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!)

Giveaway and NESCBWI recap

With Father's Day around the corner, I thought it was a great time to have a book giveaway. I'm giving away one copy of IT'S GREAT BEING A DAD by Dan Bar-el, illustrated by me. The giveaway ends May 30th and I will notify the winner promptly. Open to anyone 18+ years of age in US or Canada.

I promised a little NESCBWI Conference recap, so here are my top five takeaways:

1. Oh, hello! Taking a few years off of this conference was exactly what I needed in order to reboot my perspective. I really enjoyed meeting lots of new people and listening to where they are on their journey. We all know we are part of a tribe, but this tribe comes from a million unique and interesting places - and it was a blast getting to soak it all up. And I had the special privilege of meeting (IRL!) some of my newest tribe - Picture The Books 2017 We are a group of debut children's book authors and illustrators. Their collective talent is only surpassed by their kindness.

From left to right: Mike Malbrough, Emma Otheguy, Alison Goldberg, Heather Pruesser, Gina Perry, Vivian Kirkfield

2. Always take Sudipta's workshops. I've said this before on my blog. If you want to walk away from a writing workshop with tools to improve, look no further than Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. Also, you will NEVER fall asleep in her presence. Even after you stayed up way too late both nights before...

3. Mr Schu is in the house. Pass the tissues. I was literally tearing up within 2 minutes of Mr. Schu's presentation. In a good way, of course. I am SO thankful to NESCBWI for snagging him for a moment of his busy year to remind us WHY we write for kids. I am so thrilled for all the kids around the country that will be infected with his sheer joy and love for books. His presentation wasn't all inspiration - I walked away with some really good tips about presenting my work online (BIG, clean book cover jpegs, ready for sharing!) and finding a larger tribe of librarian and teacher advocates. 

4. And the award goes to... Christina Rodriguez! Honestly, that was the most polished, entertaining presentation... not including all the illustrator antics on stage. Or the fabulous prizes! I hope Sketch Battle returns at every possible opportunity. Or you trademark it and make it a prime time show. Thanks for bringing the fun (and the chocolates), Christina!

5. Vita Lane: ready for takeoff! Is there nothing better than seeing a good friend succeed? Keep an eye on my very dear friend, Vita Lane. She has always inspired me in all her creative accomplishments. But her latest work is just blowing me away. It's so good I have to share... Go read her post about her latest project and drool over her beautiful watercolors. 

Be sure to enter the giveaway, it ends on May 30th (Psst. Starting on May 22nd, I'm also hosting a separate giveaway over on GoodReads)

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.