1. KIDLITCON 2019! Last weekend I attended KidLitCon, and participated in my first panel. Along with Andrea J. Loney, Alison Goldberg, Gaia Cornwall, Jannie Ho, and Emma Otheguy and moderated by Charnaie Gordon of Here Wee Read, we talked about the ups and downs of our picture book debut year. I’m not going to lie. I was very nervous. But I am so glad I had the chance to share some of my debut story. The whole conference was really amazing. It was a small group (about 150 attendees) and a mix of bloggers, publishers, librarians, and authors. I met so many new and wonderful people in person. It was a very happy, laid back vibe overall which I greatly appreciated. I learned so much in different workshops over two days and felt extremely lucky (and inspired!) by keynotes LeUyen Pham and Varian Johnson.
2. EXETER LIT FEST Next weekend, I will have a chance to be on my second panel (here’s where I will see if experience will make things a little less nerve wracking!) at the very first Exeter Lit Fest. Together with authors Lisa Bunker and Paul Durham we will talk about our experiences in kidlit. The whole schedule is remarkable and can be viewed here.
3. MFA APRIL VACATION WEEK The following week I am pleased to share that I will be part of the Boston MFA’s April Vacation Week programming, along with fellow author/illustrator Jannie Ho. We will both have two interactive, all-ages presentations celebrating the Art of the Story. See dates, times, and details here.
4. ON MY DESK Despite rumors that Mercury Retrograde would halt all progress, I have been very busy this month revising two early reader / graphic novel projects as well as pulling a new picture book dummy together. It feels great to switch gears between these books and see them evolve and improve. The picture book came from smack dab in the middle of this year’s Storystorm month. Looking back, I can see where I built ideas up in the first two weeks only to find this gem in the middle. Thank you, Tara Lazar for creating the arena for idea generation!
5. WHAT I AM READING Lastly, I wanted to share what I have been reading. 1) I beat down a path to get Lucy Knisley’s KID GLOVES when it came out last month. I adore her instagram feed and love watching videos of her cute boy and cat Linney with my daughter. It’s an amazing graphic novel - I love the way she wove her own journey from pre-pregnancy through birth with the history of pregnancy and myths. It’s honest, sweet, funny, and eye opening. 2) I picked up Science Comic The Brain when I was at KidLitCon and met illustrator Alex Graudins. My daughter and I love this series - they really are all so well done. I love the characters and narrative set up contrasted with the illustrated science of the brain. 3) I am about a 1/4 through Jo Knowles latest book, Where the Heart Is and can’t wait until tonight to dig back into the story.
Piccola! I can hardly believe how cute this is. SMALL is now available in Italian! This girl is going places! I am 1/2 Italian and think my Nana Perry and Auntie Louise would have been pretty excited about this.
2. Live Painting with 2nd Graders! I visited my daughter’s classroom this week. They are writing and illustrating their own stories. Their teacher gave them a few ideas about illustration styles they can follow and I got to throw them a colorful wrench with my style. I showed them my messy palette and left them with gouache and brushes to try out. They had great questions, were so well mannered, and I can hardly wait to see what their books look like!
3. Timberlane Literacy Night Next Thursday I will be hanging out with local authors, meeting students, and signing books. I’ve slowed down my event calendar which has made me appreciate every chance I get to meet young readers. I hope to see you there - details, here.
4. Building Stuff This industrious kid will be making her way around to publishers next week in the form of a postcard. It’s November, but it’s the first postcard I’ve sent in a year. Oops! It was a busy year, though!
5. In the beginning I’m working on a new story. I had a flash of inspiration this spring when I was WAY too busy to go off track. But I just couldn’t ignore my excitement so I spent a day noodling around with this idea and built it into a bigger idea. I spent another week or so thinking of a plot whenever I could find a spare minute. I was SO excited about this project! Then, when I finally had time to return to it, it just wasn’t working as a picture book. I was frustrated and grouchy and started sinking into that whole ‘I have no more good ideas, I should quit’ pity party. A few weeks later, I am finally back on track. Do you know how? I sat down and I did the work. <—Those are Julie Falatko’s words. Go follow her daily Instagram stories if you want a solid reminder of how important doing the work is compared to brilliant flashes of inspiration. And go buy her new book, No Boring Stories! out this week.
In celebration of National Peanut Day, I’m giving away three copies of TOO MUCH! NOT ENOUGH! to teachers and librarians (US only). The first three comments on this blog will get a copy and extra classroom goodies!
To say it’s been a busy month is an understatement. The same week that TOO MUCH! was released my family and I moved from our home of 16 years. We didn’t go far, we really love our town, but we still had to pack up all that stuff. AND host a launch party at Water Street Bookstore. THEN unpack (in theory, that part is going REALLY slow) and adjust to a new home, a new school year starting and lots of fun Peanut & Moe book parties.
If you’ve missed the fun, don’t worry. Join me (and Jannie Ho and Jennifer E. Morris) on September 23rd at 2pm at Toadstool Bookshop in Milford, NH. OR! Come to the Strawbery Banke Children’s Book festival during their Fall Festival on October 6th from 11am-3pm. Admission is free for the book festival and there will be a room full of authors and illustrators.
*I’m celebrating National Peanut Day by making muffins. It’s on the rainy day fun fortune teller, make one for yourself, here, on page 3.
When I started working on TOO MUCH! NOT ENOUGH! with Tundra editor Samantha Swenson, she had so many wonderful ideas to make the story bigger and more chaotic. My dummy was 32 pages, and the final book is 40. Sam tossed out a few ideas to make their rainy day chaos even MORE chaotic. One of them was playing with dinky cars. Now, I naively thought Sam meant little cars and that dinky was just a cute descriptor. No! She was actually referring to Dinky cars - a line of English metal toy cars and trucks made from the late 1930s to 1970s. And in a strange coincidence, I actually had been collecting metal matchbox cars and trucks from England in the 1970s. Not Dinky, but close! I loved playing with toy cars as a kid, but one little red truck was my favorite, and very much a symbol of my dad, who drove an 18-wheeler when I was a kid. It was also made the year I was born, extra special! I had been picking up similar trucks at antique stores the past few years. I loved how they were styled and hoped to use them as inspiration for another picture book idea I've been picking away at.
So of course I was excited to add toy cars to Peanut and Moe's play landscape. But when I started working on them, I realized it would be way more fun if I could make OTHER kids special toy cars and trucks part of the book, too. I reached out on instagram and several friends sent pictures. My son was also busy making his first Pinewood Derby car so that was an great source of ideas, too.
Please enjoy this time-lapse process video of me, drawing Peanut & Moe. I created all the final art for this book on a Wacom Cintiq monitor using photoshop. The drawing part is sped up, but I believe it took me about 4 hours to paint from a fairly tight sketch to finish. Look for TOO MUCH! NOT ENOUGH! in stores in just two weeks!!!
As a side note - many (many many) years ago, I worked as a compositor at several different animation studios. I worked with 2D, 3D, and stop motion animation - taking all the elements and blending them into final frames for TV, motion ride films, and video games. I loved my work. I was pretty good at it, too. But I knew I wasn't in the right field. I wanted to make MY ideas and stories come to life - and being a compositor is just about following direction. I've been too chicken to jump into making videos (or...book trailers!) because I thought I wouldn't remember how to do any of this. And isn't it a terrible feeling to no longer be good at something? But I surprised myself by picking it up quickly and having fun. Something old became new again, and it's lovely!
These are just some of my original character design sketches for Peanut & Moe. I landed on Moe's design fairly quickly, but Peanut took a bit more tinkering. Once I had them fairly sorted, I made final art. For several years, all my Peanut & Moe art was a mix of gouache paint, colored pencil, a bit of multimedia (pink fur paper!) all cut and assembled to create a dimensional piece.
I'm still proud of the dry-brushing on that pancake stack!
This phase involved photographing the finished art. It was a technical challenge to get the shadows just right - soft, but pronounced.
At some point I relinquished my layered/photographed technique. The above is a combination of gouache and pencil, combined digitally.
And here they are, in the final spread from the book. 100% digital. I switched over to working on a Wacom Cintiq a few years ago and I am still over-the-moon-in-love with working this way. I hope it's as apparent to you also, how each iteration made the final idea and characters stronger. IMHO, every little edit to an eyebrow, finger shape, or color palette made an improvement. The power of persistence!
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!)