Do you outline? Or do you write by the seat of your pants?

Do you outline or write by the seat of your pants? It’s a common question among writers. Samantha Clark has begun a fabulous thread on her blog about the subject.

Today, she very kindly featured me. Next in her lineup are authors Bethany Hegedus, P.J. Hoover, Nikki Loftin, and Jessica Lee Anderson.

Pop over to Samantha’s website to check it out.

CRITIQUE WEEK Part Two- Emily Kristin Anderson & Lindsey Lane

Emily Kristin Anderson
Lindsey Lane

Continuing the trilogy of interviews with authors who participate in critique groups, I give you…

Emily Kristin Anderson, a young adult novelist and poet, is a resident of Austin, Texas, a long way from her native Maine. Her poetry has been published in national literary journals and she is currently querying her first completed YA novels. Most recently, she co-created the popular Dear Teen Me website, featuring letters from authors to their teen selves.

Lindsey Lane’s journey toward authorship followed a path that included a degree in theatre arts and careers as a journalist and award-winning playwright. Her picture book, SNUGGLE MOUNTAIN (Clarion, 2003) was listed among “Best Children’s Books of 2004” by Bank Street College of Education. Today, she continues to pen charming books for children while raising her daughter, a house full of pets, and her blog, The Meandering Lane.

What’s the secret to a successful critique group?

I think the key is respect.  You’ve got to respect what your crit partners are writing – respect their style and their vision – in order to take it apart and help them put it back together.  If you don’t respect the work someone is doing, someone else would probably be more helpful as a critique partner.

L.L.  My first thought is: kindness, respect and honesty. Each of those is essential to a successful critique group. Except, well, touting the values of a critique group sounds a bit bland. Really, I think the secret to a successful critique group is being just a little bit in awe of the other writers. Like every time you go, you pinch yourself and say, “I can’t believe I get to be here.” When it comes time to put your work out in the world, it has to be the best it can possible be so if I’m with writers I am in awe of, I want to bring my A game. Not just in my writing. I bring it to the reading of their work. I think of my critique group as an assembly of dream editors: Candlewick, Knopf, Simon & Schuster. Does this mean I can’t show my dream editors first drafts and rough stuff? Of course I can. I dare myself with them first.

How has being part of a critique group helped your writing?

E.K.A.  My writing is so much stronger for my critique group.  They have ideas that I wouldn’t have come up with, they are a wealth of knowledge in areas I’m not so keen on.  I mean, if you can’t ask your critique group how long it takes for someone to bleed out from a stab wound, well who CAN you ask?

L.L.  I think the biggest way critique groups have helped my writing is they help me deepen my commitment to a story. Recently, I brought in a first draft of a short story and I thought it might be a little over the top, a little schmaltzy. Well the ending was schmaltzy but the essential story was on point. My group helped me find the nugget of the story and bring if forward so it shined and wasn’t covered up by a schmaltzy ending.

Where does your critique group meet? Why did you choose that environment?

E.K.A. We meet at a café/bar in central Austin.  I don’t know how it became our place, but it’s a fabulous atmosphere.  Perfect combination of peace and noise.  Well, mostly noise.  Between the night nurses having drinks at 9am and the occasional folks outside in troll costumes, it seems like a good place to write fiction.

L.L.  We are early birds. We meet around one of our dining room tables in the mornings. Coffee and tea are our substance of choice with a few nibbles on the side. One of us recently sold a manuscript. No champagne. We splurged on pie.

What are the biggest challenges of critiquing someone else’s manuscript?

E.K.A.  I think finding the fine line between honest in a constructive way and honest in a destructive way can be tough.  Which isn’t to say I haven’t threatened a CP with stabbing by fork if she didn’t cut her cliffhanger ending.  But, you know, it’s about guaging what your crit partner needs vs. telling it like it is.

L.L.  Well of course, the biggest challenge would be not loving someone’s manuscript and not being able to comment on it because you just don’t like it or get it. That’s never happened to me. Even if I feel a little distant from a manuscript, I can still look at it as a craftsperson. I can still spot when the author is doing too much telling or a character’s voice goes a little too authorial. I can still be helpful. Challenges are opportunities. The saying’s been around for a while because it’s true.

What are the biggest challenges of having your own manuscript critiqued?

E.K.A.  Dude.  I love having my MS critiqued.  It makes revision so much easier to attack.  Although once in a blue moon you get a critique that makes you wonder if the critiquer really got what you were going for, if maybe they just didn’t like your style.  It’s finiding the nuggets to take from critiques like these that can be a little hard.

L.L.  Well I think a big challenge is when your critique group looks at your ms. for the fifth time and tells you to put it in a drawer and move on. That is very hard. That’s happened to me in another group. They were right but it was hard to hear. I recently looked at that manuscript and I realized I am a different writer now. I have different tools in my tool box. Sometimes when you work on the same manuscript over and over again, you can’t grow as a writer. You have to put it away and work on something else because a new manuscript will ask different skills of you. You can always go back. When you do, you will be a different writer and who knows? You may have just the right tools to bring that story to life now. Or the wisdom to know that you won’t.

How do you handle situations when you, as the author, disagree with someone’s feedback on your manuscript?

E.K.A. I think it’s important to always thank someone who’s read your manuscript and given feedback.  So if you can’t say anything else, say thank you!  And like I said above, even when a critique doesn’t quite see your vision, there are definitely things you can take from it if you look hard enough.

L.L.  Hmmm, I’m a pretty compliant sort. If someone says a character sounds too young or they were confused by a POV shift, I go take a look.  Always. Part of how a critique group functions for me is that their comments help me deepen my commitment to the manuscript. You really have to love a story to stick with it through revision, submission, more revision, publication and then promotion. So I had better be working on a story that I love and believe in. Their comments test my mettle as well as the story’s mettle.

How do you handle critiquing a manuscript you’re not comfortable with? For example, if you don’t care for horror, or paranormal, or rhyming picture books.

E.K.A. Within my crit group, there are definitely certain manuscripts I wouldn’t take on.  If one of my CPs wrote, say, a middle grade sci fi comedy, I might not be the best person to look at it.  I’d be completely useless with an epic fantasy complete with its own dictionary.  So I think it’s okay to say that.  You’re not going to be very useful if you can’t get behind the story.

L.L. I think critiquing genres I don’t write gives me an opportunity to be more objective on craft issues (point of view, setting) and story logic. Because I’m not swept up by the genre and loving the author’s dystopian world, for instance, I can be more objective and thoughtful about what’s working on the page. I remember once I was in a group where a member had submitted a rhyming manuscript about space. What I brought to the table was a naiveté about the subject matter so that I could honestly say what didn’t make sense or what wasn’t clear. I think it’s important to understand the world that the manuscript is trying to create but you don’t have to be an expert in that genre to bring value to the critique table.

Would you like to share a funny, sweet, or unusual anecdote about a critique group situation?

E.K.A.  We write at a place called, um THE PLACE.  Because we have actually been CRASHED after we continually posted our meeting place on Twitter.  So, you know, I guess we’re famous or something.  Possibly awesome.

L.L.   One of my critiquers writes in the margins of my manuscripts: ‘I’m holding my breath.’ or ‘Yuck!’ Or ‘Swoon.’ She notes her emotional response to the material. At first, I didn’t understand the comments. You know, I thought they had to be more cerebral and cognitive. But now I love to see if the emotional effect I want is coming through.

What advice would you give to a writer joining a critique group for the first time?

Be patient.  Figure out how it works before throwing your manuscript at everyone.  Read the published works of other members (if there are published members) and read the blogs/Twitters/Facebooks of unpublished members.  Get to know them as people AND as writers.  Then have fun!

L.L.  You will become a better writer by becoming a better critiquer. So often we think that we become better writers by all the feedback we receive on our manuscripts. Not so. In fact, sometimes I get flooded by a lot of feedback and it takes me some time to sift and mull about what to do next. What I notice is that by paying attention to craft and story in other people’s manuscripts, I am a lot sharper when I am crafting my own stories. When I see how one of my fellow critiquers handles a time shift in her ms., for instance, I tend to be braver in my own pages. 

Next up, the final critique group interviews with authors Samantha Clark, and Cynthia Levinson, and author/illustrator Shelley Ann Jackson.

Q&A with Cynthia Leitich Smith- The Author’s Journey


An author’s path to publication can feel like THE HERO’S JOURNEY, full of pitfalls, pratfalls, and painful perseverance.  (also see Christopher Vogler’s THE WRITER’S JOURNEY.)
Well, it got me thinking.  If story can be broken down into predictable stages, surely an author’s journey toward publication can be broken down as well.  What are the stages of the author’s journey and how does it change after publication?
I’m so over-the-top excited that Cynthia Leitich Smith agreed to join the discussion here. 

Cynthia is the New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author of ETERNAL, TANTALIZE, and BLESSED (Candlewick). Her award-winning books for younger children include JINGLE DANCER, INDIAN SHOES and RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (all HarperCollins), and HOLLER LOUDLY (both Dutton). She is also a prolific author of short stories for children and young adults and has been published in numerous anthologies and magazines for young readers.

Though currently on extended leave, Cyn is a member of faculty at the Vermont College of FineArts M.F.A. program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.
Her website was named one of the top 10 Writer Sites on the Internet by Writer’s Digest and an ALA Great Website for Kids. Her Cynsations blog was listed as among the top two read by the children’s/YA publishing community in the SCBWI “To Market” column. Her author interviews, publishing news, and professional insights draw 40,000 page views per month. 

View BLESSED book trailer
View the book trailer

First, Cyn, congratulations on the recent announcement of your new three-book deal to Candlewick Press. What can we expect from the first novel, SMOLDER?

SMOLDER is set in the TANTALIZE series universe. It’ll feature new protagonists and bring back a couple of secondary characters. In response to YA reader requests, the story is centered on shape-shifters and spins off a couple of threads introduced in previous books.
I expect it to be a bit sassier than its predecessors—funnier, more of a mystery, and, for lack of a better word, more smoldering on the romantic and action fronts. I don’t want to think far beyond that yet.
What else do you have in the works?
My 2012 novel, DIABOLICAL, is off to copy editing, but there is still finalizing to be done there, too. I’ve never written a book in such an intense way or had so much fun doing it. DIABOLICAL is the fourth and final of my books in conversation with Abraham Stoker’s DRACULA.
More immediately, I can hardly wait for the release of my first graphic novel, TANTALIZE: KIEREN’S STORY, illustrated by Ming Doyle. I’ve been an avid graphic format AKA comics reader since before kindergarten, and I’m still pinching myself at the idea of being on the other side of the byline. 
You’ve often referred to pre-published authors as apprentices. Why?
In a way, we’re all apprentices, or at least we should be, forever striving to improve our craft.
That said, assuming traditional trade publication and career building are central of your vision, the writer’s window of opportunity beforehand is precious and, at least in retrospect, fleeting.
You’re not yet pressured by public criticism or the commercial market or someone else’s schedule. You haven’t yet made that first impression. You’re not held back by mid-list sales numbers, and you could still debut as the new hot thing. You still have time to do so when you’re better, stronger, and braver than you are today. You still have time to learn, grow, and strategize.
You may need to write another novel manuscript or five, a short story or ten, a picture book or twenty and think of them as labs, venues for experimentation. You may shift gears, privately.
You can ask yourself if the manuscript in your hand is the one you really want to introduce yourself with, ponder whether you’ll still have enthusiasm for it in the years, perhaps decades to come. After all, the journey of a book doesn’t end with publication. It’s just getting started.
You can ask yourself if you’re ready for the spotlight and answer: No, not yet.
Even better? When the time is right, you can say: Yes, now.
When you consider your own personal journey to publication, your observations as teacher and mentor, and your numerous author interviews on Cynsations, if you could brake down the author’s journey to publication into specific stages or acts, what would it look like?
With the above-mentioned caveat that journeys vary (and that I’m focusing on literary trade authors/books), here’s a not-uncommon one that’s conducive to success:
1) A passion for reading, writing, language, story, a vivid imagination, a quest for knowledge, a desire for connection.
2) Reading like a writer, writing with intent.
3) Seeking support in the craft of writing through workshops hosted by professional writing organizations, online classes, critique groups, formal study.
4) Continuing all of the above, with the priority remaining on the craft of writing, while building a familiarity with publishing as a business.
5) Achieving a level of skill that results in a manuscript that is fresh and competitive in the fierce, international market for youth literature.
6) Seeking/obtaining representation by an experienced (or well mentored) literary agent grounded in publishing for young readers per se.
7) Continuing to write and produce manuscripts. Revising upon request and inspiration.
8) A first sale that eventually results in a published book
9) Continued revising, pouring through copy edits, art, pass pages.
10) Pre-publication business preparation, including publicity, while continuing to write.
Given that everyone’s journey is different, how much time should a pre-published/apprentice author expect to invest in learning the craft before expecting publication? Maybe a more succinct question would be, how long does the average author’s journey to publication take in terms of years, words, manuscripts, rejections?
When I began seriously writing with an eye toward publication in the late 1990s, the conventional wisdom was that the journey was on average seven to ten years.
Today, if I had to wager on it, I’d reduce that average window, if only because there is so much more information and support opportunities/resources available to beginning writers, especially online. We’ve seen a rise in MFA programs and Web-based classes, and the kidlitosphere is bursting with insights related to both craft and career.
Also, publishers are taking chances on new voices in a way that they weren’t ten-to-fifteen years ago. 2011 is a banner year to be new author or not-yet-published serious writer.
Note: Keep in mind, “average” means that there are folks on either side of that window who find success.
How is the path-to-publication different today than it was when you were seeking your first publication?
The plethora of agents is probably the biggest change. Back in the day, I could count the “name” children’s-YA agents on my fingers. Many people believed that it was unnecessary to have an agent if you published for young readers. Some of the top authors didn’t. A few of them still don’t. But that changed not long afterward, in large part, I suspect because of the commercial success of Harry Potter and the rise of electronic rights issues.
I never pitched to an agent or wrote a traditional query letter. I first connected with my agent through a children’s author listserv.
Information about…well, everything, but particularly editors’ tastes and publishing news was more difficult to come by. SCBWI offered an earlier version of its outstanding newsletter that included market news, as did Children’s Writer and a few other sources. But you certainly couldn’t hit a search engine, type in an editor or agent’s name, and pull up a handful of interviews or follow her on Twitter.
Should pre-published authors write to current publishing trends?
It depends on whether they’re already extraordinarily passionate about a genre or concept that is popular.
Let’s take mermaid books, which recently have been proclaimed both the latest thing and a false trend. If you live, breathe, and dream mermaids, if you’ve spent the past five years researching aquatic mammals to write one, if you’ve constructed your mermaid society and catch phrases and fallen in love with your character, by all means, write your mermaid book. Please.
It might be a marketing challenge. But there’s always room for innovative, heartfelt work.
Worst case scenario: Write it and shop it again in five years.
Much of publishing has the institutional memory of a gnat.
On the other fin, if you’re thinking: Mermaids are trendy so I might as well strap on a tail and see what happens….You may want to reconsider that.
How important do you think web presence and networking is for pre-published authors?
It’s far less important than writing or reading books. Beyond that, it’s hard for me to say for sure. So much of this has evolved since I was in that position. However, I’ve seen impressive e-portfolios by author-illustrators and online resources that establish nonfiction writers’ expertise. Certainly, being a participant in the conversation of writing/books/publishing on the ‘net offers others insights into who you are as person and professional.
Just so you know: Many agents will key your name into a search engine. Whatever you post online—whether it’s marked “personal”/ “private” or not—is up for professional consumption. That may affect what you elect to put out there. It may not. It’s up to you, but realize that’s part of the larger dynamic and act accordingly.
As for networking, perhaps focus on connecting, sharing, and supporting in an authentic and heartfelt way instead. Take an upbeat, welcoming, respectful, and—when appropriate—nurturing attitude to everyone you meet in the youth literature community.
What general advice would you give to authors traversing their own journey toward publication?
Celebrate every victory, no matter how small. The writing life has its share of “no.” Say “yes” to yourself and your writing pals again and again to balance that out—and then some.
Also, if you get writer’s block, try dancing into the dark to the soundtrack from Olivia Newton-John’s “Xanadu.” It always works for me.
Frequently, we hear that authors should determine their “brand” and stick with it. Yet, doing so would feel very confining for creative artists. You are a great example of a multi-genre, diversified author. What are your thoughts about branding?
First, I’m not the only one. Off the top of my head, authors like Linda Sue Park, Kathi Appelt, Kate DiCamillo, Laurie Halse Anderson, M.T. Anderson, Shutta Crum, Rita Williams-Garcia, Chris Barton, Kimblerly Willis Holt, Jennifer L. Holm, Michelle Knudsen, Tanya Lee Stone, Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, Joseph Bruchac, Marion Dane Bauer, and so many others write across formats, age levels, genres, and more.
I write picture books through young adult novels, short stories and graphic format, realistic and fantasy fiction because I love it all. My language is sharper and more lyrical because of writing picture books. I’m more comfortable writing novels from a male point of view because I did so first in short stories. I can write fantasy with more depth and resonance because I learned the structure of story through realistic fiction first. I could go on, but suffice it to say that I’m a better writer because I’m open to new challenges. Or at least that’s what I tell myself.
On a pragmatic level, I’m also qualified to teach a wider range of writing students and speak to gatekeepers for elementary through high schools. And by so often straddling the literary/commercial line, I’m able to produce books that appeal both to grown-up critics and discerning young readers.
How does the author’s journey change after the first book is published?
The author’s journey is always changing, and so is the writer’s. For context, I do separate them in my mind. Writer Cyn is me. Cynthia Leitich Smith is a persona and a byline.
The first book is a tremendous achievement. It should be heralded, celebrated in whatever way is most satisfying to you. It comes with certain opportunities, creates certain limitations. Once you become published, the business of being an author may seem overwhelming at times. So can the feeling of exposure. You’ll have to navigate the juxtaposition of expectations and reality—your own perceptions/experiences and those of the people closest to you.
But ultimately, it’s a place to begin a conversation with your readers for years, perhaps generations to come.
Any general advice for the newly-published author?
To an extent, you’re starting over with each new book.
So, drink plenty of water. Pack light. Wear comfortable shoes to the convention center.
Get two cats, if you don’t already have any. Keep them inside and well fed.
It’s said: If a cat sits on your manuscript, it will sell.
I have four cats. I frequently read my work aloud to them.
They love everything I write.

Interview: Don Tate- Illustrating Children’s Books


Don Tate is an award winning illustrator of children’s books, a graphic designer, and sought-after speaker on the subjects of writing and illustrating. And, though he’s currently keeping his writing projects quiet, rest assured he will be adding published ‘author’ to his professional resume very soon. Don graciously agreed to an interview based partly on questions kids have asked during my own time in classrooms. Whether you’re a teacher, a young reader, or a budding picture book writer or illustrator, I’m sure you’ll find Don’s responses insightful. And speaking of teachers, go ahead and share this with your students. After all, most of the questions come from young, curious minds.

You can learn more about Don Tate by visiting his personal website, or his blog presence at Devas T. Rants and Raves, the Brown Bookshelf, and the Texas Sweethearts and Scoundrels.

 Don, congratulations on your latest books, RON’S BIG MISSION, written by Rose Blue (Dutton, 2009), and SHE LOVED BASEBALL: THE EFFA MANLEY STORY, written by Audrey Vernick (Harper Collins, 2010.) 
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?


I’ve been drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil in my hands, so I’ve always known I’d create art of some kind. At one point, I said I’d be a toy-maker because I loved making things from junk found around the house. I also thought I’d grow up to be the Black Jim Henson (creator of the Muppets), because I loved making puppets from socks and thrown out materials.



Don Tate looking over his Duke Ellington sketches
A high school drafting teacher encouraged me to become an architect, but I didn’t like the constraint of drafting tools, and I certainly didn’t like anything having to do with numbers. 
Of all the avenues for illustrations and art, why did you decide to illustrate children’s books?  Children’s book creation is in my blood. My aunt, Eleanora E. Tate wrote (still writes) teen novels. She inspired me. Through her, I found the perfect outlet for my drawing skills.  In addition to illustrating for children’s books, I also license my art to product manufacturers — t-shirts, scrap-booking, textile, wallpaper, calendars.



How many books have you illustrated? I’ve illustrated somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 to 45 books, trade and educational. I’ve illustrated 10 trade picture books, including Say Hey: A Song of Willie Mays; Sure As Sunrise: Stories of Bruh Rabbit; Ron’s Big Mission; She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story. Most recently, I finished Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite, written by Anna Celenza. It’s the story of how Duke Ellington Billy Strayhorn collaborated to remake Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite into a jazz version. It will publish with Charlesbridge in the fall.
Are you illustrating a book (s) right now? I am illustrating several books right now. I’m illustrating a series of chapter books for Magic Wagon, and I’m illustrating a trade picture book written by Eve Bunting. It’s a bit early to discuss the subject matter, but I can say that Eve has written a brilliant book.


What other kinds of art do you do?  My art has been used in many ways. Primarily, I’m a commercial artist. That means that I create art that will be used as a product or to sell a product. My art has been used on t-shirts, billboards, greeting cards, fabrics, calendars, restaurant menus, television commercials, advertising, almost everything you can think of. I also work as an artist for the newspaper, so many of my illustrations appear in the Austin American-Statesman.
Okay, inquiring young minds want to know: How do you illustrate a children’s book?  The first thing I do is read the manuscript. As I read, images come to mind, which I quickly sketch on to paper. These are called thumbnail sketches. I use the thumbnail sketches as a guide for creating tighter sketches later. I spend lots of time on the internet, in the library, and in book stores researching images that I can use to paint from. I also take lots of photographs to draw and paint from. Sometimes I create clay models of the characters I need to create, or build models using 3D programs. Once my tighter sketches are approved by my editor and art director, I paint my final art using acrylic paint on paper.


Do you work for one book publisher like a regular employee? I work for several publishers, and I’m not considered an employee like the editor and art director. Publishers hire me as an independent worker.
How does an illustrator get an assignment?  Depends. Some illustrators get work on their own. Others use an agent, who finds work for them.  I’ve worked both ways.
Can you say no to a project if you don’t like it?  That’s what I like about working for myself. I get to say no when I need to.
Do you think through the entire book before beginning sketches?  Yes, I read the entire book, and think about how the story will pace out. I try to create interesting angles so each page is different.

Do you choose where the page-turns will be or does the publisher?  I’ve worked both ways. Sometimes the publisher decides how the pages will break. With Duke Ellington, I designed the layout and page turns, for the most part. With some other books, I receive a layout and I pretty much stick to it. With the Eve Bunting book, my art director has sent a layout. But she’s also sent galleys that I can cut apart, should I decide I want to deviate from the layout.

Why doesn’t a picture book begin on the first page of the book?  It does. It begins with a title page, which sometimes includes small icon-ish art that best represents the story. Other times, the title page can be used as a lead-in to the story.

How much time do you spend on each book?  Usually it takes about three weeks to illustrate 3 to four spreads, and about 8 months to a year to complete a book.
When you finish illustrations for a new book, what happens then?  I send the art to the publisher, where it is scanned and made digital, so that the book designer can lay out the entire project on a computer. Because the images are digital, revisions can be completed in Photoshop. Computer files are sent to printers on the other side of the world, China, Singapore, other places. Several months later, I get to see color proofs.
What medium do you prefer? Oil, watercolor, etc?  Both. I use many mediums. But I especially like oil and acrylic paint. With the Duke Ellington book, I used acrylic watercolors and ink.
What are some other common mediums used by illustrators?  All types of mediums ‘ colored pencil, chalk, watercolor. Computer art is becoming more popular. Many artist are now drawing directly into the computer.
What other art tools do you use for illustrating?  I think the tool I use the most is my Sharpie. I like to sketch with a Sharpie marker because I can block in large areas and quickly see how shapes relate to each other. And because I’m still old-school, I use my t-square, triangle and Exacto knifes. How do you use a computer for planning and illustrating books? I use a program called InDesign for page layout. A program called Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop for drawing and painting. Sometimes I take digital photos of my paintings along the way, and then upload them to my computer where I can experiment with colors.
Do you have a favorite subject to illustrate? For example, do you especially like illustrating people, or sports, or animals, or nature, etc?


I enjoy painting almost everything, but I think my favorite is faces. I see faces in just about everything.


What kind of education is best for someone who wants to be an illustrator?  I went to a two-year community college. There, I learned about commercial art and advertising. I was trained to be a commercial artist. But I’d recommend getting a four-year degree. I didn’t get much math and English, and I’ve found it to be so important later in my career. Any advice for kids who may want to pursue this art form? Just draw. Draw every day. And make stuff from things found around the house.


How do you, as illustrator,  research your subjects so that your illustrations are historically accurate?   I spend a lot of time on the internet — Google searches, historical photo archives, online museums. I also check out books and DVDs.
Has any subject been especially difficult to master visually?


For me, sports subjects are always difficult because I’m not a sports person. My copy editors at Harper Collins kept telling me, “That’s not how you hold a baseball bat.” With the Willie Mays book, one of the designers asked me to flip an image for better presentation. It never occurred to me that that would make Willie throw with his left hand. Those kind of things trip me up.


Have you ever been asked to redo an illustration?  Oh, yes, please, many times. Not necessarily at the painting stage, but I redo sketches all the time.


You are also an author. Please tell us about your current writing projects.  I don’t feel comfortable talking about them in detail. But almost all of the stories I write involve little-known, everyday people who do great things in the face of big obstacles.
As an author/illustrator, which comes first- images or text?  I’m sure that varies from illustrator to illustrator. But I tend to write first. I perfect my manuscript, and then I start to draw. At that point, the words have to be rewritten.

Once again, you can learn more about Don by visiting his personal website, his blog presence at Devas T. Rants and Raves, the Brown Bookshelf, and the Texas Sweethearts and Scoundrels.

Interview: Lynn Rowe Reed on ROSCOE AND THE PELICAN RESCUE

Lynn Rowe Reed is the author of seven books for children and illustrator of thirteen additional titles. An artist for the past twenty years, her art has been featured in numerous venues including The Wall Street Journal and has been featured at the Best of Book Illustration Show at the Museum of American Illustration in New York.

Lynn’s latest picture book release, ROSCOE AND THE PELICAN RESCUE (Holiday House, 2011) is the fictional tale of a boy looking forward to a summer vacation at his cousin’s Louisiana home, only to discover that the recent Gulf Oil spill disaster has reached Louisiana beaches where an alarming number of wildlife are suffering as a consequence of pervasive oil. The characters join in on the rescue mission, focusing much of their attention on cleaning pelicans and restoring them to health before releasing them into cleaner waters. The story pays tribute to the many real-life volunteers whose post-oil spill rescue mission saved countless animals.

How did the unprecedented Gulf oil disaster affect you personally? What
inspired this story?

Like all “observers” of the gulf oil disaster, I was appalled, sickened, and
heartbroken by the images of oil-covered animals shown on television. And I
was especially upset by the vulnerability of all wildlife, especially the
pelicans. When the horrible photos started showing up in late May, I
thought, “Someone’s going to do a picture book on this.” Then I immediately
thought, “Why not me?”

The book hit bookstore shelves one year after the tragic oil spill caused by
the explosion of Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico.  How did the
timeliness of the disaster affect the book¹s rapid path to publication? Please share your journey from initial idea to publication?

Right from the get-go, I pointed out to my editor, Mary Cash, that it would
be fabulous if we could get the work done in time for the spring list. I
never thought she’d buy the notion, as it was already June when she offered
the contract. A couple of days later, Mary called after consulting with
everyone there who would be involved in the process, and surprisingly said
“All systems are a-go!” I was shocked! Everyone at Holiday House  from
production people to marketing  believed in this project and wanted to do
everything possible to get it done as quickly as possible.

That decision meant that all text and art would have to be completed by
September 1; ultimately I would have just one and a half months to do all of
the twenty illustrations. I was in such pain by mid-July, I could barely
paint! It took three incompetent orthopedic docs and one fabulous physical
therapist to figure out that my overworked muscles had pulled my top two
ribs out of place, thus creating a dent in my upper back! Six therapy
sessions and lots of stretching and work on my part restored the position of
my ribs.

Your fictionalized approach with a first person point of view makes the story
very accessible to ages four to eight and your whimsical illustration style
seems so well suited for that age.  What inspired you to write about this
tragedy specifically for this age group?

I’d like to take credit for consciously making some decisions, but the truth is that I often use that first person point of view, and I seem to naturally
write for the four to eight age group. Having said that, I imagined as well
that many kids of that age were feeling great sadness by the images we were
all seeing on the news each night, and a story validating their sadness
would be a good thing.

Were your characters molded after real people and was Roscoe modeled after a
real dog?

I often use names from people in my real life for some of my characters, and
I did so with this story. I have a grown son, in fact, named Tony, and an
adorable great niece named Addison. My golden retriever and sidekick
Sam-I-Am served as model for Roscoe. Sam goes to the studio every day with
me, so it was great having a model for Roscoe by my side.

One of the most interesting facts about this book is that my publisher
brought in an expert consultant to check all text and art for inaccuracies.
Unfortunately, I was about 75 % finished with the work, so my first
inclination was to jump out my studio window (yes, it’s two stories high!).
Once I got over the initial shock, I realized what a great move that was!
The expert, Jay Holcomb, found lots of minor details  some in the text and
some in the art  that needed to be modified. Many of the changes had to do
with being very specific about the cleaning process  how it is done, who
can do it, etc. Some were little details, such as the pelicans could not be
babies as originally written, because babies are usually in nests on islands
away from the shore, and the trio (Tony, Addison and Roscoe) would not have
been off shore. So the word “baby” was dropped and the scale of the pelicans
was downsized. LOTS of little details like that.

What surprised you most, during the process of creating this story?
I was so used to creating books with a very determined sequence of events. First, the manuscript is revised until it is nailed down 100%. Then the dummy is completed 100% before moving on to the illustrations, and so forth. This book was definitely the exception to normal! There seemed to be no time to complete each step perfectly before the next stage began. Especially with the expert coming in at such a late stage and making changes. It turned out that the manuscript was not completely finished until the art was done. We needed every moment available, and since art has to get separated for printing, we got that out the door first. So I would say that the fluidity, and ever-evolving process greatly surprised me. It also provided an element of energy I’ve never felt before in the book making process.

As author/illustrator, which came first to you – the text for the story or the images?
As I described above, that would normally be a no-brainer. The text always comes first. But with this book, all creative steps were happening simultaneously, and it was great fun working in that fashion for a change!

I will say that often when I’m writing a story I do, in fact, “see” images during the writing process, and I sometimes do an occasional doodle so I don’t “lose that thought.”

What was your illustration process for this book?
This was the first book I’ve done in a long while that I didn’t incorporate photographed or digitally scanned objects into my art. But then this story is entirely different than any story I’ve ever written. With its strong and compelling message, I felt like the art should function entirely to tell the story. It somehow seemed wrong to distract from the message by embellishing the art unnecessarily. So I painted in acrylic on canvas, and called it a day.

Your art interests extend beyond book illustration. Would you mind sharing your other artistic endeavors?Well, with three books to my credit over the past year, I’ve had very little time recently to “play” with my art. I love to paint on large canvases, and my personal work looks nothing like my kids’ book art. I also dabble in clay (I have a kiln in my basement), and I have several large, boldly painted steel sculptures that I made for my yard.

I also illustrate for other commercial clients. I have a drawing on the npr website, and I recently did two illustrations for a Harvard alumni magazine.

What can we expect next from you?
I will soon be illustrating Robin Pulver’s next book with Holiday House. It will be another language arts concept – our fifth together! I LOVE illustrating Robin’s books. She’s really clever, and the work is truly fun.

I was so completely burned out after finishing Roscoe and the Pelican Rescue  seven months ago that I didn’t have an ounce of desire to do another book at that time. Those who know me would find that weird. I’m typically an energizer bunny, workaholic, maniacally creative, tireless artist! But I poured my heart and soul into Roscoe, and used them both up. Now that I’ve caught my breath, I feel like doing something completely off-the-wall crazy , and I just started working on the writing today. I won’t reveal the idea, but let’s just say I don’t think there’s a limit to how much flatulence one can put in the world of kids’ books.