Monthly Archives: September 2016

Coming Soon: 2017 Picture Books PART FIVE

50 more covers…. you know what that means… PART FIVE!

(And in case you missed it….)

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Enjoy!

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A Monstrous Interview with Anika Denise

Hey Anika!! Thanks for joining me here to talk about Monster Trucks and more!!

My pleasure, Dylan! I’m happy we can chat… and that I’ve met you in person! (We’re old friends now. We can dish.)

Tell us a little bit about Monster Trucks.

Monster Trucks is a rev ‘em up, action-packed rhyming tale of trucks who are monsters, in a Halloween race. Oh, and there’s a very cute little blue (VW-style) bus who goes tire-to-tire with the big bad rigs on the “spooky speedway.” Mwahahaha! (How’s my monster voice, scary enough for ya?)

Thanks, I’ve been working on it.

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What made you want to tell this story?

I’ve always wanted to write a Halloween book. Every year, my mom would throw a Halloween party for my friends—complete with creepy party games and homemade haunted caves. My dad would dress up as something fiendish, then pop out and scare the tuna salad out of the kids. It was maybe a little warped, come to think of it. But we loved it. Being a fan of all things Halloween is in my DNA, apparently.

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Have you always been into writing?

Yep. Creative writing assignments were my favorites in school. I wrote short stories and plays and filled journals with bad poetry. Out of college, I worked as marketing copywriter. Then once I met Chris (my illustrator hubs), I tried my hand at writing picture books.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Meeting you at ALA and attending that dessert party together! Do you remember? Those were some exciting desserts. But if pressed to pick a close second, I’d say connecting with readers in schools and bookstores. To have kids love your book, and tell you how much it means to them—there’s no feeling quite like it.

What inspires your creativity?

Oh, all sorts of things. My kids, for one. They’re a hoot. Silliness on tap. Which is helpful when you write picture books. Let’s see… what else? Art. Music. Lin Manuel Miranda. Reading a book that cracks my heart (and mind) wide open.

What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

Wow. Good question. You’re like Oprah all of the sudden. (I’m stalling for an answer.) Okay. Got it: I’m secretly still waiting for my Hogwarts letter. And I routinely check the back of old fashioned wardrobes for a glimpse of Narnia on the other side.

If you weren’t writing books, what do you think you’d be doing?

Wrangling monkeys. The skill set is astonishingly similar.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

I have the first of a two-book series illustrated by Lorena Alvarez coming in 2017. Book one is called Starring Carmen and it may *cough* or may not be loosely autobiographical. After that, I’m teaming back up with Chris on a picture book called The Best Part of Middle, about the middle child in a bunny family.

And readers: please also expect from me a picture book biography and a middle grade novel in the not- too-distant future. Because if I know you’re expecting it—I won’t want to disappoint you. Can you do that for me, readers? Thanks.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

Dylan Teut is just as nice in person as he is on his blog. And very tall.

Oh, did you mean about me? I’m not very tall. And if you want to come see me at one of my Monster Trucks “pit stops,” here’s a link to my events page which tells you where I’ll be: http://www.anikadenise.com/events/.

Thanks for having me, Dylan!

Bossy Babies: Interview with Marla Frazee

Hey Marla!! Thanks for joining me here to talk about The Bossier Baby and more!

Hi Dylan! Nice of you to ask me. You are like a late night TV host, which makes me the nervous guest. 

Tell us a little bit about The Bossier Baby.

Okay. I’d love to. The Bossier Baby is the Boss Baby’s new little sister, and she is even bossier than the Boss Baby ever was. Hard as that is to believe. Heres a character sketch:

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Here is her arrival at the company:
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And here she is exhibiting her finely tuned CEO skill set:
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What made you want to tell this story? Did you always have a sequel in mind when you wrote The Boss Baby? 

I did not ever have a sequel in mind. Sequels to books are often suggested to those of us who write and illustrate books. The suggestions come from kids, teachers, booksellers, moms, dads, our offspring, neighbors. And when I hear these suggestions, I’m like, yeah, yeah. But one morning, when I happened to be on vacation with my entire extended family all blobbed together in one huge ratty beach house, I received a text from my agent Steve Malk, who told me that his wife, Alex, thought Boss Baby should have a new baby sister. So here was my agent’s wife suggesting a sequel. That hadn’t happened before! Steve and Alex have a boss named Sylvie, so I’m sure Sylvie played a role in this, too. My first thought was, as usual, to dismiss it. Then I went for a long walk up the beach. A first sentence popped into my head. Then another. I pulled out my phone and started writing them down. By the end of the day (I went on a lot of walks that day), I had enough of a text that I could see that it could actually grow up and become a real book.
Here’s a screenshot from that night:

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I was blown away by the illustrations in this book. Tell us a little about your process.

I do lots of character sketches and lots of thumbnail sketches. I make many small dummies, most of which I abandon.

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Eventually, I get a sense of the characters, the pagination, the setting, the size/format of the book, and the story arc, and then I make a tight full-size sketch dummy. Allyn Johnston (VP and Pub of Beach Lane Books, imprint of S&S) has been my editor through 14 picture books. She is there with me at every step. Once I begin the finished paintings, we have worked most of the kinks out and then it is a matter of execution. These paintings were done with black Prismacolor pencil and gouache.

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There’s much buzz about The Boss Baby movie that’s coming soon! What has that process been like? What has your involvement been like?

Oh, man, I’m all abuzz about The Boss Baby movie, too! It is incredibly exciting. Teams of creative, passionate, brilliant people have spent years dedicating themselves to this project and showering it with their talent and expertise. I am blown away by that. Dreamworks has been very generous in allowing me to see things at various stages, but I am definitely not involved –– I’m more like the parent sitting in the stands, cheering wildly from the sideline.

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Have you always been into writing and illustrating?

Yes, I guess I have.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Well, if by exciting you mean experiencing an intense emotion, I would say that it is the constant feeling (pressure) of whether or not I can come up with another viable idea and then pull it off. I never, ever want to produce intentionally careless or meaningless books. Or, god forbid, inadvertently rip someone off. I recently stopped work on a project because it was too similar to a book that beat me to the punch. It was very frustrating. But being derivative or unoriginal is something that scares the crap out of me. So that keeps my job exciting as hell.

 

What inspires your creativity?

I need to have alone time, people time, family time, and pet time. I need nature time, reading time, fitness time, and downtime. Basically if I keep things relatively balanced out, I can be creative. If I don’t, then I’m worthless.

What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

That I once dressed up as a Tabasco bottle for Halloween.
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If you weren’t writing books, what do you think you’d be doing?

I would be living on the island of Maui, working as a barista. I still may do that.

What can readers expect from you in the future, after The Bossier Baby? 

I’m writing and illustrating a picture book about a dog who has some trouble getting along with other dogs. And I’m illustrating a new series of chapter books by Sara Pennypacker about a 4th grade science kid named Waylon, who is a classmate of Clementine.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

Just what a great guy you are, Dylan, but I suppose readers of this blog already know that.
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Cover Reveal: Lighter Than Air by Matthew Clark Smith, illustrated by Matt Tavares

I’m thrilled that today, Matthew Clark Smith and Matt Tavares, collaborators for Lighter Than Air, are here to chat with me about the book and reveal the cover. My questions are in bold, and their answers follow. Enjoy!

Tell us a little bit about Lighter than Air.

MT: Lighter Than Air is the story of Sophie Blanchard, the world’s first
woman pilot. She grew up in France in the early days of manned flight,
and she knew from the time she was very young that she was meant to fly-
even though all the famous aeronauts were men. Her story is fascinating,
and I really loved working on this book.

MCS: I’ll just add that the book also serves (I hope!) as a glimpse into
a really fascinating time — a time when the idea of human flight seemed
all but magical to most people, and the hot air balloon became this
mesmerizing symbol of the conquering of limits and borders through
imagination. For a few years the world went crazy with “balloonomania,”
and for a woman like SB to achieve what she did in that context really
got people’s attention and shook up a lot of crusty old notions.

What was it like to work with each other?

MT: It was great! Except that we never actually met, and still haven’t.
That’s how it usually goes when one person is the author and someone
else is the illustrator. All communication goes through the editor and
art director, and we usually never meet. So I didn’t work directly with
Matthew Clark Smith, but I did work with his words, and that was a
pleasure. Illustrating a story written by someone else is usually harder
for me than illustrating one of my own stories. It takes me a while to
get my head around how the illustrations should look, and I go through a
bunch of not-so-good sketches before I start making some good ones. But
I felt a connection to this story right from the start, and had a much
clearer vision for it than I normally do. I think that’s because the
story is so well-written, and has so much emotion packed into it. I
really cared about Sophie right from the beginning.

MCS: Sending your picture book text off to be illustrated is always a
leap of faith; when you’re a perfectionist and a very visual thinker
like me, it can be downright nerve-racking. So it’s a relief and a
pleasure to work with someone like Matt, who not only does his homework
in terms of historical accuracy, but also has a real gift for
intuitively grasping the tone of a piece and translating that into
image. I could tell the book was in good hands as soon as he passed on
his first sketches along with a few requests for detail and
clarification. When you know your illustrator is just as committed to
your story as you are, then you feel like you’re parenting a child
together instead of sending your kid off to be babysat. (Which may be a
slightly awkward metaphor given that Matt and I haven’t even met…)

Have you always been into writing/illustrating?

MT: Yes. My parents say that even when I was two years old, I was
drawing all the time. It’s just something that’s always been a part of
me. I’ve always loved writing stories too. I wrote and illustrated my
first picture book as my senior project in college, and haven’t stopped
since then.

MCS: Absolutely. I’ve always been eager to absorb and imitate different
styles and genres, so from the time I learned to read (very early), I
was constantly regurgitating second-rate knockoffs of whatever books
were on my shelf. I didn’t think of it as practice at the time, but it
turned out to be just that. Luckily, my parents were avid readers who
made sure I had access to every kind of literature under the sun. Also
luckily, they were wise enough to know when to stay out of my way.

I drifted away from writing for a while and wore a few other hats, but
when a children’s story popped into my head again several years ago (not
coincidentally around the time I was starting to have kids of my own), I
knew almost instantly that that was where my imagination had been
longing to go.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

MT: There are so many… delivering the final art to the publisher is
always is exciting, seeing the finished book for the first time, meeting
some of my favorite authors and illustrators… but one exciting thing I
can think of that’s more specific to this book is the magic that happens
when an author and illustrator collaborate on a picture book. Of course,
I love illustrating my own stories. But when I collaborate with someone
else, I end up making a book I never would have thought to make on my
own. Before reading Matthew’s manuscript, I had never even heard of
Sophie Blanchard. But then I read this story, and loved it, and before
long I was spending the better part of a year learning everything I
could about her and working on these illustrations. That’s definitely an
exciting part of being an illustrator- you never know what story might
come along next.

MCS: That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child! (When you have
young kids, parenting starts to seem like a metaphor for everything.)
I’m a major geek when it comes to doing historical research, to the
point where it’s sometimes hard to cut myself off from it and start the
actual writing. But there’s a subtler, more hard-won excitement to be
had in just solving language-puzzles as a writer — in that moment where
the just-right word appears in your mind’s eye and that whole unruly
sentence crystallizes around it. Then in another sense, there’s nothing
like the excitement of seeing the final art for the first time, and
realizing that your words have morphed into a living, breathing,
beautiful thing.

What inspires your creativity?

MT: My mortgage.

But seriously… seeing great art always gives me a creative boost.
Sometimes that means a painting in a museum, or sometimes that means
browsing the picture book section at the bookstore, or even going to the
movies. I also take walks, and that helps my writing. Most of my best
ideas don’t come to me when I’m sitting at my desk. They come when I’m
outside walking, letting my mind wander. Lately I’ve been listening to
instrumental music from Pixar movies when I walk. It might sound silly,
but I feel like those songs lend themselves so perfectly to
storytelling, and they really seem to help me when I’m trying to figure
out a story.

MCS: Totally with Matt on this one. There’s nothing like seeing
(reading, watching, etc.) great art to inspire art of your own.
Devouring a really well-written book always leaves me feeling thrilled
and empowered by the new possibilities of words — along with a touch of
that competitive spirit that has me thinking “Why couldn’t I do that?”
And so much of creativity depends on just making the space for the ideas
to come to you. I can read all the books I want, but if I don’t set
aside quiet time for all those new words and concepts to shuffle and
recombine themselves in my brain, then I won’t be able to turn them into
something new. Ideas don’t come out of nowhere — you have to make sure
they have fertile ground — but you can’t force them to grow, either.

What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could 
tell us?

MT: I hold my pencil wrong, and always have. All four fingers on one
side, and my thumb on the other. Drove my third grade teacher crazy. She
kept giving me those little triangles you slide onto your pencil to help
position your fingers correctly. And I would try it that way, but it
always felt weird, so I’d always switch back to my way. Then she would
tell me that if I kept it up, before long I would have arthritis in my
thumb! So far so good, though. Take THAT, Mrs. Foley! (She was actually
a very good teacher.)

MCS: I do all kinds of things wrong. I forget, I procrastinate, I have
no kind of daily schedule, I stink at drafting and revising, and I
constantly start projects that will never be finished. I’m not proud of
any of that, and I’m getting better (maybe), but I’ve also made a
certain peace with my weaknesses as a writer. There’s no
one-size-fits-all formula for turning yourself into an artist, and one
of the most important things you can do is to get in touch with your own
natural creative process (messy as it may be) and figure out how to give
it what it needs. Before they revoke my MFA, I’ll just add that the
fundamentals are important, too: the more familiar you are with the
basic tools of your craft, the more confident you’ll be in marching to
your own beat.

If you weren’t writing books, what do you think you’d be doing?

MT: I’ve always had this fantasy of being an animator at a big animation
studio, like Pixar. Writing and illustrating books is a very solitary
job much of the time. I’m intrigued by the idea of being part of a big
creative team, working together toward a common goal. That said, I
really do love making books and can’t imagine I’ll ever decide to do
anything else.

I also love teaching, so maybe I would be a teacher. Lucky for me, I
visit a lot of schools, so I do get to do a bit of teaching, even as an
author-illustrator.

MCS: Most of the time, I’m not actually writing books: I have a
full-time job making maps as a geographic information scientist, which
is pretty great in itself. But I’m always dreaming about doing other
things. I have a fantasy-life as a musician, another one as a teacher,
and another one as a field biologist, to name a few. And if Matt wants
to go to Pixar and drag me along as part of his team, I’d be all for it.

What can readers expect from you in the future? Any other pairings as an 
author/illustrator duo?

MT: I’ve got two books coming out in 2017, both with Candlewick. Lighter
Than Air comes out in March, and Red and Lulu comes out in the fall.
It’s a story I wrote and illustrated about a pair of cardinals who
become separated when their favorite tree is chopped down (don’t worry,
it turns out okay). I’m really excited for both of these books.

MCS: I always have a few projects that I’m shopping around, and plenty
more in the back of the drawer. I’m very restless as a writer, so they
tend to be all over the map — more picture books, but also nonfiction
for older readers, along with scraps of a few novels that may or may not
ever see the light. But now I’ll be spending most of 2017 in anxious
suspense over the fate of Matt’s homeless cardinals.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

MT: Thanks, Dylan! And thanks, Dylan’s readers! It really was a pleasure
to help bring Sophie Blanchard’s story to life, and I hope you all enjoy
Lighter Than Air.

MCS: Likewise!

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What’s Up, Lori Richmond?

Hey Lori! Thanks for joining me here to talk about all you have in store! 
Thanks for having me, Dylan!
Tell us a little bit about A Hop Is Up!
A HOP IS UP is a picture book poem about all sorts of movements, written by the wonderful Kristy Dempsey. It’s perfect for wiggly, giggly pre-K or Kindergarten kids but can also function as an early reader for children learning to read on their own. Kristy’s text was a blank canvas for me as the illustrator—without any characters, setting, or traditional story arc mentioned in the words, I got to create the entire visual narrative from scratch!
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Tell us a little bit about your process.
Initially, I presented two concepts to Bloomsbury. The first one featured a kangaroo and a rabbit on an obstacle course! But I’m happy we opted for the boy taking his dog on a walk because it’s friendlier and more familiar to the youngest readers. Because Kristy’s text flows so beautifully from one line to the next when read aloud, I wanted the illustrations to do the same. If you look carefully, each spread hints at what is coming next to create a continuous visual story. The text starts and ends with “A hop is up,” so the art begins with the boy and dog leaving home, and ends with them arriving back home. There is also a gardener and her cat that we meet in the beginning, and they make a surprising return near the end. This took a lot of planning. How would I demonstrate each movement, and have the context make sense, and tease what’s coming next, butnot feel like I forced the whole thing? I went through many post-its, drawings of neighborhood maps, and many, many sketches. I loved tackling this challenge and it was a really exciting one for a first-time illustrator.
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2017 is a big year for you as you potentially have two new titles coming as author AND Illustrator. Tell us about those.
PAX AND BLUE (February 2017, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books) is a gentle story about an unexpected friendship between a boy and a pigeon, inspired by a true story my son told me. BUNNY’S STAYCATION (2017, Scholastic) went to a five-house auction, which was nerve-wracking and craaaazy! This book has many autobiographical aspects to it — it is about Bunny, who attempts to foil his Mama’s business trip and creates his own adventure. A parent traveling for work is not easy on the child or the parent. is a stressful, common issue that so many families deal with every day.
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You share a studio space, correct? What’s that like?
I’m part of Friends Work Here in Brooklyn, a space created by my dear friend and design blog superstar Swissmiss, Tina Roth Eisenberg. We have an eclectic bunch of creatives in our studio: photographers, designers, videographers, illustrators, and writers. It’s great to see what everyone else is working on and learn and be inspired by people working in other disciplines. Friends is so much more than a shared studio. It’s a community.
 
Have you always been into writing and illustrating?
I’ve loved to draw since I was little, and my professional career was always in different types of design. I worked at several media companies and was a contributing editor to pregnancy and parenting brand, The Bump. So, I always had the drawing and a little bit of the writing, but not together and not in children’s books! Weirdly, my first design job out of college was doing promotional design for adult titles at Little Brown. Funny how things come full circle!
 
What’s the most exciting part of your job?
I’m doing so many things for the first time, so it’s all really exciting! But having my two boys see me do work that is meaningful, and experience the ups and downs right along with me (I share the good stuff but also tell them about every rejection) is everything to me and I hope it inspires them in the future. And nothing beats seeing a book you made, as a real thing, for the very first time.  I never want that to get old.
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What inspires your creativity?
In writing, much of it comes from real life. In drawing, it comes from so many places. Living in a vibrant place like New York City serves as an endless source of inspiration.
 
What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?
I rocked the 5th grade spelling bee. My moment of triumph was on the word “bivouac.”
 
If you weren’t writing books, what do you think you’d be doing?
I was a corporate Creative Director for 20+ years before starting to work on books, so, I’m sure I’d still be doing that. I still do design projects as part of my freelance work. My fantasy-but-likely-to-never-happen careers are forensic scientist and storm chaser. (Didn’t see that coming, did you?!)
 
What can readers expect from you in the future?
In addition to PAX AND BLUE and BUNNY’S STAYCATION, there will be a second BUNNY book with Scholastic, and I’m illustrating SKELLY’S HALLOWEEN written by David Martin and published by Macmillan/Henry Holt (August 2018.) I have something else in the pipeline that I can’t share quite yet, but hopefully soon!
 
Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?
If there’s something you dream of doing, just start. Today. Little steps, over time, get big results.