We are JUST SO delighted to showcase Notable19 member Sara Shacter, author of JUST SO WILLOW!
Notable 19s: From the cover, Willow looks to be the cutest polar bear...friendly enough to be a pet, which leads us to ask: did you have a pet growing up, and has it made its way into any of your stories?
Sara: My only pet was a goldfish named Marilyn, after Marilyn Monroe. The name was my mom’s idea – Marilyn Monroe had very expressive lips, and my mom likened them to a fish’s mouth opening and closing. I know. A bit of a stretch.
Sadly, Marilyn was rather mean-spirited. When I bought her a friend, she ate it. Yet what she lacked in manners, she made up for in fortitude. I was a terrible pet owner. I wouldn’t clean her tank until the water became somewhat opaque. Occasionally I forgot to feed her. But she lived for 13 years.
Marilyn has not appeared in any of my stories, but (spoiler alert…) I thought of her while reading Ryan T. Higgins’ We Don’t Eat Our Classmates. That book is hilarious.
Notable19s: Cannibal fish and being eaten by classmates sound like the stuff of nightmares and would make a person have trouble falling asleep. LOL! What do you think about when you have trouble falling asleep?
Sara: For better or for worse, I often think about my Work In Progress. The peace and quiet lets me ponder plot points and turn phrases in my head. On the upside, I often get inspired and scribble deep thoughts on the notepad that resides on my nightstand. On the downside, I get so involved in my thoughts that I don’t fall asleep! Bit of a vicious cycle.
Notable19s: Warm milk might help with falling asleep; sadly, the tryptophan in turkey does not help with sleep. Now that we’ve got everyone hungry, what is a food you could not live without?
Sara: Bread. Warm, crusty bread with buttery deliciousness melting on top. My husband calls me “Gluten Girl.” I’d make a good medieval prisoner at the top of a crumbling castle tower, eating nothing but bread and water. But it would have to be high-quality bread. No mass marketed white bread for me.
Notable19s: Now that we know what your favorite food is, how about your favorite TV show as a kid?
Sara: I didn’t really have a favorite, but I watched a ridiculous amount of The Brady Bunch. (This may reveal my approximate age…) I logged so many hours that my mom could be in different room, hear the introductory lines of dialogue, and yell, “Isn’t this the one where Marcia gets hit in the nose with a football?” I should really apologize to my mom.
Notable19s: Too funny! One final question for you, so we will ask about the craft. What is the hardest for you about writing? The easiest?
I’m not sure the words “hardest” and “easiest” really apply. When an aspect of craft is difficult, it’s also challenging and exciting. When an aspect of craft seems “easy,” I think it’s more a matter of it feeling joyful than actually being “easy.”
That said, what I struggle with most is the blank page. There are SO many ways to tell a story! I’m a tad type-A, so it can feel overwhelming to seek the “right” beginning. I try to remind myself that none of my words are etched into anyone’s soul. Revision is good! In fact, that is what I enjoy most – revising. Shaping a draft until it sings is incredibly gratifying.
Notable19s: There certainly are many ways to tell a story, and we’re so glad you told yours!
Please be sure to follow Sara on Twitter or Facebook and visit her website for updates and be the first to find out when JUST SO WILLOW is available for preorder!
By Brooke Boynton-Hughes
You sold your picture book manuscript! Huzzah! And now it will become a BOOK! With illustrations! But, will the illustrator capture your vision? Will they draw your characters just as you hoped they would? And what's taking so long, anyway?!
My author/illustrator debut, BRAVE MOLLY (Chronicle), came out earlier this year, and while it is the first book that I've authored, it's the 9th book (out of 10) that I've illustrated. I've heard from author friends that they can sometimes feel a bit in the dark about what exactly is going on with their manuscript once it has been picked up by an editor.
While I can't speak to what exactly is happening on the publisher's end, I'm hoping I can shed a little light on what's happening on the illustrator side of things while you're waiting for months, or years, for your manuscript to become a real-life illustrated book.
While I'm sure my process shares similarities with other illustrators, every illustrator has their own way of working. Please take what follows with a grain of salt.
Step 1: To Illustrate, or Not to Illustrate!
My agent sends me an email with the good news that an editor has a manuscript that they'd like me to illustrate. Occasionally an editor or art director will ask an illustrator to do a sample illustration before officially offering the illustrator the job, sort of like an actor auditioning for a part.
If I'm excited enough about the story to want to spend at least a year of my life with it, then I usually say, "Yes!" Sometimes an illustrator just doesn't connect with a story, although, there are a lot of reasons why an illustrator might pass on a manuscript: scheduling conflicts, already juggling too many projects, stuff going in their personal life, etc. etc.
Step 2: Hello, Publishing Folks!
Before starting a book, I talk with the editor and/or art director about the vision for the book. Sometimes this conversation is short and sweet and sometimes it’s more involved and covers things like color palette, age and gender of characters, or any other number of things that might be relevant to the story. At the very least, technicalities like trim size and page count are discussed at this stage.
Step 3: The Layout!
I start each book by creating thumbnail layouts. Thumbnail layouts are small, rough sketches of every spread in the book. Creating tiny, rough layouts helps get me thinking about what I want to convey without getting too caught up with the details.
At this stage, I'm thinking about how the illustrations can add to the story without just restating visually what the text says with words. I'm also thinking about how the visual pacing of the story works with the pacing of the plot and trying to decide which moments of the story should be double page spreads, single spreads, or vignettes.
Sometimes an editor has already paginated the text, and sometimes I work out the pagination. It depends on the editor and on the story.
Step 4: More Layouts!
Once I have a rough thumbnail layout that I like, I re-draw it more clearly and at a larger size. The new, cleaner sketches give a good sense of the composition of each spread and of the visual storytelling that's taking place throughout the book.
Step 5: Character sketches!
It usually takes a while to figure out what a character looks like, which for me starts by drawing lots of heads. I have pages and pages of drawings of just heads (I'm pretty sure this isn't normal…? But it works for me).
None of the picture book manuscripts I've illustrated contained any indication of what the characters looked like (other than age), which left lots of room for me to play and explore. Once I feel I have the characters figured out, I'll re-draw them side by side and do a digital color study in Photoshop. (In reality, I'm often going back and forth between working on the character sketches and the layout).
Step 6: Waiting!
This is when I email everything to the art director and wait. Sometimes the wait can be a week or two, and sometimes it can be a few months. The process of illustrating a picture book is collaborative and each party needs time to do their part of the job. This is usually when I catch up on personal projects, or if I'm juggling more than one book at a time, I'll switch over to the other project.
Step 7: Notes!
The editor and/or art director will send notes on the layout and character sketches. I make revisions based on their feedback and email them the new version. Rinse and repeat.
Step 8: Full-size Drawings! (My favorite step!)
Once the editor and art director have approved the layout and the character design, I start on full-size drawings. I work directly on my final watercolor paper. (Some illustrators do their full-size sketches on tracing paper and then transfer the drawing to their final support. Also, I want to mention again that every illustrator’s process is different. This is just how I do things.)
Step 9: More waiting!
I scan the finished drawings, email them to the art director, and wait for feedback. I think this is usually when the editor or art director will send the images to the author for review (but don't quote me on that).
Step 10: More Notes! More revisions!
Since I’ve worked out most of the bigger visual problems in the layout stage, there usually aren't too many revisions at this stage. But sometimes, for one reason or another, things need to be adjusted and there might be a lot of back and forth: revise something, re-send it to the art director, wait for notes, revise it again, etc.
Step 11: Stuff happens!
Twice while in the midst of illustrating picture books (and both times with the same, very patient publisher) I had to have surgery rather unexpectedly, which meant that the books had to be pushed back a few months. If your book is pushed back a list, it might be that the illustrator has to deal with life stuff. (Or it might just be because your illustrator is slow. Sometimes we can be slow.)
Step 12: Final Art!
Once I've received approval on the full size pencil drawings, I ink all of the line work and then paint all of the images one by one. Instead of painting the illustrations in order from beginning to end, I jump around so that if the way I paint changes slightly as I go, the progression won't be noticeable. I also jump around so that I can tackle the more complicated images at the beginning when I'm feeling fresh and save the more straightforward images for the end when I'm often battling drawing-hand fatigue.
Step 13: Fingers Crossed!
I scan the final images, email them off, and hope that I get the go-ahead to send the original art via snail mail. Sometimes changes need to be made, and since I work with traditional media (instead of working digitally), this sometimes means that I have to re-do an illustration completely. Sometimes I'll repaint just a small section of an image and ask the art director to Photoshop it into the rest of the illustration.
Step 14: Proofs!
Once the publisher has my finished art, they make scans of the images and the art director lays in all of the text and works their art director magic. Then the publisher has proofs made which they send to the illustrator for approval (I think they usually send proofs to the author, too). Sometimes colors need to be adjusted, or errors are caught and fixed.
Step 15: We made a book! Together!
Once everyone approves the proofs, the book is off to the printer! Hooray!
I imagine that it would be incredibly nerve-wracking to hand your manuscript over to an illustrator who may not envision things the same way you do. But, just as an author wouldn't want someone standing over their shoulder telling them which words to use where, an illustrator wouldn't want someone telling them exactly how something should look. An illustrator's job is not to re-create exactly what the author has envisioned, but rather, to bring their own, unique vision and voice to a story.
So be patient and trust that the illustrator of your picture book loves your manuscript just as much as you do and is doing everything they can to help bring your story to life. And together we’ll make a beautiful book!
by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Whoops, I misunderstood! I thought my assignment was to write post-LUNCH tips for debut picture book writers, illustrators and creators. Nonetheless, let’s see what can be salvaged from this post. In no particular order:
1. Thank your companions. Whether you lunched or launched, thank those who joined you for the event, especially the parents and caretakers who brought their little ones with strollers and diaper bags in tow. Hand out bookmarks or coloring pages and thank them for being great listeners. I’m sending a special shout-out to two critique partners, Carrie and Hayley, who surprised me at my library while I was reading WHEN A TREE GROWS for toddler storytime.
2. Tip your server. If you lunched, please tip your waitperson with cash, currency, money or moola! If you launched, consider thanking the store manager, librarian, teacher or event organizer with a special item. I’ve donated copies of my book, mailed small swag gifts, delivered snacks and sent handwritten notes on book-themed stationery. Surely an illustrator’s sketch would also be a very special, one-of-a-kind thank you.
3. Write a review. If you lunched, post your praise on Open Table or Yelp! If you launched, share an event tip or special highlight on social media. Promote an upcoming event at the venue that might interest other authors or fellow book lovers.
4. And finally…My last tip is not lunch-related, but is helpful pre and post launch. Double check your links and social media profiles to make sure they are current and correct. Update your blog or SCBWI profile so your book info says “Now Available” instead of “Preorder Here.” Does Goodreads have your current book cover in view? Make sure your WorldCat, NetGalley or Edelweiss+ entry is up-to-date and accurate. Check outside links maintained by your publisher, literary agency, professional organizations, etc. to make sure your book information is just a click away.
Now take a deep breath, a nap, a stroll outdoors, whatever helps you to recharge your creative drive in your new post-lunch, post-launch life! Because someone has surely asked “What are you working on next?"
When A Tree Grows
Written by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Illustrated by Kasia Nowowiejska
Sterling Children’s Books, April 2, 2019
Fiction, ages 3-7
WHEN A TREE GROWS is a rollicking read-aloud that follows a zany chain of events triggered by a broken tree, a cranky Bear, a nut-loving Squirrel and his loyal friend Moose.
Cathy Ballou Mealey lives with her family north of Boston, where she delights in watching silly squirrel antics and is waiting patiently for a moose to appear. Her favorite nut is the hazelnut and her favorite cupcake is cardamom crème.
A little bird (maybe a Ruby-crowned Kinglet?) told us that today is the birthday of Notable19 author Teresa Robeson, the subject of this blog post! It also happens to be the book birthday of Notable19 member Jessica Lanan…THE FISHERMAN AND THE WHALE is one beautiful baby! Maybe Teresa was a beautiful baby, too?
Teresa: Not as beautiful as Jess’s book, I'm sure. You be the judge…
Notable19: Let’s say you and Jessica’s book are beautiful in different ways. LOL! You’re smiling like you’re amused by something in the photo.
Teresa: I might have been watching TV. I’m somewhat embarrassed to say I watched a lot of TV growing up.
Notable 19: Really? What was your favorite TV show as a kid?
Teresa: I don’t know that I had a favorite show. In Hong Kong, I loved a couple of series imported from Japan. One involved a moon-fairy who was banished to Earth to do a certain number of good deeds before she would be allowed back to the moon. Another was about a competitive swimmer who could execute a kick at the turn that launched her out of the water so she could reach the finish faster than her competitors. The third show I adored was Star Trek. It was syndicated in Hong Kong in 1968 and I just loved Spock with all the passion of a 4 year old. I think it was the ears…or maybe the bowl haircut that most kids endured at one time or another. Heh.
Teresa: After we moved to Vancouver, my favorite shows were Six Million Dollar Man, Twilight Zone, Bionic Woman, and Wonder Woman. As you can tell, I have always been drawn to science fiction and fantasy.
Notable19: It’s surprising that your first book wasn’t SFF.
Teresa: Well, I have SFF stories in the anthologies published by the Minnows Literary Group. All the money earned from the anthologies is donated to Doctors Without Borders.
Notable19: That is a terrific charity to support! Let’s stick with your childhood for another question. What is a moment in your youth that is crystal clear in your mind?
Teresa: Hmmm, shall I talk about a traumatic moment or non-traumatic? I’ll go with the latter. I will never forget watching the stray alley cat that adopted us give birth inside a blanket-lined box that we used to put out for her. Newborn kitties are just the cutest things…the mother cat eating the placenta, not so much.
Notable19: Ah, the miracle of birth! Did that make you want to be a veterinarian? And, relatedly, what’s the weirdest job you ever had?
Teresa: That didn’t make me want to become a vet; it did, however, make me want to become a crazy cat lady. Funny enough, the weirdest job I had was almost vet-like. I had to perform gonadectomies on rodents in hormones studies for a biopsychology professor. I made some good friends in that job though, including the admin assistant of the psyc department who gave me a well-paying summer job the next year that helped me save up enough to take a one-month vacation in Europe after college graduation!
Notable19: That was serendipitous. And speaking of vacations, if you could travel anywhere now, where would you go?
Teresa: If there choices were not confined to Earth, I would love to travel to Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. If confined to Earth, it would be a toss-up between the Galapagos or back to Hong Kong, especially for Chinese New Year.
Notable19: Those are very disparate choices. Sounds like Chinese New Year is a special holiday for you, but if you could invent a holiday what would it be?
Teresa: If I were the Queen of the 'Verse (Firefly reference for those of you not in the know), I would create a “Sleep For 24-Hours” holiday where you can catch up on REM and deep sleep without the guilt. Seems like most people are sleep-deprived these days and it would really be a perfect holiday. Family gatherings, setting off fireworks, and picnics are overrated.
Notable19s: You may be on to something there. We hope you can run the universe one day so we can all catch up on our sleep. Thank you for sharing your quirky experiences and thoughts with us!
Teresa says that if you're not scared off by her odd jobs and odder sense of humor, you can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Pre-order her book on our Book page or at your favorite local independent bookstore.
Here’s the start of something wonderful: our interview of Notable19 member Stephanie Lucianovic, the author of THE END OF SOMETHING WONDERFUL!
Notable19: Let’s open with a question as oddly fun as your book, Stephanie. If you were a new color in the crayon box, what color would you be?
Stephanie: Oh, man — I honestly don’t think I can come up with a new color unless it was something like Anxious Amber, Impatient Indigo, or Worried Wisteria. Okay, but I will say, this, though — if I was an old color in the crayon box I’d be ochre. Not because of the color itself — which I believe is kind of a brownish gold? — but because when I was a kid I did not know how to pronounce it. I thought it was “o-chur” or “o-kree.”
Then, years later, when I learned how it was actually pronounced, I remember being so gobsmacked by how mysterious words could be and how crazy it was that your original perception could be so entirely different from the reality under all the layers. Now as a writer, whose lifelong love of words might have started with my mispronunciation of that crayon color, I know that digging for the layered truth is how you get and tell the best stories.
Notable19: It is fascinating how our perception of things and people can be so off-base…like we tend to think established authors have it all together and are fonts of wisdom when many are trying to find their way, too, like the rest of us newbies. Speaking of other writers, if you could swap places with another author for one day, who would it be and why?
Stephanie: Ame Dyckman, hand’s down. She has the wackiest, funniest, most engaging flights of fancy on Twitter, all of which clearly show how her brain works when she writes her books. I yearn to be that funny and free with a brain open wide to whatever kookiness creeps in and no slamming doors of negative self-editing.
Notable19: Ame is truly one of the funniest people in writer-land! She makes even the most stoic people laugh. And we all love a good laugh. Sometimes, though, we love a good cry, too. What is the first book that made you cry?
Stephanie: Okay, this is a great question because I loved to cry over books as a kid. Like, I truly reveled in that emotional release, and I think the first book that gave it to me was Beverly Cleary’s SOCKS. I vividly remember getting the book from Griffen Bay Bookstore in Friday Harbor, WA where my grandparents lived and reading it on our vacation. I was a huge cat lover as a kid (still am) and being away from home meant worrying and missing our cats at home in Minneapolis every single day. When I read SOCKS I could not get over how awful I thought the family was to their beloved kitty when a new baby came along. I just sobbed over their “cruel” treatment of him and I knew that if SOCKS had been my cat I would NEVER treat him like that.
The funny thing is, I reread that book a lot as a kid but I have not been able to bring myself to reread it as an adult. Ever since I had my own kids, I cry a lot more easily and I’m too chicken to relieve the trauma.
Notable19: It must be just as hard to write a sad book as it is to read one. But what is hardest for you about writing in general? And the easiest?
Hardest: waiting for something to happen when my writing is out there in the world.
Easiest: procrastination. Just in the time it took for me to complete this interview, I have cleaned my entire house, gone onto Twitter and had 1,821 fights and 503 random musings, eaten several meals, and an invented a fish language that includes a plethora of diphthongs and monophthongs.
Notable19: LOL! Ame Dyckman might have competition in the funny author category. Finally, one last question before you get back to your fights on Twitter: where is your favorite place to write?
Stephanie: I mean, it’s my only place to write, but: my bed. I live with my family of two kids, one husband, and two cats in the Bay Area and we rent. We don’t have enough rooms for me to have an office, and I certainly don’t have a covetable writer’s shed filled with books, tasseled pillows, steaming cups of tea, and hand-sharpened pencils out back. So my office, my writer’s space, is my bed.
It’s where I sat crosslegged and wrote 70,000 words for my first (non-kids) book, Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater’s Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate (Tarcher Perigee, 2012) and it’s where I have written all my picture books, including The End of Something Wonderful (Sterling Children’s, 2019) and Hello, Star (Little Brown, 2021).
To be quite honest, even if we hit the lottery and bought a house with an office for me and a bespoke shed set out in some woodsy back acreage, I’d probably still be writing on my bed. Just like I did when I was a kid.
Notable19: That sounds very cozy, really. Who needs a fancy desk and office when you can have a comfy bed to write in? It was delightful learning more about you, Stephanie, and we look forward to reading both of your upcoming books!
To see where you can preorder THE END OF SOMETHING WONDERFUL, please visit our Books page. Also be sure to follow Stephanie on Twitter where you can watch her verbal-boxing matches!
We’re not afraid to say how absolutely delighted we are to feature Brooke Boynton-Hughes today! BRAVE MOLLY is her debut book as both author and illustrator, and that is pretty…brave, don’t you think? ;)
So, the $64,000 question, Brooke: where did the idea for BRAVE MOLLY come from?
Brooke: The seed of the idea for BRAVE MOLLY came to me while I was attending the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles. SCBWI conferences are full of inspiration, learning, and friendship, but they can also be overwhelming and tend to exacerbate my social anxiety.
While taking notes in my sketchbook (which for me consists mostly of doodling) during the 2013 conference, I drew a girl walking along, looking a bit discouraged, which was really just a visual marker of how I felt at the time. I imagined that the girl was being followed by a monster who was the embodiment of her feelings about herself and I wondered what happened next.
After five years, LOTS of different drafts, several rejections, and many revisions, BRAVE MOLLY grew from a doodle born of frustration into a 48-page picture book about bravery.
Notable19: Love how the book was born of sketches you did at the conference! When not at a posh hotel in L.A., where do you like to write and draw?
Brooke: Where I work depends on where I am in the process of creating a story. If I’m working on final illustrations or polishing a final draft I work in my studio (which is a smallish, coldish room in the basement of my house). If I’m at the very beginning stages of working out a story idea, which usually involves lots of scribbling of notes and quick, loose sketches, I like to work at a coffee shop. I guess getting out of my house gives my brain more room to feel out a story. Although, as a mom to two toddlers I mostly just have to work in little snippets wherever and whenever I can.
Notable19: It is so hard to work around little ones. On the other hand, they can give you ideas for stories, as can your own childhood memories. What is a moment from your childhood that is crystal clear?
Brooke: When I was a kid, my mom was a swim teacher. She got me to put my face in the water by telling me that if I looked at the bottom of the pool, I might be able to spot the friendly sea creatures that lived there, in particular, a purple octopus named Ollie.
One winter when I was around three, my family was driving home from somewhere or other when my parents decided to stop at the park where people were ice skating on the frozen pond. We didn’t have skates, but we had on our snow boots, and we slid around on the ice and watched people skating.
My older brother, Christopher (who would have been 7 or 8), and I wandered to one end of the pond where we discovered that a large section of ice had broken away, exposing the murky water beneath. Chris and I stood at the edge of the opening and looked into the dark water.
With a bit of a dare in his voice, Chris said, “I bet I can dive in there.” Without hesitation I replied, “No, I can!” and I flung myself into the icy water. I was mid-air when I realized my error (mostly because my brother called out a panicked "NOOO!" which seemed to come at me in slow motion). I splashed into the water and for a moment I mostly just felt a bit embarrassed (I was a good swimmer and wasn’t afraid of the water). However, I quickly realized that if sea creatures lived on the bottom of the pool, they must also live on the bottom of the pond. And while the creatures that lived in the clear, blue water of the pool were friendly, the creatures that lived in the murky, frigid water of the pond may not be. I felt certain that octopus tentacles were winding their way up through the water towards my ankles and I started to panic and cry.
My dad ran/slid over and pulled me out. My parents took off my wet clothes, wrapped me in a blanket and took me home. A few years ago I created a portfolio piece inspired by that memory. (Also, for years my anxiety dreams have involved floating in dark water while surrounded by malicious creatures hiding in the murk).
Notable19: Yikes! That is both horrific and hilarious at the same time. It was really brave of you to just dive right in. Is that how Molly is, too? How is the main character of your book like you?
Brooke: Molly is an introvert and so am I. Molly’s experience of being followed by unrelenting, multiplying monsters is directly based on my frustration with my own shyness, social anxiety, and self-doubt. Hopefully, the moments of the story in which Molly is brave will serve as a buoy for readers who can relate to Molly’s struggle.
Notable19: Oh, most people can probably relate to Molly’s struggle. Some people find the strength deep inside, but others might have to go farther to find their courage. Speaking of going far, if you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
There are so many places I'd like to travel to! I'd love to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. I'd like to go to Norway and see where my ancestors are from. It would be amazing to go to the Lake District in England and see where Beatrix Potter lived and worked. I've wanted to visit Mongolia for many years. In 2015 my husband and I spent most of the year traveling around the U.S. in an RV. We hope to do the same thing in Australia someday. There are too many amazing places to choose just one!
Notable19: That is for sure. Traveling is so great for many reasons…though you might want to avoid the ocean voyages that sail over the murky depths with tentacle critters lurking beneath…LOL! It was such fun getting to know more about you, Brooke!
Be sure to follow Brooke on Instagram and Twitter and check out our Books page to see where you can preorder BRAVE MOLLY!
Spring time is the perfect time for us to feature the next #Notable19s member, Lisa Anchin! Full of fresh and feisty flora, THE LITTLE GREEN GIRL, Lisa's debut author-illustrator book, is the story of a topiary child and Mr. Aster, her gardener. The title girl is a curious little plant with big dreams and hopes to see the world beyond the garden walls. Mr. Aster, however, doesn’t like having his routine disrupted, and the Little Green Girl changes his life forever. It’s ultimately a story about growing up, branching out, and exploring with someone you love.
Notable19: Lisa, the garden in your book is simply beautiful; most people--probably you as well--would want to hang out there all the time. But since it's fictional and we can't go there, where is your favorite place to write (or draw)?
Lisa: I don’t have just one. I love working in my studio, but there are days when a change of scenery is necessary. I live in Brooklyn, NY, and I enjoy finding a good cafe to work in, but I’m also particularly fond of writing/drawing outside when the weather permits. Favorite places include New York City’s Highline (an old elevated train track that has since been turned into a park), down by the water in Bay Ridge, the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, Prospect Park, Central Park, and Madison Square Park. It’s no wonder that my first book is about a garden.
Notable19: Great studio and NYC has such wonderful outdoor spaces! But what about when the weather is bad? What is your favorite rainy day activity?
Lisa: Rainy days are the best days. They’re perfect for imagining new stories. I love spending them near a window with a cup of tea, a cookie, and my sketchbook.
Notable19: Mmmm, tea and cookies! Speaking of eating, what is a food you couldn’t live without?
Lisa: It’s not technically a food, but I don’t think I could live without tea.
Notable19: LOL! Of course; we should have guessed.
Lisa: I always have a warm cuppa on my desk when I’m working. In the morning, it’s earl gray or a rose black tea. Later on rooibos chai or ginger or lemon or something floral or minty. Loose tea, bagged tea, herbal, black, green, red… I love it all.
Notable19: Tea complements just about any food and meal. Now, if you could choose 3 fictional characters to have a meal with, who would they be?
Lisa: I would love to have dinner with Anne Shirley (of Green Gables), Matilda Wormwood, and Luna Lovegood. Some of my best book memories are of middle grade fiction. Matilda and Anne of Green Gables were formative books for me, and Matilda and Anne felt like friends. The Harry Potter books came out when I was an older teen, but like so many others, I fell in love with JK Rowling’s characters and a certain quirky Ravenclaw in particular. Luna is the perfect combination of weird and honest and smart and wholly herself. I would love to spend time with the tween/teen versions of all of these characters, but it would be even more fun to have a dinner party for the mid-30s versions of them.
Notable19: It would be so neat to meet up with our favorite kid characters as adults, wouldn't it? You could find out how their childhood experiences that you read about had shaped their adult lives and down what life paths, like whether they ended up with weird jobs. LOL! What about you? What’s the weirdest job you've ever had?
Lisa: I worked at an open-air historical museum called Old Bethpage Village Restoration (OBVR). OBVR is a recreated mid-19th-century, rural American farm village on 200+ acres on Long Island. I worked in costume as a historical interpreter, teaching visitors about the history of the homes and the people who lived and worked there. Later, I also helped run OBVR’s children’s summer program for 9-12 year olds. The kids spent a week in costume learning about the daily life of a 19th century child through hands-on activities.
It was a really fun job. Each day brought with it something new and different. There were “normal” days teaching in the one-room schoolhouse or carding wool or arriving early in the morning to warm up the brick oven for baking (it might take 2-3 hours of feeding a fire to bring it to temperature). But then I might spend an afternoon chasing chickens out of the general store or staging a historical wedding or finding half a dozen escaped piglets on the doorstep of the house I happened to be working in.
Notable19: Oh, what a blast that sounds like! Living fictional lives is as cool as writing about, or illustrating, them. But we had better let you get back to living your very busy real life. Thank you for sharing these fun facts about yourself, Lisa!
It may sound fishy (hah!) but we are so tickled to share our interview of multi-talented #Notable19s member Jessica Lanan today! THE FISHERMAN & THE WHALE is Jessica's debut picture book as the sole creator. As if that wasn't exciting enough, Jessica will also illustrate fellow #Notable19s member Rich Ho's next book, LOST!
As Maria Von Trapp so aptly sang, let's start at the very beginning: How did you get the specific story idea?
Jessica: I had read a news story about a fisherman off the coast of California who helped rescue a whale, but wasn't until I went to a music concert that I had the idea to make a book about it. I was listening to one particular piece and the idea just connected suddenly in my mind. It was called "Soledad," which means "solitude," and it's melancholy and hauntingly beautiful. It got me thinking about how lonely we humans have become, whether we know it or not, by cutting ourselves off from nature and killing other living things indiscriminately. I wanted to bring that feeling to life through the story of the whale. If you're curious, I highly recommend taking a few minutes to listen to "Soledad" here: https://austinpiazzollaquintet.bandcamp.com/track/soledad
Notable19: Isn't it wild how our minds can piece together things from two different senses and create a coherent, beautiful story? Of course, sometimes our minds are slightly less helpful, like when it's racing at bedtime. What do you think about when you have trouble falling asleep?
Jessica: Often I'm tired enough that I have no trouble falling asleep, but if I wake in the night ruminating I sometimes "paint" a watercolor in my mind, imagining the strategy I'd use for each wash and brush stroke. It might sound strange but I find it meditative.
Notable19: Whatever works, though, right? Speaking of strange, what's the weirdest job you ever had?
Jessica: I've had a lot of weird jobs, but none can top the summer spent working alone in a storage facility taking inventory for an eccentric collector who had purchased thousands and thousands of teapots.
Notable19: Spending a summer alone in a storage facility sounds a bit like a dream job for an extreme introvert, actually. LOL! But I imagine most people would want to travel in the summer instead. If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
Jessica: Another habitable planet, definitely! It would be fascinating to see ecosystems that evolved on a different world somewhere else in the galaxy.
Notable19: How interesting! You should chat with #Notable19s member Teresa Robeson. She had wanted to be an astronaut for years. Since hanging out on another planet is not quite within reach, where is your favorite place to write?
Jessica: I like to go to my local library, which has a bridge over the creek with a cafe where you can sit for hours and watch the ducks. I get the most done when I don't bring digital devices along. The walkway is right next to the children's section of the library so it's easy to wander over there for inspiration.
Notable19: What a gorgeous location. It must be hard to concentrate on writing at times there...but what is the hardest thing about writing in your opinion? Easiest?
Jessica: Each story seems to present unique challenges. The challenge with this book was finding a way to make it engaging, since there is just one boat, one whale, and a big empty ocean for pretty much the whole story. I had to think like a filmmaker and use all sorts of points of view. The easiest part were the words--that is, I chose to not have any. I wanted the characters to speak through their actions. Imposing a human voice would have detracted from the idea that both the human and the whale are equals: whales speak too, and I since I can't write in both English and whalespeak I chose to not write in words at all.
Notable19: Love that insight into the story. It is sure to enrich readers' enjoyment of your book. Thank you for sharing these fun tidbits about you and your work, Jessica!
Today's wonderful writerly advice is brought to you by Shauna LaVoy Reynolds. Take it away, Shauna!
My name and the illustrator’s name are on the cover. My agent’s and editor’s names were in the deal announcement. My husband and kids are named on the dedication page, and even my dog is mentioned in my jacket flap bio.
Anna, Andrea, and Amelia deserve a mention too, so I’m going to do it here. I don’t think I’d be published without my critique group.
We found each other 4 years ago, on the 12x12 message boards. Our goals were similar. We wanted to find agents, we wanted to be published, and we each wanted to write 12 drafts over the course of a year. We needed each other to make it work. Sometimes I don’t know if my writing is any good. It’s hard to separate myself from my stories. I ask my family, but their responses are — I almost hate to say it — too positive! My critique group is built on encouragement, but we’re also comfortable giving constructive criticism. We understand the necessity of criticism to strengthen our work, write the best stories we can, and achieve our writing goals. We’ve also helped each other with queries, bios, moral support, and the occasional bit of parenting advice. We live in 4 different states and haven’t met in person — not yet, at least. But I can’t wait to see their books on my shelf someday soon.
Here are 5 ways working with a critique group has improved my writing:
Sure, I can tell myself that I need to finish this draft by the last weekend of the month. But I’m a lot more likely to do it if there are three sets of eager eyes waiting for it. A critique group helps me stay motivated.
2. Power in numbers
One great thing about having a critique group of 3 or more, rather than a single partner, is that we can comment on each other’s comments! It’s easy to write off a single comment I disagree with as a matter of opinion, but when others agree or make similar notes, I know I should take a closer look.
I frequently see new writers expressing concern about sharing material for critique. (It’s a common message board topic.) They’re afraid they might find an unscrupulous critique partner who might steal their idea or even their story! It’s hard to trust a practical stranger with something so close to your heart. There’s an element of blind faith involved in sharing your work with someone new. But the more time I’ve spent with my critique group, the more trust we’ve built. While we started out sharing complete and semi-polished manuscripts with each other, I’m now comfortable sharing unfinished drafts or even throwing out “does this concept make any sense?” questions in the very early stages of drafting.
4. Someone to impress
We hope that our stories will eventually reach their intended audience. But until then, it’s fun to know we can make each other laugh, cry, or say “hmm!” with the stories we write. It’s nice to have an audience in the meantime. (Bonus: we all have children, so we can also get that crucial “other people’s kids” feedback!)
5. The support of people who “get it.”
I’m sure you’ve seen it — that look on your non-writer friends faces when you’re gushing about a much-anticipated new release from your favorite author or making Caldecott predictions. And I’m sure there’s certain questions and assumptions about how the industry works that you’ve heard over and over again. It turns out that not everyone is obsessed with kidlit. Who knew? It’s such a comfort to know who to email about writing triumphs and roadblocks, but also about picture books in general.
I'm so thankful for Anna, Andrea, and Amelia. I recently looked at their notes on early drafts of POETREE and it wouldn't be the same book without their insight and encouragement. So if you’re ready to take your writing to the next level, try to find a critique group. They’re the coworkers/friends who will be your loudest, proudest cheerleaders. (And tell you when you might want to try a stronger adjective.)
Shauna LaVoy Reynolds' debut book, POETREE, published by Dial/Penguin will be released on March 19th! You can find the preorder links on our Books page.
We are a group of writers and illustrators who have debut books (actual debuts , debuts as author-illustrators, or debuts with medium/large publishers) forthcoming in 2019. Thank you for joining us on our exciting journey!