by Stephanie Lucianovic
True to writerly form, I agonized for days and weeks over what to write for this post.
I asked my Twitter.
I asked my cats.
I asked my kids.
Inspiration did not strike.
Then today my oldest son asked permission to read my book while he ate his lunch. It’s the first book I ever wrote. And it’s about death.
Nope, not that one.
This is a book that only recently reappeared in my life when my mom sent it with a bunch of other stuff from my bedroom in Minneapolis.
I had totally forgotten that I wrote it when I took a bookmaking class at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in 1985.
I had therefore totally forgotten that I wrote a story about a murderous doll who killed everyone in the story. When I was 12.
Given my mother’s love for all things dark and creepy, it’s not all that surprising that I wrote dark and creepy story as a kid. In fact, writing a story about a killer doll that I clearly ripped off from an old Twilight Zone episode is not even close to the craziest way my childhood as an amateur author intersects with my adulthood as a professional author.
But we’ll get to that.
If you follow me on Twitter or read my cover reveal interview with Mr. Schu, you will be familiar with my banging on about how much I adore the Edward Gorey-inspired font used in The End of Something Wonderful. I bang on about that font because along with her collection of Charles Addams books, my dark and creepy mother also has every Edward Gorey book ever written.
And this is where a strange story gets even stranger, Irene Vandervoort — who designed The End of Something Wonderful and is therefore responsible for the font used in it — has NEVER MET ME.
Dun dun DUN!
It’s totally true. Irene and I haven’t ever spoken or emailed or anything. She didn’t know about my dark and creepy childhood, full of Ouija boards, seances, voodoo dolls, and Edward Gorey books, and she certainly didn’t know I authored the 1985 thriller Family Deaths of 1984 (or Neptune).
And yet somehow she knew.
I think this is the true brilliance of illustrators, art directors, and book designers. They take a text and make these amazing decisions and choices that delicately pull elements out of the story — elements that possibly even the writer didn’t know or remember were there or could be pulled out.
Take the endpapers for The End of Something Wonderful:
Reader, I literally burst into happy, hysterical tears when I saw those endpapers.
They are the endpapers I didn’t know I wanted.
They are the endpapers I didn’t know the book needed to finely highlight all that is darkly funny and yet emotionally affecting about the text and illustrations.
Those endpapers are the icing on the funereal cake.
The choice of a font or the design of endpapers are subtle, almost invisible forces that add so much to the overall feeling a reader will end up gleaning from that book. As a reader, you should look for them, notice them, think about how and why they were chosen. Because they were chosen for a reason and they were chosen to make the book even better than it was when it started out as an embryonic Word document on someone’s laptop.
So here is my advice to text-only picture book authors: if you like the way your book looks — and not just the illustrations but all of it — ask your editor for the name and social media handles of whoever designed it.
Then thank them.
Give them shout outs when you talk about the book.
Tag them when others say great things about the book so they can see it too.
Because they are working from a source a genius that I, mere word pusher, cannot comprehend and therefore stand in complete awe of.
They are also the people who will create an Edward Gorey-ish font because somehow they divined that when you were 12 years old you wrote a book about a murderous doll and that you “dedecated” that book to Edward Gorey.
Be sure to follow Stephanie on Twitter for your daily dose of humor, wisdom, and social outrage!
We are so excited to feature Marcie F. Atkins, author of Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature, on our interview today!
Notable19: As the Do-Re-Mi song goes, “Let’s start at the very beginning”: are you a first born/middle/family baby/only child? Do you think that has affected your creative life at all?
Marcie: I’m a first born and have lots of first born characteristics--fiercely independent, Type A, overachiever, etc. It has definitely affected my creative life. I’m always fascinated with getting work done, being efficient, and I’m not afraid to just go do something. I can also have trouble relaxing, so that is often hard on my creative life.
Notable19: You were probably every parent’s dream as a kid, what with wanting to get things done and not waiting until the last minute. So, thinking about your childhood, what is a moment from growing up that is crystal clear in your mind?
Marcie: Sitting on the steps of my very first house, not wanting to go downstairs in the dark to get something for my mom. Why? Well, because the Incredible Hulk lived in the bathroom down there.
Notable19: The Incredible Hulk?! That’s a bit of an odd fear for a little kid. Speaking of odd, growing up, what was the weirdest job you ever had?
Marcie: I shredded medical records one summer in a closet with a ginormous shredder that could have eaten my arm. It was mind-numbing. I wish podcasts had been around back then. We had walkmans and headphones, but they had cords, and I didn’t want them to be eaten up by the machine.
Notable19: The thought of being chewed up by a giant shredder probably helped keep you awake even though the job was mind-numbingly dull. Now that the shredder is no longer a threat, what keeps you from falling asleep these days, and what do you think about when that happens?
Marcie: Usually, I’m blaming myself for having too much caffeine, but I’ve often had books keep me awake at night. I had the beginning of a middle grade novel come to me late at night. I managed to write it down in the dark. It was my first novel and will likely never be published, but I did love the way it started.
Notable19: Many writers definitely think about their manuscripts while lying in bed. Besides in bed in the middle of night (LOL!), where is your favorite place to write?
Marcie: My favorite place to write is my office. You can often find me there at 5:00am, sipping green tea, and sitting on my exercise ball, trying to get the words to come. I’m very lucky to have a dedicated space.
However, I really can write just about anywhere. In the summer, I love writing on my porch. On Saturday mornings, you can often find me at a coffee shop with two friends for our mostly-weekly write-ins. I also carry a writing bag with me just about everywhere I go. With two active kids, I often find myself with 10-15 minutes to write in a parking lot somewhere.
Notable19: Those all sound like great places to write! But what happens when you get writer’s block or something? Do you have a surefire way to get past the blank page, such as writing exercises or prompts?
Marcie: Morning pages à la Julia Cameron. There was a time when I’d lost a number of people who were dear to me. I struggled to write at all. I stared at my computer every morning and nothing. I decided to do morning pages and not worry if I got anything else done. Looking back on it, I realize that’s how handled my grief, though I couldn’t name it at the time. Now, when I’m stuck, I realize that doing morning pages can help me process some of what I’m trying to figure out.
Notable19: Besides having writer’s block, what is hardest for you about writing? Easiest?
Marcie: Getting words down on the page is the hardest for me. I subscribe to the mantra, “Get it down, then fix it up,” but that doesn’t mean getting it down is easy. The easiest thing is getting excited about new ideas.
Notable19: When you’re not writing, or if it’s just a blah, rainy sort of day, what do you like to do?
Marcie: I love sitting on my front porch with a good book.
Notable19: Of course! Any author worth her salt is always reading. Stepping beyond your front porch, if you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
Marcie: I’d likely go back to Thailand, where I grew up.
Notable19: How very cool that you grew up in Thailand! We can probably guess what your answer might be to the next question, then: what is a food you couldn’t live without?
Marcie: Thai food. I live in a place that has lots and lots of Thai restaurants. One of my friends from boarding school in Malaysia lives about 20 minutes away from me now (it’s a small world…), we try out a new Thai restaurant each time we go out. There seems to be an endless supply, but we have our favorites. I’m especially fond of Thai street food, most especially Khao Soy, a Northern Thai dish.
Notable19: Maybe you need to create a blog reviewing and recommending Thai restaurants you’ve been to! One last fun one to finish up: what’s the most well known book you’ve never read?
Marcie: I’m pretty sure I’ve never read any Jane Austen books. But I did read my way around the library as a kid. With no TV, I read a book a day during my elementary and middle school years.
Notable19: We bet you still do read your way around every library you live near. Thanks for sharing with our readers a bit about yourself today! Bet you got most of us hungry for Thai food now.
Follow Marcie on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Also check out our Books page to see where you can preorder Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature!
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!