On Making Things Better

Recently, my book PET THE PETS (my third book … and very first novelty/lift –the-flap book) was released into the world!

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The concept began as sketches for a digital painting class that I took while completing my MFA degree in 2D Animation a few years ago. I wanted to create a series of 2-page flipbooks that could be united by similar characters and limited color palettes. original_sketch

Thanks to Simon & Schuster/Little Simon editor Jeffrey Salane, art director Laura Roode and my agent Emily Mitchell, it’s now a sturdy little lift-the-flap novelty book that invites readers to help out sad animals through petting, giving food or offering encouragement.

Just like in my other two books THE BREAKING NEWS & ALLIE ALL ALONG, I’ve found that there’s a recurring theme in PET THE PETS: there are small things that you can do to help make things better. 

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I find that this concept also applies to my process of making the books themselves.

Sometimes, on rare, magical days,  everything seems to falls into place:  great, sweeping changes can be easily made by taking giant, seven-league steps of progress.

But mostly, I find, my work progresses in tiny baby steps, a series of small decisions, chosen one at a time, like when my optometrist flips through different lens options: Which one is better – one, or two? A or B? This one, or that one?  There’s no need to labor over every decision; each small choice adds up to an overall pattern that gets you where you need to go.

The choices that you make when creating a book, including what colors you use. . .

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. . .who the characters should be . . .

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. . . how each character’s features & expressions should look . . .

. . .what should be on the cover. . .

. . .each element evolves from a series of small decisions that ultimately defines what your book will be.

What small things do you do to help make things better in your own world?

ALLIE ALL ALONG: The Cover Story

My second picture book, ALLIE ALL ALONG, is now available wherever books are sold! Many thanks to my agent, Emily Mitchell, editor Eliza Berkowitz & art director Irene Vandervoort for helping to make this book the best it could be.

Allie All Along cover

On the surface, the story is about toddler temper tantrums . . . but underneath, it’s about frustration over not having control over things that happen in your life . . . as well as finding ways to regain some control over challenges that seem beyond your abilities.  It was inspired by the relationship between my two girls, and all the ways that we work together to shake off the worst of our angry layers when our feelings get too big.

Just like for my first book, THE BREAKING NEWS, there were tons of different iterations of the title and the cover before the final versions went to print.

Here are some early cover sketches . . .

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. . .and some mocked up cover options that I sent to my editor & art director at Sterling Publishing – Eliza Berkowitz & Irene Vandervoort (after we decided to change the title from original THE ANGRY LAYERS to the final ALLIE ALL ALONG) . . .

cover concepts

. . .and here’s a small sampling of the other titles we had considered along the way:

UNDER THE ANGRY, IN THERE ALL ALONG, THE CRAYON LAYERS, UNDER ALL THE LAYERS, HOW TO SHED THE LAYERS, DEEP DOWN BELOW, HOW TO GET ALLIE OUT, ALLIE AT THE CORE, ALLIE UNDERNEATH, THE CRAYON CRISIS, THE CRAYON INCIDENT, THE BROKEN CRAYON, WHEN THE BLUE CRAYON BROKE . . . plus so, so many more.

Together, Eliza, Irene & I decided that we wanted to focus on the big feelings and the relationship between the siblings. It was difficult to find a balance for the cover illustration that didn’t give away too much about who Allie really is, but eventually Irene mocked up the following image using parts of illustrations from the interior:

mockup from IreneI redrew the characters for the cover, and then we went through a series of changes to adjust the Allie’s expression:

 

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…. not too obnoxious …
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…not too sad…
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…but some combination of that leave-me-alone arm crossing/back turning, plus some angry eyebrows, and sticking out her tongue again for good measure. The final image has one further adjustment over this version – I adjusted Allie’s eyes to look back up toward her brother, as if a implying a tiny, reluctant ask for help.

We even considered a few different treatments for the book’s spine. . .

spine options

And I was super pleased with the final version – especially since we were able to have separate illustrations for the dust jacket & the cover!

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For those of you in the Boston area, I’ll be reading ALLIE ALL ALONG at the Brookline Booksmith on Sunday, August 26th at 10:30 am – hope to see you there!

The launch of THE BREAKING NEWS!

Today’s the day my debut picture book, THE BREAKING NEWS, is finally out in the world!

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To celebrate, I wrote a new post over at Writer’s Rumpus about the incredible support I’ve received from our wonderful kidlit community.

More info on press coverage, reviews and ordering below.

We’ll also be celebrating with a book launch party at Porter Square Books tonight (April 10th, 2018) at 7pm – hope to see you there !

Praise for THE BREAKING NEWS:

“An absolute-must for most libraries.” – School Library Journal

“…a useful classroom and parental tool in tough times.” – The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (STARRED review)

“…the heavily outlined images are steady and solid, including the closing spreads of the girl and her family planting flowers, which circle back to a scene at the beginning, affirming the resilience that can result when small acts are focused on community.”   The New York Times

*A Scholastic Teacher’s magazine summer 2018 reading list pick*

 

More reviews & press for THE BREAKING NEWS:

 

THE BREAKING NEWS is now available to order from:

 

Creative Procrastination

Forgot to post when this article went up on the Writers Rumpus blog – hope you enjoy!

When faced with a new project that I’m not sure how to approach, often my first instinct is total avoidance. All of a sudden, the household tasks that I’ve been successfully ignoring – sink full of dishes, laundry waiting to be folded – begin to take on an air of new importance, as if they really need to get done right this very minute. Spoiler alert: they don’t.

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Wait long enough and the dishes will do themselves!

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The laundry doesn’t even want to get folded.

I’ve found that when this happens, I need to find a way to trick myself into working. Over the years (and with the help from many SCBWI workshops) I’ve developed some go-to activities/exercises to get past the fear of starting and to get myself into a better mindset.

Here are some things I’ve done recently when trying to get my brain to settle down:

List-making:

Sometimes the best cure for the fear of the blank page is to fill that page up as quickly as possible. Making lots of lists can keep me from editing before my pencil hits the paper. I’ll tell myself “This stuff doesn’t matter – it’s just warm-up stuff. You can toss if it you want!” But often, new ideas will emerge from this process that I couldn’t have gotten to any other way.

You could try making lists about:

  • unique locations for your story
  • what is inside your character’s purse or in their medicine cabinet
  • problems that a character could have
  • solutions to that problem
  • potential names for your character’s new rock band
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Some lists of things to look up for a new project!

The key is to get it down as fast as you can, no editing your thoughts. If you get a list of 20 things, there may only be one or two that appeal to you – but that’s better than nothing! After all, you can’t edit a blank page.

Looking for more ideas? Check out this book by Jaime Zollars:  IlLISTration: Improvisational Lists and Drawing Assists to Spark Creativity.

Sketching lots of variations the same thing:

Drawing lots of variations of the same thing one way I can get myself to stop thinking and to just get my pencil moving. This can also be sort of a visual version of listmaking.

I’ll pick a simple topic, maybe chickens, doors or coat racks, quickly find a bunch of reference material, and draw as many as I can, one right after another. Some resources for reference material include:

  • Pinterest or google image search (just don’t fall down an internet rabbit hole!)
  • furniture catalogues or magazines
  • Books like 642 Things to Draw or 642 Things to Write About can help take away some of that initial “what do I draw?!” decision-making when you first sit down.
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Coat racks from THIS OLD HOUSE magazine! Which one would your character pick? What would they hang on it?

Filling the well:

I first learned about this concept from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. If I spend too much time with my butt in a chair, I start to feel a bit depleted. I’ve found that I need to find ways of going out into the world, allowing myself to be curious – and only then do I have the mental energy to focus once I’m back at my desk. Here are some things I’ve tried:

  • Reading more books in and out of my target market (I create picture books, but recently I’ve read middle grade, adult fiction & nonfiction… as well as lots of picture books, of course). Having trouble finding new books to read? Try looking through Goodreads lists, talking to your local librarians and putting out a request on Facebook to ask your friends about recent books they’ve enjoyed. (For even more ideas, check out this excellent post Don’t Forget to Read! Writer’s Rumpus post by Laura Fineberg Cooper!)
  • Getting outside: taking a walk, planning a visit to a museum, show, farm, nature preserve, botanical garden or some other interesting place!
  • Flipping through a magazine I’ve never read before. Your local library might have a surprising selection – I know mine did!
  • Making plans to spend time with friends, both in & out of the kidlit world. Socializing with family & friends can help you get out of your own head, especially when you’re treading water on a new project.

Do you find you need to trick yourself into getting your pen to hit the paper? What kinds of creative procrastination have you tried?

Cover Reveal for THE BREAKING NEWS

My debut picture book, THE BREAKING NEWS (Roaring Brook/Macmillan) comes out in April 2018, but you can see the cover for the first time today!  Tara Lazar, author of lots of great books and the leader of the Storystorm challenge, graciously offered to reveal the cover on her blog.

Here are some early sketches below – to see the final cover and to learn more about the process and inspiration, check out the cover reveal post here!

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The Art of Taking a Break

I’ve reached day 70 of my second run at #the100dayproject … and I’m taking a breather!

Over at Writers’ Rumpus I wrote a post about the balance of creating everyday and then periodically taking a break. If you’re on break from whatever you were just doing,  check out the article here!

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#100daysofdrawingonphotos is back!

It’s been a year since I began the #100daysofdrawingonphotos project… and I’m doing it again!

Inspired by #the100dayproject coordinated by @elleluna on Instagram, I’ll be taking a photo each day and drawing on it (mostly in Photoshop, but sometimes using the Procreate app).

I’ll be posting daily through the end of July on Facebook & Instagram (follow along @thereul, #100daysofdrawingonphotos).

As of the writing of this post, I’m up to day 7 – here are a few favorites so far.

All of last year’s 100days are gathered here. Hope you enjoy!