Sunday, December 2, 2012

Bran Muffins of Doom? An Interview with Author & Illustrator Marty Kelley

Marty Kelley is a recovering second grade teacher living in New Hampshire. What does one do when recovering from being a teacher? Write and illustrate for kids, of course!

Marty has illustrated a number of books for kids, two of which he has also written. He is represented by Red Fox Literary Agency. Marty is frolicking by to give us the low down on his writing and illustrating. I even asked him how his unique book tour and how he feels about illustration notes.

How long have you been writing and illustrating for kids?
My first book, Fall Is Not Easy was published in 1998, so it’s been a while. Before that I worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for several small newspapers and magazines.

What are some of your favorite things to illustrate?
People, people, people. I love painting them. When I’m not doing children’s books, I actually create commissioned fine art portraits of people.

Do the things you enjoy illustrating affect what you decide to write about?
I have a terrible time with landscapes and tend to try to have my illustrations happen indoors, but that obviously doesn’t always work out. I don’t consciously adjust my writing to what I think the illustrations will be. In fact, it has happened that I’ve had a story written and then realized that I have no idea how I’m going to do the illustrations.

As an illustrator, how do you feel about an author putting illustration notes in a manuscript?
Unless it’s something very important to the story, I prefer that the author sit back and let me do my job. I completely understand how nerve-wracking it must be to not have any control over the look of something that you worked so hard on, but when authors start micro-managing, all the fun of creation gets sucked out of it for me. I’m glad to say that it’s only happened once or twice.

You did a tour of seafood restaurants for CRUSTACEAN VACATION, (which is awesome!) how did that opportunity come about? Do you think alternative venues are a good avenue for authors and illustrators to use when promoting their books?
That was a weird one and while I enjoyed it, I have had my fill of chowder for a while. It actually started because a manager at one restaurant of a local seafood chain called and asked me if I’d like to come in on their kids’ night and sell books. They didn’t ask for a cut of the profits and they offered to feed me. How could I say no? It actually went better than some of the signings I’ve had at bookstores over the years. I went back and did it a few more times and it always went well enough to make it worthwhile.
I mentioned the event to Melissa Kim, the editor at Islandport who worked on Crustacean Vacation with me. She jumped on it and arranged a tour of the 13 restaurants that the author and I split. A few of them went very well and some of them were dreadful, just like any event, I suppose.
I think the alternative venues are a great idea for anyone - not just authors and illustrators. You have to be flexible and willing to try whatever you can if you want to succeed. If nothing else, some of the odder events make good stories to tell your friends later.

You’ve written and illustrated a number of picture books, and your chapter book, FAME, FORTUNE, AND THE BRAN MUFFINS OF DOOM, was recently published by Holiday House. How was it to create a chapter book after previously focusing your work on picture books?
I loved it. It was difficult and the book–because of a long and occasionally unpleasant series of events–took almost 5 years to be published. I worked with Sylvie Frank at Holiday House. She was enthusiastic and full of great ideas. There were parts that were definitely a steep learning curve for me. The illustrations, done in pencil, were a big challenge and I learned the hard way about the difference between full color reproduction quality and black&white reproduction quality.
The book took something of a beating by a few big reviewers, but the feedback from kids has been completely and overwhelmingly positive. They’re the audience, so I’m happy with that.

You are signed with Abigail Samoun of Red Fox Literary, how has your career changed since obtaining representation?
You mean besides the jet-pack and the hot tub and the multi-million dollar advances? Other than that, it’s just about the same.
Abi edited a book I did with Tricycle called Twelve Terrible Things and I enjoyed her slightly twisted sense of humor. She helped hammer out the initial version of the chapter book. In fact, she is the one who kept pushing me in that direction.

It’s nice to have someone to look things over before they go out to publishers. She’s way more in tune with what editors want than I will ever be, so she can help guide the work that I do.

What are you working on now?
I’ve actually got several projects going at the same time. It’s not my favorite way to work, but you do what you have to do. I’m finishing up my final edits on another chapter book that I’m hoping Abi can get me that six figure advance for. I’ve also been working on a few beginning reader books. With 50-75 words and a very concise vocabulary, it’s a fun challenge to try to come up with an engaging, well-crafted story. I also have a few new picture book ideas that I’m still forcing into submission in my sketchbook.

You can find more from Marty Kelley on his website, and at his blog He also has a website for his book, Fame, Fortune, and the Bran Muffins of Doom called Simon's Plans where you can download the first chapter of the book, play the Bran Muffins of Doom Game, watch the book trailer, and more! And don't miss Marty's Free Books for Life offer. It's quite a deal.


  1. Interesting interview. "a recovering second grade teacher" caught my eye. I guess I'm a recovering elementary school teacher stepping into author/illustrator shoes, too. Did you go the traditional route to publishing? I wish you much success. :)

  2. Hi Brenda,
    Yup. Went the traditional route with a very small publishing company. I think self-publishing has its merits, but I honestly hate selling stuff. Some people do it very well. It's just not for me.

  3. Nice interview. I enjoyed it!
    ~recovering teacher turned author

  4. Great interview!
    Books look very fun and those portraits are gorgeous.