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1. wee red writer interview

I've done an interview with Edinburgh-based Julie Stirling over on the Wee Red Writer website about my work making books, about the #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign, and some tips for budding illustrators. You can read it in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2. And get another peek at my Scholastic UK picture book coming out in March, Dinosaur Police.

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2. From Zine to Picture Book: Greg PizzoliDiscusses the Making of Tricky Vic

Author-illustrator Greg Pizzoli visits 7-Imp this morning to talk about his entertaining new picture book from Viking, Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower, on shelves next week — and a book, as you’ll read below, that started its life as a zine. It tells the story of the sly and brilliant con artist Robert Miller, who later became Count Victor Lustig and who is known, as the title tells you, as the “Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower.” It’s a fascinating story with a smart closing Author’s Note from Pizzoli. (“Stay sharp” are his final words to readers.) And he created the art using pencil, ink, rubber stamps, halftone photographs, silkscreen, Zipatone, and Photoshop. Many of the photos in the book come from a Paris trip he took years ago, but then again, you can read a lot more about this below.

Greg has a couple more books coming out this year, but he may actually visit again at a later date to discuss those. Right now, it’s a Tricky Vic kind of morning. Let’s get to it. Grab your coffee and get ready to get conned. I thank him for visiting.

Oh, and by the way: Greg mentions Mac Barnett below, which makes me think of his new book, co-written with Jory John and illustrated by Kevin Cornell and which also happens to be about conning (and practical jokes and all-things-mischief). It’s called The Terrible Two, and it was released in January by Amulet Books. It is very funny. It’s selling well and was recently optioned for a film adaptation, as Travis Jonker noted here. So, you’ve probably heard of it already. If not, I highly recommend it. No joking.

Now, I welcome Greg …

* * *

Greg: Okay. So, Tricky Vic.

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower is a nonfiction picture book about the life of one of the world’s greatest con artists [Robert Miller/”Count Victor Lustig”]. His most infamous trick, of course, was selling the Eiffel Tower for scrap metal, but he also conned Al Capone, escaped from prison by literally tying bedsheets together and climbing out a window, and repeatedly sold “money-printing boxes,” which in reality did nothing at all.

Tricky Vic started back in 2009 when I was in graduate school, studying Book Arts and Printmaking. I had heard the major points of Miller/Lustig’s life and had the idea to make a comic or a zine out of it — but never did. Then I graduated and sort of forgot about it.

Fast forward a few years of working hard at illustration, getting my first book deal (for The Watermelon Seed) and, one day, getting lunch with Mac Barnett. Actually, we went to The Rosenbach Museum and Library here in Philadelphia, which at the time housed the Sendak collection, where we saw Sendak’s pencil sketches for a proposed edition of The Lord of the Rings, among other things.

But after that, we got lunch. And we were talking about nonfiction picture books and why they often seem to fall flat. Mac was at the time working on President Taft is Stuck in the Bath, and I told him my con-artist idea from back in grad school. He told me I had to make it. I said, “I guess I could make a zine.” And he said “MAKE A ZINE!”

A few months later, I made a zine. Here it is:

Greg: “The original zine was about 4×6 inches and 16 pages.”

The University of the Arts, where I went to grad school and where I occasionally teach, has a couple of offset presses. And once a year the Printmaking department offers a class called Book Production, where you make a book in an edition of at least 100 copies. So, the first half of the class you are making book dummies (which some people seem to call “mock-ups,” but which I will always call dummies), and you talk out ideas during critiques and try out different formats. And the second part of the semester you are printing and assembling the books. I had taken this class previously as a student, and my department head was the instructor. She graciously allowed me to audit the course so I could explore Tricky Vic.

Making plates in the offset shop

I was going to illustrate the book in a more “usual for me” kind of way, but the limitations of only being able to print five layers of ink (two colors on one side of the paper and three on the other)—plus having basically three weeks to put the whole thing together, not to mention the approaching deadline of Not Very Scary—forced me to simplify everything. I approached each spread or illustration like it was an editorial assignment and came up with stuff that looked pretty different than my usual kidlit work.

Here are some examples:

Greg: “Stay weird, kids …”
(Click to enlarge)

So, then I put a couple dozen of the zines together (they were all hand-sewn by me) and made little rubber stamps for the envelopes and sent them to kids’ book people I know — and one to my agent Steve. I sold a few on Etsy, too, I think.

Finished two-color print

Assembling zines by hand

Zines were sent out in small envelopes with rubber stamp elements

I really enjoyed making it, but I had no thought that it could be a “real” picture book. It just seemed too weird, too dark, too much about-a-criminal-who-scammed-people-out-of-their-life-savings to work for kids’ books, ya know?

“Zut alors!”

Well, like I said, I sent it to my agent Steve, and he just has an amazing vision for this kind of thing. And before I really even realized what was happening, I had a two-book deal with Viking.

Then came researching, re-writing, more researching, re-writing, re-writing, re-writing, and nine months or so later, I had the story at a point where I could start thinking again about pictures.

Incognito Pizzoli

Part of my research process involved going to Paris, and since I had just proposed to my (now) wife, we left for Paris the next day. We stayed in the suburbs with some family friends, who live in a 17th-century converted farmhouse. They live a nice life.

Outside the Gerome household
(Click to enlarge)

Where’s Greg? Outside the Hôtel de Crillon,
which appears in
Tricky Vic
(Click to enlarge)

We went all over Paris doing all the things two newly-engaged people do, especially when one of them is working on a picture book about a guy who sold the Eiffel Tower. I took a ton of photos, and a lot of Paris is in the book — in subtle ways sometimes. For example, this is part of the floor of the Eiffel Tower platform:


It’s also the photo I used to make all of the halftones throughout the book. The gritty texture, this stuff:


Halftone texture made from Parisian textures


Also, this photo. This is the floor of The Louvre.



That shape is used throughout the book. And I don’t expect that anyone would recognize it or—in the case of the halftone grit—even have a chance of knowing, but to me it adds layers to everything. It makes it all more about my experience there, and it feels more (again, to me) like it has more depth than if I hadn’t included those elements.


The Louvre floor shape in action
(Click to enlarge)


The original zine had a huge influence on the look of the final book, and lots of the ideas from the zine came through unscathed to the final. I’m really happy about that in one sense, but I definitely think the final book is a great improvement, largely due to my editors, art director, and friends who helped me along the way. It’s much more considered, but I hope not fussy. I had more time to work on it — the zine took three weeks, and the book took six months. At this point, the zine feels like a sketch for the book that came later. Pictures probably work better than my ramblings. Here are some side-by-side comparisons:

(Click each to enlarge)

One of the things I did for this book’s final art is incorporate rubber stamps. I love rubber stamps. At some point I want to illustrate a whole book with custom-made rubber stamps — but I’m taking it one step at a time.

For Tricky Vic, I drew police cars, limousines, etc. and had a company I’ve been using for years, Simon’s Stamps, make wooden handle rubber stamps for me. It’s a nice way to have something that’s reproducible and quick, but—whereas copying it digitally would be maybe a little lazy and maybe look too slick—this adds some grit that I like.

(Click each to enlarge)

Something else: On another trip—for another book I hope we talk about next year—I went to London and, at the Museum of London, found this report card from 1906. Like a criminal, I lifted the basic layout and the tone of the language for Miller’s school report card, which in the book shows that he got an “F” in Conduct but an “Excellent” in Theatre. I made those grades up.

Report card from The Museum of London
(Click to enlarge)

Greg: “Ken Wright, one of my editors, and Jim Hoover,
my art director, snuck into the report card.”

Again, I don’t necessarily expect that everyone will notice these things, but I think some kids will, and I bet we would get along. My dream for this book—besides, ya know, ten million copies sold—is that some kid who maybe is dreading yet another book report on a goody-goody President “who never told a lie” can pick up Tricky Vic and write a biography of the man who conned Al Capone. I’d love to see that.

Greg: “Thanks for the good advice, Mac.”
(Click to enlarge)

Another thing that might be of interest is the case cover. Like all of my books I’ve written so far, the case cover is different than the jacket. The jacket is obviously pretty close to the zine — just (I think) more sophisticated.

Zine v. Picture Book
(Click to enlarge)

The case cover, though, was a blank slate, and as publishers seem to generally let me do whatever I want on the case covers, I decided to recreate the envelope that I used when I sent out the original zines. It shows up in the book, too. I figure when the pristine uncoated paper stock of the jacket gets ripped to shreds, there will be the case cover — with this mysterious envelope that reads “OPEN IN PRIVATE.”

Case cover — front and back

And, probably to the annoyance of librarians everywhere, I hid something under the back flap. Miller/Lustig is credited as writing the “Ten Commandments for Con-Artists.” And sneaking them under the back flap seemed the best solution to make sure that they weren’t spotted by concerned parents — and weren’t missed by discerning kids.

“Peel …”
(Click to enlarge)

“… slowly …”
(Click to enlarge)

“… and see.”
(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)


Also, you should know: Yes, that is my thumbprint.


(Click to enlarge)


* * * * * * *


TRICKY VIC. Copyright © 2015 by Greg Pizzoli. Published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Greg Pizzoli.

8 Comments on From Zine to Picture Book: Greg PizzoliDiscusses the Making of Tricky Vic, last added: 3/4/2015
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3. Video Interview: M.T. Anderson and the Symphony for the City of the Dead

What you learn in this life of children’s librarianship is that there is an exception to every rule. For example, normally I do not indulge in video interviews outside of my Fuse #8 TV ones. And normally I do not care diddly over squat for anything directed towards a young adult audience. But Mr. M.T. Anderson has a way of making a girl forget past restrictions. So when I was asked whether or not I would be interested in interviewing the man about his upcoming nonfiction title Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad I said, “Um . . . yes.  Yes indeed.”

Thus, what follows, is a slightly herky jerky (thanks to Google Hangout) but ENTIRELY worth it interview between myself and Tobin.  This is a story I’ve never heard.  I am ashamed to admit that prior to this talk I had only the slightest understanding of what the Siege of Leningrad constituted.  This clears much of the confusion up. And check out this cover!

As for the interview itself, here it is:

Thanks to the good folks at Candlewick Press for setting this up!


8 Comments on Video Interview: M.T. Anderson and the Symphony for the City of the Dead, last added: 3/3/2015
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4. Five Questions for Trent Reedy, author of BURNING NATION

(The first in a new series of brief interviews with authors of forthcoming books)

1. Tell us a little bit about your book.

Burning Nation is the second book in the Divided We Fall trilogy. It continues the story of seventeen-year-old Idaho Army National Guardsman PFC Danny Wright and his friends as they are stuck in the middle of a tense stand-off between the state of Idaho and the federal government of the United States. In the first book, Divided We Fall, Idaho has voted to nullify the Federal Identification Card Act. When Danny’s National Guard unit is sent to quell a protest/riot resulting from this nullification, he accidentally fires his rifle, which causes other people to shoot, leaving twelve dead and nine wounded. The president demands an investigation and prosecution. The governor of Idaho refuses to cooperate, saying that he gave a lawful order to the National Guardsmen under his command.

Burning Nation begins right where the first book left off, with the president sending the military to force Idaho to comply with federal law. Right from the beginning, Danny and his friends are caught up in the fight, but as the country descends into the chaos of the Second American Civil War, losses begin to take their toll. It becomes hard to understand what has been won, but easy to see what’s been lost. As the sacrifices mount and betrayals abound, Danny and his friends begin to think about the wounds they’ve suffered, inside and out.

It’s an action-packed book that continues to explore what happens when America’s current political divide widens into tomorrow’s nightmare, and it’s alarming how many real-life headlines seem to have been predicted by Divided We Fall and Burning Nation.

2. If this book had a theme song, what would it be and why?

Ten years ago, when my fellow soldiers and I were serving in Farah Province in Afghanistan, we were struck by how much the landscape resembled that featured in the movie Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. That movie features a song by Tina Turner called "We Don’t Need Another Hero." My fellow soldiers would joke about this song, with one man saying, “We don’t need another hero” and another replying, “We don’t even know the way home.” The video is a bit dated and cheesy, but if you listen to the words, the song really fits as a commentary on the brutality and waste of war that is very appropriate for Burning Nation.

3. Please name and elaborate upon at least one thing you learned or discovered about writing in the course of creating this book.

When I began work on Burning Nation, I was under the naive assumption that writing the book would be easier because I had already finished Divided We Fall. I knew the characters, the setting, and at least the situation that led to the events in Burning Nation. I should have known that Burning Nation would be as significant if not a greater challenge than the first book. One of the challenges came from the situation the characters face. Throughout most of Burning Nation Danny and his friends must endure a federal military occupation of their small northern Idaho town. With U.S. soldiers hunting for them all the time, their movements, and thus my options for the kinds of scenes I could include, felt rather limited. I began to feel almost as claustrophobic as Danny and his fellow soldiers.

Another challenge with writing Burning Nation was that it was the second part of a story that already had its first part on the market. I was facing a situation that was new to me, that of having public feedback on characters and other aspects of the larger Divided We Fall story, while I was writing that story’s second installment. It felt like having many, sometimes too many, advisors in my office with me while I worked. Cheryl was wise, as she usually is, when she encouraged me to stop looking at reviews and reader comments as I worked on Burning Nation.

4. What is your favorite scene in the book?

I’m really quite happy with a lot of the scenes in Burning Nation, so I’m going to cheat and list two. First, since Burning Nation isn’t merely an action/war book, but is a piece which, I hope, encourages the reader to think about the terrible nature of war and its effects on those who live through it, I’d like to point out a scene that happens after Danny Wright has been through terrible physical and emotional torture. He is out of his mind from sleep deprivation and other torments, and when his one-time rival TJ bursts into his cell to rescue him, Danny isn’t sure if what is happening is even real. He’s confused and kind of cries, “Travis?” Travis Jones realizes that Danny is seriously messed up and it’s going to be harder to rescue him than he and his friends supposed. It’s a small moment, but I hope there’s a lot of emotion in that simple question, that exhausted and near-breaking-point, “Travis?”

And since I love some good action, I’m also quite happy with a hand-to-hand fight scene near the end of the book. It’s a fight between Danny and a U.S. Army major, a desperate fight to the death where Danny has to make an important decision about how deep into the war he’s willing to go, and how much of himself he wants to save. In addition to the moral question the fight raises, I just think it’s a clear scene, a tense and suspenseful fight. And the conclusion of the scene is really quite chilling.

5. What are you working on now?

I am hard at work on the third book in the Divided We Fall trilogy, entitled The Last Full Measure. The story follows America’s further final decline into a terrible civil war, and the difficult consequences this has for Danny Wright and his friends. I’m having lots of fun working on it, and it’s on schedule for a 2016 release.

For more about this book, including an excerpt, reviews, and purchase information, visit the Burning Nation page on the Arthur A. Levine Books website. 

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5. Interview with Patrick Jennings, Author of Hissy Fitz!

Happy Hour banner

by Julie Eshbaugh

featuring Patrick Jennings!


Patrick JenningsAs readers of this blog already know, PubCrawl is excited to help spread the word about Egmont USA’s spring 2015 list, a group which has banded together under the name Egmont’s Last List. It’s my pleasure to welcome Patrick Jennings as our guest here at PubCrawl today! (And we are giving away of one of Patrick’s books! More on that below…) I’m so thrilled to interview such a prolific writer of children’s books! Patrick’s website lists 25(!) titles. If you’d like to see all their beautiful covers, you can click here. Patrick’s latest is HISSY FITZ, which came out last month from Egmont. Here’s the synopsis from Goodreads:

hissy_frontcoverHissy Fitz lives with some two-legged creatures who are destined to serve him in every possible way and understand his every whim. Sadly, these creatures are sorely lacking in their skills. For one thing–they touch him when they want to touch him. Don’t they know that the two-legged are there for him to touch when he wants to–meaning when he wants food? Petting wakes him up! They speak to him–don’t they know the two-legged should be seen–so Hissy knows where to order food–and not heard?! It’s becoming intolerable. What is this irascible cat to do?

I understand that, although you generally write for middle graders, this book is for younger readers. What made you decide to move in that direction?
My publisher wondered if I’d be interested in writing a chapter book. The book fairs and clubs had been asking for them. I told my editor about my insomniac cat idea and she liked it.

What changes in your writing process when you target a different age level? Do you write for a certain age, a reading level, or both?

I think the story dictates the reading level, the audience. When a story is right for a seven-year-old, the language often takes care of itself. In other words, if you want to engage with a kid, you should talk about something they care about, and in a voice and vocabulary that makes sense to them. That’s not talking down; that’s talking to.   

Hissy Fitz is your first illustrated chapter book in in a long time (over ten years, correct?) How is an author matched to an illustrator? What is the process involved in creating an illustrated book? Other than providing the text, do you have any other input as to the illustrations?

When a book is submitted without illustrations, the art director looks for an artist. They have many illustrators’ portfolios on file. I work on the book with my editor while the artist is found. Usually the text is nearly finished before the illustrating begins. For Bat and Rat, a picture book, I ended up retooling my text, cutting out what was rendered visually by the amazing Matthew Cordell. I did a little tweaking for Hissy after Michael Allen Austin’s hilarious pictures came in. There were textless spreads in Bat and Rat, so, some notes were needed, but, in general, one tries to leave artistic decisions to artists.  

I also understand that this is your first cat book! Yet you’ve had pet cats for 20 years? What took you so long to write a book about a cat?

I never had a story to tell. I’ve considered that this is due to cats not really doing much of anything. Mostly they just sit around the house. Dogs go out and play with their owners, protect their owners, rescue people, hang with their friends. Cats nap on average eighteen hours a day. It was when I struck upon the idea of an insomniac cat that I finally had a cat story. 

Hissy Fitz is such a unique character – his voice really sucked me in. I know it’s difficult to pinpoint the origin of an idea, but can you say where the character of Hissy Fitz came from? What made you decide to tell this particular cat’s story?
Those twenty years with cats were spent wondering what they thought about, especially what they thought of humans. In recent years, I’ve led a young writing group at my house, and have watched the writers interact with my cats. I tried sharing with the kids all I’d learned about how to approach a cat, touch a cat, and treat a cat, but it didn’t make much of an impression. I suppose their treatment of my cats shaped my idea of how Hissy would view kids, as well as other humans. 

I know you do a lot of school and library visits with children. What’s your favorite thing about meeting young readers?

Their enthusiasm. They love to read, and they get very excited when they meet an author of a book they’ve read. They have tons of very good questions. They’re often also interested in writing stories. The whole day is filled with excitement. I’m thoroughly exhausted afterward. It’s the best.

Any last words of advice for aspiring writers, particularly those hoping to write for children?

Spend as much time as you can with kids. Volunteer to read at the library, or in classrooms. Read to nieces and nephews, grandchildren, whomever. Talk to kids about the books they love. Listen carefully. Feel their enthusiasm.

Thank you so much, Patrick! Also, I want to offer congratulations on the news that Lerner Publishing has acquired all of Egmont USA’s frontlist and backlist titles. We look forward to reading many more of your stories!

To celebrate the publication of HISSY FITZ, we’re giving away a copy of this wonderful book! Leave a comment below and use the Rafflecopter form to enter!

About the author:

Patrick Jennings’s books for young readers have received honors from Publishers Weekly, The Horn Book, Smithsonian Magazine, the PEN Center USA, the Woman’s National Book Association, and the Chicago and New York Public Libraries. The Seattle Public Library awarded his book, Guinea Dog, the Washington State Book Award of 2011. His book, Faith and the Electric Dogs, is currently being adapted for the screen. His new book, Hissy Fitz, will be published in January 2015. He currently writes full time in his home in Port Townsend, Washington.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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6. A Moment with Emily Gravett’s Art — and Sketchbook

Last week, I talked over at Kirkus with poet and author A. F. Harrold about his children’s novel, The Imaginary, released overseas last year but coming to American shelves in early March from Bloomsbury. That conversation is here. Today, I’m following up with some of Emily Gravett’s art from the book, as well as some peeks into her sketchbook for this one. (That’s an early sketch pictured above.)

I thank her for sharing. Enjoy the art.


Some of Emily’s Early Sketches:


(Click above image to see sketchbook page in full)


(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)


Some Final Art from the Book:


“A flash of lightning hit the study and, through the wooden legs of the chair, she saw, illuminated in the split-second snap of the light,
a pair of thin, pale human legs in the middle of the room.”

(Click to enlarge)


“In the middle of the library, where the bookcases gave way to tables and chairs, ‘people’ were gathered. Rudger used the word ‘people’ loosely as he looked at them, and left the word ‘real’ out of his thoughts entirely.”
(Click to enlarge)


“In the the mirror she met John’s eye, and she winked.”
(Click to enlarge)


“Rudger stood at the foot of her bed and looked at her. She looked peaceful.”
(Click to enlarge)



* * * * * * *

THE IMAGINARY. Text copyright © 2014 by A. F. Harrold. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Emily Gravett. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Bloomsbury, New York. Sketches reproduced by permission of Emily Gravett and Bloomsbury.

6 Comments on A Moment with Emily Gravett’s Art — and Sketchbook, last added: 2/28/2015
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7. 10½ Questions with Reshama Deshmukh, creator of THE PIED PIPER

One of the big draws of KidLitCon is getting a chance to meet your fellow bloggers, find out what their interests are, and discover where they intersect with yours. As you may know by now, here at FW our main focus is on Young Adult fiction, with an... Read the rest of this post

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8. Interview and Giveaway: Elizabeth Harmon, Author of Pairing Off

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Good morning, Elizabeth!  Describe yourself in five words or less.

[Elizabeth Harmon] Creative, energetic, sociable, easily-distracted, short

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Pairing Off?

[Elizabeth Harmon] Absolutely! A great way to describe my debut novel, “Pairing Off” is that it’s like “The Cutting Edge” with a Russian twist. It’s the story of a pairs figure skating duo who team up to train for the Olympics and fall in love in the process. What makes it different from TCE is that it’s set mostly in Russia and the hero is Russian.  He’s also a champion pairs figure skater, rather than a hockey guy recruited at the last minute. Anton did play hockey as a kid though, and was proud to have the best double toe loop jump of any goalie in the youth league.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Can you share your favorite scene?

[Elizabeth Harmon] One of the most romantic scenes is when Carrie and Anton skate on a moonlit pond in Moscow’s Gorky Park. Their relationship has deepened but they’ve not yet crossed the line from friend-zone into something more.  I love the romantic setting, the sexual tension between Carrie and Anton, and also the details about the cold night, tinny music and the little crowd who applauds after watching this champion-level pair skate together.  Watching skilled pair skaters do their stuff live is really amazing, especially when it’s impromptu, as this skate is.  I also love Anton’s little comment to Carrie at the end, when he says, “guess we’re pretty good.”

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

[Elizabeth Harmon] Getting to know Russia and Russians, both through my own research and with the help of a Moscow-based blogger and his wife, who proved to be an invaluable resource. As an American, we don’t always get the most favorable impressions of Russia and it was great to be able to connect with two Russians who were so generous with their time and excited to see the city they love used as the setting for a light, fun romance.  Corresponding with them also helped me create the cadence of Anton’s speech, and helping them edit an English-language cookbook gave me some insights into Russian home-cooking. The descriptions of fish pie and syrniki in Pairing Off were inspired by their family recipes. 

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?

[Elizabeth Harmon] Something to read, because you never know when you’re going to be stuck waiting, as well as something to write with and on, because you never know when inspiration is going to strike.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.

[Elizabeth Harmon] Pictures of my family, today’s to-do list, and my cat, who loves to lay (and walk!) on my laptop.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s your favorite snack when you’re working on a deadline?

[Elizabeth Harmon] For late night writing, nothing beats popcorn– NOT the microwaved stuff, but the real kind cooked on the stove, and tossed with butter, parmesan and salt.  

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

[Elizabeth Harmon] Just one day? Probably an average person living in either ancient or medieval times. I think it would be fascinating to experience these worlds, but not live there long term, especially not as a woman.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] You have been granted the use of one superpower for one week.  Which power would you choose, and what would you do with it?

[Elizabeth Harmon] There are a lot of powers I’d love to have, but surrendering them after a week would be so hard! I would choose teleportation, the ability to travel anywhere instantly. I’d make a list of all the places I’d love to visit, but are difficult to actually travel to and hit all of them during that one week. As a writer, this would be an amazing experience.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?

[Elizabeth Harmon] Fiction-wise, I loved “The Haunting of Maddie Clare,” which was beautifully written, and scary– kind of “Downton Abbey” meets “The Ring” if you can imagine that.  I also enjoyed “ICE Blue,” a Chicago-set romantic suspense novel by Susan Rae. It’s the second book in her DeLuca family series and the latest installment is on my TBR list.

Since I’m in the midst of turning my National Novel Writing Month first draft into the third book in the Red Hot Russians series, I’ve been reading my favorite writing books which I always turn to at revision time. One the best is James Scott Bell’s “Revision and Self-Editing,” which takes the big scary revision monster and turns it into something manageable, as well as offering great ideas to develop characters and setting. Writing isn’t an easy job, but so much fun, because you’re always learning and improving.

Pairing Off
Red Hot Russians # 1

By: Elizabeth Harmon

Releasing February 2, 2015

Carina Press


A scandal-plagued American figure skater’s last chance at gold means pairing up with Russia’s sexiest male skater…who happens to be the first man she ever loved.

“The Cutting Edge” with a Russian twist.

American pairs figure skater Carrie Parker’s Winter Games dreams were dashed when her philandering partner caused one of the greatest scandals in skating history. Blacklisted from competing in America, her career is over…until she receives a mysterious invitation and is reunited with the most infuriating, talented—and handsome—skater she’s ever met.

Russian champion Anton Belikov knows sacrifice. He gave up a normal life and any hope of a meaningful relationship to pursue his dream. And he’s come close—with a silver medal already under his belt, the next stop is the gold. All he needs is a partner. While he’s never forgotten the young American skater he seduced one long-ago night in Amsterdam, he never expected to see her again…never mind skate with her.

When what starts as a publicity stunt grows into something real between them, Carrie and Anton’s partnership will test their loyalties to family, country, and each other. With only a few months to train for the competition of a lifetime, can they master technique and their emotions, or will they lose their footing and fall victim to the heartaches of their pasts?

Link to Follow Tour: http://www.tastybooktours.com/2015/01/pairing-off-red-hot-russians-1-by.html

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23440537-pairing-off?from_search=true
Goodreads Series Link:

Buy Links: Amazon | B & N | iBooks | Kobo

Author Info

I love stories that give a fresh take on classic themes, and feature characters and locations not often seen in romance. Give me a lovable, if less-than-perfect heroine, a gorgeous hero with a heart of gold, take them a little off the beaten path and I’m a happy girl.

I read a variety of genres– romance to horror and just about everything in between. I am a member of Romance Writers of America. I have worked as a freelance journalist for a number of local publications and am a contributing writer to Romance Writers Report.

When I’m not writing, I love to ice skate, bike ride, hang out at the beach or on my front porch. I love vintage homes, adventurous cooking, spending time with my family and traveling.

Author Links: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads


This is it…I’m going to die.

Carrie clutched the back of the sticky vinyl seat and braced for the end. She hadn’t imagined she’d meet it speeding down a Moscow highway in a small, vomit-scented taxicab.

“Slow down!” she shouted, but it was useless. The driver spoke almost no English. She knew three words of Russian. Desperately, she tried to remember one. “Pozhalujsta! Please! Slow! Gooo sloooow!” She gestured with raised, outstretched hands.

The driver glanced back. “Chto?”

Thank God, he’d understood. “Yes! Slow!”

Instead, she was thrown back against the seat as he darted into a tiny gap between an 18-wheeler and a sinister, black Lexus SUV with tinted windows. The Lexus honked its displeasure. Wind whipped through the open windows, blowing her hair into her eyes and mouth. As they rocketed past the warehouses, office buildings and apartment blocks that lined Kashirskoe Highway, Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky blasted from the rear speakers.

When I die and they lay me to rest…”

Nice music. What was next, Death Cab for Cutie? From behind, a shadow loomed. She turned to see the Lexus bearing down.

The cabdriver saw it too. Yelling, he gestured out the window with a raised middle finger and shot back into the center lane, just missing the front bumper of a cement mixer. More horns honked. She yelped and covered her eyes. It was best not to look.

She could have waited for a legitimate cab, but her flight landed late, Customs took forever and the line at the taxi-booking desk inched forward at a glacial pace. When two German-speaking business types left the official line and gravitated toward the motley fleet of private cabs parked outside, she’d followed. The driver, a friendly guy in a faded Beatles T-shirt and Yankees cap, promised in very broken English to get her downtown by 3:00, or 15:00 as it was known here, no problem.

She should have mentioned that alive would be nice too.

She was rocked by another wild swerve, followed by more horns and Russian swear words. Then, the cab slowed. She peeked between her fingers. They were on an exit ramp. The tense knot between her shoulders relaxed, and she glanced at her watch. Two forty-five. Miraculously, she’d survived, and was right on time to meet her new coach.

A little smile tugged at her lips. For the first time in a long time, things were looking up. They parked in front of an old red brick building in an industrial area near a river. A concrete medallion of a hammer and sickle loomed above the door, but the geranium-filled urns flanking the front steps were a nice touch.

The driver turned in his seat and tugged his ragged ballcap, ready for his fare. Carrie reached into her purse, her fingers brushed against the clasp of her wallet. At the airport, they’d agreed on one hundred U.S. dollars, but that was before he’d almost killed her. She shifted her gaze from his expectant, gap-toothed smile, to the dirty windshield. The peeling dashboard. The items attached to the sun visor with rubber bands. A pencil and notepad. A packet of tissues. School photos of two little girls.

The driver pointed to the pictures and his smile grew wider. “Moi docheri.”

His daughters. The pride in his voice required no translation. This man supported a family with his beat-up, smelly taxi. She counted out five twenties, and added an extra as a tip. “Spasibo,” she said. A Southern girl always knew the words for please and thank you.

As the driver carted her bags inside, she reread Galina Borisova’s email, shaking her head in wonder. American skating had shunned her, fans had turned their backs, yet here was the official paperwork confirming that someone—a Russian coach of all people—still thought Carrie was worthy of her time.

In the rink’s lobby, she bit back disappointment. This looked more like a neighborhood hangout than an elite training facility. Why was she surprised? Galina was a minor coach who’d gotten lucky and discovered Olga Zelenskaya, one of skating’s stars in the making. After winning silver at Worlds in Halifax this spring, Olga and her partner, Anton, had no doubt left to train with a top-level coach, leaving Galina to cast her net for new skaters. That she was willing to take on the pariah of American figure skating proved how desperate she must be.

Good thing Carrie’s expectations were modest. Since no one in North America would partner with her, she’d team up with a reasonably skilled Russian leftover, and find something low-profile to fill the days—maybe a cruise ship ice show—while she figured out what to do with the rest of her life.

In one corner of the rink’s lobby were wooden benches and day lockers, in the other, a shuttered blade-sharpening counter. At the rear of the lobby was a concession stand, also closed. The faint, fried aroma that hung in the air brought a memory of corn dogs. And just like that, she was ten years old, gliding across the oval at the Sweetspire Ice Palace.

“Momma! Watch me land a toe loop!”

At the boards, Momma chuckled and shook her head. “You’re gonna crack your skull, baby girl.”

Not that it would have mattered. She would have been back on the ice the minute the bandages came off. Skating once made her so happy. Dare she hope that it might again?

She pressed her fingers against her lips. She wasn’t asking much, just to find the joy she lost somewhere between landing that first jump, winning—then losing—the U.S. Championship, and arriving at this run-down Moscow rink, hoping for a fresh start.

She wiped perspiration from her brow and took a zippered makeup pouch from her purse. Her hair was a snarled disaster, but she tugged out most of the tangles and dabbed powder on her shiny cheeks. She slicked her lips in Succulent Peach, dabbed on enough Calvin Klein to mask any trace of the Vomit Comet and straightened her travel-wrinkled linen skirt and silk top.

She glanced at the swinging doors that led to the rink and took a deep breath. Time to face the future.

She’d seen Galina Borisova at competitions, but they’d never been introduced. Galina looked to be in her fifties and her thin neck, sharp features and spiky bleached blond hair, tinted pink on the ends, brought to mind a flamingo. Her dark eyes and brows suggested neither blond nor pink were her natural shade.

“It is well to meet you. Flight was agreeable, yes?” Galina’s accent was so heavy, Carrie struggled to understand. The ancient Zamboni rumbling past on the ice didn’t help.

“Yes. Spasibo. As I said before, I want to reimburse you for the airfare. I know it was very expensive.”

Galina waved the offer away. “Money is made to be spent. I consider investment. I wish you had let me arrange pickup car.”

“Really, that’s fine. You’ve been more than generous.” The Russian coach’s willingness to pay for and arrange everything now seemed too good to be true. Didn’t Dad always say “There’s no such thing as a free lunch?” She had the feeling she’d just flown six thousand miles to see him proven right. “I’m excited to begin training. I was a big admirer of your work with Zelenskaya and Belikov.”

Galina gazed wistfully at the departing Zamboni and the glistening ice left in its wake. “Olga and Anton were once-in-lifetime pair. Every coach should have good fortune to work with skaters so talented.”

Carrie offered a sympathetic smile. Losing her longtime students must have been heartbreaking for Galina. “Well, I’m no Olga Zelenskaya, but I’ve also been quite successful.”

Galina thinned her lips. “In your way. But we all must move forward, not live in past, yes?”

She bobbed her head, as her cheeks grew warm. Just how successful she’d been was the subject of ongoing debate. From the corner of her eye, she spotted someone doing warm-up stretches on the opposite side of the rink. “Is that my new partner? Your emails didn’t provide much information.”

A tall, dark-haired man skated out. Fast and athletic, he stroked halfway around, then cut toward center ice, launching himself into a double axel. After a confident landing, he glided into the far corner and did a camel spin, rotating with perfect form, his muscular body in flawless, T-shaped alignment over the ice.

Carrie caught her breath, but it wasn’t his beautiful skating that made her heart race. “Oh. My. God.”

“Yes, this must be good news for you. Antosha!” Galina waved, beckoning him over.

Carrie grasped the rink board to ground herself in reality, shaking even more than in the cab. This couldn’t be happening. But incredibly, it was. Her new skating partner was Anton Belikov, World silver medalist…and the first man she’d ever made love to.

He gave a polite nod, but didn’t smile. “Hello, Carrie. Welcome to Moscow.”

How could this be? He belonged with Olga, training at a top rink with a top coach. Not here, with a second-rate coach and skating with…her! She gaped and shook her head. “What are you doing here?”

His brows lifted in surprise. “You don’t keep up with news of your sport?”

Under normal circumstances yes, but these past months she’d avoided as much contact as possible with the outside world and especially the skating world. Galina crossed her arms. “Olga has teamed with Valentin Egorov. You are to be her replacement.”

She grasped the board tighter, as her out-of-control life spun into orbit. “That’s impossible.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Galina said. “You will train with me, and partner with one of world’s top male pair skaters. I cannot see how this is bad thing.”

Well gosh, for starters, she knew how he looked naked. Damn good, if memory served. Though seven years had passed since that night, this wasn’t an ideal start to a professional partnership. Even if he and Olga no longer skated together, she assumed they were still an off-ice couple. She searched his eyes for any sign of recognition. There was none. Was she relieved, or disappointed?

And how was it that Galina had simply decided to pair her with Anton, without even a tryout? Skaters were matched after weeks of evaluation, like dating before you were engaged. This felt more like a quickie Vegas wedding. She shook her head, as if that might clear her addled brain. This was ridiculous. They couldn’t possibly skate together. “We’re very different,” she began. “Olga’s delicate and artistic. I’m more of a jumper. An acrobat.”

Anton nodded. “You and Olga are different. But with right coach…and right partner, you could be champion again.”

His smile was much too attractive. Straight, perfect teeth gleamed against tawny skin dusted with the shadow of late afternoon stubble. She flashed back to that smile shining brightly in a stranger’s dim bedroom, as Anton gazed down and gently stroked her face. She crossed her arms over her chest as her cheeks burned hot and she let out a harsh laugh.

“Well, bless your heart.” The damn drawl slipped out, the way it always seemed to when she was nervous. “This is all very flattering but I’m afraid we can’t compete together. I’m an American. I’m not eligible.”

Galina spoke up. “Under international rules, you are eligible by permission to compete for us one year after date of your last competition for United States. Since you never skated at World Championship, your last competition was U.S. Nationals and this year, Russian Nationals begin exactly three days after one-year date. Our skating federation has contacted yours and both are willing to grant permission.”

Wasn’t that nice of them? Normally, a top-tier skater wouldn’t be released to compete for another country so easily. American figure skating was clearly anxious to be rid of her.

“As for citizenships,” Galina continued, “you can be both American and Russian. Becoming citizen here normally takes long time, but our government can be most accommodating when dreams of gold medals are at stake. Now then, shall we get to work?”

Carrie stared. Her hands fell to her sides. These two weren’t talking cruise ships. “Lake Placid is in less than seven months! You can’t be serious.”

But the Russians looked dead serious. Anton shrugged. “Not ideal situation, but neither of us is beginner. I am World medalist. You were U.S. champion.”

“Only because my partner slept with a judge!”

“Is that what you think?”

She gave a bitter laugh. “What difference does it make? Everyone else thinks so.” “Maybe you have something to prove, then?” His deep, exotic voice sent a shiver up her spine.

God, it was tempting. She’d been so close to her dream of competing at the Winter Games, only to see it snatched away. Here was another chance. Maybe, if she could salvage her career and restore her reputation, she could finally hold her head up. The public would forgive her. Dad would forgive her.

Was this the opportunity of a lifetime…or a disaster waiting to happen?

Just as she had skating dreams, Dad had political dreams; to win Georgia’s U.S. Senate seat this fall…then in a few years, maybe run for president. The Cody scandal had embarrassed him, and as much as it hurt that he’d done nothing to defend her publicly, she understood. His political opponents had slobbered over images of Les Parker’s cheating daughter like dogs with new bones.

Imagine how they would react to her turning Russian so she could compete in Lake Placid.

And suppose Anton suddenly remembered their night in Amsterdam? True, she’d had jet-black hair at the time, and been hidden behind those silly sunglasses she and the other Silverettes wore when they snuck out after curfew. Back then, she’d still talked like Scarlett O’Hara too. But hey, it could happen. How would he feel about skating with a girl he’d deflowered, even if it meant nothing? Nothing to him, anyway.

Besides, who was she kidding? She didn’t belong here. The Russians ruled figure skating—especially pair skating—like the popular kids ruled the school cafeteria. She’d been the queen of that lunch table in high school, and if you didn’t belong there, you didn’t try to sit down. She’d lost her seat in spectacular fashion and now the quarterback wanted to take her to prom.

This was too weird for words, and she’d had enough weird to last a lifetime.

 Rafflecopter Giveaway (5 eBook copies of PAIRING OFF)

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The post Interview and Giveaway: Elizabeth Harmon, Author of Pairing Off appeared first on Manga Maniac Cafe.

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9. Interview: JP Ahonen on drawing bears, Sing no Evil and the Finnish comics scene

by Alex Dueben



Finnish cartoonist JP Ahonen made a splash last year with his energetic graphic novel Sing No Evil (co-written by KP Alare), about a rock band that has to struggle not only with rival musicians but a supernatural invasion of their home town. Originally published in Finland, Abrams brought out the English edition. Here he talks about making the book, sequel plans and what comics are like in his native land.

sing no evilI know you from your work in the “Flight” anthologies and I know you make weekly comics in Finland. Have you been interested in making longform comics?

When I first started doing comics, they were all longer stories. At the time I was interested in Jeff Smith’s “Bone” and so Sing No Evil felt like getting back to my roots and my own way of storytelling. I’ve never felt quite at home with doing weekly strips. I was given the opportunity to do one and I thought it would be really good practice and having the need to actually push something on a weekly basis and keep it going. It’s worked out really nicely. At first I tried doing the weekly stuff as this sort of basic one liner gag comic, but at some point I realized that I was allowed to do other stuff as well. It’s changed more into this weekly sitcom, in a way. There’s an ongoing storyline but the strips work as individual gags or scenes. When I collect the strips into a book I feel it reads a lot better. There’s more storytelling and more layers when you read them collected.

Those weekly strips of yours have a more traditional layout and in “See No Evil,” right from the beginning, you throw that out of the window.

I like to make good use of the medium. When it’s down to Earth–just people chatting or whatever–I feel the conversation should be easy to read and easy on the eye. For contrast when there’s a gig or an action scene, you’re free to go completely nuts. For me it’s something that feels natural and I hope it translates to the reader as well.


If the dialogue is the focus, you just use a grid.

The dialogue is one thing but I also want the reader to be able to focus on how the characters behave. Acting and directing and all that stuff is really important. One of my favorite scenes in the book is where Aksel sees a glimpse of Lily and his toes go like this. His body language shifts and I feel that keeping the same point of view so you can actually compare them side by side works the best, instead of spinning the camera all around, having closeups and have everything jumping around. That’s confusing and unnecessary.

Is the idea of making good use of the medium one reason you have a character like Bear, because there’s no real reason he’s an animal.

The other bands have animals as drummers as well.

True, but it’s not like there are a lot of animals in the book.

No. Bear is there firstly just for the sake of it. [laughs]


You like drawing bears?

Actually, no. [laughs] It was pretty difficult at the beginning, but I’ve gotten a lot better, I think. It also sets a baseline through the whole story that from the beginning the reader knows this is not really serious stuff and something unexpected might happen. I hope it works in that sense. Plus KP–my co-writer–and I are both guitarists and admire drummers. To us, they’re like animals. How can you use all your limbs and that choreography of knowing where everything is and keep up the tempo? There’s a symbolic value as well.

As you say, it’s a cue for when the story takes turns and becomes more fantastic, it’s not completely out of the blue.

There are other elements backing that up along the way. We were actually discussing it a lot with my Finnish editor but we all agreed that it works. On a second reading you can enjoy all the different clues and hints that you might have missed the first time. It also emphasizes the idea that the rival band’s leader notices that the pieces have been there all the time, but he hasn’t seen it. It depends, of course, on the reader whether you like it or not.


The two of you spent a lot of time working out the structure?

Yes we’ve been really meticulous and anal about it. Especially me since, like I said, I really like to make good use of everything.

The more fantastic elements are something that wouldn’t fit in your weekly strips. If it was just a drummer and his girlfriend and the band, it could have fit there.

I missed doing action scenes, huge spreads and splash pages and really going crazy with the pacing and composition and trying out different techniques with the storytelling. Longer storylines might work in daily strips, but in the weeklies it’s difficult for the readers to keep track of what’s happening, what occurred last week and so forth. It just breaks up the pacing.

You mentioned before that you were working on a sequel. Had you always planned to do more than one book?

KP and I both felt there was more to this, so we kept some parts of the story back–but designed the first book as a standalone so it would work if only 15 people picked up the book and said, meh. [laughs] But I’m glad we get to do a sequel and hopefully other books as well.


How many books do you envision?

It’s either four or five books depending on how we’ll structure the material, but at this hour we have a synopsis for five books.

Do you want to say anything about the next book you’re working on?

What I can say is the band goes on tour and we venture more into Lily’s past. What we’d like to do is shed more light on each of the band members with each book. That’s why I want to keep it as five books.

There’s that scene where Lily had a very interesting response when Aksel asked her about her parents.

Yes. [laughs] That’s the direction we’re heading in.


Was it a challenge for you to draw the concert scenes and draw music?

I think the main challenge was making up my mind and trying to figure out which sort of approach would fit the best for each of the concert scenes. That’s what I gave a lot of thought to. The hardest part was trying to make up my mind in how to approach the concert scenes. When I had those locked down it was fairly easy–and super fun–to do the graphics and just go nuts with the layouts and energy.

Did you and KP actually write songs?

Yes. There are some lyrics that are borrowed from actual bands just to give the readers the opportunity to venture into what has inspired us and what the band’s sound might be like, but all Perkeros’s lyrics are mine.

You also translated the book from Finnish into English.

I hope it works. I got a lot of help from the Abrams staff and I think we found a way to rework all the Finnish puns. The Finnish version has a lot of wordplay with the terminology and the slang of music, brain chemistry and spells that’s been worked into the dialogue. I noticed that some of those just don’t translate. I got a lot of help and I hope we managed to get a text that is almost as rich as the original.


What is the Finnish market like? I know a lot of comics are published in Finnish.

Yes, it’s a small market. We’re only about six million people. There’s not the same kind of comics reading culture as in France, for example. The people who are making a living out of comics in Finland are the ones who have a daily strip which are then collected and then they have merchandize. Then there are guys like me who are somewhere in between. I hope I can continue making these so I don’t have to find other work.

It will be interesting to see what the reception is in, for example, Italy and Spain and Germany, where this has just come out. I feel like what I heard from my French publisher was that the feedback and the reviews have been good, but I think it’ll take a few more volumes to get our names out there. Let’s face it, we’re nobodies. [laughs] I understand we’re not your first choice in picking something up.

In Finland, is the model more Franco-Belgian albums or is it like Germany or Italy and places where it varies more.

It varies a lot. The majority is small press artsy stuff, I think. And then there’s a huge manga fanbase. I’m interested to see how that transposes later on and how that talent will transform into their own styles. Right now they’re copying their heroes, but some of it is mind-blowing. I’m really looking forward to that.

Who are the big artists in Finland that we should be reading?

The current best-seller is Pertti Jarla (http://fingerpori.org), who’s currently the biggest name in Finland, I guess. He works on “Fingerpori”, a daily strip that’s published almost in every newspaper of the country.

Tommi Musturi (http://boingbeing.wordpress.com) is versatile and very active in running his own publishing company Huuda Huuda (http://huudahuuda.com). He’s focused more on indie and small press stuff. There’s Ville Tietäväinen (http://linjamiehet.fi/villetietavainen/omatteoksetauthor/) whose insanely gorgeous graphic novel “Näkymättömät kädet” (Invisible Hands) tells about a Moroccan illegal immigrant that leaps over to Spain in search for work and money for his family. The story runs almost like a documentary, shedding light on the gruesome life of illegal aliens.

There are a lot of authors I expect big things from, including Tuuli Hypén, (http://www.tuulihypen.com) who’s been working on “Nanna”, a daily comic strip for years, and has now made her first children’s book. Her art is beautiful and I’m looking forward to what she has in store. Emmi Nieminen (http://mobile-emmi.tumblr.com) is super good, and her artwork is on par with all the pros I look up to. So far she’s been working on short stories, but I’m really expecting something big from her. Tea Tauriainen (http://madteaparty.sarjakuvablogit.com) is known for her trippy semi-autobiographical webcomics, which she’s collected in two volumes so far. I guess her random stories, quirky humor and crazy attitude just appeals to me.

So the comic books that are big tend to be collections of comic strips and not as many graphic novels?

It’s really a tough climate to do graphic novels. I feel that it’s also partly why there aren’t more Finnish books translated.

Yeah I’m not sure how well comic strip collections do well here, but we get almost none from abroad.

Yeah I’ve understood that there’s not a place for strips in France–and not much anymore here, either. I had to work double shifts in 2011 and take all the freelance gigs I could, just to get enough of a financial buffer–and by the time I got to “Sing No Evil” I was burned out. [laughs] It also ended up taking way more time than I had budgeted. It’s hard, but I hope that other Finnish artists get to do longer stories because I think their work is on par with the foreign market. It’s just a shame that only 800 people end up reading it.

You went to school at the University of Lapland, which is where you met KP, is that right?

Yeah, we both went to university there. I had something completely different in mind when I finished high school, though.

Is that up in the far North of the country?

You’d be surprised. It’s maybe halfway-ish. The Arctic Circle lies maybe ten kilometers from the city center. Even I was surprised when I was living there to look at the map and see, wow, the country goes on and on from here. I think it was a good thing that I ended up there instead of Helsinki. Pretty much all the other students came to that city from elsewhere as well so we ended up making a really tight bunch. We were really active in organizing events, parties, doing an anthology and so forth. It was like we were all in the same boat that floated somewhere in the tundra stuck in the ice. [laughs] I remember my first day meeting my fellow classmates and ending up in a bar together on a Monday. We hit it off. That was partly where the inspiration for my weekly comic strip came from. A lot of that was worked into that strip. It was a fun place.


1 Comments on Interview: JP Ahonen on drawing bears, Sing no Evil and the Finnish comics scene, last added: 2/25/2015
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10. Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Ethan Long

Author-illustrator Ethan Long likes a good breakfast, such as Belgian waffles with strawberries and whipped cream and lots of bacon. But overall, he tells me, “these days, since I am a 46 year old man and I can get chubby pretty easily, I make it a point to consume a bowl of oatmeal with walnuts and raisins and a glass of orange juice every morning.”

I’m going to say we splurge this morning during our breakfast interview and have some of those Belgian waffles. One must always splurge.

Plus coffee. Gotta have coffee.

As you can see, if you scroll down to the bibliography at the very end of this post, Ethan is a prolific children’s book author and illustrator. He received the 2013 Geisel Award for Up, Tall and High, released by Putnam. This is an interview I intended to post at the end of last year, but things got busy. Better late than never. At least now, we can hear about which new books are on the horizon for Ethan in 2015.

Without further ado …

* * * * * * *

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Ethan: I am an Author/Illustrator, trained as an illustrator and self-taught as an author. That answer seems too short, but my goal is always to stay as succinct as possible with my writing.

Illustration from Up, Tall and High (Putnam, 2012)

Jules: Can you list your books-to-date? (If there are too many books to list here, please list your five most recent illustrated titles or the ones that are most prominent in your mind, for whatever reason.)

Ethan: [See Ethan’s complete bibliography at bottom of post.]

One of Ethan’s mixed-media sculptures

Jules: What is your usual medium?

Ethan: Everything I do ends up digital in the end, but I try to stay flexible on how I want the story/art to look in print. I may have vintage postcards on my mind, or classic cartoons, or wet ink splatters.

Jules: If you have illustrated for various age ranges (such as, both picture books and early reader books OR, say, picture books and chapter books), can you briefly discuss the differences, if any, in illustrating for one age group to another?

Ethan: The difference? The difference is in the amount of sarcasm and anger I show. Chapter books can show characters being angry with each other, or annoyed, or jealous, but for board books, happiness and safety is key.

Illustration from Me and My Big Mouse (Two Lions, 2014)

Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Ethan My wife, Heather, and I live in Orlando, Florida. We’ve got three kids and do a lot of stompin’ the grounds. Orlando is the home of the Valencia orange, a beautiful downtown area (which is close to where we live), and some red-shorted mouse character who Must-Not-Be-Named.

The family — and the cat

Jules: Can you briefly tell me about your road to publication?

Ethan: I snail-mailed illustration promo cards for nine years until I got my first book in the year 2000. Was that brief enough?

A Chamelia illustration
(Click to enlarge)

Jules: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?

Ethan: http://www.ethanlong.com. It’s the only website you will ever need to visit.

Jules: If you do school visits, tell me what they’re like.

Ethan: They are wonderful, and inspiring, and exhausting. The kids are usually great. The adults are amazing and supportive. The traveling takes me away from the family and the studio, but I spend too much time at home anyway, so it’s a good thing, always.

Jules: If you teach illustration, by chance, tell me how that influences your work as an illustrator.

Ethan: I teach here and there, and it never fails: When I’m helping a student work something out, it dawns on me that I should be taking that advice myself. Also, it’s nice when you’re lucky enough to get a student whose eyes light up at something you’ve said or done. There’s usually one of them in every class.

Jules: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Ethan: I have a few books coming out by the end of the summer: HI!, a board book published with Abrams/Appleseed; In, Over and On the Farm, the follow-up to the Theodor Seuss Geisel-winning Up, Tall and High; and a Halloween book with Bloomsbury called Fright Club. I am also developing some animated projects, based on my books, with productions companies. We recently pitched some original properties, and my partner will be taking them to Kidscreen at the end of February. Always something going on.

Mmm. Coffee.Okay, we’ve got more coffee, and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with seven questions over breakfast. I thank Ethan for visiting 7-Imp.

1. Jules: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?


: For the writing, the ideas come in all shapes and sizes, but overall, for it to be a good idea my wife has to say “that’s cute.” I try to just go with the flow. The harder I try to make something work, the worse it gets. When I just sit down and spit something out and put on some music and just sit and play with it and see where it takes me, those are the best things.

Sketches and a final illustration from a Clara and Clem book

But for the craft of writing and illustrating, there is the rough draft or sketches, the revised draft or sketches, and the final draft or sketches. Then the real work comes of making things fit into dimensions and layouts. Consistency is key with illustration. If a character is wearing a green shirt on one page, he should be wearing that same shirt on the next page. And his finger count should match throughout. Always.

A Max and Milo sketch

2. Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.


: I work in a very small space and try to keep everything contained. Despite my ability to juggle enormous amounts of projects, I actually work on one thing at a time. I work until it looks good, then send it out for review, then while I am waiting for that to come back, I pick up and work on something else. It all happens on my small desk on my laptop. I have tried many set-ups over the years, but the smaller the better for me. Less to maintain and clean.

3. Jules: As a book-lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?


: I was heavily influenced by TV and comics as a kid. Books were still apart of my life, but more when I was really young. Curious George, Harold and the Purple Crayon, anything by Dr. Seuss — except Yertle the Turtle. Not a fan of Yertle.

4. Jules: If you could have three (living) authors or illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose? (Some people cheat and list deceased authors/illustrators. I won’t tell.)

Ethan: I would love to chat with Mo Willems about the craft of writing and how he handles his big-time, off-the-charts fame, but his agent keeps me away from him.

If I weren’t married, I’d go for beers with Gary Baseman, then head out to pick up chicks.

As for the red wine, I’d pick Eric Carle, because he seems to have led a full life, and I would want to hear his stories.

Illustration from Soup for One (Running Press Kids, 2012)

5. Jules: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Ethan: I listen to everything. But I do have a playlist called “Ethan’s Bumpin’ Grinds,” which has all my favorite rap and hip-hop, including Destiny’s Child, Dr. Dre, Snoop, Beastie Boys, and a song by Blackstreet, called “No Diggity.”

Yes, I listen to music all the time. I have a playlist called “Rock out Jams,” “Jazzy Beats,” and “Calmer Favorites,” depending on my mood. I also listen to a lot of alternative, because there’s always something new. My three new favorite bands are Arctic Monkeys, Vampire Weekend, and Milky Chance.

Stick Dog illustrations

6. Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Ethan: I used to write a column called “College Nark” for my local paper, The College Park Community Paper. We live in College Park, Orlando, and my column tattled on people who ran stop signs, left dog poo in people’s yards, and drove too fast, as well as many, many other things.

7. Jules: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

Ethan: I wish more interviewers would ask to arm wrestle. Especially the females, because then I could win easier. BOOM! Yeah, I said it, females.



* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Ethan: It’s a swear word that starts with the letter “f.” Sorry, kids.

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Ethan: Sucks, as in that “sucks.” Especially when my kids say it.

Jules: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Ethan: A day off, but I take too few of them.

My wife’s smile.

Jules: What turns you off?

Ethan: Law-breakers.

Jules: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Ethan: Same as my favorite word. But I’ll throw around the “c” word now and again, believe it or not.

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Ethan: A cat’s purr.

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Ethan: A dog licking itself.

Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Ethan: Disc jockey.

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Ethan: Daycare manager.

Jules: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Ethan: “You did good.”


Ethan’s bibliography:

As author/illustrator:


  • Me and My Big Mouse, 2014, Amazon/2 Lions
  • Clara and Clem Under the Sea, 2014, Penguin
  • Scribbles and Ink: Out of the Box, 2014, Blue Apple
  • The Wing Wing Bros. Geometry Palooza, 2014, Holiday House
  • Max and Milo The Mixed-Up Message!, 2013, Simon & Schuster
  • Scribbles and Ink: The Contest, 2013, Blue Apple
  • Clara and Clem In Outer Space, 2013, Penguin
  • The Wing Wing Bros. Carnival De Math, 2013, Holiday House
  • Chamelia & the New Kid in Class, 2013, Little Brown
  • Scribbles and Ink: Doodles for Two!, 2012, Blue Apple
  • Max and Milo Go To Sleep!, 2013, Simon & Schuster
  • The Wing Wing Bros. Math Spectacular, 2013, Holiday House
  • Scribbles and Ink, 2012, Blue Apple
  • Clara and Clem Take a Ride, 2012, Penguin
  • Pig Has a Plan, 2013, Holiday House
  • Soup For One, 2012, Running Press
  • It’s Pooltime!, 2012, Blue Apple
  • Up, Tall and High, 2012, G.P. Putnam
  • Chamelia, 2011, Little Brown
  • The Book That Zack Wrote, 2011, Blue Apple
  • The Croakey Pokey, 2011, Holiday House
  • My Dad, My Hero, 2011, Sourcebooks
  • Rick & Rack and the Great Outdoors, 2010, Blue Apple
  • One Drowsy Dragon, 2010, Scholastic/Orchard
  • Bird and Birdie in: One Fine Day, 2010, Tenspeed Press


  • Tickle the Duck!, 2005, Little Brown
  • Stop Kissing Me!, 2007, Little Brown
  • Duck’s Not Afraid of the Dark!, 2009, Little Brown
  • Too Many Kisses!, 2009, Little Brown
  • Have You Been Naughty or Nice?, 2009, Little Brown

As illustrator:


  • You & Me: We’re Opposites (illustration only), 2009, Blue Apple Books
  • Muddy as a Duck Puddle (illustration only), 2011, Holiday House
  • Fritz Danced the Fandango (illustration only), 2009, Scholastic
  • One Little Chicken (illustration only), 2007, Holiday House
  • Greedy Apostrophe: A Cautionary Tale (illustration only), 2009, Holiday House
  • Tortuga in Trouble (illustration only), 2009, Holiday House
  • Trollerella (illustration only), 2006, Holiday House
  • The Zombie Nite Café (illustration only), 2007, Holiday House
  • Count on Culebra (illustration only), 2010, Holiday House
  • Halloween Skyride (illustration only), 2006, Holiday House
  • Fiesta Fiasco (illustration only), 2010, Holiday House
  • Oh Yeah! (illustration only), 2003, Holiday House
  • Stinky Smelly Feet (illustration only), 2004, Dutton Children’s Books
  • Mañana Iguana (illustration only), 2003, Holiday House
  • The Day My Runny Nose Ran Away (illustration only), 2002, Dutton Children’s Books


  • The Luckiest St. Patrick’s Day Ever! (illustration only), 2008, Scholastic Book Clubs
  • The Best Thanksgiving Ever! (illustration only), 2007, Scholastic Book Clubs
  • The Spookiest Halloween Ever! (illustration only), 2009, Scholastic Book Clubs
  • Bunny Race! (illustration only), 2010, Scholastic Book Clubs


  • The Confe$$ion$ & $ecret$ of Howard J. Fingerhut (illustration only), 2002, Holiday House
  • Snarf Attack, Underfoodle and the Secret of Life: The Riot Brothers Tell All (illustration only), 2007, Holiday House
  • Drooling and Dangerous: The Riot Brothers Return (illustration only), 2008, Holiday House
  • Stinky and Successful: The Riot Brothers Never Stop (illustration only), 2009, Holiday House
  • Take the Mummy and Run! The Riot Brothers Are on a Roll! (illustration only), 2010, Holiday House
  • Super Schnoz (illustration only), 2013, Albert Whitman
  • Stick Dog (illustration only), 2012, Harper Collins
  • Stick Dog Wants a Hot Dog (illustration only), 2013, Harper Collins
  • Stick Dog Chases a Pizza (illustration only), 2014, Harper Collins


    Wuv Bunnies From Outers Pace
(illustration only), 2008, Holiday House


  • Countdown to Summer (illustration only), 2009, Little Brown
  • My Hippo Has the Hiccups (illustration only), 2009, Sourcebooks
  • The Tighty Whitey Spider (illustration only), 2010, Sourcebooks


  • Galaxy’s Greatest Giggles (illustration only), 2008, Sterling
  • Nuttiest Knock Knocks Ever (illustration only), 2008, Sterling
  • No Boredom Allowed! Paper Games and Puzzles (illustration only), 2009, Sterling
  • No Boredom Allowed! Nutty Challenges and Zany Dares (illustration only), 2008, Sterling
  • Funny Mummy (illustration only), 2010, Sterling
  • The Summer Camp Survival Guide (illustration only), 2010, Sterling


All images are used by permission of Ethan Long.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, copyright © 2009 Matt Phelan.

2 Comments on Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Ethan Long, last added: 2/26/2015
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11. Interview: Andi Watson crafts up a monstrous three courses with Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula


By Harper Harris

Andi Watson is a British cartoonist whose work has spanned from projects such as Dark Horse’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer to his creator owned work like Skeleton Key. In recent years, he’s moved into more youth-oriented material like Glister and Gum Girl.

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula, his newest original graphic novel from First Second, centers on the title princess, and her struggles to run the monster-filled Underworld, in the wake of her layabout father doing little else than eating and complaining. After her father fires the chef, Princess Decomposia replaces him with a vampire baking whiz named Count Spatula. Their budding relationship is told within the pages of Watson’s latest offering.

I had an opportunity to sit down with Watson about the genesis of this new work, monsters, cooking, and his creative process.

What were your biggest influences on Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula? What was its genesis for you?

My biggest drive was to create an original graphic novel front to back. After a couple of decades of making comics I had never actually made a single volume that was over sixty-odd pages or hadn’t been serialised. I felt like it was a challenge I hadn’t overcome yet, and after making a lot of comics over the years, finding something fresh is always welcome. I also wanted to tell a story that combined the relationship and romance side of my work with fun genre things to draw. I’ve kind of flipped between the two, but in this book I put them together. So it was satisfying to write and a pleasure to draw.

How would you compare the process of working on Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula with your works just previous like Gum Girl or the Glister books? 

PrincessAndCount_100-29I guess they are all stories with a beginning, middle and an end. That was good training before stepping into a hundred-and-sixty page book. I find figuring out structure and pacing beforehand really helps me. With Gum Girl it was with twenty page stories and I found that discipline really useful. Being concise is a handy skill in comics, and it helped keep me on track. What set this book and Glister apart from Gum Girl was the lack of a long gestation period. I find I do my best work by knuckling down and just getting on with a story. When I’m drawing the pages and am ‘in the zone’ I don’t want any hold ups. Delays of even a few days make it harder to get back to ‘peak fitness’ so I prefer to keep my head down and keep working. That doesn’t always fit in with the publishing process but it’s how I’m best able to concentrate and maintain focus.

Compared to Gum Girl, Princess Decomposia has a bit more of stripped down artistic style (particularly being in black and white), why that choice? 


Gum Girl interior art

Funnily enough, if you look at the Gum Girl line art, they’re quite stripped down too. That’s because it’s a colour book and I wanted to have lots of open shapes to hold the colour and little to no black. Working with colour meant spending a lot of time squinting at a computer screen and I wanted to cut that back with Princess Decomposia. I aimed to have as much of the work complete on the page as possible – including the lettering – and as it’s set in the Underworld, the black and white art is appropriate. I was also determined to work on the pace and rhythm of the pages rather than get bogged down in rendering realistic stonework. If the reader is absorbing and understanding the story without even realising it, then I’ve done a good job. The art is there to tell the story, not draw attention to itself. Having said that, the most satisfying aspect of drawing a comic is bringing a character to life, getting their body language and facial expressions right. If I do that and do it concisely, so much the better.

What was your process in writing this book? Did you have a set place you wanted to the story to end up, or did you let the characters run with the themes you determined?

Starting a new book is the hardest part of the whole process. I find it intimidating. The beginning is always made up of page after page of scribbled notes. I might have characters, but no story, or an interesting setting, but no characters. Everything has to mesh and the themes grow organically out of the material. Plot and character have to interact and shape each other. It’s a bit like pushing a very heavy bicycle up a steep hill. At a critical point I know I have enough and the story starts to come together and I can cycle down the other side of hill. I like to have a structure in place and an ending. I make sure I have room to maneuver and if new and better ideas, or a better ending occur to me, I can incorporate that into the story.

A good deal of your work centers on female protagonists, particularly in your all-ages titles, what draws your creative voice to the opposite gender so often? 

I guess it began way back when I made Skeleton Key. That was a reaction to what was on the shelves at the time: few female characters wearing fewer clothes. That’s changed quite a bit, not only are there more female characters but many more female creators. But I do enjoy drawing women and because gender stereotypes are pushed so heavily on women, I think they provide more dramatic story opportunities. Want to write a female physicist, plumber or warrior? That’s a story in itself.

Although done in an all-ages style, Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula definitely explores some grown-up problems…stress of work, delegating, the relationship with an older parent. Did you find maintaining a balance between the conflicts and the style difficult?

I think Princess Decomposia’s experience is one that kids and adults can relate to. A princess has a certain amount of privilege, but that is countered by her many responsibilities. A child understands having a parent in their life telling them what to do. An adult sees the responsibilities in their life that constrain their freedoms. The Princess is stuck between being a child and an adult and the story is about how she navigates that. I think a good story can appeal to everyone, there are different things that different age groups pick up on, stuff sitting under the surface.

You say in the back of the book that you make comics for “grown-ups and children and those somewhere in between.” What has led you down that unique path? Is it difficult to try to appeal to both children and adults?

It’s possible to make a book that appeals to both audiences, and it’d be nice to think that a parent and their child PrincessAndCount_100-30could find something to appeal to them in the same comic. It’s possible in movies and animation if you look at what Pixar have created, and I always return to Ghibli and their films as the best examples of that. As for myself, I’ve made books for kids and grown ups and enjoyed both. Breakfast After Noon was as challenging to make as Glister. They were equally fulfilling. I enjoy trying new things and although it makes career sense to find a niche and dig in, I’ve worked in different genres and looked for fresh challenges. That’s what keeps me interested in the medium, the freedom to work in different ways and tell all kinds of stories.

What were your inspirations for the designs and personalities of the characters, in particular the Princess, the Count, and the King?

The Princess arrived quite quickly in my sketchbooks. I knew I wanted iconic designs for the characters, being able to recognise them from their silhouettes. She has the distinctive bat-wing hair and puritan collar and cuffs in a nod to Wednesday Addams. The Count is a chef, so his outfit is the usual hat, jacket, necktie and checked trousers. He also has the smooth bald head and pointed ears like Nosferatu … his skin probably sparkles a bit too, like a sugar cube in sunlight. The King was tricky in that I needed him to look both old and healthy. So the shape of his face is rounded but within that he’s rather wizened. He also has the crown, so again, he’s recognisable from his outline.

Looking at your past works, you seem to have a soft spot for monsters, working on books like Buffy the Vampire SlayerHellboy, among others. Where did this love for monsters come from?

PrincessAndCount_100-31The monsters go even further back than that. There was a quilt monster, giant cat and hockey-playing Chinese hopping-vampires in Skeleton Key. The short answer is that they’re a lot of fun to come up with and a welcome change to draw. If my main characters are ‘human’ shaped then it’s a nice gear change to draw something unusual. And monsters are fun to write, even more so when they’re the protagonists, as in Princess Decomposia.

You also have done some coming of age and slice-of-life style stories…how did you decide to combine real life problems with the gothic setting of Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula?

The story and themes came naturally out of the characters. If the Princess is a dutiful daughter then I find it interesting to dig in and explore the relationships. If she has a certain kind of dynamic with her father then how will she react to Count Spatula? This spills out into the supporting characters like Clove the sous chef. If one character is overworked then Clove is the one who appears to have the balance right. It all goes into making the characters interesting and giving their actions a real-life foundation that readers can relate to.

Although a lot of the cooking in the book is fantastical in nature, did you do any research on cooking? I think what I’m really trying to ask here is…  Andi, are you fond of cooking?

I’m a lousy cook but an enthusiastic baker. Nothing super fancy, but I began when my daughter was little and we’d have fun making fairy cakes and covering the kitchen with flour. I’d recommend it as a way to get into baking, there’s no pressure, it’s enjoyable and even a slightly scorched rock cake is delicious. Time is a consideration, so I don’t have hours to spend on delicate confections, but I love making cookies, cakes, tray bakes and buns. Those recipes are hard to mess up.

What made First Second Press the best place to publish Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula? How did all of this fall into place on the publishing side?

In retrospect it was a big risk making an entire graphic novel without a publisher on board and it wasn’t until it was finished that I began to look around and get an idea of my options. Because First Second are graphic novel publishers, have a strong record with books for different age groups and have published things like Anya’s Ghost, I decided to give them a go. I thought they’d be a good fit, but publishing being the contrary beast it is, figured they’d give it a pass. I was delighted when they decided to go with it, and against expectations, things moved really quickly. I’ve really enjoyed working with the team there, it’s been a delight.

For readers of Princess Depcomposia, what are you hoping is their key takeaway from your work here?

I hope it’s a fun and entertaining read for everyone, with attractive art and a sweet story. I’d also like to think that there’s more than that under the surface for those who want to come back for seconds.

 What are your future plans after this big release?

I have a webcomic, Princess at Midnight that finishes at the end of January. It’s been years in the making, a kind of Game of Thrones for kids, about sibling rivalry in a fantasy world. I’m hoping to find a publisher for that as it’d be lovely to get it in print. I’ve also completed a graphic novel for grown ups that I hope to find a home for this year. As for new stuff, I’ve finished writing a new spooky graphic novel that I’ll start drawing soon. And if Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula finds an audience, I’d love to do more with those characters.

1 Comments on Interview: Andi Watson crafts up a monstrous three courses with Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula, last added: 2/24/2015
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12. Interview and Giveaway: Jessie Evans, Author of Hot Texas Days Box Set


[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Good morning, Jessie! Describe yourself in five words or less.

[Jessie Evans] Silly, kind, sensitive, weak-in-the-presence-of-chocolate, determined

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about your Hot Texas Days box set?

[Jessie Evans] Yes! The Hot Texas Days Box Set features the first three books in my sweet and sexy Lonesome Point series. Inside you’ll find a cowboy biker, a sweet country singer who’s a bad boy in the bedroom, and a professional baseball player ready to reconnect with the only woman he’s ever loved. These men are hot, handsome, and devoted to their women and I am so excited to have them all together in one steamy box set.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Why do you think cowboys make such appealing heroes?

[Jessie Evans] Cowboys are American legends. They are the original heroic tough guy, the men who weren’t afraid to go where the world was still untamed and wild. They’re masculine, determined, and sexy as heck. (I like cowboys. Can you tell? Lol.)

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?

[Jessie Evans] My phone, in case my kids get into trouble at school and need me.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.

[Jessie Evans] A lucky cat, a pile of notes written on various scraps of paper, and a giant water bottle because I love water hard.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s your favorite snack when you’re working on a deadline?

[Jessie Evans] Sour patch kids.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

[Jessie Evans] A professional surfer. I’d love to know how it feels to rock a wave the way they do. I’m such an amateur.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] You have been granted the use of one superpower for one week.  Which power would you choose, and what would you do with it?

[Jessie Evans] I have the power to heal any disease and I go kick the ass of the cancer trying to take my friends away from me. Also depression and weird brain disorders and anything else messing with the people I love. 

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?

[Jessie Evans] I loved Lili St. Germain’s “Seven Sons” series even though it was WAY darker than what I write. I also love anything by Lauren Blakely. She writes the hell out of a sexy hero!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Jessie Evans] I prefer message in a bottle, but since I don’t actually live next to the ocean that might be difficult. So try me on Facebook. I’m there more often than I’m anywhere. Or email is good too! (jessie.d.evans@gmail.com)

Thanks so much for the interview and I hope y’all enjoy the box set!


Hot Texas Days Box Set
Lonesome Point, Texas, Books 1 – 3

By: Jessie Evans

Releasing February 16th, 2015


Hot Texas Days, Hotter Texas Nights…

Three full-length hot, suspenseful novels by New York Times Bestselling author Jessie Evans, featuring rugged, alpha cowboys and the women feisty enough to tame them. Welcome to Lonesome Point!


Cowboy bikers, fireworks, and romance, oh my…

Wild girl, Mia Sherman, has a secret—she isn’t as fearless as she pretends. Descended from Lonesome Point, Texas’ founding family, Mia grew up hearing tales of an ancient Irish curse that followed the Shermans to America. The first-born daughter of every generation is cursed to lose her husband on her wedding night, which is one of the many reasons Mia has sworn off relationships. Until the fateful day rancher Sawyer Kane rides his Harley into her life …

Can true love conquer all, even a centuries-old curse? Mia and Sawyer will be the first to find out.

See On Goodreads


Even sweet cowboys have a sinful side…

Robert Lawson—Bubba to his friends—is six feet, four inches of tall, dark, and handsome cowboy, with a panty-melting voice and a face made to launch a country music career. But when his family’s ranch hands go down with the flu, Robert cancels his high-profile auditions and returns home to help out. Marisol Medina has been looking for her golden ticket since she became a country music manager, but she refuses to mix business and pleasure, even if it will be hell, resisting temptation while spending a week at the Lawson family ranch with her star client.

But as Marisol and Robert grow closer and the passion between them ignites, Marisol must decide if a chance at forever is worth breaking all her rules.

See On Goodreads


The home run neither of them expected…

Pike Sherman is a legend in Lonesome Point, a hometown boy who made it to the big leagues. Literally. Professional baseball acquired one hell of a pitching arm and it’s latest celebrity bad boy when the gifted Pike was drafted seven years ago. Pike’s broken heart came along for the ride, too, but he kept that private. Tulsi Hearst knows she should stay far away from the brooding man her summer love has become, but she can’t resist a dance with the only man who ever made her blood rush.

After a few days back in Lonesome Point, Pike can’t imagine life without the girl he left behind, but when Tulsi’s secret is revealed, his heart is broken all over again. The only thing worse than losing Tulsi, is losing six years with the daughter he didn’t know he had.

See On Goodreads

Link to Follow Tour: http://www.tastybooktours.com/2014/12/hot-texas-days-box-set-by-jessie-evans.html

Goodreads Series Link: https://www.goodreads.com/series/132677-lonesome-point-texas

Buy Links: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks | Google+

Author Info

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Jessie Evans, gave up a career as an international woman of mystery to write the sexy, contemporary Southern romances she loves to read.

She’s married to the man of her dreams, and together they’re raising a few adorable, mischievous children in a cottage in the jungle. She grew up in rural Arkansas, spending summers running wild, being chewed by chiggers, and now appreciates her home in a chigger-free part of the world even more.

When she’s not writing, Jessie enjoys playing her dulcimer (badly), sewing the worlds ugliest quilts to give to her friends, going for bike rides with her house full of boys, and drifting in and out on the waves, feeling thankful for sun, surf, and lovely people to share them with.

Author Links: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads


Excerpt from LEATHER AND LACE:

Sawyer searched Mia’s face in the glow of the moon, the soft light making her look even sexier than she had in the yellow bulbs strung above the farmer’s market. “I really like you. A lot.”

“I like you, too,” she said, her full lips curving at the edges.

“But I meant what I said before, about not being ready for anything serious.” The words tried to stick in his throat, but Sawyer forced them out. He owed Mia honesty, and he wanted to make damned sure they were on the same page before things went any further. “I want to make sure that’s still okay. I wouldn’t ever want to hurt you.”

Her smiled faded, but her eyes remained soft, unguarded. “You won’t hurt me.” She ambled down the stairs, stopping on the stair above his, putting them face-to-face and their lips inches apart. “I’m fine with a night, or a week, or the summer…however long feels right. And when it stops feeling right, we go our separate ways, no anger, no regrets.” She lifted her arms, twining them around his neck, sending arousal surging through his body. “This is exactly what I need, Sawyer. You are what I need, and I can’t wait to touch you. Everywhere.”

Any hope of resisting vanished as that last word feathered between her tempting lips. Sawyer closed the distance between them, claiming her mouth as his arm wrapped tight around her waist, crushing her body to his. Her breasts flattened against his chest and her body heat caressed him, making his pulse spike and a moan sound low in his throat. He wanted this woman—badly. And he was past ready for them to be alone in a room with a bed, a door, and a lock to keep the rest of the world out.

Sawyer lifted Mia off her feet, carrying her through the shop entrance before kicking the door shut behind them.

“Up the stairs,” she whispered against his mouth. “Bedroom’s up there.”

Excerpt from SADDLES AND SIN

“I don’t know about the women you date,” Marisol continued. “But I’m not that kind of girl.”

“What kind of girl are you?” Bubba aimed for a casual tone, but his voice came out strained.

“I’m not,” Marisol said, her expression sobering. “As far as you and I are concerned, I’m not a girl. I’m a businessperson. I will use every weapon in my arsenal to get your career moving. I will flirt with club managers and be your arm candy at events until you find a cute little thing to take home to your mama, but that’s where it ends. As long as you’re my client, it’s business between us.”

Bubba swallowed hard, fighting the urge to tell her that he was fine with ripping up their contract, right here and now. He’d rather have the Marisol who kissed him like she’d been dying for everything he wanted to give her than a business partner any day of the week. He’d had several managers approach him after the open mic night, but he hadn’t felt this drawn to a woman since he and Casey broke up a few years after high school.

Still, no matter how much he wanted to let his heart—and cock—do the talking, he had a meeting tomorrow morning with Wendy Dann and her people. Wendy wasn’t country music royalty just yet, but she was a major star. The chance to open for an act like hers, while her original opener was out of commission for vocal node surgery, was a once in a lifetime opportunity. If he landed this job, he could tell his asshole boss at the electric company to go fuck himself, and put his five-year career as a lineman behind him. He’d been relieved to be spared his older brothers’ fates as slaves to the family ranching business—he loved his family and spending long weekends at the ranch, but he’d never felt the call of the cows the way John and Cole did—but it wasn’t his dream to maintain overhead transmission lines, either.

No matter what the rest of the Lawsons had to say about it, music was in his blood. He never felt more alive, more at home, more at peace and generally right with the world than when he had a guitar in his hands and his lips inches from a microphone. Singing was the only thing that had ever lit a fire inside of him, and he didn’t want to risk losing his shot to transform his passion into a career because he was too hot for a woman to focus on the big picture.

So, with a deep breath and a brittle smile, Bubba swallowed the words on the tip of his tongue and said, “Just business is fine with me.”

“Good.” Marisol smiled, but Bubba would swear she sounded disappointed. “Then go get some rest and I’ll pick you up at six-thirty tomorrow. We want to be sure we’re on time. They’re making an effort to squeeze in this meeting before Wendy gets on a plane to Nashville for her week off, and we need to be there bright and early to show how appreciative we are.”

Bubba nodded, plucking his new, three-hundred-dollar cowboy hat off his head and running a hand through his hair, still feeling a little strange wearing a hat for stage dressing. Back in Lonesome Point, you wore your cowboy hat so your nose wouldn’t burn off by the end of a long day working outside. He was definitely out of his comfort zone in the designer hat Marisol had picked out for him. So far, almost all the money he’d made at his gigs had gone right back into clothes and headshot photographs and half a dozen other things he hadn’t realized he needed to launch a country music career. He couldn’t afford to derail things now, when he was so close to making good on his investment.

But as he swung into his truck, and Marisol crossed the parking lot to her vintage Spider convertible, Bubba couldn’t help wishing things could be different. For the first time in his life, he was defying his family’s party line and looking for a life outside of Lonesome Point. If he met someone special right now, it wouldn’t have to end the way things had ended with Casey, with a sad goodbye because most girls want to grow up and leave a small town behind, not settle in and raise a fifth generation of Lawsons with their high school sweetheart.

In Bubba’s gut, he knew he’d return to Lonesome Point eventually, no matter where his new career might lead, but in the meantime he had the chance to see what it was like to date someone he wouldn’t have to run into at the supermarket every other day, someone he hadn’t known since elementary school, and whose mama wasn’t friends with his. But so far, he hadn’t met anyone who intrigued him, let alone made him think about what it might be like to fall in love again.

No one but Marisol, the one woman who was off limits.

“Just my luck,” Bubba mumbled as he started the truck and drove across the nearly abandoned parking lot, doing his best not to peek into his mirror at the convertible behind him. Marisol had made it clear they were never going to be more than friends and colleagues, and Bubba had learned his lesson about pining for impossible things a long time ago.

Still, he couldn’t resist one last glance in his rearview as he pulled out onto the deserted street—wondering how long he’d be able to honor his “all business” promise with a woman who was everything he wanted, wrapped up in one irresistible package.


Tulsi stewed in her anger all day, and by the time Pike pulled up beside her in his red pickup truck as she was walking back to her aunt’s farm for supper, she was in a truly foul mood.

“Tulsi?” Pike frowned at her through the open passenger side window. “What the heck are you doing here? Did you and Mia come up to watch spring training?”

“No, I’m alone, and I’m working, Pike Sherman,” Tulsi said, losing the last of her cool. “I have a job that has nothing to do with you, your sister, your family, or baseball. I am a person, and I have my own dreams, my own interests, and my own life!”

“Okay, okay.” Pike blinked in obvious surprise. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you.”

“Well, you did,” she said, still so angry she couldn’t seem to control her mouth. “You’ve been insulting me for years.”

His eyebrows lifted. “What? When have I ever—”

The black car behind him on the two-lane country road blared its horn, but instead of driving away, Pike pulled over on the gravel shoulder in front of her and got out of the truck.

Tulsi watched his long, lean form emerge from the driver’s side, refusing to notice how amazing he looked fresh out of the shower, with his brown hair hanging in thick chunks against his forehead and a gray tee shirt molding to his impressive chest. Instead, she focused on the fact that Pike was an entire foot taller than her five feet three inches, and how stupid she was to have spent years crushing on a boy who would have put a terrible crick in her neck if she’d ever actually kissed him.

“Have I done something wrong?” he asked, waiting for her response with a lost expression on his face.

Tulsi rolled her eyes, wondering how a boy on the verge of graduating from college with a three point five could be so stupid. It wasn’t like her crush had been particularly subtle. Even her big sister knew Tulsi had it bad for Pike, and Reece rarely paid attention to anything that wasn’t about Reece, still considered Tulsi a baby, and hadn’t been home to Lonesome Point in years.

“Because if I have, I’m sorry. You know I love you,” Pike continued, his words sending an arrow slicing through her already suffering heart. “You’re like the sweet, less irritating little sister I never had. I really… I care about you.”

Tulsi sucked in a shaky breath, pain and frustration warring in her chest, making her brave enough to step closer and pin him with a hard look. “I care about you, too, Pike, but I’m sick and tired of being treated like your little sister.” His eyes went wide with surprise, but there was something else there, too, a flicker of interest that made her bold enough to take another step toward him and add in a softer voice, “And maybe I’m not as sweet as everybody thinks I am.”

“Is that right?” he asked, brow arching.

“That’s right.” Something wild and brave inside of Tulsi raised its head, insisting it was time to make her stand, to grab for what she wanted before Pike was forever out of her reach. “So, as far as I’m concerned, you have two options.”

He nodded slowly, holding her gaze with an intensity that made her shiver. “I’m listening.”

“Either get out of my way and let me forget you,” she said, adrenaline making her pulse pound in her throat, “or shut up and kiss me.”

Oh, boy. That did it…

Tulsi watched the spark in Pike’s eyes kindle into a flame with equal parts fear and excitement. There was no doubt she’d captured his attention, but when he reached for her, the moment still felt surreal. She’d been fantasizing about Pike taking her in his arms for so long that when he finally did it, it felt like a dream: a scene from a movie she’d watched too many times to believe she would ever play the starring role.

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The post Interview and Giveaway: Jessie Evans, Author of Hot Texas Days Box Set appeared first on Manga Maniac Cafe.

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13. Interview with R.C. Lewis, author of Stitching Snow and Spinning Starlight!

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by Julie Eshbaugh

featuring R.C. Lewis!


RC Lewis HeadshotToday is an exciting day for me, because I have the great pleasure of introducing you to R.C. Lewis, the author of STITCHING SNOW and the upcoming SPINNING STARLIGHT!

I’m currently reading STITCHING SNOW, and I’m loving it! If you’re a fan of exciting sci-fi, filled with original characters and set in an amazing world, you need to check this out! Kirkus calls it a “clever, surprisingly gritty science-fiction version” of Snow White. (That grittiness is what I’m enjoying most about the book!) And now is the time to read STITCHING SNOW, so you’re ready to read its companion book, SPINNING STARLIGHT, when it’s released this fall.

Here’s a synopsis of STITCHING SNOW:StitchingSnow

Princess Snow is missing.

Her home planet is filled with violence and corruption at the hands of King Matthias and his wife as they attempt to punish her captors. The king will stop at nothing to get his beloved daughter back—but that’s assuming she wants to return at all.

Essie has grown used to being cold. Temperatures on the planet Thanda are always sub-zero, and she fills her days with coding and repairs for the seven loyal drones that run the local mines.

When a mysterious young man named Dane crash-lands near her home, Essie agrees to help the pilot repair his ship. But soon she realizes that Dane’s arrival was far from accidental, and she’s pulled into the heart of a war she’s risked everything to avoid. With the galaxy’s future—and her own—in jeopardy, Essie must choose who to trust in a fiery fight for survival.

SpinningStarlightFantastic, right?! And just to add to the excitement, here’s what you can look forward to in SPINNING STARLIGHT:

Sixteen-year-old heiress and paparazzi darling Liddi Jantzen hates the spotlight. But as the only daughter in the most powerful tech family in the galaxy, it’s hard to escape it. So when a group of men show up at her house uninvited, she assumes it’s just the usual media-grubs. That is, until shots are fired.

Liddi escapes, only to be pulled into an interplanetary conspiracy more complex than she ever could have imagined. Her older brothers have been caught as well, trapped in the conduits between the planets. And when their captor implants a device in Liddi’s vocal cords to monitor her speech, their lives are in her hands: One word and her brothers are dead.

Desperate to save her family from a desolate future, Liddi travels to another world, where she meets the one person who might have the skills to help her bring her eight brothers home-a handsome dignitary named Tiav. But without her voice, Liddi must use every bit of her strength and wit to convince Tiav that her mission is true. With the tenuous balance of the planets deeply intertwined with her brothers’ survival, just how much is Liddi willing to sacrifice to bring them back?

Haunting and mesmerizing, this retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Wild Swans strings the heart of the classic with a stunning, imaginative world as a star-crossed family fights for survival in this companion to Stitching Snow.

We’re so lucky to have R.C. Lewis here today to talk about fairytale retellings, the concept of a “companion book,” and so much more! (AND… there’s a giveaway! More on that at the end. :D)

Thank you for visiting us here at PubCrawl today! I’m excited to learn more about your books, since they interweave fairytale and science fiction so seamlessly. Have you always been drawn to fairytales? 

Actually … no. It was kind of a twist of fate that Stitching Snow came out at all. There’s a line in the Florence + The Machine song “Blinding” about Snow White stitching up a circuit board. I heard that once, and an image popped into my head. Before that, it never occurred to me to try a fairytale retelling.

Spinning Starlight is being described as a “companion book” to Stitching Snow. Does that mean it’s not a sequel?

Not a sequel at all. In fact, not even in the same imagined universe. However, they go together well because it’s another sci-fi take on a fairytale—this time Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Wild Swans.”

How did you decide to write a re-telling of The Wild Swans? Until I learned of your book I was unfamiliar with the fairytale. Was it your intention to retell a story that wasn’t well known?

This is basically the opposite of how Stitching Snow came about. My editor and I decided to have another fairytale follow up Stitching Snow, so I had to go out and find one. We didn’t want something that’s been retold to death (which eliminates a LOT of the most recognizable tales), but also didn’t want something too obscure. I got some fairytale anthologies and started reading, making notes about how I might put a sci-fi twist on it (not always an easy task!), and picked the one that called to me the loudest.

I worried that The Wild Swans might fall into the too obscure camp, because I wasn’t terribly familiar with it before I began. But as soon as I mentioned it to several friends, they said, “I love that one—it’s my favorite! I’ve always wanted someone to do a retelling of it!” That was good enough for me.

Can you tell us a little bit about the original story? What drew you to it? 

I mentioned a little of it above, but a big part of why I picked this one is the way it focuses on a family relationship. It’s about a girl trying to save her brothers, no dashing prince rushing in to save the day. In fact, in the original, a king rather randomly marries the protagonist while she carries on trying to help her brothers, which ends up getting her in trouble.

Not to say there isn’t some romance in my version…

Maybe I also welcomed a challenge, because I quickly decided one part of the original I wanted to keep (somehow) was the protagonist being unable to speak until her brothers are saved. Not easy!

It seems like the young adult book world has been dominated by series for a while now, but lately it feels like that trend is changing somewhat. Do you feel that the concept of a companion book is something your readers are excited about?

It seems like it from the responses I’ve been getting! A few readers of Stitching Snow were hoping for a sequel (which I never intended it to have), but seem willing to accept this as the next best thing. And a lot of people felt Stitching Snow being a standalone was a strong selling point, yet were eager for something in the same vein, so hopefully this will satisfy them, too.

What can fans of Stitching Snow look forward to most in Spinning Starlight?

Unfortunately, Dimwit does not make a return appearance. (Like I said, separate universe.) My main character Liddi is very different from Essie (the main character of Stitching Snow), but I hope readers will enjoy her journey as she goes from paparazzi-hounded misfit of a famous family to someone who must fend for herself and take risks to save her brothers when no one else can. She also makes some interesting friends along the way … some of them coming from VERY unexpected places.

SPINNING STARLIGHT sounds fantastic! I’m so excited for it, and I’m still reading STITCHING SNOW! Thank you SO MUCH for stopping by to talk to us about your writing process!

And now the giveaway! We are giving away an ARC of SPINNING STARLIGHT! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below. R.C. will send the winner an ARC as soon as they are available!

About the author:

R.C. Lewis has taught math to teenagers for over ten years, including several where she found calculus is just as fun in American Sign Language. After a lifetime of thinking she didn’t have an ounce of creativity, she realized she just needed to switch to metric. When she escapes the classroom, she writes geek-infused YA like Stitching Snow (2014, Hyperion) and Spinning Starlight (2015, Hyperion).
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14. Comics Illustrators of the Week :: Marian Churchland














Going the less taken route of traditional media, over digital, young comics brewmaster Marian Churchland wows with her delicate line work & deeply human characters. Her 2009 graphic novel Beast propelled Churchland into the indy comics scene limelight. It’s a masterfully rendered loose reinterpretation of the classic Beauty and the Beast story. As I learned from her art blog, Churchland usually approached her page first with a brown colerase pencil, then(if working in color) she’ll add value with copic pens, watercolor wash, or sometimes acrylics. The final finishes are done with a black color pencil.

Other notable works by Marian Churchland include a few issues of Richard Starkings’ Elephantmen, Dark Horse Presents on MySpace, Conan: The Daughters of Midora & Other Stories, Madame Xanadu, and Once Upon a Time Machine.

2015 looks to be a big year for Marian with the upcoming release of her new collaborative project From Under Mountains with friends Claire Gibson & Sloane Leong, a new comic with fellow artist/husband Brandon Graham called Arclight, and a gallery of her art being featured in the inaugural volume of Island, a new independent, star-studded comics anthology hitting shelves this Summer.

You can follow Marian Churchland on her tumblr site here. She updates it regularly with new art, and answers fan questions.

For more comics related art, you can follow me on my website comicstavern.com - Andy Yates

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15. Fuse #8 TV: Chris Grabenstein and Reading (Too Much Into) Picture Books

Hi all!

Okay. For this month’s Fuse #8 TV I decided to premiere a new series.



Reading (Too Much Into) Picture Books

Ladies and gentlemen, I like a good conspiracy theory.  Nothing makes my heart go pitter pat faster than an opinion about a picture book that takes a right hand turn into Crazyville.  Trouble is, there just aren’t enough out there.  Sure, you can tell me that Horton Hears a Who is anti-abortion and Rainbow Fish is pro-Communist but sometimes it feels like I’ve heard them all.  Time to shake things up a little!

Announcing a series where I make up crazed interpretations of classic picture books.  This month: Go Away Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley.  We all know it.  We love it.  Now what’s the kookiest theory you can come up with for it?  I say my own and it’s a doozy.  I’m weirdly proud about it.

After that I interview the very fun, funny, and infinitely patient Chris Grabenstein. Chris has a new middle grade novel out this year called The Island of Dr. Libris.  He entertains my questions and then pulls out this Jim Henson story that will seriously make your eyes water.  I’m not even kidding about that.



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16. “These children need a champion”: an interview with Gretchen Bircher

Gretchen Bircher is an instructional aide at Adam Elementary School in Santa Maria, California. (She’s also my amazing mom!) Today she is submitting a proposal to the Santa Maria–Bonita School District, advocating that a new elementary school be named in honor of Dr. Francisco Jiménez — author, recipient of a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, and an alum of the district’s schools.


Dr. Francisco Jiménez

1. Tell us a little about Dr. Jiménez’s life and accomplishments.

GB: Francisco Jiménez was born in 1943 in Tlaquepaque, Mexico. When he was four years old, his family immigrated without papers to California’s San Joaquin Valley, where they hoped to find a better life. But things were very hard for the family, which eventually grew to ten. They moved constantly to follow the crops (working the “circuit”), living in tent camps and worse. Francisco began working in the fields at the age of six.

Only English was spoken in school, so Francisco had a difficult time communicating with his teachers. He loved learning, though, and kept a notepad with him to write down new words and ideas.

At one point, his family was deported to Mexico. Immigration officers came to Francisco’s eighth grade classroom to take him away. They were fortunate to find a legal way back to the U.S. when a sharecropper agreed to sponsor them.

Francisco realized that education was his means to escape the fields. He dreamed of staying in one place so that he could attend school full-time. That dream came true when the family settled in Santa Maria, California. He persisted in his education and was elected student body president at Santa Maria High.

After graduating from Santa Clara University, Francisco attended Harvard, then earned both a master’s degree and PhD from Columbia under a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. He went on to become Chairman of the Modern Languages and Literatures Department at Santa Clara University as well as the Director of the Division of Arts and Humanities.

In 1997, Dr. Jiménez published his autobiographical work The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child, which won numerous awards, including the Americas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature and a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award. He followed The Circuit with several more award-winning books. His stories have been published in more than fifty textbooks and anthologies and have been translated into Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Italian, and Spanish. In Santa Maria, we have The Circuit and its sequels Breaking Through and Reaching Out in our classrooms and school libraries.

2. What would be the significance of naming the new elementary school in his honor?

GB: The significance would be twofold: first, it would honor an amazing man who, despite incredible odds, went on to have a distinguished academic and literary career. Secondly, it would give the many farmworker students in our district a role model, someone who has been where they are now and who has succeeded through education.

Dr. Jimenez deserves to have the school named after him, but even more than that, our students need it. I’ve been an aide in this school district for twenty-six years, and I’ve seen how much these children need a champion. They need someone to relate to, someone from the same background who has succeeded, to show them that the fields aren’t their destiny. It’s about time that they had a hero of their own! Dr. Jiménez is a perfect choice.

People around the world are inspired by his books, and I think there should be schools named after him all over the world! But particularly here in Santa Maria — Dr. Jiménez went to schools in our district; he worked in the same fields as some of our students.

Last March, I attended a lecture presented by Dr. Jiménez at Allan Hancock College here in Santa Maria. The auditorium was packed. I was moved and impressed by the deep affection Dr. Jiménez has for Santa Maria and the profound emotional response of the audience. During the question-and-answer portion of the presentation, people (including children) got up to speak to Dr. Jiménez. They were crying, thanking him and telling him how much his work means to them. It was an amazing and powerful experience.

jimenez_the circuit3. As an educator, have you observed unique challenges facing migrant children in the school system? How do your school and school district address these challenges?

GB: Not all of our farmworker children are migrant. Some move with the crops and some stay in the area all year. I worked with AmeriCorps in a tutoring program at one of Santa Maria’s subsidized farmworker housing units, which allows one parent to leave to follow work while the rest of the family stays here. But many of our students live in difficult circumstances, including multifamily housing situations.

Another challenge occurs at school registration; without birth certificates, medical records, etc., a child’s age and appropriate grade level can be difficult to determine.

Often these children are very much like Francisco was when he first attended school. They sit, look, and listen. Their parents work very, very hard in the fields and generally speak little or no English. Although it is not a bilingual curriculum, all classrooms have a Spanish-speaking teacher and/or aide. Some of our families are Mixtec — they are from Mexico, but have their own spoken language and do not speak Spanish. None of the teachers in our district speak Mixtec and we have very few translators in the district because they are very hard to find. We call on them at parent-teacher conference time.

Our district has a free breakfast and lunch program for all students, as well as a grant that provides for a daily snack of fruits or vegetables. Students from the nearby California Polytechnic University come into the classrooms with a nutrition program to teach the children how to choose and prepare healthy snacks.

An after-school tutoring program helps students with their homework. Our students’ parents are hardworking and caring, but they are often unable to help their children with schoolwork due to language and education barriers they face.

4. You mentioned the importance for your district’s farmworker students to see that “that the fields aren’t their destiny,” that there are other possible futures for them. Have you seen this in action?

GB: Some of our students won’t finish school, but others will. Some go on to our local community college. We have former students who visit the elementary school and tell us that they want to be teachers. They have that same drive, that love of education, that helped Dr. Jiménez succeed.

5. Is there a piece of wisdom from Dr. Jiménez’s writing or lectures that particularly inspires you in your work as an educator?

GB: I love this quote from Dr. Jiménez’s 1998 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award acceptance speech:

“I wrote (these stories) to give voice to a sector of our society that has been largely ignored. Through my writing I hope to give readers insight into the lives of migrant farmworker families and their children, whose backbreaking labor picking fruits and vegetables puts food on our tables. Their courage, their hopes and dreams for a better life for their children and their children’s children, give meaning to ‘the American Dream.’ Their story is the American story.”

For The Horn Book’s reviews of The Circuit and its sequels, plus additional recommended reading on the experiences of migrant farmworker children, click here.


The post “These children need a champion”: an interview with Gretchen Bircher appeared first on The Horn Book.

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17. A Visit with Illustrator Ana Juan

I’m happy to have here at 7-Imp this morning some new artwork from Spanish illustrator Ana Juan, one of my favorites. Ana is the illustrator of Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series, as well as picture books and, here in the States, many New Yorker covers. The fourth book in the Fairyland series, The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, will be on shelves in early March. Pictured here today are the illustrations from the book. (Under each illustration is the name of the chapter from which it comes.) Just above is the illustration from one of the book’s final chapters, “The Spinster and the King of Fairyland.”

I also asked Ana about these books and her work, including her January New Yorker cover in response to the Charlie Hebdo shooting. Here she is below, in her own words.

I thank her for visiting.

[There’s more Fairyland art in this 2011 7-Imp post, as well as a Q&A with Valente.]


On Illustrating the Fairyland Books …

First of all, I am one of the luckiest readers who gets to read and enjoy the manuscripts long before publication. The unlimited richness of the language of Cat Valente makes reading this fantasy series mysterious and very personal. I love the sane and politically incorrect touch in her stories.

Sometimes, it is not easy to build the characters in my mind, because I have no reference. But this is a challenge that makes working on this series different than other fantasy books. The Boy Who Lost Fairyland is the fourth book, so I have worked with some of the characters’ faces, but there are continuously characters coming into the pages of the story. Every chapter is a surprise.


“Entrance, on a Panther”


“How to Send a Troll by Post”


“Troll to Boy, Boy to Troll”


On Knowing Which Moments to Illustrate …

I have no method. Simply, at the same time than I am reading the text, images come to my mind. I can choose images that will give a global idea of the story.


“The Wombat Prince of Chicago”


“The Adventures of Inspector Balloon”




On her Favorite Medium …

My favorite medium is one of the oldest in the world: coal pencil on paper. Nothing can be more sublime than to tell a lot with just one line.

I don’t like too much to work in color — I can express better in black and white. Drawing and sculpting are my fields, the places where I feel safe and well.


“The Monster on Top of the Bed”


“Please Be Wild and Wonderful”


“The Emerald Thermodynamical Hyper-Jungle Law”


On her January 19, 2015, New Yorker Cover, “Solidarité” …



In a really short time and inside a brainstorm, I thought of Paris and its icons — and about the basic drawing tool: a pencil. The pencil became the symbol of press freedom. Not as easy as adding a pencil to the Eiffel Tower …

The cover idea of “Solidarité” is fairly simple, and I’m pretty sure that another artist had the same idea. How does one image differ from the others? The voice and the language the author uses to convey his emotions.

This is not a conventional war, and every creator has a commitment to himself and to society. We have to work against intolerance with the weapons we have.


“The Painted Forest”


“An Audience with the King”


“The Crunching of the Crab”


On Picture Books in Spain …

Spain is a small market. On one hand, our lists are smaller and on the other hand, the illustrator is freer, having the chance to take risks and experiment with new things.


“Unhappy Feet”


“The Changeling Room”


“The Laundry Moose”


On What She’s Doing Now …

Since I wrote and illustrated my latest book for children, The Pet Shop Revolution, I haven’t worked on any children’s books.



Nowadays, I am only illustrating books for an older audience. In fact, the Fairyland series is my youngest audience and work.


“The Cranberry Bog”


“Jumping Bean Life by Wombat and Matchstick”


“Someone Comes to Town”


“The Boy Who Was Lost, The Girl Who Was Found”



* * * * * * *

THE BOY WHO LOST FAIRYLAND. Text copyright © 2015 by Catherynne M. Valente. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Ana Juan. Published by Feiwel and Friends, New York. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher.

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18. Special Delivery: A Visit with Matthew Cordell &Philip Stead and Even a Moment with Neal Porter

There is an abundance of adventure and humor and energy and style seepin’ right out of Philip C. Stead’s Special Delivery, illustrated by Matthew Cordell, which is coming to shelves in early March from Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press. It’s the story of a girl named Sadie, who really wants to mail an elephant to her Great-Aunt Josephine. It turns out that entirely too many stamps are required, so inventive Sadie brainstorms other ways to surprise her Great-Aunt. These involve a harrowing plane ride, an alligator and a trip down the river, bandits, lots of beans, and much more.

It’s such an entertaining book on many levels, and it’s clear that both Phil and Matt—as if there were ever any doubt—know child audiences well.

Phil and Matt visit today—and their editor, Neal Porter, even briefly pops in—for an informal chat about the book. As in, it’s one long email conversation that I am posting here for fellow picture book fans. I ask about the book; we talk about our love for John Burningham’s artwork and books (not to mention Sebastian Meschenmoser); Phil looks at another instance of an attempt at elephant-mailing; Matt shows us some stamps and talks pigeons; Phil and Matt look ahead at what’s next for them this year; and much more.

Scattered throughout this post are five new drawings of stamps from Matt. These are homages to some of Phil’s favorite animal stamps, and each has a Special Delivery spin. These original drawings will be raffled off, and all proceeds will go to charity. (The charity is yet-to-be-decided, but it will be related to literacy.) Information on this raffle will go out via Phil around publication date, but you can see the drawings in today’s post. Right after each drawing is the image of the actual stamp it honors.

Let’s get right to it, and I thank them for visiting.

* * *

Jules: I do story times at the wonderful Parnassus Books in Nashville whenever I can. The thing I miss the most about school librarianship is reading picture books to big groups of children — and, especially, to see how they respond to books. This is probably breaking all kinds of rules—and might even make authors and especially illustrators twitchy—but I sometimes bring F&Gs.

I brought the F&G of Special Delivery to this morning’s story time (since the hardback is not out yet). Now, I had a bigger group than normal — a good number of children of all ages really ready to hear stories, as well as really responsive parents. (I’m always grateful for those adults who respond to picture books, too.)

“‘Hey, Sadie.’ ‘Hey, Jim. I’d like to mail this elephant, please, to my Great-Aunt Josephine—who lives almost completely alone and could really use the company.”
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And I mean to tell yoooouuuuu: They loved this book. There were so many laughs that I found myself wishing it was being recorded so I could play it back for you. There were even laughs where I didn’t expect there would be laughs. And everyone especially loved, not surprisingly, the “chugga chugga chugga BEANS BEANS BEANS” moment. [For readers: This is a phrase repeated in the book during a particularly festive spread, mid-way in the story.] I even had all the children sort of chant it with me.

Know the “Hey, Sadie!” that appears before even the title page spread? That got a huge, happy laugh. I mean, right off the bat they loved it.

This was so lovely for me to see. It validated my own experience first reading the book. I think this story is a breath of fresh air in many ways.

I guess my first question is: Have you all shared it with a bunch of children yet, by chance? Whoever wants to answer first … go for it.

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Phil: Hey, Gang. I’ll go first. No, I have not yet shared Special Delivery with a group of kids. But I’m excited to do so eventually. I’ve discovered that I learn a lot about my books through the experience of reading to a group. I never test my stories on kids prior to publication, so it’s always a bit of a mystery as to how they’ll go over. Inevitably, there are moments that seemed minor or insignificant during the making of the book that end up being big at reading time. The first time I read Amos McGee to a group of kids, I was floored by how many moments were getting big laughs. The page turn that reveals Amos playing chess with the elephant is, apparently, hilarious in ways I never intended. It’s sounds cloying to say that a book is not complete until it finds an audience. But, well, it’s true.

Hey, not to steer this thing off topic right from the get-go, but have you guys seen this book yet?

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Sebastian Meschenmoser’s last book published in the States, Waiting for Winter, is on my 10 Best-of-All-Time list, so I was really excited to see that this one was coming out. It got some negative reviews pre-publication, but they were the kind of negative reviews that only made me want to buy the book more, i.e. don’t let your kids read this book or they will have bad dreams and generally view the world as a scary, unpredictable place. Given my belief that children’s books ought to acknowledge (at least in some small way) that the world is a scary, unpredictable place, I had high hopes for this particular book. And, boy, does it deliver. Sidenote: This book is one of only three books that I can remember in recent memory that made me laugh out loud in the middle of a book store.

Jules: Well, since you mentioned this, I quickly snagged a review copy, and you’re right: It’s great. I always like to see Sebastian’s books. I identify all too closely with Squirrel. The book, especially the prison spreads, had me and my girls laughing so hard when we first read it. I requested some art from the publisher:

“They had to get rid of the moon!”
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“They had to get rid of the moon!
The best thing would be to send it back to the sky where it belonged.”

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“Now that the moon was back in the sky,
Mr. Squirrel thought it would soon be its old self again.”

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Also, yes, that’s what I meant about story time — that I knew I loved your book and it made me laugh outloud, but I was surprised by laughs in places I didn’t even expect. It’s like the group of parents and children there just hugged it with their active responses. That’s always a good kind of story time to have.

Matt: Great. Right off the bat I’m showing my ignorance. Haven’t heard of the book or the artist. But I’m loving the anti-reviews, so now I’ve gotta hunt this down pronto. It’s almost hard to believe that this book could ruffle such feathers, based on its cover design. Intrigued.

Jules, thanks much for sharing Special Delivery pre-pub with what sounds like a crowd with impeccable taste! It sends a little tingle down my spine to hear it was getting such a raucous response, because it is a very raucous ride of a read. I’ve only shared it thus far with my daughter, who really enjoys it, but the glass-half-empty in me always thinks my girl’s just being nice because it’s her old man’s book. But we have done our daughter-daddy chants of “chugga chugga chugga! beans beans beans!” around the house. I’m looking forward to riling up shouting chants of that at my school visits this spring.

Also, I love that the opening page did what it was supposed to do. At first glance, the design of it—with that big, loud lettering—might make it appear to function as a title page. But the point of it’s actually more like that loud snare drum crack that kicks off “Like A Rolling Stone.” (Title page actually comes two page turns in.)

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Jules: I love that you just compared part of your book to a song. When I wrote last year about Brian Floca’s Locomotive, I wrote that legend has it that Tom Jones passed out in the studio when hitting the final, dramatic note of “Thunderball” for the 1965 James Bond film of the same name. And I wrote that I sort of imagine Floca similarly falling to the ground after having finished the artwork for that book (because he worked on it so long and hard). Point being, I think I should make it a 7-Imp tradition to work song references into every post. Thoughts?

No, seriously. Can you all talk a bit about whose idea this was? Phil, had you written a story for which you were searching for an illustrator? Or did you write it with Matt in mind?

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Phil: I tend to get mixed up when trying to recall the details of my own past, but the basic facts are these: Matt and I decided we’d like to do a book together. We seem to have a lot in common—for example, a mutual love and respect for the work of artists like William Steig, John Burningham, and Quentin Blake—and a mutual woe-is-me-I-think-I’ll-just-quit-life-and-live-on-an-island mentality that exists in close partnership with an otherwise boundless enthusiasm for life and art and bookmaking. So we knew we were simpatico, but we didn’t yet have a project we could work on together. Several months passed, and then one morning I had an old friend over for coffee. She began telling me about a dream she’d had the night before. In the dream she’d brought an elephant to the post office. Once she got there she realized she’d never be able to afford the postage. Within the next few hours, my friend’s dream had become the first draft to Special Delivery. Some stories take months, even years to figure out (I’m looking at you, A Home for Bird), but others change very little from the first moment of inspiration on. Special Delivery was in the latter category. Almost nothing changed from day one till now. Once I had a finished manuscript, I could’ve just emailed the story over to Matt, but that hardly would’ve been keeping with the spirit of the book. So instead I packaged it up and walked it right over to the post office. And that’s that. Care to add anything, Matt?

Oh, wait, before Matt edits my history, I should mention one last thing. My favorite Maurice Sendak illustration actually comes from one of his lesser known books, Lullabies and Night Songs. On page 60, there is a single image of an elephant covered in postage stamps. The image tugs at two of my heart strings at the same time — my love for elephants and my love for stamps. I’d had that image in the back of my mind for years and years prior to the making of Special Delivery. My friend’s dream just sort of jostled something loose, creatively.

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Matt: I love your description of our commonalities. Very true. Such a fine combination of horribly bleak and triumphantly upbeat, don’t you think?

Yep, your hazy memory of it all matches my own hazy memory of it all. I loved the idea of working with you and with Neal too, and then out of the blue I got a manilla envelope in the mail with the Special Delivery manuscript. I remember reading over it and not expecting at all the thing I was reading over. An elephant delivery, a plane crash, train robbers, and ice cream. This was like my picture book dream come true. You presented it like, “if you don’t like it, we’ll find something else to do together.” But there was no way in hell I was gonna let this go. Thankfully, Neal saw the same beautiful madness the two of us saw and signed, sealed, delivered.

When I first read the Special Delivery manuscript, I remember feeling it was kind of unusual for a Phil Stead. Like a little more off-the-rails or something. I think your collaborations with Erin and also, like, A Home for Bird and Ruby naturally came to mind. More earnest stuff. Although, maybe it was your art and Erin’s art that brought the earnest and sincere vibe to those projects.

But then later I thought, maybe because I was reading this story (the first I’d read of yours without illustrations) and immediately infusing my own mental imagery (which, let’s face it, is often loose, often nutty) into your words, that’s what was making it more off-the-rails. Weeeiird. Was I right then or am I wrong now?

Phil: I think you’re a little bit right and a little bit wrong. Knowing I was writing for you and not for Erin or myself definitely informed my thinking. When I write for Erin, a natural gentleness comes forward. When I write for myself, the manuscripts tend to be more moody and unsettled. I don’t know, something about your line quality was asking for a much quicker pace and a lot more imagery than I’d normally be comfortable with. Still, I think a close read shows that Special Delivery is still a Phil Stead book (apologies for speaking in the third-person; I know that’s gross). The sentence structures are still quite formal, and the character are always, ALWAYS polite. Sadie may be crashing an airplane or hijacking a train, but she always says please and thank you.

“Goodbye, Alligator, and thank you. Someday I’ll mail you a real letter
and inside will be a giant stick of bubble gum.”

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I remember there was one page, in particular, that I had to fight to keep in this book. This was one of the few disagreements that arose during the copyediting stage of the book. The page I’m thinking of comes near the end. It’s the scene where Sadie finally arrives at Aunt Josephine’s. I really wanted to keep that page wordless and just let your art silently show the tender moment of happiness shared between those two characters. Maybe because the book was so raucous up till that point, I was getting some pushback about that decision. It was suggested that that page be much more exclamatory. But to me that’s the page that shows the sincerity of Sadie’s whole adventure. And like you said, sincerity has become a bit of a hallmark of my other books.

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By the way, it’s interesting that you used the word “earnest” as well. I just used that word to describe why I can’t stand Fleetwood Mac. So now, of course, I’m questioning my entire raison d’être. Maybe I’ll just quit life and go live on an island.

Matt: Fleetwood Mac? But I always thought you an Eagles man!

Now I’m remembering some of these discussions. Man, talk about a hazy memory. I love that subtlety of consistent politeness in your books. And I do remember that crossroads of the wordless page vs. the exclamation. It’s all coming back to me now (to the tune of Celine Dion).

Jules: I think there’s good-earnest and then earnest that is like someone is trying to shove sugar down your throat. Neither one of you would ever go for the latter. If so, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

One quick question before we see if editor Neal Porter wants to join the conversation. (Because why not?) Several things about this book made me think of John Burningham Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present, which I love so fiercely – any time of year.


And I am especially fond of his work in general. I know Matt owns this, but Phil, if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it, because it is ALL ABOUT his long and wonderful career and heaven bless Candlewick for publishing it:

For someone who does a lot of interviews, I think I’m horrible at asking questions sometimes. I don’t really have a question here, except I guess I wonder if you know that book, Phil (Harvey Slumfenburger). I already know Matt knows and loves it. There are elements of the text of Special Delivery that remind me of it – but in a fresh and wonderful way, not a way that makes me think you were trying to mimic. In fact, I think of Special Delivery as a worthy successor to Harvey. That’s saying a lot, only because I’m a huge fan of Burningham’s work and don’t think many people can touch it.

Phil: Nope, I’ve never seen Harvey before. But I’ll go ahead and take it as a big compliment that you found any similarities at all between it and Special Delivery. Every now and then I discover an unintentional similarity between one of my books and a book from someone I really admire. Take Mr. Squirrel and the Moon, for example (the book I mentioned earlier). When I picked it up I was shocked to see that it had an almost identical beginning to A Home for Bird. For a few minutes, I was really patting myself on the back about that. But then I saw that Meschenmoser’s book was first published in Europe in 2006, four years before A Home for Bird. So, once again, I am the copycat. At least I copy the best!

A few weeks ago I was working on some early ideas for a potential third book featuring Sadie from Special Delivery (there will be a second book featuring Sadie, called The Only Fish In The Sea, out in 2017). I realized midway through the second draft that the running gag in the story is very similar to the running gag in Quentin Blake’s Mrs. Armitage, Queen of the Road. I suppose these things happen.

As long as we’re talking Burningham, I’d like to add his new book, The Way To the Zoo, to the discussion. That book is truly beautiful and deeply strange. I love it.

Jules: Ooh, ooh. I posted about that book here last summer. I like it too. There’s art from the book at that link.

And a second Sadie book? Most excellent news.

Matt, did you think of Harvey Slumfenburger as you worked on this?

Matt: I am very excited about that second Sadie book! I’m sort of equal parts excited and terrified. I want to be able to bring back just what we did for Special Delivery and have it live up to Sadie #1 and, furthermore, kick it up some notches. And right now, it’s just a gigantic piece of white paper locking eyes with me. If white paper had eyes.

In regards to Harvey Slumfenburger, that is one of my all-time favorite Burninghams. I don’t always gravitate to extremely seasonal/holiday picture books, but occasionally one does strike a chord and this one does just that. It’s interesting, I love JB for both his text and his art, but I’m mostly thinking about his art. But now that you mention it, Slumfenburger and Special Delivery do have a bit of that constant-motion spirit and hijinks in common! I love the comparison. One thing I thought I’d point out, since we’re on the topic, is how this one spread in Slumfenburger has been quite influential to me on a few books in recent past, Special Delivery included.

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When I first saw this spread, I was blown away by several things. The amount of stuff going on, the wordlessness of it, the whole show-time-through-sequential-image comic strip-esque-ness of it. It’s kind of like a comic strip, but leave it to Burningham to totally jack up the traditional grid. It’s more like the suck-it-grid grid.

I was not not familiar with this device, but when I saw it here—in a picture book—I was sort of like… “YES. THIS.” One such instance I found a place for it was in Another Brother. I love looking at this spread during school visits and pointing out all the weird stuff.

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Then, as we were working on Special Delivery, there’s this insane moment in the manuscript where Sadie and the elephant board a cargo train, and they are promptly hijacked by a band of monkey train robbers. This sounds insane and it’s because it is and … good grief, I love this book. Initially, I took a single page and did sort of a mini-Slumfenburger approach with it in the first sketch dummy. Somebody (Phil or Neal or both) suggested to let this mad moment breathe. Breathe heavily. So we turned the volume up on it, full-spread.

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So I guess what I’m saying here is that Burningham is never too far from my thoughts. … I think that sounds way creepier than I meant it to sound.

Jules: Ooh, this is interesting. Yes, I love that spread in Harvey. And Another Brother (which I still think was one of 2012’s best picture books).

The primary thing that made me think of Harvey was the repetition of:

I’m delivering this elephant to my Great-Aunt Josephine—who lives almost completely alone and could really use the company.

In Harvey, Santa says each time he meets someone (as if they’re actually going to wonder who he is):

Excuse me. My name is Santa Claus. I still have one present left in my sack, which is for Harvey Slumfenburger, the little boy who lives in a hut at the top of the Roly Poly Mountain, which is far far away. And it will soon be Christmas Day.

I love how he says those exact words with each new encounter (and I think children find comfort in that repetition), and Sadie does the same.

And, I should add, what gets me every time about Harvey is that Santa is wrecked on Christmas Eve after he gives all those toys out, yet he still starts to walk in the cold to Roly Poly Mountain. He doesn’t break his promises, especially not for Harvey Slumfenburger, whose parents can’t afford to buy him presents.

He’s just … well, this will sound hokey, but he’s just extremely thoughtful, which comes back to what Phil was saying earlier about sincerity. I love that Sadie is thinking of her grandmother. And she’s super dedicated to getting that gift there already.

(I also love the ending of Harvey — that deliciously mysterious “I wonder what it was.” AFTER ALL THAT EFFORT. Oh, the lovely wonder of it all, Burningham letting the child reader imagine the possibilities.)

Matt: Yes! All those things! I forgot. I forgot how JB repeats that crazy long phrasing OVER and over and over. Now I see what you mean with the repeat phrasing in Special Delivery. And the extreme dedication, no matter what obstacle literally slams itself into the hero of both stories. A fine comparison.

Lastly, the Slumfenburger text is pretty long, if memory serves, and I’m usually reading it as a bedtime reader when all parental parties are brutally tired, so I feel ol’ Santa’s pain from page one. I love the ending too. So perfect.

Jules: Let’s pull editor Neal Porter into this discussion.

Hi, Neal. So, I’m wondering: The first time you read this story, did it include Matt’s illustrations already?

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Neal: Hi, Jules. Embarrassing to admit, but my memories of the genesis of the project are a little hazy. As Phil has reminded me, I first saw his text for Special Delivery in the summer of 2012 when I was visiting him and Erin in Ann Arbor. He broached the possibility of having Matt Cordell, whose work he very much admired and with whom he had struck up a friendship, illustrate it. I knew Matt’s work from a couple of books our sister imprint, Feiwel and Friends, had published, and was all in. The text, all dialogue, had no “stage directions” but it just seemed like a lot of loopy fun, and I knew we could make it work. There were no illustrations. I asked Matt to do a couple of samples and a character sketch of Sadie, and we were off to the races, once we juggled Matt’s schedule a bit to come up with a delivery date that made sense.

The most memorable part of our collaboration occurred on an extremely hot piece of concrete in the vast expanse surrounding McCormick Place in Chicago during ALA. Phil had scouted the location the day before and said there were nice wrought iron chairs and a view of the lake. When we arrived, the chairs had disappeared but there was an awful lot of bird poop. We had our meeting there anyway, perched on a retaining wall, sweating profusely. Astonishingly enough, we had a very productive session, and from then on it was mostly a question of watching Phil and Matt go to town.

Guys, tell me if I’ve gotten this all wrong.

Matt: I can indeed confirm all of this to be true! Our pigeon poop stoop will forever go down in picture book dummy discussion history. At least in my mind. Actually, I ultimately included pigeons in the book because of that day. Plus, pigeons are kind of like the gross, punk rock, urban warriors of the bird world. Seemed like the right choice here. Take a peek at the title page spread and one or two other places in the book to find our poop-happy friends. (However, all pigeon occurrences in Special Delivery are poop-free, if you don’t mind.)

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Here are the original character studies, plus one piece in color that sealed the deal and got us up and running:

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Jules: Thanks, Neal. It hadn’t even occurred to me til now that, indeed, the entire book is in dialogue.

And, Matt: It’s really neat to see these original character studies.

Neal, now that I have your attention (and even one though one day we should just do a long 7-Imp interview), I want to ask: What’s your super secret Neal Porter trick for getting what you want out of your authors and illustrators? I guess if it’s a secret, you won’t tell. But I really look forward to books from your imprint—as in, Neal Porter/Roaring Brook picture books are usually some of my favorites, and it’s not often I feel let down—and so I’m wondering what you look for and how you get it.

Or is that waaaaay too complicated to even answer? Are you shooting daggers in my general direction now?

Neal: Well, that is a very difficult question, Jules, and at the moment I’m shooting a few butter knives, if not daggers, in your direction.

If there is a “trick,” it’s to try to be sensitive to the needs of authors and artists I work with. Phil designs the books he writes and/or illustrates, so I get very tight layouts very early in the process. Usually, it’s a question of fine-tuning. We did have a mild dust up over one sentence—four words—that came towards the end of the original draft of Special Delivery. He didn’t think they were necessary, as he thought the picture told the story. I thought we needed them to make the action clear. He won, and he was right.

Working with Laura Seeger is very different — it’s more like playing, or improvisational theater. The words “what if?”—also the title of one of her books—are invoked constantly. Another phrase that comes up is “it needs something.” Sometimes I have no idea what, and sometimes I have an inkling. But it’s more fun to let her work out the solution, which is often not what I had in mind at all. In all cases, I’d like to think that my edits are unobtrusive — I’m a firm believer in the Hippocratic oath, “do no harm.”

Jules: This is sort of what I expected you to say. I got the sense—probably from various interviews with illustrators I’ve done over the years—that you accomplish a lot with few words. Rather, that you have a way of getting illustrators to see what you want them to see without explicitly pointing it out to them, by letting them come to the realizations on their own.

I don’t know if that makes sense. It’s still early. Still on my first cup of coffee.

Thanks for answering my question. One day, let’s do a long 7-Imp interview.

Neal: Make sense to me, but I’m on my first cup of coffee, too. Happy to do a long interview. Just say the word.

Phil: And if I may chine in, please: I will confirm that Neal, on his better days, has a Yoda-like quality to his craft. I will also confirm what Neal only hinted at. That is, that I am difficult to work with, stubborn, and ill-tempered.

Neal: True, but only in the nicest possible way.

Matt: Neal, I know we’ve only done two books together, but what extremely positive slot do you categorize me in?

Neal: Extremely talented sweetheart.

Matt: Aw, man! See, this is why we all love Neal Porter!

Jules: Matt and Phil, I have only an F&G of Special Delivery, but tell me about the dustjacket and the cover, which I hear are speshul. Also, isn’t there fun with the bar code on the back cover? I also can’t see this on my F&G, but I think Matt told me about it.

Matt: Speaking for myself, this book was a little like weird magic happening from start to finish. Everything came out so organically and free. It sort of felt like we grabbed a puzzle off the shelf, shook up the box, dumped it out, and it assembled itself by the time it hit the floor. And … wow, look at that crazy picture we just made! I mean. Maybe I’m reaching with the metaphor. But the making of this book traveled along–chugga chugga chugga’d along–with so much free-form fun.

The jacket and case cover are two good examples of this. The case cover idea was the first to materialize. I had this thought to design illustrated endsheets, and in my first dummy I quickly roughed out one page of what would be a massive two-page spread of postage stamps.

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Because I was exceeding a budget-conscious page count by doing this, someone at the table (Neal or Phil) suggested we go with traditional endsheets (not illustrated/4-color) and use this stamps-abound design for some hidden-under-the-dustjacket fun. And much, much later … viola!

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The next thing to come—uncharacteristically, very early on in the sketches—was the cover solution. Phil and Neal and I had just been on the phone, discussing the first-round sketch dummy for a couple of hours. It was a tremendously energetic brainstorm session. When I hung up the phone, for whatever reason, that super-famous, famously misprinted U.S. postage stamp—the “Inverted Jenny”—immediately came to mind.

In Special Delivery, we have stamps and we have bi-plane flight, which is—shall we say—less than ideal. What a perfect homage! I quickly roughed up this cover sketch, emailed it out to the guys, and just like that, our cover was solved.

(First cover sketch)

And last—but not least—came the jacket back. I was closing in on the finishing the art for the book, and we still did not have an image for the back of the jacket. Neal was asking. I’d been putting it off, I guess, trying to finish the book. When I sat with it seriously, minutes later I had an idea. Every book sold in stores has that pesky eyesore of a bar code on the back. You do the best you can with it. Sometimes the bar code eats you and, well … sometimes you eat the bar code. This image is a throwback to a happening within the book. And just like that … jacket back solved.

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Jules: Thanks, Matt. The “free-form fun” fully comes across in the final product.

One more question about the book: Who came up with the “chugga chugga chugga beans beans beans”? Did you add that when illustrating that spread, Matt? Or was it part of the text?

Phil: The inclusion of the “chugga chugga chugga beans beans beans” refrain is maybe the greatest example of this puzzle seemingly coming together all on its own. That line did not appear in the manuscript. All that existed was the implication of some manic bean-eating. Matt added that text all on his own (without even asking, mind you). But I love him for that, because all along I was telling him: Do whatever you need to do to make this work. Even change the text if you have to.

The only other artist I’ve worked with is my wife, Erin. When we’re working on a book, both the text and the art are in constant flux. Each informs the other as the work progresses. I wanted to keep that back-and-forth alive for this, my first book made outside of our home studio. “Chugga chugga chugga beans beans beans” has become the unintentional slogan that’s followed this book around. Several months ago I was in Cincinnati and a total stranger came up to me, threw his arms in the air and hollered “Chugga, chugga, chugga, beans, beans, beans!” That was when I first realized we may have stumbled into some weird magic.

And as for the cover art, I have nothing to add other than that I love it, and that once again it was all Matt’s genius, not my own. Sometimes I think the job of a picture book writer is similar to the job of the guy who throws the pitches at a home run derby. Just lob ‘em in and watch ‘em leave the park.

Jules: Okay, last question: I’m curious to know what is on your plates for this year. Matt, I’d love to hear about Wish. Anything else you’re doing?

Phil, you and Erin have Lenny & Lucy, releasing in the Fall, yes? I haven’t seen it. I just had to go look that up. (There’s evidently a song with the same name.) Can you talk about that a bit? Anything else you’re working on now?

Matt: Before we move on, let me just get the last word in. And I’m about to get ooey gooey weird here, but so be it. Getting Phil’s okay on the art was a big deal for me, still is. This was the first time I had ever illustrated a book for another illustrator (not to mention one whose work and decisions I highly respect), and I must admit I was pretty worried about it, going in. After that first dummy went in and all signs pointed to “yes,” and I was real glad about that. It was ripping and roaring and BEANS-BEANS-BEANS from there on out.

Okay, let’s move on.

Phil: As for other 2015 projects, I feel like I have a dozen things all happening at once. The book I’m actively working on is a story called Samson in the Snow. It’s about a woolly mammoth who goes looking for a friend in a snow storm. The art for this one is done in oil pastel — a new medium for me.

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In addition to Samson, Matt and I are working on another book featuring Sadie from Special Delivery. Book two is called The Only Fish in the Sea. In this one, Sadie and her friend, Sherman, must rescue a discarded goldfish. (Sherman is the unnamed character that yells “Hey Sadie!” at the beginning of Special Delivery.)

I’m also working on a super-top-secret writing project that I would love to tell you all about, but, well … it’s super-top-secret. At least for now. I will say this: It involves a collaboration with a long dead American literary icon. And it keeps me up at night.

Hmmm, what else? I have a finished novel sitting on my shelf that no one’s read. Not even Erin. Maybe I should dust that off?

Later this year, Erin and I have Lenny & Lucy coming out. This is Erin’s first book in a couple years, so I’m pretty excited about it. The book is a bit darker than her other books, both literally (it’s mostly black and white) and emotionally. I’m not aware of any song called “Lenny & Lucy.” Hopefully, there are no lawsuits coming our way.

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Finally, I’m looking at proofs right now for a book that will be out next year, called Ideas Are All Around. It’s a difficult book to describe. It’s part personal essay, part fiction. It’s an odd little book. It’s long (56 pages), and it’s illustrated using a variety of techniques from monotype printing to collage to Polaroid photography. Ideas will be out next spring. I’m equal parts excited and nervous for it’s arrival.

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How about you, Matt? What’s piling up on your desk?

Matt: Look at all this great, new Steadstuff! Looking forward to seeing these materialize into books soon. I may have to hound you later to find out about this dead American literary icon secrecy.

So, on the VERY SAME DAY Special Delivery is released, I have my next author-illustrator picture book, Wish, being released too. Ask me about it some time, but long story short, it was kind of an avoidable, then unavoidable, pub-day collision.

Wish is my answer to a “New Baby!” book. The inspiration here is a long story, but I’ll try to keep it not so long. When Julie (my lovely wife, who is also named Julie) and I finally took the plunge and said “we’re ready to try for a baby,” we had no idea there’d be such a tumultuous road ahead of us. There was waiting (LOTS of waiting … years), heartbreak, and too much loss on that road. So by the time our firstborn was actually born, it was a drop-to-your-knees, life-changing, heart-swelling moment of moments. I think all parents must have that moment when a child is born that they’ve just brought into the world. And for us, we felt that — and we reflected, too, on the many broken battles that laid in our past. And in the midst of all that time, we also met so many couples that went through similar hardships. We didn’t know it at first, but now Julie and I know how common it all is. So I wanted to tell our story—a book about what it sometimes takes to wish a child into this world—and let it be a story that other parents could share and read to their children that they fought so hard to will into existence. I’m really excited about this book, and I really, really hope that it finds its audience.

“At first, there is us. There is only us.
But even then, even before we can know to know it …”

“Ready for you. We wish you were here.”
(Click to enlarge)

“… but you never come. And everything stops.”

“You are here. You are …”
(Click to enlarge)

The case for Wish
(Click to enlarge)

In July, I have another picture book coming out with the most excellent Audrey Vernick, via Clarion. The book is called First Grade Dropout. I probably shouldn’t say too much since it’s, like, five months away, but it was so fun to illustrate, because it’s about a kid who, of course, is already ready to drop out of school in the first grade.

And in the Fall, I’ve got my next book out that I did with Neal. A super clever picture book by Marsha Diane Arnold, called Lost. Found. There’s only two words in the whole book, and you can guess what those two words are, I think.

I’m currently, just now, starting final art for The Knowing Book, a beautiful picture book with Boyds Mill Press by Rebecca Kai Dotlich. I’m also working on my next author/illustrator picture book, called Little Jupiter, with Feiwel and Friends. I’ll soon be starting sketches for a picture book called Bob Not Bob by dynamic duo authors Audrey Vernick and Liz Garton Scanlon. And, of course, I’m thrilled about our Special Delivery sequel, which is next in line. There’s some other great stuff that carries me all the way on through 2018, but I’ll shut up and cap it off with that. I’m lucky to be so busy with such good stuff!

Jules: I think I have a very early copy of First Grade Dropout in my stack of F&Gs.

I also have a copy of Wish, and I love the moment when the baby elephant arrives, à la Moses parting the Red Sea. It made me laugh outloud, and it is so joyful.

“… becomes a roar.
(Click to enlarge)

It’s wonderful to see sneak-peeks of your future titles. Thank you both for sharing and for talking to me about Special Delivery, which is—in the words of StingRay—specialness forever.

Thank you both for your time!

Chugga chugga.

* * * * * * *

SPECIAL DELIVERY. Text copyright © 2015 by Philip C. Stead. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Matthew Cordell. Published by Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Matthew Cordell and Philip C. Stead.

10 Comments on Special Delivery: A Visit with Matthew Cordell &Philip Stead and Even a Moment with Neal Porter, last added: 2/17/2015
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19. Interview: Una LaMarche

The 2015 Sydney Taylor Awards were recently announced, and Like No Other by Una LaMarche received an Honor in the Teen Readers category. The book was also named a Publishers Weekly Best Book of Summer 2014, a 2014 Junior Library Guild Selection, and a Summer 2014 Indie Next List Pick, among other accolades.

When I interviewed Una as part of The Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour, here's what she had to say about love stories, teen stories, and true stories.

LNO paperbackWhat inspired you to write Like No Other?

I knew I wanted to write a love story, I knew I wanted to set it in Brooklyn (where I grew up and still live), and I knew I wanted to write something with real stakes. I felt like a lot of the supposed "obstacles" in contemporary romance - He’s rich, she’s poor! She’s popular, she’s a nerd! Etc.- weren’t strong enough. I’m no Shakespeare scholar, but I kept thinking about Romeo and Juliet, about how their families were sworn enemies, and how great it would be to find something similar in modern-day New York. One of the greatest things about living in the city is how inclusive it is, but I needed to find two groups who could believably be at odds. I wanted true forbidden love. Luckily, I barely had to do any work to connect the dots, since they were literally right in front of my face.

Growing up, I had always seen Hasidic families at the park or out shopping, but there was an unspoken rule that we would never interact; we were "other" to them and they were "other" to us. It struck me that that kind of extremely insular religious group might provide the perfect environment for the story I wanted to tell, and after speaking to women who had grown up in those communities, I knew I'd found what I was looking for. There are rules of Hasidic life that govern how to live, whom to love, and who to be. For anyone to break those rules, let alone a young woman - let alone with a black man - well, that would set some seriously Shakespearean stakes.

How has real life impacted your writing, and/or vice-versa?

I draw as much as I can from what I know, just because that’s both what’s easiest and most genuine. In Like No Other, what I knew best was Brooklyn - that experience of growing up in a dense, vibrant, diverse place that’s alternately comforting and a little frightening - but even though I didn’t have a huge amount in common with either Devorah or Jax, I always try to put as much real life experience into my characters as I can. The great thing about being human is that regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or religion, most emotions are more or less universal. I may not have had any firsthand experience with Devorah (my Hasidic character's) upbringing, but I know what it felt like to be a teenage girl. And I'm not male or black like Jaxon, but I know what it’s like to be a city kid under pressure from your parents to make them proud.

What's your favorite part about writing fiction? How do you approach writing non-fiction?

I love writing fiction because A) there are no limits, but mostly B) I’m a control freak and can decide what happens. When I’m writing nonfiction I’m very careful to make sure everything I’m writing is as accurate as possible; I don’t even like to write dialogue in my memoir pieces for fear of getting it wrong or manipulating it somehow. But in fiction there is no getting it wrong - at least from an artistic standpoint - and manipulation is the whole point! It’s pretty awesome.

What books or authors did you love as a teenager?

As a preteen I was a card-carrying member of The Baby-Sitters Club fan club, and a little too emotionally involved with the goings-on at Sweet Valley High. Later, I got into horror and devoured anything by Stephen King or Christopher Pike. I loved Lynda Barry’s cartoon anthologies, and of course Queen Judy Blume. But I also dabbled in Jane Austen, Cynthia Voigt, and Maeve Binchy… when I wasn’t busy obsessively reading Sassy magazine. UnaHeadshot

You are a novelist, an essayist, and an Etsy enthusiast. What other nouns or vocations suit you?

Mother. Wife. Oenophile. Karaoke hustler. Ball of emotion.

When you were a kid, you kept a diary. Do you still keep one as an adult? Does anyone else in your family keep a journal, or write regularly?

I have actually never kept a regular or honest* diary. I was a diary dilettante and still am; I have a sort-of-diary that’s an ongoing letter to my (currently three year-old) son, and I still only manage to update it about twice a year.

*As a teenager I tried to make my life seem a lot more exciting than it was. Maybe that’s why I write teen fiction now?

What are your top ten favorite books?

It was so hard to narrow it down to ten, but here’s an attempt at a reflection of my current list, in no particular order:

It’s So Magic, Lynda Barry
The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, Melissa Bank
Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
Candyfreak, Steve Almond
Circle of Friends, Maeve Binchy
Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Metropolitan Life, Fran Lebowitz
No Lifeguard on Duty: The Accidental Life of the World’s First Supermodel, Janice Dickinson (I’M BEING HONEST, DON’T JUDGE ME)
Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay

Visit Una's website at http://www.unalamarche.com/

Check out the full blog tour schedule as posted at the AJL blog.

Drop by the Association of Jewish Libraries website and the official Sydney Taylor site.

Related posts at Bildungsroman:
The Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour 2014
The Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour 2013
The Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour 2012

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20. Five questions for Lucy Cousins

lucycousinsIf you know any little girls named Maisy (or Tallulah; or, for that matter, any little boys named Cyril), chances are good that it’s because of Lucy Cousins. Her indomitable little-girl-mouse is beloved by toddlers and their grownups the world over, making Cousins one proud mama.

1. Your latest Maisy book — Count with Maisy, Cheep, Cheep, Cheep! (Candlewick, 2–5 years) — is a large-format, lift-the-flap book. You’ve also done Maisy board books, hardcovers, cloth books, Maisy First Science and Arts-and-Crafts books, books with stickers, etc., etc. How do you decide? Does form follow content?

LC: I like to try out any new ideas for Maisy that I can think of. Maybe it’s because she is quite a graphic character, she seems to work well in many different formats. Because the age range for Maisy is so wide, from a young baby who is just grasping things and looking intently to a child who enjoys stories and details, it means there is such a variety of book styles to create. A chunky book is great for a tiny child who might put the book in the mouth and drop it on the floor, whereas an older child will enjoy sitting quietly and studying the pictures and following a story. Whatever the age, I like there to be a choice of Maisy books, some just for fun, some for learning, some for stories. So I aim to create pictures and ideas or stories that are relevant to the format of the book.

2. You’ve introduced American children to some unusual-to-them names (Maisy, for one; also Tallulah, which is very cute to hear toddlers try to say!). How do you name your characters?

LC: I find naming characters a very difficult thing. I have a few dictionaries of names, which are usually for naming babies, and initially go through all the names starting with the same letter as the animal I’m trying to name. Or I think of names that sound nice phonetically. When I named Maisy, the name was familiar, but only really used by people of my grandparents’ generation. I just loved the sound of it, a soft and friendly name. Now it has become quite a popular name, and I sometimes meet children called Maisy and Tallulah when I am signing books. I was quite excited when my son came home after his first term at university and told us that his new girlfriend’s name is… Tallulah!

cousins_count with maisy cheep cheep cheep3. You’re well known for your work in those bright, bold colors. Have you done work in other styles, or using different media?

LC: I developed my style of illustration using bright blocks of color and a bold black outline while I was studying at art college. It feels very comfortable and natural to paint like that, so I enjoy mostly working in that style. Occasionally I have tried a slightly different approach. For example, my book I’m the Best (Candlewick, 2–5 years) was created with colored inks and a chunky graphite pencil. In the early days of Maisy, I had quite a lot of creative input into the developing of the TV series and merchandising, and I enjoyed working in those different mediums. I love doing creative things for fun, almost anything, from pottery to photography to knitting. But life has been so busy bringing up my four children and creating my books, that I haven’t had much time for experimenting.

4. Maisy is a toddler icon. Do you hear much from nostalgic ten-year-olds?

LC: Yes, it’s always lovely to hear memories of people enjoying Maisy. Especially from six-foot-tall teenage friends of my children. Parents sometimes tell me heartwarming stories about how a Maisy book has been very special to their child during a difficult time, like a hospital visit, or starting a new nursery school. I work in a solitary way, for weeks and months on my books, and sometimes it can be quite a struggle, so it means a lot when I hear about a child who loves Maisy.

5. Following Hello Kitty-gate, do you think of your character as a girl-sized mouse? Or a mouse-shaped girl? Or neither?

LC: I have to say that it is not something I think about, or am inclined to try and understand. For me, she is just Maisy, in Maisy’s world, and it’s completely separate from our world. When I did the very first drawing of Maisy about twenty-five years ago, I could picture her character and her world, and it’s always seemed to me that it’s best not to question that vision. If I start to think about why she is a mouse who behaves like a child, has no parents or family, can do things only adults can do, and is completely independent, it all seems rather confusing. Even her sex is rather ambiguous to me. She is officially a female, but that is a very unimportant part of who she is. She likes wearing trousers and mucking out pigs as much as dancing and baking.  So, Maisy is just Maisy. Simple.

From the February 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.


The post Five questions for Lucy Cousins appeared first on The Horn Book.

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21. Interview: Directors Albert ‘t Hooft and Paco Vink on ‘Trippel Trappel’

Albert 't Hooft and Paco Vink discuss the challenges of directing a low-budget theatrical feature in a small animation market like the Netherlands.

0 Comments on Interview: Directors Albert ‘t Hooft and Paco Vink on ‘Trippel Trappel’ as of 2/10/2015 8:20:00 AM
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22. IA Talks to Tara Jacoby About Her Illustrations for Gawker


[Very Blessed New Mom Wishes She Had Been Warned More About Blessings – Article]

You may have noticed something happening over at Gawker media.

Things have been way visually cooler over there for the past year, thanks to the efforts of Illustrator Tara Jacoby and Art Director/Illustrator Jim Cooke. Last April (2014), Cooke – on behalf of Gawker Media – put out a call for a “staff illustrator”.

We’re looking for a graphic design and illustration junkie with an editorial focus. You can read a post, conceptualize an interesting visual solution, and execute an image that will make that post better…within an hour or two. You are clever and have a keen sense of humor, and your portfolio reflects this.

Tara Jacoby turned out to be the perfect choice for the job. Her work brings just the right balance of humor, wit, and humanity to Gawker’s incredibly wide range of topics and compelling headlines. Here at Illustration Age we always strive to celebrate the people, publications and organizations that embrace the use of illustration, and next week we’ll be sharing our conversation with AD Jim Cooke about Gawker’s motivations for doing just that.

But first, we think it makes sense to start with the images themselves, so we’ve collaborated with Tara to highlight some of our favorite illustrations of hers and also take the opportunity to pick her brain about her experience working with Gawker over the past year. Enjoy!

lfiwl9seowdwk7qwseaf[How to Get Your Sex Tape Off the Internet – Article]

portrait1.jpgILLUSTRATION AGE: What inspired you to answer Gawker’s call for an in-house illustrator?

TARA JACOBY: I had been working as the graphic designer at the Society of Illustrators and freelancing. I’d looked to change gears and focus on illustration and considered going freelance full-time. To be honest, I had no idea Gawker was hiring. A friend had sent me the link twice before I even read it. When I actually did read it, it felt like the stars had aligned. I had to have it. This job was tailor-made for me. So, I applied immediately.

Sometimes the job feels too good to be true. I cannot believe that I’m excited to go to work everyday. You know when people say “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”… well, they were right!


[Here Is What It’s Like to Do a ‘Soup Cleanse’ – Article]

Fun (after the) fact: Jim had me come into the office for a trial day after my interview. I completely blew it. He sat me at the “smelly Deadspin table” and I sat there silently freaking out and frantically sketching ideas, reading and re-reading the assignments as my career hung in the balance. I basically had an eight hour anxiety attack. I still can’t believe that he hired me after that.


[Why You’re So Horny During Your Period – Article]


[Twenty Days of Harassment and Racism as an American Apparel Employee – Article]

IA: What’s it like to work under rapid-fire deadlines on such a regular basis?

TJ: Well, had you asked me that in June, my head might have exploded from all of the pressure. At first, I was completely stressed out. I tend to overthink… let me see… well, everything. The first couple of weeks I was waking up at 4:30 every morning just to mentally prepare myself for the day ahead. I basically drove myself insane. I think I hid my neurosis pretty well? I’m not sure. All I knew was, Jim hadn’t canned me yet, so everything was copacetic.

Now, I actually think it’s refreshing to work under rapid-fire. You don’t have time to overthink anything. And being a perfectionist, I feel like this really helped me loosen up both technically and creatively.

Overall, I love it. Typically, each one of us does 3-5 illustrations in a day, depending on how busy we are. That doesn’t include the other more design-oriented images we make. The three of us are constantly working. By the end of the week we can’t even remember all of the things we’ve done. Over a course of 7 months, I’ve done roughly 500 or so illustrations. I’ve never been so productive in my entire life.


[You Prefer to Date Fat Guys So You Don’t Feel So Bad About Yourself – Article]


[When You’re a Black Woman, You’re Never Good Enough to Be a Victim – Article]

IA: How much creative freedom do you feel like you have on these illustrations?

TJ: The organization as a whole is encouraged to be bold and honest. Nick Denton once said, “We are beholden to no one.”  That holds true for the art department as well. We can draw whatever we want with no apologies. That’s the beauty of working for a truly independent media company. They are always challenging you to push the limits and speak your mind. I’ll admit, sometimes we do get a little carried away, but that’s not a terrible thing.

If I think that something might be going too far (or not far enough), I’ll ask Jim and he’ll point me back in the right direction. When Disney Dudes’ Dicks came out I was very concerned about offending the Disney loving masses, but Jim gave me some sage advice: “If you’re not offending someone, you’re not doing it right.”


[How to Keep Photos of Your Naked Body Off the Internet – Article]

wgig8eidorh8qtvuemyh[Disney Dudes’ Dicks: What Your Favorite Princes Look Like Naked – Article]

IA: To end on a light note, many of your illustrations deal with sexual themes. What does your mother think about that?

TJ: My mom rules. My whole family does. I could draw pretty much anything and they’d support me. They always have. After the first couple of weeks, they all just accepted that if they ask about my job, they better be ready for some NSFW art. I’m lucky to have a family with a few loose screws and a great sense of humor.

Thanks to Tara Jacoby and Gawker Media for their contributions to this article. Stay tuned for our conversation with Gawker Art Director Jim Cooke!

More places to find Tara Jacoby:

Filed under: Interviews

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23. The Art of Carson Ellis

“Or home is an apartment.”
(Click to enlarge)


Last week, I talked over at Kirkus with Carson Ellis about the first picture book she’s both written and illustrated, Home (Candlewick, February 2015).

Today I’m following up with some sketches and art from the book. I thank Carson for sharing. And I highly recommend reading this Q&A over at the wonderful Picturebook Makers too, which has even more art.

Here’s my 2011 breakfast interview with her.

Enjoy the art.


Early Thumbnail and Sketches:


(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)



Some Final Art:


“Or shoes.”
(Click to enlarge)


“And some folks live on the road.”
(Click to enlarge)



* * * * * * *

HOME. Copyright © 2015 by Carson Ellis. Spreads reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA. Sketches shared by permission of Carson Ellis.

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24. Mariko and Jillian Tamaki on This One Summer winning the Caldecott and Printz Honors


By Harper Harris

Mariko and Jillian Tamaki‘s This One Summer was one of the most highly acclaimed graphic novels of 2014, popping up on a great number of top ten lists as well as winning an Ignatz Award for Best Graphic Novel. To say it was an attention grabber for the already heralded Canadian creators is an understatement.

Just last week, this tale of two childhood friends on the cusp of adolescence was awarded with the prestigious Caldecott Honor, being the first ever graphic novel to do so, along with the Printz Honor (and joins Gene Luen Yang‘s Boxers & Saints as the only other graphic novel to notch that award as well).

Mariko and Jillian were kind enough to join me for a brief Q&A regarding the recent wins and the creative process on this landmark work.

Where were you each when you learned you won the Caldecott Honor? Who called whom?

Jillian Tamaki: I was in bed.

Mariko Tamaki: I think we eventually texted each other about it.

Is there a sense of accomplishment or “I’ve made it” for winning such a prestigious award? Jillian, how does it compare to your Eisner nominations or the Ignatz award that This One Summer also received?

JT: The feeling is one of gratitude. I’ll never felt like “I’ve made it!” until I’m like a hunched-over old person still making things.

Is it more gratifying to get recognition outside of the world of comics, which you’ve done multiple times at this point?

JT: Both are gratifying. Honours granted by librarians are special to me because it represents a knowledgeable, discerning audience that actually works with young people. Honours granted by comics people are special because it means perhaps I am creating something of value within the medium.

Were you relieved that you both got nominated for this award, rather than one or the other as in some past awards?

MT: When one of us gets nominated, I generally see it as a misconception of how graphic novels work.  So, yes.

Do awards matter to you? I hope that’s not a weirdly loaded question.

JT: Um, they are nice, yes. Especially when there is money attached, because comics are not lucrative. But I try to not let outside validation determine the micro and macro decisions I make as a creative person.

MT: I guess awards help sales.  There are many awesome comics and books out there that have not been nominated, so we’re in good company either way.

This One Summer ended up on many top ten lists for 2014…how does it feel to have one of the most critically acclaimed OGNs of the year among fans? Is it rewarding to see that fans of more mainstream comics are picking up and really enjoying works like yours?

JT: Of course!

As cousins, were you making comics as kids together? When did you decide to pursue sequential art collaboratively?

MT: We lived in distant cities as kids, so there was little comics making.  It wasn’t until we made our first mini comic of Skim back in…2006 (?) that we started working together.

How long has this idea been gestating, and how long did it take to actually script and illustrate This One Summer?

JT: It took probably 3 years in total. It took a year of solid work to do the final artwork.
MT: Roughly 6 months to script.  Plus changes.

What was your working process on This One Summer? Especially since I understand you don’t live near each other? Was there an initial script first and then an art stage, or was it done in a more section by section basis?

JT: We Skyped a lot. Mariko scripts the dialogue with occasional actions. I do a sketch version. We edit it together, a lot. Then I do the final art.

Where were your individual high and low points in the creative process of this book? Were there any parts that drove you crazy or were difficult to pull off?

JT: The most difficult part was the editing of the sketch phase. As it is with any book, I’m sure.

When I started reading This One Summer, I almost thought it was autobiographical…do either of your personal experiences play a role in the story? Were any of the designs of the characters based on real people?

MT: Nope.  There is an actual cottage area that inspired TOS, up in Georgian Bay, Ontario, which I highly recommend people visit.

What is it about the adolescent stage of life that attracts you?

MT: I think most people spend their whole lives trying to figure out how and what to be.  As I understand it, it’s not something that stops with adulthood.  I think adolescence is interesting because it’s the start of this process.  Everything is just that much more on the surface that it is when you’re an adult.

I love how you use Rose and Windy watching horror movies as a kind of metaphor for seeing the world in a more adult way…are you big classic horror movie fans, or how did that aspect of the story develop?

JT: No, I am a chicken. It was easy for me to draw the freaked-out kids.

Your capturing of the pre-teen voice and body language is wonderful…where do you pull that from? Is it based on your memories, or did you embark on any research?

JT: I am fascinated by the storytelling potential of bodies. We are very attuned to what they are communicating and I like to stretch that to effect. Sometimes I get very hung up on tiny details that I’m sure no one will see, but I think it adds up to an overall sensitivity.

MT: I am a chronic eavesdropper.  Although the other day on the subway I was pretty sure some kid called me out for doing it so, I’m going to have to learn to be a little less gleeful listening to teenagers talk.

Rose’s family is fraying apart for much of the book. Why was it important to highlight the onset of familial strife, particularly seen from the eyes of a younger character?

MT: Who doesn’t have a little familial strife in their lives these days?  It would seem kind of weird to me not to include it, whether writing about kids or adults.

This One Summer is considered to be all-ages, but there are different elements that clearly resonate with adults, which sort of mirrors how Rose is beginning to see the world as well. Who do you feel is the intended audience for the book? Or do you feel like This One Summer is fairly wide-ranging in its appeal?

JT: I only think of a few ideal readers when I work on the book. Some of those readers are real people, some are imagined. They’re usually not young kids. Some are teenagers. Most are my age.

MT: I think a books audience is self selecting.  I don’t see a 10 year old reading this book cover to cover.  Beyond that I think the idea is to write about not for.

What made First Second your choice of publisher, and why return to them after Skim, specifically?

JT: Groundwood, which published SKIM, put out TOS in Canada, and they have done a wonderful job. First Second made sense in that they had very strong ties to the American library system, in addition to the Macmillan network. But I think it has been excellent having both publishers, as Groundwood can prioritize the Canadian industry. After all, we are Canadian authors and the content is largely Canadian.

How are your next individual projects coming along? Mariko, I understand you’re working on a new YA novel, and Jillian it sounds like you’ve got some more “irons in the fire” in addition to your work on Adventure Time.

JT: My webcomic “SuperMutant Magic Academy” comes out in book form in April from D&Q. Also in April, Youth in Decline is publishing a short story of mine called SexCoven. It will be part of their “Frontier” series.

MT: My next prose YA book, Saving Montgomery Sole, will be released by Roaring Brook/Penguin Canada in Winter 2016.

This One Summer is available through First Second and on sale at your local book retailer

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25. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #419: FeaturingMiriam Busch and Larry Day

Good morning, all.

My Valentine to you today is going to be this post, because I’ve got two visitors this morning, and I not only like the book they made together, but I also really enjoyed their conversation and art today.

I’m (partly) looking back a bit — at 2014, that is. Author Miriam Busch and illustrator Larry Day, who has been illustrating picture books since 2001, are here to talk about Lion, Lion, a picture book that was released last September from Balzer + Bray.

Better late than never. It’s a wonderful book, and I’m pleased they stopped by to visit today.

The book tells the story of a conversation between a young boy and a lion, and Kirkus called it “sly, dark humor for little ones—at its best.” The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books called out its “Sendakian flair” and described it as an “excellent way to introduce younger listeners to the deliberate subversion of expectations.”

But we’re also looking ahead today in that, at the end of this post, we’ll look at what is on Miriam’s and Larry’s plates now — what projects are currently taking up their time.

I thank them for visiting.

Let’s get right to it …

Miriam: Hi, Jules! Miriam here. I’m going to talk a little, and then Larry will chime in. Larry and I created Lion, Lion together.

Here’s a short history.

In 2008, Larry asked me to write a story about Rusty:

Honestly, I was a little lost. I asked Larry who he thought he was (Rusty, not Larry — I didn’t say, “just who do you think you are?”), and Larry gave some vague answers about how Rusty was a king and how there should be lions. This did not help.

(Click to enlarge)

Here’s how some of our notes went. Often, we met for breakfast in a diner and then talked out our story ideas. Larry wrote this out (after pots of coffee, no doubt):


(Click to enlarge)


Eventually, we came up with this convoluted story about this bratty kid, who thinks he should be hunting lions, because that’s what kings do (don’t ask me — I’m even embarrassed to be telling you this) and then eventually uses a slingshot to save his new lion friends from a real hunter.

Right. No idea why there weren’t fistfights among editors over who got to publish that one.

After several rejections, we shelved Rusty.

(Don’t tell Larry, but I never liked this kid. Self-important with a slingshot? BUT: I loved Larry’s lions. I loved all of his animals, but I kept coming back to the lions in my head.)

So, several months after we shelved Rusty, we met for breakfast at a diner. The conversation turned to those lions, especially the one Larry had named Philbert. I had spent time in Africa and wondered about setting a story there — maybe with a different kid (one who was clever-but-matter-of-fact instead of self-important)?

We borrowed the first three lines from Rusty, and by the end of breakfast, we had hammered out script ideas on a napkin. Larry sketched, I sketched, we talked it through, and I wrote it down.

I was thinking a lot about double meanings and characters who speak at cross-purposes — and inlaid the script with this double-meaning. Within a week, Larry had a dummy ready to go.

(Click to enlarge)

We submitted it. Alessandra Balzer (Balzer + Bray) asked if we were willing to make the setting urban. (WHAT?? This entire new story came about because of the foundation of the setting!) But we agreed to try it, and I think the difference is both subtle and profound.

One of Larry’s initial urban drawings:



The final art:


(Click to enlarge)

In our first Lion Lion, there is no delineation between the boy’s reality and his fantasy (if that’s how you want to look at it). What happens now is that the boy steps from his stoop into his imagination (or does he?) and at the end, he returns to his stoop with his friends.

Because the setting changed, the animals changed too.


(Click to enlarge)


In the initial manuscript, the boy is tongue-in-cheek offering his friends to the hungry lion. The animals are all in on the gag, but Alessandra thought to make the story a bit less sinister by having the boy offer actual foods. Still, the speaking-at-cross-purposes remains: the lion reacts to the animals eating the foods.


(Click to enlarge)


Final art:


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I can’t count how many different types of birds we went through!

Throughout this entire process of setting changes and character changes and simplifying the story, Larry drew and re-drew, and I wrote and re-wrote. Larry listened to every text revision, and I participated in the page-turn and image decisions.

As we go along, we write down what we think needs a spread, what needs single-page illustrations, and what might need vignettes (like the lion sneezing). Once we figure out rough visuals, we read through again and again for redundancies or holes. In most cases, Larry sketches to nail down character, and we talk back and forth about it — I might think a character’s head is too big, her hair needs more messing up, etc. Larry then sketches sequential thumbnails (or, as in the case with our current project, he sketches a rough dummy).

Here’s a progression from a thumbnail with notes to final art.


(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)


Lion, Lion was our PhD program for learning how to work together. We have collaborated on several more projects, and whether we’ve begun with an image or with a full manuscript, the process now goes something like this: I read the story to Larry. Together, we work through page turns/possible breaks on the manuscript. It’s not until we have a dummy that we can really read for pacing and pauses and more text changes.

Larry’s always so willing to re-sketch from another viewpoint, to try and try and try to get the emotion just right, and he doesn’t take any comment personally. I’m sure some of this ease in willingness to re-work art comes from his long-time work as a storyboard artist.


Other artists and writers ask how we can work together. We breathe story. The work is always about the story. Our collaboration leads us together to stories we wouldn’t know how to create separately.



* * *


Larry: Larry here! Hi, Jules. Here are a few other picture books I’ve illustrated:

From Voices from The Oregon Trail, written by Kay Winters (Dial, 2014):


(Click to enlarge)



From Nanook & Pryce: Gone Fishing, written by Ned Crowley (Harper Collins, 2009):


(Click to enlarge slightly)



From Civil War Drummer Boy, written by Verla Kay (Putnam, 2012):


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The book’s trailer:



[Ed. Note: I don’t normally get super excited about book trailers, but dang, that’s a great one.]

From Duel! Burr and Hamilton’s Deadly War of Words, written by Dennis Fradin (Walker Books, 2008):


(Click to enlarge)



From Pearl Harbor, written by Steven Krensky (Simon and Schuster, 2001):


(Click to enlarge)



I studied painting with Gerald Merfeld, who lives near Westcliffe, Colorado. Gerald was an apprentice with Dean Cornwell. I not only learned how to paint from Gerald but gained a wealth of knowledge and appreciation of illustration. He introduced me to the art of Ernest Shepard, Harvey Dunn, Charles Dana Gibson, John Singer Sargent, Morton Roberts, Frank Brangwyn, and many others.



This is a sketch in a silver ore mill in Westcliffe, Colorado:



Here are a few other random drawings:



[Right now] I am finishing the final art for a third book with Suzy (Suzanne Tripp Jurmain). This is the title page for Nice Work, Franklin! (Dial, 2016):


(Click to enlarge)


* * *

Thanks again to Miriam and Larry for visiting today. Miriam, it turns out, is currently at work on several picture books, a middle grade novel, and a graphic novel. In addition to collaborating with Miriam on several more projects and Nice Work, Franklin!, Larry is also illustrating Voices From the Underground Railroad by Kay Winters (coming from Dial soon).


LION, LION. Text copyright © 2014 by Miriam Busch. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Larry Day. Published by Balzer + Bray, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Larry Day.

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) I’ve already said this, but I really enjoyed talking to Miriam and Larry.

2) The name “Miriam.” My oldest is a Miriam, but she goes by her middle name. Sniff.

3) This CD has arrived, and it’s really good:

Oops. Guess you can’t tell from the cover what it is. It’s Horse Comanche from Chadwick Stokes.

4) Sharing music with friends.

5) Story times.

6) Good grub with good friends.

7) It’s a good time right about now to be a long-time Saturday Night Live geek.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

10 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #419: FeaturingMiriam Busch and Larry Day, last added: 2/15/2015
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