called Owl Moon. It’s about a little girl who goes out owling with her dad. What you may not know is that the little girl is me and Pa is my father, David Stemple, who was a great owler. He was the one who taught me to call owls and now, once a year, I lead a team of owlers for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. On our best year (so far) we called down 67 owls from midnight to 7am.
These (pictured above) are probably my favorite owls—they make up a bookend that my dad had in his office. Now they sit on the bookshelf right next to my desk and remind me of him.
Q. What advice do you have for young writers?
When you live in a family of writers (my mother and both my brothers work in children’s books) you know that inspiration comes from everywhere. You never know when and from where an idea for a story will pop up. Keep your eyes, ears, and mind open at all times for those ideas. And, write them down because ideas are slippery little buggers.
Every writer has all sorts of notes jotted all over the place with ideas for stories or poems or essays or speeches. I even have the beginning of a story on my iphone—you can’t really understand it because I dictated it with voice-to-text and it got most of the words wrong. But, it’s good enough for me to figure it out later when I am ready to write that story.
Q. What are you excited about right now?
I am always excited about my newest book and the book (or usually books) I am working on. So, besides the projects I am writing and researching right now (which involve pirates, the civil war, the Christmas Bird Count, cookies, the moon, monsters, and soup—yes soup) I am probably MOST excited about my brand new book You Nest Here With Me (co-authored by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Melissa Sweet). This is a book that took 12 years to get published. We sold it twice—to the same editor at 2 different publishing companies—and then waited 3 years for the illustrations. I am glad we were patient because we are so happy with the way it turned out.
For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.
Three Questions with Pat Zietlow Miller: Advice for young writers, English teachers and bookmarks, peanut butter cups and WHEREVER YOU GO
Pat Zietlow Miller wrote SOPHIE’S SQUASH, which won the Golden Kite Award, an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor and a Charlotte Zolotow Honor. She has two books coming out this year: WHEREVER YOU GO (Little, Brown, April) and SHARING THE BREAD (Schwartz & Wade, August.) Pat also has six other books under contract.
For a synopsis of WHEREVER YOU GO plus more about the illustrator, Eliza Wheeler, see yesterday's Three Questions With Eliza Wheeler. Wherever You Go is a new picture book written by Pat, illustrated by Eliza, coming out from Little, Brown Books For Young Readers on April 21, 2015. As I mentioned in earlier posts, I absolutely ADORE this book and strongly recommend it.
Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell me the story behind it?
This is a dictionary and a bookmark I received when I was a senior in high school from my English teacher Gladys Veidemanis. The class voted on several awards, and I won “most likely to be published.” It took about 25 years after high school, but it did happen!
Q. What advice do you have for young writers?
Read anything you can. Write anything you can.
When I was young I read anything and everything. Books. Newspapers, Magazines. Cereal boxes. The backs of shampoo bottles. I remember being very indignant once as a teen when the copy on the back of a soap container was missing a hyphen. “How could someone not have noticed that?” I asked my mom. She didn’t have a good answer.
I also tried to write like my favorite writers. I was a huge Erma Bombeck fan, and a huge Rick Reilly fan and I tried to write essays that sounded like them. It might seem counterintuitive, but recognizing other people’s writing styles and trying to replicate them ends up helping you figure out your own best writing voice.
But even if you read and write anything you can, you still may have a hard time getting your book published. I got 126 rejections before I sold my first book. This video tells how I persevered. (And now, I’ve sold nine books, so it was definitely worth the wait.)
Q. What are you excited about right now?
What a great question! Let me make you a list:
• Dark chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe’s.
• Finding out which colleges my daughter gets accepted into and helping her decide where she’ll go.
• An oh-my-goodness-you-must-read-this middle grade book by Kate Messner called ALL THE ANSWERS.
• The fact that illustrator extraordinaire Eliza Wheeler is coming to Wisconsin from California to launch our picture book WHEREVER YOU GO.
• These shoes, which I cannot, unfortunately, afford.
I could keep going. There are lots of things to be excited about.
I recently had a chance to read the f&gs (which stands for "folded and gathered", an unbound galley) for WHEREVER YOU GO, a new picture book coming out from Little, Brown in April, written by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by my friend Eliza Wheeler.
LOVE THIS. When I read picture books for the first time (and second and third...) I usually read them out loud, and this one was so fun to read aloud with its rhythmical prose.
Young readers will appreciate the fun journey and look-more-closely-what-do-you-see gorgeous artwork. Adults will also appreciate the multi-layered interpretation of the prose. The following (especially when combined with the beautiful artwork on that spread) is just an example:
Every life landmark, the big and the small.
The moments you tripped,
the times you stood tall."
*snif* (this wasn't the only page spread that made me teary-eyed)
You can read the STARRED review of Wherever You Go on Kirkus Reviews.
Revamped this comic for use in Part 2 of my "How WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? was created" series. The post also includes a free, downloadable 32-page picture book thumbnail sketch template.
I met Patricia Storms through her Booklust blog and then the National Cartoonists Society, and have enjoyed watching her children's book career blossom. She has illustrated 20 books, three of which she is author as well as illustrator. Patricia says she was twelve when her first cartoon was published in a Toronto newspaper. She got paid five whole dollars for that cartoon, and has been inspired to write and draw ever since.
About NEVER LET YOU GO:
"I have described NEVER LET YOU GO as ‘The push and pull of parenthood’. Amazon’s description is quite nice, too: “Tender but never cloying, Never Let You Go gives a great, warm hug, followed by an encouraging pat as it sets up young readers to take their first big steps on the path to growing up. This story is destined to be a favourite read-aloud for parents and children alike, as the simple but powerful message of enduring love and support is one little readers will take to heart.”"
Q. What was your writing/illustration process for NEVER LET YOU GO?
I wish I could say my creative process was smooth and organized. It is not. So often things just kind of ‘happen’ for me. The idea for this book came to me about 3 years ago. I was feeling really down in the dumps at the time, to be honest. And I had a massive migraine. I tried to take a nap to relax, and I was in this odd dream/awake space and that is when this image of a penguin parent and her child popped into my head.
I had just recently read the novel ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro, so I guess that title was sifting in my head. I kept seeing this image of the child going back & forth to the parent, with the refrain ‘Never Let You Go’ playing over and over. After that the rest of the words starting flowing in as well. It really was one of those rare times when the book came almost fully formed like a gift from the stars. I was so tired I didn’t even have the strength to write down the story, so I called out to my husband (who was in the computer room across from the bedroom) to write down my idea before I forgot it.
When I felt better, I worked on creating a tight storyboard on large newsprint, and then I scanned the storyboard sketches and using Photoshop, I put the text in where I thought it would flow best. And then I promptly...let it sit on my desktop for a year.
The story was so different from anything I have ever worked on before, that I simply could not believe that anyone would like it. One of the reasons I was so uncertain about the story was because it was so personal and, well – ‘straight from the heart’.
Over the years my cartoon/illustration work has been cynical, angry, snarky, cheeky and silly, but I’ve generally avoided the heartfelt stuff. It’s not that I’m not capable of doing that work, but I was burned big-time when I was a young naïve teenage artist, and I’m still not sure if I’ve ever gotten over those experiences.
Creating this book was a very cathartic experience for me, I must say. Let’s just say the story is a lot about working out childhood issues. I suspect this is the case for many artists and writers in this business.
Q. What was your publication process?
Once again, my process is not, I think the ‘the norm’. But perhaps there is no ‘norm’?
The only reason that any editor ever saw this manuscript is because someone approached me. An editor at Scholastic had been looking at my old blog ‘BookLust’ (which now no longer exists) and was intrigued my some of my artwork.
Since we were getting along in our emails, I figured, what the heck, and asked if I could send her this manuscript I had sitting on my desktop. There aren’t very many words in the story (112), so it didn’t take long for her to read it. Basically, she wrote to me that she was very excited about the story and that’s when the whole process began.
After that it was a matter of getting the rest of the editorial team excited about the idea, and after that, well...it was a matter of convincing the next various levels to get excited about the idea, too. I had only sent black & white sketches to my editor, so at this stage I did some basic colour work in order to give the folks at Scholastic an idea of how I envisioned the story to be, with both words & colour.
It was almost exactly a year later before Scholastic finally offered me a contract. I don’t have an agent at this time, so I hired a literary consultant to negotiate my contract, and then the real work began. Because I had sent such a tight manuscript, there really wasn’t a lot of editing of words or layout that needed to be done. The major work was really getting the colours just right.
I had a lot of help from my art director as well as my editor. I was terrified most of the time, but it was a very supportive, nurturing environment. It was particularly scary because I was trying out some new styles. Usually I just hand-draw my art, ink it and then colour it in Photoshop. But this time I wanted to create a more warm and organic look, so I outlined the penguins with charcoal pencil (something I’d NEVER done before!) and I experimented with new brushes in Photoshop, and even added Japanese paper in the background for a wee bit of collage effect.
It was quite a growth experience for me, both artistically and personally.
Q. What advice do you have for aspiring children's book writer/illustrators?
Don’t be like me! Ha. What I mean is: be more proactive, get your work out there, don’t wait a YEAR before sending something out. I still struggle with this issue – a great deal of my success is because others have found me, not because of me ‘getting my stuff out there’.
I find it SO easy to just talk myself into the blues and thus not send work out because I figure, who the heck is going to like it? It’s a terrible battle I have in my brain. I would also recommend seeking out people who are also interested in writing and/or illustrating for children, be that writer’s groups in person or online, as well as organizations such as CANSCAIP or SCBWI.
I would also add something that I think is pretty important, and it’s an issue that I still grapple with, too – try not to be too obsessed with what is selling in ‘the market’. There is SO much information out there right now, it’s pretty overwhelming.
Be aware of what appears to be selling, but I think what will serve aspiring writers & illustrators best is the strength & confidence to discover one’s own voice, and to develop one’s own unique path & stories. Ultimately there is no ‘set way’ to be published.
It’s really about discovering who you are, and what stories you want to tell. I’m still working this out for myself.
Q. What are you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you'd like to share?
I’m working on a couple of picture book stories that are very close to my heart – one about a super cute monster and another about a girl & a rhino. I hope they eventually see the light of day. These stories also have a lot of heart and emotion. I think it’s where I’d like to go, if the universe will allow it. Plus I have a lot of picture book ideas which my husband keeps nagging me to develop.
It’s the same old problem for me – I keep thinking they are silly and dumb and no one will like them. I’ve really got to get over it. Regarding upcoming events, well – I’m hosting a launch of my new book, NEVER LET YOU GO at A Different Drummer Bookstore in Burlington on Sunday November 10th at 2:00pm. There will be homemade cupcakes at that event!
For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.
Interview: Lisa Dalrymple and Suzanne Del Rizzo on the making of SKINK ON THE BRINK (Fitzhenry & Whiteside)
Title: SKINK ON THE BRINK
Author: Lisa Dalrymple - Illustrator: Suzanne Del Rizzo
Publisher: Fitzhenry & Whiteside - June 2013
I first heard about Skink On The Brink at a CANSCAIP meeting. Not only was the title intriguing, but I love the inspiring publication success story (details below). Lisa and Suzanne are popular children's book presenters; their activity session at Toronto's Word On The Street this past weekend drew over 100 young people! Lisa and Suzanne were kind enough to be interviewed for Inkygirl, and both give a TON of valuable info and insights into their process.
Lisa Dalrymple loves to travel and has lived in such countries as South Korea, Thailand and Scotland. She now lives with her husband and their three children in Fergus, Ontario. Her story, Skink on the Brink, won The Writers’ Union of Canada’s Writing for Children Competition in 2011 and is now a picture book illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo. Lisa is also the author of If It’s No Trouble… A Big Polar Bear and its sequel, Bubbly Troubly Polar Bear, coming in October 2013.
Suzanne Del Rizzo loves the squish of plasticine between her fingers. Her illustrations appear in Skink on the Brink (Fitzhenry & Whiteside Spring 2013), written by Lisa Dalrymple. Her cover illustrations appear in the YA novel The Ehrich Wiesz Chronicles: Demon Gate ( Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Fall 2013) written by Marty Chan. She lives in Oakville Ontario with her husband and four children.
About SKINK ON THE BRINK:
Stewie is a very special skink — he has a beautiful blue tail which gives him a superpower against his enemies. Stewie loves singing his songs and rhymes as he dashes around his home. But as he grows up his beautiful blue tail starts to turn grey — he can't call himself Stewie the Blue anymore! And without his rhymes, his home by the pond doesn't feel as special either. A new Tell-Me-More Storybook about self-esteem, change, and growing up. Includes non-fiction back matter with bonus information and activities.
See the Fitzhenry & Whiteside SKINK ON THE BRINK page for supplemental materials created by Lisa and Suzanne, including coloring pages, activity pages, word searches, and more.
For lots of photos of Suzanne's amazing plasticine-illustration process, read further down in the interview.
Q. What was your publication process for SKINK ON THE BRINK?
I actually can’t remember when I first started researching and writing the manuscript, but I think it was sometime around 2008. (It usually takes a couple of years for me to develop and craft a picture book story until it is finally submission ready.) During this time, I was also working on other books and I was trying to learn the ropes of the publishing industry by getting out, meeting other writers and professionals, and attending trade shows, festivals, etc.
In September 2010, I went to Word on the Street in Toronto. I remember that it was first thing in the morning that I saw Christie Harkin, the kids’ books editor at Fitzhenry & Whiteside, getting their booth ready for the day. I knew I wanted to talk to Christie, to find out what she was looking for in a manuscript and to establish a personal connection. However, first I had to walk around for a while to try to summon up the nerve. When I finally did, it was the end of the day and Christie was packing up her supplies to go home! She told me that she was developing a line of “Tell Me More” storybooks. In these books, while the story is, of course, the most important element, there’s also an additional educational component that can be more fully explored in the non-fiction back matter. We both agreed that Skink on the Brink might be a good fit for this line and that I should send it to her.
There was a long period where I heard nothing, but I was getting used to no response if an editor really wasn’t interested. By the time February 2011 rolled around, I had completely given up. I went with a group of friends to the OLA Superconference in February and some of them stopped by the Fitzhenry & Whiteside booth to say ‘hi’ to Christie. When she noticed my nametag, she said, “Hey! You’re the skink lady!” I’d never been so excited to think that she remembered me and my manuscript. We had a “pre-editorial” discussion right there and I went home to create yet another draft of the book I’d now been working on for three years.
When April 2011 rolled around and neither of the books I had under consideration with two separate houses had yet acquired that elusive “yes,” I submitted them both to the Writing for Children competition hosted by The Writers’ Union of Canada. This competition receives between 600-800 entries each year and I submitted every year so, of course, I had no real expectation that I would win.
But then there was a day, the same day that I heard from Tuckamore Press that they were ready to send me a contract for my book If It’s No Trouble… A Big Polar Bear, when the phone rang and Nancy MacLeod informed me that Skink on the Brink had won the competition – and that I was sworn to secrecy for almost a week! By this point, Christie and I had a friendly relationship and I think it may have been my post on Facebook, “This is one of the most exciting days of my life,” that prompted her to get in on the excitement and send me my first official book contract!
In October 2011, we signed the contract and Christie let me know that they were considering Suzanne Del Rizzo to illustrate the book. She sent me a few samples of Suzanne’s work. Of course, I was thrilled! Suzanne’s plasticine artwork is beyond anything I would have imagined for Stewie and his story and I was so excited to see it finally start coming to life.
In January 2012, Christie and I got started on the ‘first round’ of edits, which actually became the ‘never-ending round’ of edits as we kept passing the manuscript back and forth, trying to get some of the rough spots ‘just right’ so that Suzanne could get started.
And then the real fun began. I was so excited that Suzanne would consult with me about the illustrations. Her artwork was fabulous and she wanted to check in with me from a research perspective. We both wanted to make sure that we were using our combined knowledge to make sure that the book was as biologically accurate as possible.
Once the artwork was done, in January 2013, I received the ‘final round’ of edits from Christie and the book went to the printer. Then, in May, Suzanne and I were able to drop by the Fitzhenry & Whiteside office to finally hold the finished book in our hands!
Q. What was your writing/illustration process for SKINK ON THE BRINK?
I wish I could say I have a process that indicated some sort of routine but, working from home for the past few years with small kids around, any routine has been pretty hard to establish. I’m hoping this will improve when my youngest daughter starts school fulltime this year because I know how important it is to have that dedicated writing time. 98% of writing is pure hard work – just keeping that butt in your chair and working, preferably with few to no interruptions! Sure, there’s that other 2% of writing that’s genius inspiration, where the brilliant ideas come to you (usually in the shower) and you hop out, words already flying from your fingertips. That kind of writing can be done almost anytime, anywhere (although I would recommend getting out of the shower first.) But the other 98% is very difficult to do when there are so many demanding distractions of family life and when we all know how tempting it is to give in to distraction in the first place.
At the same time, my kids make huge contribution to my writing process. Getting their input and ideas, as I’m crafting a story is an invaluable part of the process for me. I can’t tell you how many years we’ve spent out in the wilderness on family camping trips, pretending to be skinks and shouting things like “I’m Stewie the Blue” over the pond – and how informative and inspiring it is to see how kids engage with your story when it’s still all coming together in your mind.
My process for this book began with lots of research. I must admit, I’d never heard of a skink before reading Lisa’s manuscript, so I had some homework to do before I even put pencil to paper. I researched all I could online and from books, and took photos at my cottage (which falls within the geographical region of the Common Five-Lined Skink’s habitat) to create a massive photo reference file:
Lisa also provided me with some great shots she had taken while at The Pinery Park where she had seen a Common Five-Lined skink up close. Stewie the skink would be undergoing both physical growth and coloration changes throughout the story, and because this was also a Tell-Me-More story book with accompanying cross-curricular back matter; I wanted to ensure I was maintaining as much biological accuracy as possible.
I envisioned having lots of secondary animals and vegetation to make Stewie’s habitat rich and authentic, so I also needed to familiarize myself with the various animals and plant life that co-exist in his habitat. I then created some sample art for Christie to show at the sales meeting, and after landing the contract, I began thumbnail sketches.
Christie encouraged Lisa and I to get in touch and bounce ideas around. It isn’t always standard for authors and illustrators to discuss a project, but in this case, I think it really helped us achieve something special with this book, it was a fantastic collaboration. It even led to some hilarious “oops” moments...like the time when I made a minor flub and put a moose in one illustration... moose don’t extend quite this far south- oops. Luckily Lisa caught it and it was easily changed to a white-tailed deer. If you look closely on my full- sized sketch:
...you can see the moose, yet in the final plasticine illustration it has been changed to a white-tailed deer:
Once thumbnail sketches were approved I worked up full-sized tight pencil sketches:
Because I work in plasticine, I prefer to create very detailed, tight pencil drawings to show my editor, and ideally make changes at this phase of the project. Each plasticine illustration can take from 20-40+ hours to create, depending on its size and complexity, so it’s much easier to erase a few pencil strokes at this point then to peel off/redo the plasticine final art.
My illustrations are essentially low relief sculptures created in plasticine(modelling clay) and pressed onto illustration board. The final plasticine art is then professionally photographed:
Before I started any final art I premixed the colours, after some initial colour studies, to create a colour chart:
I hang this next to my sketch for quick reference. Then I made up large amounts of my colours so I’d be able to maintain consistency throughout the illustrations. This type of chart comes in handy if I run out of a colour and need to make more. To begin each illustration, I’d smear on plasticine in a thin layer to create the background, then gradually build up and add on, then move onto foreground objects as I go:
(From Debbie: click here for a close-up look at some of the detail in the final illustration)
One of my favorite parts of any illustration is adding the final textures and details to really bring life to the piece. I use a variety of clay sculpting tools but often times I end up using my good ol’ favorites-a large safety pin, toothbrush, toothpick and my fingers. Sometimes I even make my own tools. For Stewie the skink, I made a selection of polymer clay tools that make impressions of reptile scales:
then I used an acrylic gloss to make him glisten.
For intricate parts, I sometimes worked on top of a Ziploc bag that I’d place directly over top of my sketch:
(Note from Debbie: Click here to see details in a bigger version of the woodpecker)
Then I could check to ensure that my sculpted objects were the correct size- plasticine has a tendency to spread and flatten as you work with it, which can be frustrating. So I kept a bowl beside me for my “rejects”...and believe me there were plenty. Faces are especially tricky to get just right. But that’s the great thing about plasticine- it never hardens, so you can just peel off the offensive bits and smoosh ‘em, and start afresh. My kids like to raid the reject bowl (as they call it) and put these bits to use in their own creations.
Having a little kiddo sitting next to me on the floor, working on their own plasticine is one of the best perks about having my art studio in my home. Kids are also the best source of inspiration.
Q. What advice do you have for aspiring children's book writers and illustrators?
Lisa: There is so much important advice out there given by far more experienced writers than me – but you’re not going to hear any of it if you’re sitting in your house staring at a cursor on a screen...
Suzanne: ...or working away in your art studio. And I’m even more “green”, LOL but I am always happy to share what I have found helpful on my pursuit to publication.
Lisa: Get out there and meet other writers and creators. The camaraderie and support of a network of peers is invaluable – for information sharing, providing a shoulder to cry on (or a glass to clink with), for forming critique groups and for gaining access to all that wonderful advice.
Suzanne: Yes, you said it Lisa! We creative types tend to be an introverted lot, but it’s so important to put yourself out there and meet others, connect, share ideas and soak up advice from more seasoned author/illustrators. I have found this community of author/illustrators, both online and in person, to be extremely supportive and encouraging
Lisa: In Canada, some good places to start are organizations for children’s writers such as CANSCAIP and the Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC). Internationally, look into the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Any festivals, trade shows or signings in your area that have anything to do with books can also be useful places to connect with other writers or industry professionals.
Suzanne: The thought of attending a large conference might be utterly terrifying if you are just starting out, so start small. Check out the monthly CANSCAIP meetings, or go to Word on The Street and mingle at your pace, or hop online and get to know the Twitter and Facebook community of illustrators and kidlit writers. I must admit to having a bad case of “imposter syndrome” when I first made the career switch from working in a science research lab, after all I didn’t have an art degree. Could I make a go of it as children’s book illustrator? I decided to be brave and just go for it. The self doubt still creeps up on me some days. But I had to start somewhere. Those first small steps, attending meetings and making initial connections paved the way to bigger conferences and helped me gain my footing as an illustrator.
Joining a critique group is invaluable. We often work in a bubble, isolated, “in the zone” creating, be it painting, sculpting or typing away the hours on our tread-desk. We tend to be our toughest critics which can often lead to self-doubt or worse still the dreaded “analysis paralysis”. Crit groups will not only help you grow as an artist, by pushing you in a direction you may never have considered on your own, but they also give valuable, honest criticism of your work and provide a safe environment to share new ideas, ask those silly questions, and learn about the industry. I belong to a few crit groups, one of illustrators, and another of authors and author/illustrators. Authors and illustrators look at manuscripts (and artwork) from a different perspective, and it can be very helpful to get both types of input, especially if you are interested in writing and illustrating, as I am.
Lisa: A critique group is really important. Even if your writing is already awesome, there is so much to be learned from seeing other perspectives on your work. Engaging with other people’s stories when offering a critique has taught me to see my own work with a more critical eye and helped me to develop further focus and direction in my own writing.
Suzanne: Like I mentioned above, get online and make connections. Joining Twitter, and Facebook is one place to start. Every Thursday at 9pm EST there is a Tweet Chat of kidlit creators, just follow #kidlitart, and check it out. They are a welcoming and fun bunch. Zero2illo is another fantastic resource I found extremely helpful when I was starting up my illustration career. It has many great resources, from setting up your portfolio website to designing a business plan. I also belong to their zero2illo confidential, a crit group of sorts but so much more.
Lisa: If anyone reading this has any further questions, or would like direction to an online critique group for serious children’s writers, they can feel free to contact me through my website. (www.lisadalrymple.com)
Suzanne: Yes, please contact me through my website (suzannedelrizzo.com) if you have any further questions.
Q. What are both of you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you'd like to share?
Suzanne and I have decided to dub the past few months “the Summer of the Plasticine Road Show.” We’ve been taking Skink on the Brink and Suzanne’s fun and interactive plasticine workshops to events all over southern Ontario. For the fall, it looks like the Plasticine Road Show lives on! We were recently at Toronto's Word On The Street; I will be at the Family Resource Centre in Peterborough on September 28th, followed by a signing at Peterborough Chapters; we will be taking part in the Creemore Arts Festival on October 5th.
As for what I’m working on now, my third book, Bubbly Troubly Polar Bear, is due out with Tuckamore Books in October 2013.
I’m also very excited about a picture book with a multicultural theme that I’m working on, in which a young Canadian girl travels around the world with her archeologist parents. Through attending school in Thailand, Peru, Jamaica, Scotland and South Korea, she participates in both the differences and the similarities of daily life. I’m hoping to have her experiences to show, through an eight-year-old's eyes, that, while there are many diverse cultures, there can be a common understanding in the sharing of music, food or something as universal as a game of Hide & Seek.
As for me, I just finished a project for a YA novel cover for The Ehrich Wiesz Chronicles: Demon Gate (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, Fall 2013) by Marty Chan. I created the front and back of a steampunk medallion/Infinity Coil in polymer clay and watch components. I also have another Tell-Me-More storybook project in the works with Fitzhenry and Whiteside. I’m working up some of my manuscripts into picture book dummies for submission as well.
Q. How did your book launch go? And how has reception to SKINK ON THE BRINK been so far?
Complete with plasticine activities and a skinktastic chocolate cake:
the official launch of Skink on the Brink was at Story Planet in Toronto, but this summer has actually been a series of exciting launch events. We held a second launch at Roxanne’s Reflections, in my current hometown of Fergus and it was every bit as much fun as the first! Then our favourite event this summer was definitely introducing Skink on the Brink to the Pinery Provincial Park at their annual Savannah Festival.
The Pinery is one of the few places in Canada where the Common Five-lined Skink can be found and it’s the area that inspired the character of Stewie and his story. There was something really special about reading Skink on the Brink right in Stewie’s natural habitat and then working with the kids on their terrific plasticine creations on the very veranda where he’s known to hang out and bask.
The kids at all of our events have been tons of fun to work with and incredibly excited – especially those who managed to catch a glimpse of a real Five-lined Skink in the wild, and Suzanne and I now both have households full of plasticine critters! But the best part is definitely hearing the kids’ enthusiasm for conservation efforts and for protecting skinks and their habitat.
For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.
I'm especially honoured, considering the company.
Thanks, Julie! And thanks to Samantha Berger for the heads-up. :-)
I met Hélène Boudreau through Torkidlit, and have continued to be impressed by this woman's energy and enthusiasm for kidlit/YA online and offline. I interviewed Hélène a couple of years ago about her book, REAL MERMAIDS DON'T WEAR TOE RINGS, and am delighted to be interviewing her again about her picture book, I DARE YOU NOT TO YAWN.
Hélène is an Acadian/Métis writer and artist. A native of Isle Madame, Nova Scotia, she writes fiction and non-fiction for children and young adults from her land-locked home in Markham, Ontario, Canada. She has published five non-fiction and nine fiction books for children and young adults, including the picture book I DARE YOU NOT TO YAWN (Candlewick) and the tween series REAL MERMAIDS (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky).
Q. What is your writing process?
People are often surprised when I tell them it took me three times longer to write and revise my 400-word picture book, I Dare You Not to Yawn compared to my 50,000 word novels from my Real Mermaids tween series but it is absolutely true. That said, the process for creating both is quite similar. When I speak to school groups about my writing process, I do it in terms of the ABC’s of writing. Of course, it’s not as simple as that sounds but it’s really all about:
Aha! Getting your brilliant idea and developing it. Begin! Putting pen to paper (or pixel to screen) and giving into your story with wild abandon. Complete! Seeing your story through to the end, being open to criticism, and not giving up until it is as perfect as you can make it.
Aha! I tend to get my ideas in stages. Usually, when something strikes me as a great picture book concept, I jot it down in my ‘Ideas’ folder and let it knock around in my noggin for a few weeks or months. I poke at it with a stick, wondering how to attack it, then finally one day the moment seems right and I start writing things down.
For I Dare You Not to Yawn, the idea originated when my daughter was about 4 years old. She would do this thing at the dinner table where she’d let out a great big yawny-YAWN then watch to see what would happen. Of course, then I started yawning. Then so did her sister and her dad. Soon, we were ALL yawning until we finally figured out she was doing it on purpose!
Of course! Yawns are contagious! Perfect idea for a bedtime story.
So, that was the kernel of the story. I thought about that for a long time, wondering how I would approach the concept and turn it into a picture book. Because of the subversive nature of my daughter’s antics, though, I knew I didn’t want it to be just a sweet, lulling, comfy bedtime story. Instead, I wanted to turn the idea on its ear and approach it from a slightly different angle, which gave me the idea to write an anti-bedtime story (i.e. a how-to guide to avoiding bedtime). Of course, the ultimate outcome remains the same—making kids feel sleepy and cozy and ready for bedtime—but I wanted the child to be an accomplice with the narrator in a way where everyone understands where the story is going but happily tags along for the ride.
Begin! Now was the time for research. First, I made a list of any yawn-inducing images I could think of: bed time stories, lullabies, comfy stuffies and yawning baby animals. But that wasn’t enough. Since this book was meant to be a read-aloud, I actually needed to use words that mimicked the action of yawning. Mouth-stretching words like rawr and baabaa and of course yawn itself. This would make the reader open his/her mouth W-I-D-E to actually induce the reflex to yawn while reading.
Then, I started writing. Sections of the manuscript came all at once, other parts took more time but the first draft took a period of a few months, I would say. In the initial stages of writing picture books, I organize my writing in a spreads template, which is typically a 5 x 3 table to represent 15 spreads, which is a typical amount in a 32-page picture book.
Breaking text into spreads like this can really help in studying the pacing of a story. I experiment and layout my text in a 5 x 3 grid and also a 3 x 5 grid to see how the story 'chunks up' (that's a technical term *wink*). The story I’m writing at the moment, for example, works best in a 4 x 4 grid and gives the story its best symmetry.
It's wonderfully useful to start thinking in two-page 'spreads' like this when writing picture books because it lends itself well to the illustration end of things. If you take a look at my illustrator's website for I Dare You Not to Yawn, you'll see what I mean. I’ll wait here while you do that. But, please come back. I’ll miss you…
Serge shows a couple of spreads of his illustrations based on the breakdown of my text. In some spreads like (spread 1/ page 4-5) the text only happens on one page, though the art spreads across two. In another, like (spread 2/ page 6-7) the text and pictures are broken up into two distinct entities, and finally in (spread 8/ page 18-19) both the text and the pictures flow over the two pages.
When submitting my manuscript to my editor, though, I don’t use the table since it makes it hard for her to make editorial comments. I format my text like a typical manuscript and label each spread with headings so she can visualize the page breaks. Example:
Spread 1 (page 4-5)
Text, text, text…
Spread 2 (page 5-6)
Text, text, text…
and so on until
Spread 15 (page 32)
Text, text, text…
I keep my ‘illustration notes' as sidebar ‘comments’ or numbered footnotes so they don't clutter the text.
IMPORTANT: be mindful to only add illustration notes when absolutely necessary (ie when the text has a double meaning, which is not obvious, frex).
Complete! Now that I’ve worked on my text and have revised it within an inch of its life, it’s the time to show my work to a few trusted critique friends, my kids, my husband, my agent and whomever else will be gracious enough to read my story. This is the time I’m most possessive of my words—like showing off your newborn baby to the world and daring anyone to tell you it’s not the most beautiful creature they’ve ever seen. But, of course, I need to get over myself and allow the story to be vulnerable for a while. This is the final step before I send my story to my editor so I want it to be the best I can make it. Do I pout? Lots! But it’s for the greater good and I work on my story for a few more months in this manner.
Finally, it’s time to share my manuscript with my editor. By now, I Dare You Not to Yawn had taken about a year and a half to write and revise in its various iterations. I had shared it with at least a dozen people so I had a lot of opportunity for feedback. You would think, at this point, that the story was pretty much ready to send to the printing press, right?
Not so fast, cowgirl.
Before acquiring the project, my editor and I did a pretty intense round of revisions. I worked for weeks to get it perfect then sent it off again, hoping I’d struck the right chord. I must have done something right(ish) because a few days later my agent called with the news that Candlewick would, indeed, like to publish I Dare You Not to Yawn. That was in Fall 2009.
*cue 76 trombones in a big parade*
Can I haz a picture book published now, plz?
Nuh-uh, hold your horses sum’more!
It actually took 18 more months and 6 major revisions for my editor and I to get the text in shape enough so that Serge Bloch could get started on illustrations. Bless my editor’s heart—she was SO patient with me as we worked on draft after draft (after draft). There were times when I honestly thought I should give back my advance money and call it a draw. But I tried to put my trust in the editorial process and we persisted until I heard the precious words; “It’s ready!”.
And as a special treat (or possibly an exercise to discourage anyone from attempting to publish a picture book, like EVER), my editor has given me permission to share the evolution of that text with you here. The following is the step-by-step process (with some, but not all, of the line edit comments and her general editorial comments as footnotes) of how the text changed over that period of a year and a half. There were still a few tweaks after this once we had the context of Serge’s illustrations but you get the picture.
In total, from editorial acquisition in fall of 2009 to revisions and illustration to publication in spring of 2013, it was nearly a four year process.
Was it worth it? Totally!
But, hopefully, now you can understand why it took me longer to write, revise, and publish this 400-word picture book compared to my 50,000 word Real Mermaids novels. *wink*
Q. What advice do you have for aspiring picture book writers?
No matter how good you think your idea is—the next one could be better.
It is so important to be constantly generating ideas as a picture book author because, for example, of the thirty or so picture book manuscripts I have in various stages of development on my hard drive, only two (so far) have been actually published. Those are not great odds but the more you create the better chance you have of success. I often see authors fall in love with ONE idea and work and work and work on that idea at the expense of creating new stories. I admire their tenacity but it might not be the best approach at hitting on not only a good idea but a marketable idea. I try to think of those other 28 ideas on my hard drives as prototypes. Good but not GREAT. Keep it fresh and keep it moving, people!
No matter how good you think your book is—it can be better.
There are so many things authors can do to raise their game. My writing improved by leaps and bounds when I joined a critique group. Revision, revision, revision! It’s the process of sculpting away the excess clay to reveal your masterpiece inside. In my case, though, I can only take my story to a certain point on my own (maybe the ‘good’ point?) but need objective feedback to help take things from ‘good’ to ‘great’. Reading many, many, many books in the picture book genre to get a sense of how the pros do it and reading books on ‘craft’ can be useful as well. Going to conferences, reading articles and joining professional author associations are a wealth of information as well.
It’s not one thing, it’s everything.
No matter how unfair and just-plain-wrong the comments from your critique partner/agent/ editor seem to be—there is usually truth in every critique. It’s your job to pull out the ‘why’ of their reactions.
This can be so frustrating. Just recently, my agent critiqued a picture book manuscript of mine and while she loved the overall concept she thought my ‘punch line’ in spread #13 could use more punch and she gave me a potential example of how I could spice things up. “Are you kidding me?” was my first response, “my idea is MUCH more brilliant! Why can’t she see that??”. (LOL, sorry super agent, Lauren…)
So, I sulked for a while (three weeks, to be exact), asked two other people for their advice in the meantime (one who agreed with her, which made me sulk even more) then got over myself and tried to look at my agent’s comments in a less egotistical/prima donna manner. Now, finally, I am realizing that even though my agent had given me an example of how the story could be better, that was merely a jumping off point for me to push myself and get the story to the next level.
Was she right after all? Begrudgingly, yes. There is a problem with the punch line. My agent was merely pointing that out. Now, it’s my job to figure out how to fix it.
Q. What are you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you'd like to share?
At this very moment, I’m working on revisions for the fourth book in the Real Mermaids series. I’m also working on a new picture book, which I hope will be a companion picture book to I Dare You Not to Yawn but that remains to be seen—if only I can sort out spread #13!
Author @HeleneBoudreau shares revision/editorial notes for 6 drafts of pb I DARE YOU NOT TO YAWN: http://bit.ly/yawnbook (Tweet this)
Revision process = sculpting away excess clay to reveal masterpiece within. @HeleneBoudreau tips: http://bit.ly/16buCyn (Tweet this)
For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.
I always love hearing about interesting and unique ways (without being spammy) that children's book authors and illustrators have for promoting their work, so was intrigued by Sophie Blackall's promo effort:
The package above was mailed out to about 100 chlidren's book professionals, handmade by award-winning illustrator Sophie Blackall to help promote THE MIGHTY LALOUCHE, a new picture book about a Parisian postman at the turn of the 20th century, written by Matthew Olshan and illustrated by Blackall.
What a wonderful package to receive in the mail!
Find out what was inside each package by reading the full article in Publishers Weekly.