Saturday, December 4, 2010

Launch Party or Strapping on my Tail like a Big Girl

Waiting for a launch party to happen is a funny thing, especially if you work at the place the party is going to be at. Flyers with my picture on them were hung on the bulletin boards and there was a stack of handouts on the desk right next to me. It was a little weird to have pictures of myself hanging around the library, but it was entertaining. I lost count of how many people looked back and forth, back and forth, from me to the flyers, me to the flyers. Then I would hear them whisper to one another, "Is that her?"
"No, I think it is."
"I don't think so. Maybe."
Finally they'd ask, "Hey, is this you?"
I'd smile and say yes, and they would usually have a look of surprise or amazement. I mean, famous authors don't have real jobs, right? (Yes, some people even use that crazy 'F' word. Famous. To which I have to laugh.)

Anyway, I know I could have just piped up and said "That's me!" When I saw them looking, but it's so much more entertaining to see people try to figure out whether it was really me or not.

After a few weeks of flyer entertainment, the day of the party finally came. We made monster cupcakes. The head librarian came back from her vacation early just to be there and to make them with my kids. Isn't that sweet?!

Cute & tasty!

When the time came for me to get up in front of everyone, I thought I was ready, but I did get a little nervous. There were about forty people there and some of them were grownups! I was a big girl, though. I put on my tail and got up there.

I couldn't believe so many people showed up just to see me. Some of them I knew, but many of them I didn't. So, I started off by talking about how much I love books. I told them about how I love books so much that I write them. I told them that that's why I started working at the library, so I could be around more books.

Then I told them all sorts of things about Bedtime Monster. I talked about how long I'd been waiting for the book to come out. I showed them the original cover(they all agreed that Bonnie's cover was much better.) I talked about Bonnie and how she is the illustrator. Then we read the book. It went great! The kids stayed interested the whole time, and I didn't die because a bunch of grownups were watching me. Victory!

Then we all went and partied down. We made monsters out of some monster parts I'd made, did monster origami, put on monster tattoos, and ate popcorn and cupcakes. We even had live music provided by my husband and this crazy guy wearing a tattoo on his head.

Every party needs a crazy guy who lets the kids put tattoos on his head.

I got to sign some books too! A few people stopped in just to buy my books. I was amazed! Yup, this is where I sat and signed them.

Now, you may wonder why I'm not sitting here, and why I don't have a bunch of great pictures of all the fun stuff we did. Well, I have a little boy who loves to take pictures. He's really quite good at it. He wanted to be the photographer. With all the book stuff I've had going on my kids have really been learning a lot about writing and business and I think it's great for them to participate so, of course, I said yes. I went over things with him beforehand. I know, at the event I should have told him, "here take a picture of this, take a picture of that," but I ended up being a lot busier than I imagined. I mean, it was like I was the host to forty people and the guest of honor. My little guy did take a lot of pictures, he just kinda forgot that I needed them to be of things I could actually use. Oh well, he had fun.

I had another library presentation the next week, but it wasn't such a big production. The crowd was a lot smaller, but the intimacy was nice. I really got to talk to people. And the funny thing was, I wasn't even nervous. I feel ready to strap on my tail and do my next three library presentations in the spring!

Sunday, November 28, 2010


I've been dying to tell you all about my library visits. Unfortunately my computer has not been cooperating. It took a while to figure out the problem, but my husband finally figured out that the hard drive was broken. The new one took FOR-EV-ER to get here. It had a nice little week's vacation in Florida on it's way. (Yes, that almost makes me jealous. It's been freezing around here lately!)

What was on the old hard drive that broke? Well, everything, but most importantly, my writing. No, like a big dork, I did not have it backed up. I do have lots of hard copies. I have a lot of typing to do. I did lose some current drafts but I'm okay with that. Drafts are always changing and I'm taking the opportunity to make things better as I go. Am I happy that I will be re-typing the 120 handwritten pages of my YA novel? Not really. I'm still holding out hope that I have it on a memory stick around here somewhere.

There's something exciting about having a squeaky clean computer though. I feel so organized. The draft I put up of a manuscript will be the only one. I am going to make sure I don't junk it up with different drafts with poorly thought out titles such as (Manuscript name) current or new or use this one. Brilliant huh? Well no more of that. This time I'm going to keep it clean. I'm going to find a way to keep my writing more organized. Starting now.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Review! (and stuff)

Booklist reviewed Bedtime Monster, and it's a nice one. Yay! It's my first review so I'm excited! You can read it at if you're interested.

Fun things have been happening with my little book and me lately. Yesterday eight copies of Bedtime Monster arrived at the library while I was working and I got to check them in. I put one on the shelf and one in a bedtime display to go along with my release party tomorrow. I've got my tail and monster tattoos ready to go. I have a create-a-monster craft all together. Hopefully tomorrow I'll get my monster origami craft finished up. It's been a little tricky getting the dotted folding lines in just the right place. I also got a nice write up in the local paper with a big photo of my book cover and a little photo of me. Just the way I like it. Ha! Tomorrow is definitely going to test the depths of my outgoingness. I'll be sure to tell you how it all goes.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


I've been doing a lot of weeding at the library lately--pulling books off the shelves and packing them up to send to the library system's distribution center. I thought it would be hard for me to take any books off the shelves, especially in the children's section. Funny enough, that was the easiest place for me to pull books from. I know that section best and have read most all of the books in it(don't be too impressed, my library isn't that big). I definitely have opinions on which books are great and which aren't. I know which books are checked out a lot and which ones sit. I was a little sad about having to get rid of some oldies but goodies that were worn, but I have a feeling there are newer copies in the library system I can order in if I want to. So yeah, it was kind of fun weeding the children's section. It's definitely going to be easier for the kids to pull out books, the shelves were getting a little tight. And now I can order in a bunch of new books and freshen things up. Of course, I'll have to read them too!

I had thought that weeding the adult fiction would be easy. I was so wrong. I don't know a whole lot about those books. I know the popular authors like Catherine Coulter and Danielle Steele because I check their books in and out constantly, but I felt squeamish about pulling anything off the shelf lest someone want to check it out. I really don't know what has been sitting unread. So, I went the easy route and pulled books that looked worn. Then if an author had a slew of books on the shelves I pulled some of those. If a book was number 2 or 3 in a series and the first book wasn't there, I pulled them.

That system seemed to work pretty good until I got to the large print books. They all looked new! I noticed that I was pulling a lot of romance and westerns at first, so I started reading back copy and tried to make guesses on what people might want to check out. Large prints are so popular that I'm sure lots more will be flowing back in so I tried not to worry.

As I boxed up a heaping table full of books today I realized that it doesn't matter how popular an author you are, how famous, or how great your book is, sometimes it's going to get pulled off the shelf because there isn't enough room. I know I'll be happy to share a spot on the shelf at all. I hear that my library's copies of Bedtime Monster will be arriving on Thursday. I wonder whose books they'll be sitting next to on the shelf.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Unread - Interview with Paul Greci

Paul Greci is a supercool guy. I met him through Twitter when I started talking about random mountain stuff like baking potatoes in the woodstove and skiing to my car to go to town. Paul is sympathetic to my strange mountain lifestyle, he lives in Alaska where things aren't always easy, but he loves the outdoors and where better to experience it! Just wait until you read about his bicycle riding. Now that's dedication! Paul is also a great supporter of writers, sharing his knowledge and expertise when needed. He's certainly helped me before. Paul is a full-time writer of Young Adult novels and is represented by Jennifer De Chiara. He's my next victim on The Unread...

You were a teacher for fifteen years. What sorts of things did you learn from the kids that made you decide to start writing?

I taught English in an alternative school for at-risk teens. I discovered YA fiction while searching for books that my reluctant reader students would actually read, and I fell in love with the genre.

My students were also reluctant writers so we started writing scenes using characters from the novels we were reading. I figured if the characters were already developed my students may have less resistance to writing. Plus, I wanted to make it fun.

So, we’d all write these scenes and then read them out loud. I’m the kind of teacher that participates in the things I assign so I wrote, too. And, I loved it.

(See, I told you he was supercool.)

What types of stories do you write?

So far I’ve written wilderness survival stories, and edgy school stories that have a touch of humor. I have five WIPs. A couple of those I might end up mining for parts, but for now they are intact.

How did you get your agent?

I met my agent at a fund-raiser for starving artists. No, wait. That was a dream I had.

Actually, I sent Jennifer a query letter.

But really, how I got my agent is that I kept rewriting my novel. It took six weeks to write the first draft, then about a year and a half to revise it to get it into querying shape.

(That is a great example of how important revising is!)

Why did you choose to go with Jennifer De Chiara for representation?

I chose to sign with Jennifer because out of the five agents who offered representation I felt like she best understood my writing. She made it clear that she wanted to represent me and not just the one book of mine she’d read. She has a really great reputation, she’s a talented editor, and she doesn’t give up. She totally believes in people going after their dreams. And, she’s fun to work with.

(Five offers! Your book must be awesome!)

How has having an agent changed your writing life?

Having an agent has changed my writing life in a couple of ways: I run ideas by Jennifer before starting a new project. And, I think I’m more motivated to write well. I mean, here’s this amazing person who has offered to work with me on building a writing career. I want to give her the best writing I can. I feel totally fortunate to be in partnership with her.

What do you think is the hardest part about writing? What’s the easiest?

The hardest and easiest parts of writing change for me. When I don’t have an idea for a new story, coming up with an idea feels like the hardest part. When my wrist and thumb rebel from too much keyboard time, or my neck turns to cement, or my eyes ache, the physical act of writing feels the hardest. It constantly changes.

Do you think living in the wilds of Alaska gives you a different point of view than most people? Does this make its way into your writing?

Living in Alaska definitely makes its way into my writing. Two of my five WIPs are set in Alaska. All of my mistakes and misjudgments and close calls in the wilderness are good fodder for stories.

(Well now, that makes me wonder about these wilderness survival stories even more! Eek!)

You have a spot for your computer on your treadmill, how the heck did you come up with this awesome contraption?

My treadmill desk was inspired by pain.

After I left my teaching job to write full-time, my body started rebelling against the countless hours of sitting.

I used to ride my bike to and from work year-round, even when the temperatures dipped to forty below. And, I’d participate in gym class three times a week. Over the years I injured my shoulder playing dodge-ball, cracked a rib playing touch football, pulled various leg muscles, jammed my fingers… the list of injuries goes on. But staying at home and writing was pretty brutal.

A physical therapist suggested a treadmill desk. I had a treadmill because I’m kind of an exercise addict, so I took a piece of plywood and cut a pattern with a jigsaw so it would slide right on. I was pretty amazed that it fit as well as it did. Usually things I build don’t really come out the way I think they should and this actually did.

I spend about half of my writing time walking very slowly and typing. The other half I’m often slouched in a glider-rocking chair by the wood stove with my laptop, basically cancelling out all the good-posture-points I’ve earned. I figure as long as I don’t have a negative balance I’ll do okay.

Can you run and type at the same time?

That sounds like a pretty scary combination of activities. Although I don’t have a cell phone, I’m guessing it’d be like texting while driving, and there’s a law against that.

(Hee hee. I imagined that the faster you ran the faster you could type, whipping up stories at great speed like some writing superhero! Okay, enough of my fantasies, back to Paul's interview.)

What are you working on now?

I just finished a first draft of a YA adventure story set in a post-oil era, global-warming-affected Alaska. It’s still what I’d call realistic fiction even though it is set a tiny bit into the future.

How far would you go to get your book published?

You know, although I definitely obsess about having a book going on submission, I try to tell myself to remember what I do and don’t have control over. I have control over my writing, not how other people respond to it.

So, how far would I go? I think I’ll just keep on writing regardless of whether I get published, but hopefully my writing will continue to improve if I keep pushing myself, and an editor will fall in love with one of my books.

(Well, you should get major points for riding your bike in forty below temperatures, imho.)

If you could live in any book, which one would it be and why?

I never know how to answer this question. But today, I think I’d choose Tuck Everlasting. To be able to travel through time with your family sounds pretty cool. There was something about the combination of magic and realism that sucked me in to the story. Mostly, I read realistic fiction but Tuck Everlasting has stayed with me for years and years and years.

(What? You've had to answer this question before? Maybe I need a new end-of-interview question. And yup, I would have probably drank the water too. It would be so hard to resist!)

Thanks for having me here today, Heather. This was fun!

Thank you, Paul! I was so glad to finally get to ask you some nosy, in depth writing questions! :-)

You can find out lots more about Paul and his Alaskan adventures at his blog: Northwriter. You can also follow Paul on Twitter. He's very nice to talk to.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I Wrote a Book, Now What? (#1) -- Critiques and Revising

I've been getting this question a lot lately and I totally understand. It can seem overwhelming to find your way into a huge industry like publishing. Lucky for us, there is more information out there on publishing than ever. I'm going to do a series of posts answering this question and I'm going to start with something basic--revising.

You may have a great story, but it will get even better with revision. Put it away for a little while until you can get a fresh perspective. I find three months to be helpful. It's okay, you can work on writing something else while you're waiting! You could also go read a bunch of books in the genre you're writing. What? You're doing that already? Good. It's always fun, and when you read tons in your genre it can help you see what works in a story and what doesn't.

When you're ready pull that story out and revise it again (I know I'm ready when I can't stop thinking about the story!), as many times as it takes. Put it away again for a little while if you need to, but when you feel like you can't see anything else that needs to be changed you're ready for the next step, getting critiqued. There are many ways to do this, but the best method I've found is to trade with other writers in the same genre, or at least those that understand the genre. (I know, picture books are kind of a specialty, so I find this point especially important for what I write.) There are lots of ways to find critique partners if you don't have any: writer's chatrooms, local and national organizations, the library...I found my critique group on Verla Kay's Blue Board.

Once you've gotten your critiques, revise accordingly. I know, this can be difficult and the critique/revision process can happen more than once, but it's good to have an open mind and not take offense to anything anyone says. You are all there to help each other. (Yes I know there can be the occasional 'bad critique partner' but I think they are the exception to the rule.) Just keep in mind that it's your story. You don't have to use all of the suggestions. I do take all comments into consideration, and really take notice if more than one person points out a particular spot.

When your critiques and revisions are all done and you cannot see how in the world you can make the story any better it is time to a.) go to a conference and/or workshop and get a professional opinion from an agent or editor. No, this is not a requirement, but it can be pretty eye opening to hear what a professional in the business has to say about a manuscript. OR b.) start querying, which involves writing a query letter(and a synopsis for those of you who write longer books), studying the market(if you haven't already), and submitting to agents and/or editors. I'll do some posts on those topics soon.

Write on people!

Go to: I Wrote a Book, Now What? post #2 -- Market Research

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Speaking Spanglish--Why I Chose to Write a Bilingual Picture Book, guest post by Suzanne Santillan

Suzanne Santillan's bilingual picture book GRANDMA'S PEAR TREE/EL PERAL DE ABUELA was published by Raven Tree Press this spring. It's a cute story with beautifully sweet illustrations by Atilio Pernisco. Her book has just been nominated for the California Book Award and a Cybil! Since Suzanne is a fellow Raven Tree Press author I've been lucky enough to get to talk with her a bit and she was nice enough to stop by today to tell us about how she came to write GRANDMA'S PEAR TREE...

When I was young, my father thought it was important for his children to speak Spanish. Growing up in Southern California, I can see why he thought this would be a good thing. I remember sitting at our favorite Mexican restaurant while dad taught us the Spanish words for spoon, fork, chips, etc… This information would help me later in life when I became a manager at a restaurant and I was required to communicate with some of the employees. Thanks to my dad I was able to state such valuable phrases as; “No lechuga in the sink” or “Clean the baƱo, por favor.” Yes, I had truly mastered speaking “Spanglish.”

Years later, I was grateful when I was easily able to speak with my mother-in-law who lapses from English to Spanish in the blink of an eye. I would find myself translating her “Spanglish” for my husband and my children nearly every conversation. I began to see the wisdom of teaching my children basic Spanish vocabulary, if only so that they could understand their grandmother just a little bit better.

Taking inspiration from real life, I wrote a simple story about a boy who gets his ball stuck up in a tree and has to find a way to get it back down and added a few twists and turns. The end result was a humorous story that taught 16 Spanish words and the phrase “Aye Caramba!”

It is my hope that this story will help children in the future so that when they have to communicate they can say in true “Spanglish” style; “Throw el gato into the tree” or “Use la escoba to get your things down.”

You can find out more about Suzanne and her book, GRANDMA'S PEAR TREE, at her website and at her blog, Writing on the Sidewalk. You can also find her on Twitter @suesantillan.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Picture Book Idea Month is Coming!

In 2009 I participated in Picture Book Idea Month and I learned a lot. I'm excited because it's almost time for Picture Book Idea Month 2010! You can learn more about Picture Book Idea Month at Tara Lazar's blog, and don't forget to pick up this year's monstery badge by James Burks. It's so cute!

Who's in?

Friday, October 8, 2010

New Things

It seems that with the release of Bedtime Monster lots of new things have come along. Of course, having a book release is all new to me. I've been doing interviews and writing press releases about myself. I've written press releases before, but talking about myself is a bit different than talking about the next library event. I'm planning a book release party. I'm even getting ready to do a small library tour.

But it hasn't only been book things that have been happening, it just seems like having my book released created some sort of waterfall effect of new things. I've learned how to drive a tractor because my husband I are trying our hand at garlic farming. We planted fifty pounds of garlic. We're creating business plans. We're thinking ahead. Hopefully the garlic will grow!

I've become a line judge at volleyball games at school. Now this may not sound like a big deal, but I am not known for my powers of concentration. My mind tends to wander off into thoughts of stories and fantasy worlds if I am doing something boring like watching a line, but I have prevailed! I can concentrate when I have to and make important line calls under pressure. Don't want to disappoint the kids with a bad call.

I went on a job search. I made a resume and everything(never had a need for one before.) There isn't a lot of places to work in my small town but I managed to find one place. I had a real job interview--only the third one in my entire life, then worked in an office. I haven't done that since I moved away from the city and became a mountain girl. There wasn't even a window. The horror! Lucky for me I'm on call. I can live with that.

And just the other day I got a revision request on an article. I don't write much non-fiction for adults so this is exciting. I hope I can change the focus of the article to their satisfaction. I'd better get to work. I'd like to add having an article published to my list of new things someday.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

You Sick of Me Yet?

I have an interview up at Suzanne Santillan's blog where I talk about my writing process, procrastination, tropical paradise, and also, rollerskating. You can check it out at Writing on the Sidewalk, if you aren't too sick of me yet!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Authors Now!

My Author Spotlight interview is up at Authors Now! where I answer some great questions about who might identify with Bedtime Monster and how the book can be used in the classroom. Stop by and say hi!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

An Eyeball in My Garden!

My friend, critique partner, and newly retired librarian, Stella Michel has been interviewed about her poetic contributions to AN EYEBALL IN MY GARDEN AND OTHER SPINE TINGLING POEMS over at author Gayle C. Krause's blog, The Storyteller's Scroll. It's a great book, just in time for sharing some Halloween spookery. Halloween books are the best! And you just have to see Stella dressed as a witch. She looks adorable!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

My New Invention

It's finally quiet around the house and I thought I'd get to work. But what to do? Should I link some stuff up on my website? Probably, I do have a book that just came out. But maybe I should revise a picture book. They're waiting! I know, I really should work on the MG that I've been thinking about all day. No, the YA! Write a query! Do some publisher research? I really need to get some manuscripts out into the world. I know! Write something new. I have some great new ideas I'm dying to flesh out. But do I really need to write something new when I have so many other manuscripts piled up and waiting for my attention? How in the world to decide? I have the solution! Writer's dice. I'm going to put each option on one side of a die and then roll and see what I win. It will be perfect for those indecisive times like, um, now.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Road to Exhaustion

BEDTIME MONSTER's release is....TODAY! Yay! Woohoo! Yippee!

What have I done to celebrate my baby being out in the world today? I go up and drove the kids to school, drove home, drove to town again,(all this driving is a big deal, it's a dusty, bumpy half an hour each way!) took my son to work with me, showed my book to my librarian friends, played at the playground, toasted my book release with donuts(that was fun!), then came home and cleaned. You may not know this, but when you have a book coming out your house can easily turn into a disaster area because you're so busy doing important things like answering interview questions and figuring out how local stores are going to get your book. What? I'm an author now, shouldn't I have a housekeeper? I thought that was part of the deal. No? Well, fine. Just. Fine.

Part 2 of my guest post on my road to publication is up on Corey Schwartz's blog. I can tell you the real end right now though, something I didn't know when I wrote that post. My road to publication has lead to exhaustion. There's so much to do! Link this, write that. It's great, but I need a nap or I just might turn into a bedtime monster myself. Now that would be ironic.

If you're looking for Bedtime Monster you can get it at Indiebound, Amazon, and Raven Tree Press, and who knows, maybe you can find it someplace else too, which I, of course, would think was very cool. Okay, I'm getting comma happy. Time to get some ZZZzzzzzzzzzz's.

Monday, September 13, 2010

It's Been a Long Road

It's been a long road on my way to the publication of BEDTIME MONSTER. The book actually comes out in three days, so I guess it's safe to say that the road to publication part has finally come to an end on this project while the path of promotion seems to be something that goes on indefinitely. This hit me this summer when I saw Nina Laden at the library and she'd brought along all of her books, including the first she'd ever published, THE NIGHT I FOLLOWED THE DOG. Guess which one my little guy chose? Yup, 16 years and the book is still selling.

Corey Schwartz actually asked me a while back if I would write about my road so she could share it on her blog. I finally was able to do this since I think it's safe to say that I've officially reached the end. My story was so long that she's split the post into two parts. Since when did I get so long-winded!?! You can read part one here on Corey's blog, Thing 1 and Thing 2, if you're interested.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How Many Licks Does It Take...

Now that's puzzling. You know no one can ever wait and not bite the tootsie pop. I've tried. you've tried. WE'VE ALL TRIED OKAY!!! Here's what I really want to know, how many people does it take to deliver a box of books to a waiting author on a mountaintop?

UPS called and left a message (there's no phone service here) because their driver couldn't find my house. My husband got the message on the computer (that's where we get our phone messages. We can get internet but not phone. Weird, I know.) I walked up to our phone spot and called UPS. I told the lady who I was. She went and looked for the package. Another lady came on and asked me what I wanted so I told her, then she said she already knew the package wasn't there. WELL WHY DIDN'T YOU SAY SO IN THE FIRST PLACE?!<--Okay, I didn't yell that or even say it, it just felt good to get that off my chest. Anyhow, she asks for directions to my house. I tell her I can't give her directions because it's too hard as there aren't any road signs and that she can just have the driver drop the package off at the library. I email my librarian. She emails me. The package arrives. She thinks about opening it because she's so excited but resists. My husband and kids pick up the package and deliver it to me. We open it. Yay!

I received my copies of Bedtime Monster two days after Bonnie Adamson did(she's the illustrator. You know that, right?) Everything seems to take longer and require more effort on a mountain. How many people did it take to get my copies of Bedtime Monster delivered? The world may never know, but it sure is exciting to finally have them!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Letting Go

My little guy started school today and I'm sitting here worrying about him. I'm not exactly sure why. He ran right out to the playground this morning, excited to get out there and play. When the whistle blew I told him that meant he needed to go line up, so he grabbed his backpack and ran over to get in line. There was no tears. No hug. He didn't even say good bye. I think it's safe to say that he's going to be fine.

Me on the other hand, I feel a little like the poor little boy in his class that was crying and didn't want to let go of his mom. Letting go is hard, but I'm glad that my guy can be confident enough to go out and try something new without me.

I'm sitting here at the library right down the street... just in case he needs me. Hopefully I can manage to ignore my worries and get some writing done.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Deep Dark Depths of my Writing Life

My friend and critque partner Stephanie Theban asked me some tough, personal questions about my writing life on her blog: Stories. Read'em. Write'em. She really got me thinking about things I'd never even realized, like how life on the mountain has prepared me for the publishing world. I had no idea!

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Unread - Interview with Dana Carey

Dana Carey is an aspiring children's book writer and illustrator living in France. She's an active SCBWI member, goes to Paris for vacation, and plays badminton! I'm so happy to have met her via Twitter. I just know if we lived closer we'd totally hang out and try to kick each others butts in badminton while discussing writing and subbing and all those good things kidlit writers love to talk about. It would be awesome! She may be too far away for that, but I'm happy to have connected with her, and I couldn't resist asking her to be the next victim of The Unread so I could learn more about her...

How long have you been writing and illustrating for children? What made you decide to do so?

I started dipping my toe in around 8 years ago but I didn't have any clear goals until about 5 years ago. I've always been interested in art and books; these are constants in my life. I was a graphic designer then (after I moved to France and had a child) I began teaching English as a second language. And like so many people, while reading tons of books with my daughter, I became more and more fascinated by kids' books. So I feel like everything in my life sort of converged and here I am.

©Dana Carey

What types of stories do you like to create?

Basically, I'm up for making all kinds of picture books: character-based or concept books, serious or irreverent.

Where do you find inspiration?

Memories. I remember a lot from my childhood so I start there but the story usually turns out quite differently from the initial memory. But stories come from other sources too. For example, when I did Picture Book Idea Month I took cues from Tara Lazar and her guest bloggers; they suggested lots of things to spark ideas such as listening to music which worked for me.

Do you hope to create your own books entirely or would you like to write and illustrate for others as well?

I'd always consider every opportunity that came my way.

Do you feel you have an illustration style, or is it still developing?

Style is such a difficult question. I started out painting and that style developed very quickly and very organically. When I started illustrating my own stories I felt the need to adapt how I paint to the particular story so "having a style" that I always have to adhere to might be detrimental to the work I want to do. There's a lot said online about style and portfolios. I've spent time worrying about developing a style for kids' books and working up a general portfolio. But I've decided to concentrate on writing and making my dummy books. It's a struggle at times but I think I'm getting somewhere.

©Dana Carey

You’re an active member of SCBWI France. How has participating in SCBWI helped you?

SCBWI has helped enormously. I've learned so much there. In fact when I was "dipping my toe in" I went to a talk organized by SCBWI France at the American Library. Writer/illustrator Doug Cushman was presenting his work and I thought the whole evening, his presentation and the group was so great that I kept attending their events then signed up as a member. Now I'm the Assistant Regional Advisor. I've learned about the industry and how it works by attending events (and taking lots of notes) but volunteering has helped me to get to know the group. Contact with people who care about the same things you care about is wonderful.

What’s the best piece of knowledge you’ve learned about the children’s publishing industry so far?

That there are rules. Some that you can't ever break, some that you can't break until you've earned the privilege.

Do you belong to a critique group? How has it helped you? If you don’t: How do you do it without one?

I live in northwestern France, far from a sizable anglophone community so unfortunately face-to-face crit groups are hard to come by. I've tried online groups twice and they always fell apart; I think it's easier for people to shrug off responsibilty when they don't have to face the group. But I know there are groups out there that function very well online so I haven't given up hope. When I was in my first group, I realized how much I needed to learn so when it ended I took a one-month intensive picture book writing class with Anastasia Suen online. This helped me progress in my writing and taught me so much about the publishing industry. Now I make up for the lack of a crit group with individual reviews at SCBWI.

©Dana Carey

I’ve read about writer’s concerns with subbing overseas. Do you find that it creates obstacles when sending out submissions?

I think the industry is global so I hesitate to say there are obstacles. A lot happens in email. The only thing is sending out dummy books; if I want them back I need stamps for an SASE from the country I'm sending to. I've had interesting conversations with postal workers in England while trying to buy stamps online from outside the UK (you can't but you can buy stamps from their stamp collecting department!)

If you could live in any book, which one would it be and why?

"The Hello, Goodbye Window" by Norton Juster and Chris Raschka. I love this book and I think living with Nanna and Poppy in that big kitchen would be heaven. There's stuff in the drawers, you can color at the big table and eat oatmeal with bananas and raisins. This is one of those books where the words and the pictures stand alone and come together perfectly.

Want to hear more from Dana? You can find her at her blog, UP IN THE ATTIC LATELY, where she promises she'll be posting more come September. You can also connect with her on Twitter where she's @DanaFR.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why I Blog

I never really thought that deeply about the reasons that I blog. It's just become something that I do when I get a chance. Sally Murphy gave me the opportunity to think about why I blog and she's just posted my first online interview ever! I'm her featured blogger for Featured Blogger Friday. I mention in the interview that I used to freak out that people would read my writing. I am trying not to freak out about having an interview online. There was a time when I would have gone and hidden under a rock. Today when I saw it, my face didn't even turn red. Yes, that happens when I read things about myself online from time to time. Okay, it used to happen. A lot. I think I just may be getting to be outgoing.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

What My Husband Thinks a Query Letter Should Say

I was looking through the documents on my computer today and found this. It's the opening paragraph to a query letter that my husband wrote for me after I went to a conference. It amuses me, so I thought I'd share it. Here it is in all it's glory:

Two blondes walk into a bar. The bartender says, “what can I get you two ladies?” The first blonde looks at her companion and says “I’ll have what she’s having.” A look of desperation creeps across the second blonde's face. She says, “my name is Heather Ayris Burnell, the aforementioned blondes were just to get your attention, I actually write children’s books and would like you to represent me, as my agent. Unfortunately, I was too shy to talk to you at the SCBWI WWA conference."

Then I'm supposed to tell the agent about my book. No, I didn't use this fabulous opening paragraph so kindly written just for me. I went with my nice, normal-type query letter. I still managed to get an invitation to send more work. Go figure.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


One evening not too long ago I was home writing while my family was out fishing. A crazy-huge storm burst in. It rained so hard that I was soaked the second I walked outside. I stood in water up to my ankles in the yard. It hailed too. Bolts of lightening cracked through the sky like a giant whip.

Here I was at the top of my mountain worrying about my family, who was at the bottom of the mountain at the river. (Flash flood anyone?) It takes around 45 minutes to drive to the river even though it is only a few miles away as the crow flies. So, I'm trying not to worry. The kids are with their Dad, they're fine, I tell myself over and over. They got out of there when it started to rain.

They didn't, but they're perfectly fine. Why? Because it barely sprinkled--a couple of miles away. Microclimates. Harsh weather right here on top of the mountain. Warm and pleasant at the bottom.

Of course, as pretty much everything in life, it makes me think of publishing. (No, I'm not obsessed or anything.) There are tons of publishing houses. They all publish books. From off in the distance they look a lot alike. Seems the weather should be about the same, they're all close enough. Right? No way!

Even if two publishers publish the same kind of book, say picture books, they may be looking for completely different types of stories. Don't send your edgy story with human characters to a publisher who only does stories about animals. Find a publisher who likes edgy picture books. Don't send your 250 word story to a publisher who wants picture books that come in around 1000 words. (Yes, there are still some of those out there.) No matter what type of book you are writing, you need to do research on who to send your manuscript to. It may be raining literary young adult novels at the top of one mountain while it sprinkles educational non-fiction for grades 4-12 at another.

How do you do this? You're on the internet right now, aren't you? Find the websites of the publishers who interest you. Look at the books on their list. Read about the company. Find their submission guidelines and go over them. Find books similar to yours. Look up those publishers. Research, research, research. Then send out your well-targeted manuscript and hope for that storm of good news to roll in!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Just Keep Trying

I got home from work at the library the other day and found my husband outside trying to bend a bumper with his bare hands so he could get the crosspiece back into place. He's restoring a '67 Volkswagen Bus and had taken apart the bumper to paint it. Yes, I'm sure he could have gone and purchased the correct tools, but bother! He wanted to get it done right that moment. Well, right now turned into an hour or so of pulling and tugging and pushing. And who got talked into helping? Me, of course.

After helping him for what seemed like forever (I have a short attention span for things that involve trying to force pieces of metal into places they don't want to go) I said something about how it wasn't going to work. But he was determined. He knew what needed to be done. He knew he could do it. "We just needed to keep trying," he insisted. So we kept pushing and pulling and bending, and all of a sudden we got it, and it fell into place so easily and (seemingly) quickly.
It was a simple yet brilliant reminder for writing life. Write, revise, repeat. Query. Submit. Know what needs to be done. Work hard to gain the knowledge. You can do this. Just keep trying. All of a sudden things will fall into place.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Publisher's Weekly!

I'm so excited! BEDTIME MONSTER got a mention in Publisher's Weekly's Silly Salutations of the Season. The category: Most Monstrous use of "Scared Straight" techniques. I am happy to share the category with MONSTERS EAT WHINY CHILDREN by Bruce Eric Kaplan. Sounds like a fun book(unless you're one of the whiny children maybe?) I am definitely going to have to check it out and I'm adding it to my monster book list.

Here's a link to the article. The monster category is at the end.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Two Sales and Two Agents

No, they're not my sales or agents, but I couldn't be more excited! Three of the great people that let me interview them for The Unread have news. Big news!

Ame Dyckman was my first Unread interviewee who had an agent. She is also the first one who sold a book! Her debut picture book BOY AND BOT will be released spring 2012 from Alfred A. Knopf & Crown BFYR. I can't wait to see it!

The bold and powerful ruler of #mikesempire, the great Mike Jung has signed with a fabulous agent, (I'm sure his mind control powers had nothing to do with it) Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. I will not be surprised if we hear of his first book sale very soon. He has also started a most excellent blog. Righteous!

Not only did Tara Lazar obtain an agent. (also Ammi-Joan. Wait, that makes it one agent, two people. Just ignore my post title.) Tara's debut picture book, THE MONSTORE is coming Summer 2012 from Aladdin/Simon & Schuster. A monster book! I am so excited!

Hip hip hooray! Three cheers for three fabulous kidlit writers!

I know, I haven't posted any Unread interviews in a while, but take heart, I have a new one lined up and we'll get it done as soon as we can take a break from our summer fun. See, she's hanging out in Paris. Me, well, I've been spending a lot of time at the lake. Glamorous, I know. There haven't been too many dead fish on the shore lately, and the lake weed is pretty much collecting in one corner now, so there's lots free space for swimming while I contemplate who will be the next victim of...The Unread.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

It's On!

The wind on the mountain has finally died down enough to set up the badminton net. If you've been reading my blog for a while you know what that means--THE BADMINTON CHALLENGE!

Yes, it's all very fascinating that I, a total non-sports type person who randomly trips over her own feet, played badminton in high school. Not only that, but I managed to smash my way to being the top player on the team often enough. (Yes, smash, that is a badminton term. Get with it people!)

This badminton challenge is between me and my husband. We play however many games we can fit into the summer. And last year *gasp* he won. Horrifying, I know. It's funny, when I play, my super secret competitive nature busts out and I play to win. But apparently that wasn't enough this year. Oh no. You know what he said? You aren't going to beat me ever again now that you're middle-aged.

Middle-aged? MIDDLE-AGED! Can you believe it? The nerve of that guy. Just because he's ever so slightly younger. I am so not even close to middle-aged. It wasn't too long ago that I actually got carded. So there.

Yeah, he knows how to get me going, and you know what? I kicked his patootie. That's right. Power to the old people baby!

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Incase you haven't heard, there's a free conference for kidlit writers coming up in August! That's right, FREE. WriteOnCon is getting together a bunch of great writing professionals(check out the agents and editors page!) and hosting a conference... online. No travel or conference expenses, and you don't even have to change out of your jammies. I just registered. How about you?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Launch Party Prep

So I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to do for my book launch party. I know it's happening at the library. I know I'm going to read my book and have food and drinks. I want to have monster masks for the kids to make or maybe have a monster art show where kids make their own monsters from random art supplies and they hang them up and get a ribbon that says "monstrously good".

I, of course, have to find a place to get such ribbons. And that's where my trouble begins. I have all these ideas but I scarcely know where to start. I want some really cool monster print pajamas and a big green tail to wear to my launch party, but where do I find such things? I see some monster attire for kids, but I think I'm going to need some specialty stuff. After all, I could be touring some more libraries in these jammies! I wish I was more crafty and could sew myself some pajamas and a tail. The closest shopping mecca is hours from here and I doubt there are the kind of monstery things I need. I know--there's online, obviously. But I don't seem to be finding what I need. Guess I'd better get to work.

At least I know that I'm going to be making a monster cake. I'm certainly looking forward to that! Maybe I should go practice making one now.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Reading Practice

I've decided that since my book is coming out soon, I'd better practice reading to kids. I mean, I know how to read to kids, I do it every day. But reading to large groups is different. There are more eyes that need to see the pictures, more mouths asking questions, more wiggling bodies, more minds to keep entertained.

Every year I help behind the scenes with the Summer Reading Program at the library, but this year I'm stepping it up. This year I'm doing the reading. I've done two readings so far to around 40 kids and 20 adults each time. I was surprised by the volume I was able to raise my reading voice to so that everyone could hear. I did not die when I got up in front of everybody. Actually, I wasn't even nervous. Pretty good for a girl who would rather not get a dipolma than take the required public speaking class. I'm still a little befuddled on what to do when all the kids want to talk at once. And what to do when the parents are louder than the kids, making it hard to hear the story. But, I'll get the hang of it.(Advice is welcome!)

So now, I've been asked to write a proposal for a library tour. I'm going to have to think of lots of fun things to do. It's one thing for people to be coming to the Summer Reading Program for the program. It's a whole other thing for people to be coming to see me. Hopefully I can figure out a library tour that will be a monstrously good time for all and build on the confidence I've attained from my summer's worth of reading practice.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


After waiting all day and thinking they weren't coming, they're here! I have my galleys for Bedtime Monster!

Our brave and trusty UPS man actually brought them to my house. It was our very first UPS delivery here. Usually we pick up our packages in town at the local mailing place. But the UPS man told me to just have stuff shipped to my house. They'll deliver anywhere, even on dirt roads with no street signs where their trucks scrape through the trees.

So, he braved the mud and delivered, and it was even after five when I seriously thought he had given up on finding me.

I was out walking the dog when the big brown truck popped up over the top of my driveway (it's really steep). I got to ride in the truck to my house. *Bonus* Ha ha. My son loved going into the UPS truck when he was about three. Every time we'd see it he'd go talk to the UPS man and get to go in and stomp around the back of the truck.

But I digress. My proofs are here!
I know I look serious:

But inside I feel like this:

(Yes, that's flower confetti.)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Just Make it a Classic

When you buy something do you hope it will last forever? I do. The new lawn mower. The expensive car. Even the shoes I love.

Not much stays as beautiful as it was when it was new. It wears out and breaks down. But a picture book, that's something different. If you can manage to write a classic it will be fresh and new to every generation that reads it. People will come back to it to read it to their kids and grandkids, give it as gifts, share it with friends.

Just write a classic. Is that too much to ask? Sure, but as writers it's something we strive for. No harm in aiming high.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bedtime Monster News!

Raven Tree Press has put up the media kit and activity sheets for Bedtime Monster! There's an interview with me in which I give too much information--does everyone really need to know that I write in bed? What was I thinking! The activity sheets include a game of Hang Monster and a super cute coloring sheet from the book, which is illustrated by Bonnie Adamson. Exciting stuff. I feel so official now. If you want to check them out you can download them at the Raven Tree Press website.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Yes, I have been a bad blogger lately. Truth be told, John Lechner held up this blog last month and if it wasn't for him there wouldn't have been much of anything going on. I had big plans for when John was here. I was going to post all sorts of things about writing and querying and such, but sometimes life gets in the way.

So here I am, half way into the month of May and I've got nothing. No new Illustrator of the Month, no Unread interview lined up. Apparantly I need a break. I've been hesitant to say anything here because, what if I suddenly want to post something? Maybe I'll post this and then become super blogger woman(okay, that's highly doubtful.) I have lots of things to catch up on, in my writing life and in my regular life, and I suppose I need to focus on that. I've been paying for webhosting for at least 6 months now and have yet to create a website, and most importantly(as far as writing goes) I want to make a big push to get my material out into the towering slush piles gracing editor's and agent's desks. I mean, I'm not going to sell a thing if I don't get anything out there!

So yeah, I'll still be around, posting sometimes, twittering too much, and maybe facebooking every so often. I think I'm going to let the interviews go for a couple months until I can get back into the swing of things, or for as long as I can stand it. I love asking writers and illustrators about what they do!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Tips On Writing & Drawing Comics for Kids

I've been stoked to feature John Lechner as my Illustrator of the Month for April. John is a fabulous illustrator, writer, animator, and designer with tons of experience and expertise. To wrap up his frolic on my blog, John is sharing some tips on writing and drawing comics for kids, something he knows a lot about. John has two comic style books for kids published by Candlewick Press, Sticky Burr: Adventures in Burrwood Forest, and Sticky Burr: The Prickly Peril. He also posts an ongoing Sticky Burr web comic, which is lots of fun.

Tips On Writing & Drawing Comics for Kids
by John Lechner

All comic artists have their own ways of working and theories about comics. I'm going to share some of my own thoughts and ideas, drawn from my own experience.

To write successfully for children, you need to apply all the rules of good writing, but even more so. The same applies to comics. When you write and draw comics for children, you need to strive for the most clear, well-scripted, well-paced and dynamic story you can create. I don't mean that comics for kids should be constrained or conventional, only that they should be good.

Comics and picture books have a lot in common, they both use words and pictures to tell a story, and the words and pictures usually share the load. The main difference is that in comics, the story is depicted in real time -- that is, the time it takes to read one page is roughly the time it would take for the scene to actually occur. The drama plays out in front of you like a movie or play. This requires many images, so the page is divided up into panels which are read in sequence; hence the term "sequential art".

Because of this unique quality, not all stories lend themselves to comics, just as not all stories make good picture books, or poems, or films. It helps if the story is not too wordy and has some “visual drama” -- that is, scenes that are especially dramatic when you see them played out in front of you. A comic about people having conversations is harder to pull off, though these can work well for older readers if the dialog is good. For younger children, visual action and humor that take advantage of the "real time" nature of comics can be very effective. (For instance, showing cause and effect, or a progression of events.)

Speech balloons are another key ingredient of comics. They don't merely show what is being said, they control the flow and pacing of a page as well. Their placement is just as important (if not more) than that of the images and panels on the page. When reading a page of comics, the eyes should be able to follow a simple and logical path from one balloon to another. If the order is difficult to decipher, it slows down the reader and brings them out of the story. When drawing your comic pages, if you find that your word balloons don't follow a logical path, you may need to change the artwork. And if you find you have so many words that you don't have room for the characters, you may need to trim.

So what distinguishes a comic for kids, as opposed to a comic for older teens or adults? Partly content, and partly simplicity of form and layout, just as a picture book or early reader uses well-spaced text and easy-to-follow pages. Believe it or not, simplicity is even harder to achieve with comics, because you have to convey so much information visually, and perhaps this is why comics for young readers are so hard to pull off.

And just as traditional books often bend the rules and make readers stretch, so can comics as long as you don’t lose your reader in the process. Every word, panel and line should contribute towards telling the story, there’s no room for anything superfluous in comics. It’s an amazing and versatile medium that I’m still learning about myself, and hope to be exploring for a long time to come.

A huge THANK YOU to John for taking the time to share his work here throughout the month. You can read more from John at his Illustrator of the Month interview and read his post on Creating a World in a Picture Book. Plus, you can learn all sorts of things about John and his work at his website
I'm certain we'll be seeing lots of great things from John. I can't wait.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Road

When you live on a dirt road, you tend to drive slowly. Dirt isn't the best surface and when there's only room for one car on the road half the time it's good to be careful. I can't even tell you how many times I've come around a corner and about had my heart jump out of my chest because there's a big 'ole car heading straight for me on my side of the road. Today I came across this big grader. The county grades the road twice a year. Once in spring and once right before hunting season so the hunters will have a nice smooth driving experience while they're pointing their shotguns out their car windows. (Okay, I don't like hunting season if you can't tell. They should at least go walk to hunt for their kill. I mean, come on. I think car hunting is illegal anyway, but I digress.)

When they grade the road they basically scrape off the top of the road and then smooth it back on. Sounds silly, and it kind of is, but it definitely takes out the washboardy bumps and makes my neck a little less sore for a while. It takes about a week for the road grading to be completed in which time I have to drive the hump.

Being a one and a half lane road there isn't always enough room for the car to fit on the side of the dirt hump the grader makes. It's lovely when the pile in the middle is so high that it scrapes against the bottom of the car. It gets really exciting when there's a boulder. And so go the days on the mountain. Pretty exciting, huh.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Different Way to Dummy a Picture Book

When writing a picture book it's good to dummy it up to see if there are enough unique scenes and good page turns. I've done it lots of times, torn a bunch of pieces of paper up into squares, stapled them together into a little book, cut and pasted my words onto the pages. It's fun and informative, but can time more time than I have, so I've come up with a different way to "dummy" my books.

Needing to write down a story real quick one day, and having ideas of where I wanted the art and page turns to be, I decided to get a few pieces of blank paper. I drew 32 squares. Number one by itself, number two and three together, and so on until the last page, 32, as a single square.(This is because 32 pages is the standard for picture books and the first and last page generally stand alone.) Then I wrote my story in the boxes.

Yes, I had to write small, but it fit just fine. I used pencil so I could move text around. I drew little sketches of the artwork I saw in my mind. No, I would not send it out with artwork, I'm not that good. But I can see the possibilities. I can see my words as a book, as a whole, on just a couple of pages. I can see where the writing and imagery are good and where the story needs to be improved.

It's nothing fancy, but it works. If you have even less time(as seems to happen periodically in life!), you can number your words according to page number. But I think this works better, and really doesn't take any extra time. Drawing the squares and doodles gives you something to do while you think.

If you have a different sort of way to dummy picture books I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Creating a world in a picture book

by John Lechner

How does an illustrator create a world? There are many ways to do this, and every illustrator has their own individual tricks and techniques. Here are a few of the methods I use to create a world in my picture books.

1. Establishing Shot
This is a term often used in filmmaking, but pertains to books as well, and helps create context for your story. In my book A Froggy Fable, the setting and the frog's place in it was very important to the story, so I wanted to establish it early. You don't always need to do this at the beginning of the book, as long as it comes at a point when it's important to the story in order to give continuity to the world.

2. Time of Day/Year
When does your story take place? A specific time of day or season of the year can really help make a world come together. My book The Clever Stick takes place in the springtime. My first Sticky Burr book takes place in the summer and the second one in the autumn, and I tried to draw each scene accordingly.

3. Different Perspectives
Different viewpoints – high/low/near/far – not only add variety to scenes, but allow the viewer to see more of your world, and can heighten the drama. Looking down from above, up from below, or from the viewpoint of your main character, can completely change the flavor of your story. But don't go crazy, try to use perspective where it helps the story.

4. Atmosphere
By atmosphere I mean both the physical and the psychological one – are you depicting a happy scene or a scary one? Giving the viewer an emotional reaction to a scene draws them in and makes them a part of it. In this image from Sticky Burr: The Prickly Peril, I used a limited palette and jagged lines to enhance the mood.

5. Continuity
It's important to make your world and your characters look consistent from page to page. But consistency of style is often even more important than consistency of character. If the overall style of your drawings is consistent from page to page, your world will feel like it all fits together. Style is not easy to develop, and is best when it comes naturally. I find when I focus on the story and climb inside of it, the style follows on its own.

Those are just some of the ways an illustrator can create a tangible and believable world in a picture book. Can you think of others? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

You can learn more about author/illustrator John Lechner at his Illustrator of the Month interview and on his website

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Life is unpredictable. Yes, we all know that but I've really been experiencing it lately. The sheer amount of weird things happening in my life is bordering on comical. And really, when life seems bad what can you do but laugh and be thankful that things aren't worse?

Sometimes such random things can happen. Things you would never dream of and certainly not expect or watch out for. It, of course, makes me think of writing. In good books unexpected and seemingly random things can happen, but they work in the context of the story to help the character grow. And we're never done growing. There's always more stories to tell.

If things can get worse, they certainly can get better. Here's to positivity! And perhaps a few good book ideas.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Illustrator of the Month--John Lechner

This month I'm celebrating John Lechner! He's here today to share some insights about being an author/illustrator, and he knows what he's talking about. John is a multitalented illustrator, author, animator, designer, puppeteer, and musician. He has four books to his credit so far, A FROGGY FABLE, THE CLEVER STICK, STICKY BURR: ADVENTURES IN BURRWOOD FOREST, and STICKY BURR: THE PRICKLY PERIL all published by Candlewick Press, as well as loads of great interactive material. Currently John is the art director at Peter H. Reynolds' children's media company, Fablevision. I'm very happy to feature John as April's Illustrator of the Month.

I assume people with great artistic talent always had it. Were you always good at drawing, even as a kid? When did you know you wanted to create children’s books?

I’ve always loved to draw, and I was always encouraged as a child. I wrote and illustrated my first book in first grade, about explorers who fall into the ocean and escape from a whale. I always loved books and wanted to be an illustrator like those I admired (Maurice Sendak, N.C. Wyeth, Bill Peet, Arthur Rackham.) I studied art and creative writing in college, but didn’t really find my voice until much later.

How did you develop your illustration style?

It just developed naturally over the years, it’s an odd mixture of naturalistic watercolors and simple line drawings. As I became more busy through the years, I drew faster and that helped to free up my style. I think it also comes from the things you draw, and since my stories often involve animals or nature, that also influences my style. I don’t like drawing buildings, I’m more at home in the forest.

When both writing and illustrating a book, which comes first for you, the story or the art?

The words usually come first. I might draw a quick sketch to set the scene in my mind, but I usually write out the story as it comes into my head. When I get a story idea, I don’t think about whether it might be a book, I just write the story and see where it goes. Some ideas don’t go anywhere, but sometimes they end up better than you thought. If I think a story has potential, I might create a web version to try it out. That’s how A Froggy Fable and The Clever Stick got started.

When submitting a book as the author/illustrator, do you complete the illustrations before submitting or do you submit a dummy?

I usually submit a rough sketch dummy along with the typed manuscript. A picture book typically evolves a lot from the time it is accepted until the time you do the final illustrations. The publisher will want to consult with you on the text, the size of the book, the number of pages, and the layout. So illustrating the entire book beforehand is not practical.

The purpose of the sketch dummy is to convey your vision of the book, and give the publisher a rough idea of how it might read. But when your book is accepted by a publisher, their designer will likely make a new dummy with suggestions for making the layout stronger, just as your editor will make suggestions for strengthening the text. There is a lot of discussion and revision before the final layouts are ready and you can start the final illustrations.

Your STICKY BURR books are part picture book, part comic book. What made you decide to go that route for these stories?

I originally envisioned the burrs as comic characters, because I wanted the stories to have a lot of action and visual humor. I started doing the Sticky Burr web comic over ten years ago, which has evolved into the current version you see today. I envisioned the books as a combination of a comic and a picture book because I wanted them to be a little different. By inserting pages of Sticky Burr’s (or Scurvy Burr’s) journal throughout the comics, it not only allowed me to elaborate on the characters and their world, but it also provided a nice break in the story, making it easier to suggest the passing of time or changing of location, which otherwise would have been harder in such a short comic. I added the map and other things to help create an entire world for these characters.

I have to ask. Why a burr?

When I was young, my brothers and sisters and I would spend a lot of time in our backyard. It had squirrels, birds, dragonflies, grasshoppers -- a bit like Burrwood Forest. We also had bushes that grew burrs on them, and we always called them sticky burrs. It wasn’t until I was an adult, and thinking back to those years, that I thought the burrs would be great characters. I started writing stories about them, and they evolved into the world you see today.

Do you think it’s easier as both the author and illustrator of a book to get your story across?

Personally, I enjoy having control over the story and illustrations, because I tend to think of them together. I visualize the images in my head as I write. Though there are also advantages to working with someone else, as they often think of ideas that you didn’t.

You also create films and interactive games. Does this take a whole different skill set or does it complement your book writing and illustration work?

Like books, films and interactive games also involve storytelling with images, but it’s really a different way of thinking. You’re thinking in real time, with real pacing. The storytelling techniques are different too. That’s why picture books that use still images from a film usually fall flat, because those images weren’t meant to stand alone, they were meant to be shown in connection with a thousand other images. So as an artist it can be challenging to shift from printed books to films and interactive stories, as you have to shift your brain into another way of thinking. But they all can inspire and influence each other.

Continuity of the looks of the character is so important. How do you achieve this page after page?

Continuity is very difficult, it takes a lot of erasing and comparing images side by side. However, you also don’t want to be too tied down to making your characters perfect, you also want them to be alive. Some of my favorite illustrators hardly have any continuity, yet they have so much life and energy in their art (Ludwig Bemelmans is a perfect example.) Continuity of style is often more important than continuity of specific characters. As long as the world you create is consistent throughout, the characters will appear more consistent.

If you use an additional illustrated story line in a book, do you decide on it purposefully or does it grow organically?

It’s different with every book, but usually it happens in the illustration stage. For instance, in Sticky Burr: The Prickly Peril, there are two burrs that both want to juggle, and one of them steals the juggling balls from the other. In the final page, they are seen juggling together. This is totally unrelated to the main storyline, yet it helps reinforce the malcontent of the burrs early on, and the camaraderie they feel at the end.

What advice would you give to aspiring author/illustrators trying to break into the market today?

It’s a very crowded field, but it’s also an evolving one because of new media and markets. Networking is one of the best ways to get connected with people in the field and get seen by an editor or art director. SCBWI conferences are great, and there are so many writer conferences and comic conferences where you can meet people and learn from them. Keep an eye out for new small publishers, which are often more receptive to new authors. Don’t be afraid to try new things, such as ebooks or web comics. And never stop working and improving your art, try to work twice as hard as everyone else.

Want to tell us about what you’re working on right now?

I’m finishing up my first novel, which I hope will find its way to publication. I’m also drawing a weekly web comic about Sticky Burr and his continuing adventures. I also have a blog about art and nature called The Untended Garden, where I write about how artists and writers are influenced by nature.

I’ve also been working on an interactive story, something that combines my interest in books, animation and interactive games. It’s a story without words, where the user advances the action, following a character as he journeys through a mysterious and deserted world. Although it’s interactive, it’s still a fairly linear story, with a beginning, middle and end. I’ve always been interested in the possibilities of interactive storytelling, and trying to push the boundaries of what can be done. I hope to unveil the project this spring.

You can learn more about John and see tons of his work at his website, And check back this month for more from John!