Once upon a Peanut & Moe...

I like a catchy jingle. I like to either make them up or co-opt them from pop-culture and make them my own. I guess you could say it's my 'thing', though not many people know this about me.

Many years ago I took a depressing indie tune with the lyrics 'too much, not too much' and turned it into the more upbeat and amusing, 'Too much mayo, not enough mayo'. (I will gladly sing it for you if you see me in real life and ask nicely)  Naturally, I sang it to make turkey sandwiches.

On a quiet drive home from an illustrator meeting, I somehow realized 'too much! not enough!" was a fantastic refrain for a picture book. This may have been my first original idea for a book of my own. And if it wasn't, it was certainly the first one that seemed good enough to remember.

It seems like a bit of a miracle, but this little note from nine years ago fits the book coming out in August. Originally I named the monsters Little & Big. Names would go through major revisions, but the characters never wavered.

I struck gold (sort of!) with premise #2. The first part is essentially what happens, and they do get to camp under the stars but you have to wait until book #2 comes out next year.


So, you might be thinking, "What the heck took nine years if you figured all this out from the start?". I'm showing you snippets from a notebook that I started on August 20th, 2009. My son was 8 months old and I was on the verge of a breakdown because I just needed time to myself to make art. That Sunday morning I left with a mission, putting my husband on baby duty, while I grabbed a new notebook and headed for the nearest coffee shop. I got there and it wasn't open yet. Wasn't going to be open anytime soon, in fact. I may have cried. But then I got to work. I sat in my car and wrote page after page. I doodled ideas for what these monster friends looked like. I thought of all the ways they could irritate each other, and how the little guy would make things better. And then I went home. Back to my overwhelmed new stay-at-home-mom life. But the glimmer of this book was a life line. 

I worked on this story all those years. Bird by bird, as Anne Lamott would say. I made art. I made dummies. I shared them with critique partners and started from scratch again. I got an agent and we submitted my dummy. It made it to sales and acquisitions and to revision with two lovely publishers at the same time. And because publishing is often perplexing and unpredictable, it ended up back on my desk again. There was a small army of wonderful friends who listened when I grouched about how long it was all taking. I got busy with other projects and sold my first book, SMALL. Around the same time, I illustrated a book with a fantastic editor at Tundra books. When it was time to think about my monsters again, my agent and I wondered. Perhaps Samantha Swenson would be a good match? The first news was good! But then time went by (again, publishing) and I worried. But the real news was spectacular. Not only did Tundra want to publish TOO MUCH, they offered me a two book deal. And as fate would have it, that second book is another Peanut & Moe story. I had known these characters for so long, that they almost wrote their own second story. Oh, pish. I wrote it. With the wonderful and smart guidance of my editor, Sam. And this one didn't take nine years from start to finish. It took under a year.

I will share a lot about Peanut & Moe in the weeks leading up to their book debut, but I wanted to start here. Whether you are a reader, a teacher, or a pre-published author, I hope you walk away learning a bit about what inspires me as a writer (jingles!) and what helped me publish this book (tenacity! passion! good friends! never quitting! a great agent, editor, and publisher!)

Blog Process Tour

I was invited by a few friends to do this process tour, but one finally twisted my arm into doing it (actually, he just had the best timing! Thanks, Marty!).

They had excellent posts, equal to their talent as author/illustrators - be sure to check them out: Marty Kelley, Tina Kugler, Courtney Pippin Mathur

What am I working on now?

I just finished illustrations for a wonderful children's toy and stationery company. And I'm trying not to think about a few books in various stages of submission. But right now I'm in the early stages of a new picture book dummy. The story is fairly tight, but the character designs and thumbnails are very loose. You can see more polished sketches with kittens here - they helped me to find the real direction of the story, actually.

A mish-mash of rough character sketches and thumbnails of page layouts.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Right now I'm really happy with my work. It's something that has revealed itself over time, in layers of work and play. I've been focusing on drawing and writing only what I really am excited about and that has made a huge difference (thanks to my agent, Teresa Kietlinski for that wisdom!). No one else can do what is really, authentically "me", right?

Why do I write what I do?

I try my best to write the biggest of childhood emotions filtered through my strange way of seeing the world. I write what only I can write because it evokes the images that I want to illustrate. I definitely mine my own childhood. The bits that I get most excited about are the ones that feel like they speak directly to the spirit of a child: be it humorous or sad or empowering. Those are the bits I strive for.

How does your writing process work?

I keep all my idea kernels: in notebooks, on my phone, in sketchbooks. I look through them often and see if I can connect dots between kernels to see if they can make something that, well, pops! There is a lot of downtime where I just think and let ideas percolate. I watch my own small children and steal kernels from them.

Then I force myself to knit it all together, on screen or paper. This is a horrific stage! Does this story even make sense? Is it unique enough? Is it exciting enough? Revision after revision happens, usually in one long file until I feel like I know the right direction for the story.

Next, I revise until the language is crisp and brief with extraneous bits removed. I share with my family. I share with a few trusted peers. So then, I sketch (and sketch and sketch). With any luck, the words stand up and the pictures can take over. I share with more trusted peers and take the time to really consider their advice before revising or changing anything. I try to put my ego aside (yes, we ALL have one) and do what I must to make the best book possible. It's a super-competitive industry, so only the best will make it through. And frankly, I'd be disappointed in myself if I didn't push through to make it the best just for myself.

Incredibly small and rough page layouts - they might read as a mess to you, but they make sense to me!

Up next on the blog tour: Laura Zarrin! (FYI, Laura is a trusted friend and peer who gives me the straight scoop on my work.

Illustrator of four­teen children’s books, Laura Zarrin, is branch­ing out into writing them too. Laura’s warm and whim­si­cal col­lage paint­ings have graced many prod­ucts from stick­ers to bul­letin boards to books. Her paint­ings are cre­ated in lay­ers tra­di­tion­ally, then scanned, assem­bled, and enhanced in Photoshop and Manga Studio, so that the art can be refor­mat­ted for a vari­ety of prod­ucts and apps.

Laura’s Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design and Illustration paired with her years of expe­ri­ence work­ing as a designer and art direc­tor have given her many great oppor­tu­ni­ties to work with other design­ers, edi­tors, sales peo­ple, and mar­ket­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tion on many projects, from incep­tion to com­ple­tion. Fluent in the Adobe Creative Suite.

She lives and works in San Jose, Ca with her hus­band and two end­lessly cre­ative sons.


The Next Big Thing Blog Tour


A few weeks ago I was tagged by the very kind and talented Gaia Cornwall on The Next Big Thing blog tour. Life got in the middle, and I'm JUST now getting to it. The tour is meant to bring awareness to authors & illustrators and whatever they’re currently working on. I’ll answer ten questions below about one of my picture book dummies:
1) What is the working title of your next book?
I Am Small
2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
I was the smallest kid in my class until about sophmore year of high school. Not only was I small in size, but I was very shy. On some level, it's a story about the child I WISH I was - because this girl is unstoppable!
3) What genre does your book fall under?
It is a concept picture book.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Definitely an as-yet-unknown child actress!
5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
In this coming-of-size picture book, a simple and balanced text follows a girl who shows us that heart and spunk always triumph over size.
6) Who is publishing your book?
That too, is as-yet-unknown!

7) How long did it take you to create the illustrations?
I would guess the finished spread above took about 12 hours total. The one below took about half as long due to it's simplicity. Part of that time is painting, the other part is my technique of adding a little digital & graphite compositing magic.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
As much as I've pondered this question, I don't have a good answer. I'm not sure any of my lovely critique partners could answer this either.
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
As I moved this from a personal, grown-up poem, to a picture book text I was watching my daughter fearlessly tackle many of the same things as my main character. Whenever I was stuck for the right premise or 'big' thing, I would step back and watch my children as they explored their big world.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
I want this book to empower small readers to try lots of big things, including reading. At less than 60 words, the manuscript is incredibly short. With a few assisted readings, I think many children would be able to read this independently. As challenging as the road to publication can be, holding on to that future moment where I see a child READING my book on their own is what keeps me going.
While I tried my best to 'tag' other authors or author/illustrators on this tour, it would seem that many of my peers have either already participated OR are far too busy working (yay!).
I thought the next best thing I could do for the Next Big Thing Blog Tour was to share some of my favorite posts from others. Be sure to visit:
Author Nancy Loewen (author of Baby Wants Mama)
Illustrator Patrice Barton
Illustrator Jannie Ho
Author/Illustrator Ben Clanton
Author/Illustrator Kelly Light