Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 13, 2019

Book Giveaway: GROWING SEASON by Maryann Cocca-Leffler

Maryann Cocca-Leffler has written and Illustrated a new picture book titled, GROWING SEASON. Published by Sterling Children’s Books. Maryann has agreed to share a book with one lucky winner. All you have to do to get in the running is to leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you do to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you.

Sharing on Facebook, Twitter, reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. Thanks for helping Maryann!


El and Jo are the shortest kids in class, and they’re inseparable. But what happens when Jo starts to grow? This sweet picture book explores the joys and challenges of friendship and growing up. “A sweet story with emotional depth.” —Kirkus

El and Jo are the smallest students in their class—and best friends, too, like peas in a pod. Even their names are short. But in springtime, something BIG happens: Jo starts growing like a weed, while El feels smaller every day. On the last day of school, their teacher asked every child to pick a plant to care for over the summer. All the other kids reach over El to grab their plant, and she has to take the very last one: a tiny, flowerless aster. At first, she’s disappointed. But as summer progresses, the aster begins to bloom—and so does El!


People who know me, know that I love to watch things grow…I carefully nurture my indoor plants all year long, start flowers from seed in my bright porch, and when the warm weather arrives in New England, flowers bloom in my yard.


While thinking about flowers I began to make a comparison to children…the vast variety, the nurturing, the time it takes to grow. Growing Season is not only a story about growing flowers…but also about growing friendships, growing patience…and growing up.

Like the rich array of flowers I featured in my illustrations, I purposely created a beautifully diverse garden of children; different colors, sizes, shapes and personalities. And like flowers, children bloom at their own rate and at the perfect time.

Happy SPRING! It’s Growing Season. Plant some flowers…but sprinkle your garden with patience, because all things take time to grow…even kids.


I’ve been writing and illustrating children’s books for more than 30 years and have published over 60 books. I graduated from Massachusetts College of Art with a BFA in illustration. My Italian childhood has inspired several books. The first book I wrote and illustrated was “Wednesday is Spaghetti Day”. My books “Bus Route to Boston” and “Clams All Year” are family stories which I hold dear to my heart. Recent books include: “Growing Season” and the Janine books; “Janine” and “Janine and the Field Day Finish” which were inspired by my daughter (

My most popular series are the “LET IT” Books; LET IT RAIN & LET IT SHINE, LET IT FALL & LET IT SNOW. Please keep checking my website – to learn more about my books, school visits and upcoming projects. I live and work in Maine where I am working on my next new book!

Maryann, thank you for sharing your book and journey with us and thank you for sending me a copy. It is a very sweet book with a special story and great illustrations. I am sure it will be a big hit. Good luck!

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 12, 2019


MARIFE GONZALEZ: Featured on Illustrator Saturday.

VESPER STAMPER: Featured on Illustrator Saturday.

DAVID RODIGRIZ LORENZO: Featured on Illustrator Saturday.

SAROLTA SZULYOVSZKY: Featured on Illustrator Saturday.

MICHAEL EMBERLEY: Featured on Illustrator Saturday. 

COLLEEN KOSINSKI: Featured on Illustrator Saturday.

KRIS ARO MCLEOD: Featured on Illustrator Saturday.

GABRIELLA GRIMARD: Featured on Illustrator Saturday.

KEITH HENRY BROWN: Featured on Illustrator Saturday.

LAURIE SMOLETT KUTSCERA: Featured on Illustrator Saturday.

CHERYL NOBENS: Featured on Illustrator Saturday.


Taalk tomorrow,



Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 11, 2019

Illustrator Saturday – Keith Henry Brown

Keith began his career like many young artists, dreaming of becoming a cartoonist at Marvel Comics. After attending the High School for Art and Design in New York and a brief stint as an illustrator for a couple of comic companies including his beloved Marvel, he went on to pursue a career in painting, and later, as an illustrator. His favorite artists at this time were innovators like Howard Pyle, Frank Frazetta, Burton Silverman, Le Roy Neiman, David Stone Martin, as well as painters Diego Rivera, Picasso, and Jean Michel-Basquiat, among others.

He started publishing his watercolor paintings; first for greeting cards and then newspapers and magazines. Being a lifelong music freak, his work has placed a special concentration on jazz, which reflected his lifelong love of the music.

In the late nineties, Keith forged a career in design and in 1997, became Design Manager for Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. Then he became Creative Director at Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2001. Handpicked for the position by Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis, he designed marketing and promotional graphics for the 2004 opening of the celebrated “House of Swing”– a new facility specifically designed for jazz music, Frederick P. Rose Hall at Columbus Circle in New York City.

Keith has designed and illustrated several jazz CD covers for Christian McBride, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Duke Ellington, The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and many others.

He lives in Brooklyn New York, where he continues to write, paint and draw stuff.

Represented by Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Kelly Sonnack, Agent

Currently illustrated THE BIRTH OF COOL published by PageStreet Kids in March of 2019.



Sequence #1
This sequence happens near the climax of the Birth Of The Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound, when Miles Davis performs at the Newport Jazz Festival – a career peak. Kathleen Cornell Berman’s text describes the energy and excitement of the moment: “He wails the melody with gripping emotion– his mystical voice hangs like a cloud, leaving space for each listener’s imagination to wander.”

My first approach in the thumbnail was a double page sequence where Miles imagines himself performing on a large mountain.

 Sequence #2

I received a note from the editors that they saw this sequence as single spread. Though they liked the idea of a fantasy sequence going on in Davis’ mind, they finally decided they preferred placing him firmly in the real world, at the festival. I decided I still wanted to focus on his face, with the crowd behind him in this penciled sketch.

Sequence #3

I transferred my pencil sketch to pen and ink and finally watercolor. When I turned in the spread, the comments I got back were that the picture wasn’t strong enough, it was too loose and Miles hand looked awkward. I didn’t entirely disagree but, wasn’t sure yet how I would reconfigure it.

Sequence #4

I did some research and started to get inspired. I decided to spend more effort clearly indicating the crowd behind Miles and drawing a tighter depiction of Miles himself. I also lightened the color in order to suggest the bright sunlight of a warm Summer day.
This ended up being my favorite spread in the book!


How long have you been illustrating?

Professionally, close to 30 years on & off, but not consistently.

What and when was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

The exact time is a little hazy, but most memorable was selling a watercolor painting I did in a group show. It was of a seated jazz musician for $500. I couldn’t believe it. I remember I ran off and bought my first decent stereo.

What art school did you attend and what did you study?

I went to the High School Of Art and Design, then a charter school in Manhattan. Later, briefly The Corcoran School Of Art and then Parsons School Of Design.

Did art school help you get the job with Marvel comics?

Out of high school, Marvel and DC comics sent people out to our school to check out the best and brightest. I was neither, but I got to work for Marvel a little while. I thought it would be my dream job, but in the end, I saw it just wasn’t for me.

You started your career as lead designer/Creative Director at Churchill Downs inLouisville, KY., home of the Kentucky Derby. How did you decide to move to Kentucky for this job?

Grown up stuff! My soon-to-be wife at the time got a job as a professor at The University of Louisville, and we had a baby coming so I had to figure out something to do there in order to make a living. I basically taught myself to be a graphic designer. I freelanced a while, worked at a small agency and eventually got offered the job.

Even before you were working with Churchill Downs, you were a Principal at KHB Designs. Is that a company you started. What type of things do you do there?

Yes, it’s just me. Usually design of all kinds, from logos to ads to storyboarding. Bread and butter work.



 In 2001, you became Creative Director for first internationally renowned jazz institution at Jazz at Lincoln Center in NYC. Was that the inspiration for all your gorgeous illustrations of Jazz legends? 

Thank you. I had been doing illustration work of jazz images well before that. For myself, and occasionally editorial work for magazines and websites, and sometimes commissioned work.

Did the opportunity to design the CD covers come from your connection with Jazz at Lincoln Center?

Yes. Todd Barkan, who was director of booking at the time, and I became acquainted  – he’s a very well known and respected jazz producer – got me some of my earliest jobs as a designer and illustrator of CD covers. I did at least a dozen with Todd. I’m really grateful to him for that.

In 2007, you took a job as Lead Designer/Art Director at Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare in NYC. How did they discover your talents?

My first work in advertising in New York actually started with Cline, Davis & Mann. I got involved then because a friend recommended me. Saatchi & Saatchi was just a freelance gig I did later after leaving CDM.

Skipping to present day, you are the Art Director at the Grey Group in NYC working on pharmaceutical advertising and branding materials. Can you tell us a little about what you do there?

Design and creative lead for new global marketing of Lilly products Cialis, Dulcoloax and as yet unannounced innovative new psoriasis drug.  Developing ideas into solid visuals; overseeing tactical workload; creation of Ipad and mobile for brand; art direction, story-boards and development of interactive media; design of advertising, packaging and branding materials; participating in new business pitches and campaign concept development for various brands.

Last month, I featured you and BIRTH OF COOL with a book giveaway. Was that your first foray into children’s books?

In September of 2017, I was contacted by Kristen Nobles, the smart, resourceful editor of the newly formed children’s’ picture book imprint, Page Street Kids. I had just barely decided to give it a go in the field of illustration in children’s literature just obtained an agent, when I received a lively email:

“Dear Keith, I hope this email finds you well? We came across your work online and were immediately intrigued by your connections to the jazz world, and how your work is imbued with your love of jazz. We recently acquired the text MILES DAVIS FINDS HIS SOUND, a lyrical, jazz-infused picture book biography about Miles Davis that recounts Davis’ musical development, with a focus on his childhood and early professional years”. 

For a cat like me, it sounded like a dream assignment and couldn’t have happened at a better time. But, even though I had been creating illustrations for magazines and album covers for years, having never done a children’s book, I still had my fears. Could I really pull this off?

Early in the process, I had to let everyone involved in the project know I was a novice and they would have to bear with me.

Luckily, I received a beautiful script by first time writer Kathleen Cornell Berman which I felt thoughtfully captured the tone and feel of Miles’ early life and his development in a nuanced, poetic way.

Do you think you will illustrate more children’s books?

Yes, I have two books coming up. We’ve signed the contracts.

Do you think you would to write and illustrate a book?

Sure, one of those two books is based on a plot I came up with, and I co-wrote the script with another writer. But I’d like to do one completely on my own.

I see you’re represented by Kelly Sonnack at Andrea Brown Literary Agency. How long have they represented you and how did you connect with them?

Kismet, I guess. I just sent out work randomly to literary agents via Google one day and Kelly responded. One of the happiest days I can remember! I’ve been with ABLA for roughly two years now.

How hard was it to fit in illustrating and picture book while working full time?

I’m not going to lie. It was tough at first. I really didn’t know what I was doing. But Page Street was very patient with me. They knew I was a novice.  At first, it was a challenge to balance work time, but I started to find a groove. I work home quite a bit. That made it easier.

Have you done any book covers for novels?

No, not yet. Would love to.

Would you illustrate a book for an author who wants to self-publish?

I don’t think so at this point in my career. I have so many ideas of my own I’d like to get to.  It would have to be a story that would really move me personally. Something I had to do.

What do you feel influenced your illustrating style?

Lots of folks, especially a myriad of comic book artists, too numerous to name, but for the Miles book, I’d say David Stone Martin, Ben Shahn, Jerry Pinckney, Joe Ciardiello, Ezra Jack Keats. But especially DSM. I don’t think my work looks anything like his, but I tried to capture his feeling. I consider him the best at jazz illustration.

Have you done any illustrating for magazines? Which ones?

Mostly jazz publications, but most recently a magazine called Rethinking Schools, a non-profit magazine written by teachers who share teaching techniques. I’ve done a bunch of stuff for them. I really enjoy working for them.

Do you ever exhibit your art?

A little in the past, but not lately. Except right now here in New York at this prestigious jazz venue called Jazz Gallery I have some of my original art up on view from Birth of the Cool.

What do you think is your biggest success?

That’s an interesting question. In personal life, it’s being father to two awesome boys. I’m so incredibly proud of both of them. In professional life, I’d say it’s a toss-up between completing Birth Of The Cool and my long relationship with the great multi-Grammy Award winning jazz composer/ bassist / personality Christian McBride. I’ve created 7 CD and LP album covers for him since 2009, including one coming out later this year. I consider it a HUGE honor to visualize his brilliant music vision. Look him up: he‘s a b-a-a-a-a-a-a-d cat. No one can hold a candle to him. He’s the best there is at what he does.

What is your favorite medium to use?

Probably pen and ink. It’s where I feel the most comfortable. But I do love watercolor.

Has that changed over time?

Strangely, no – I started doing ink and watercolor at first because it was just the cheapest materials, I think. And unlike oils, which I also sometimes enjoy, it doesn’t require a lot of workspace or ventilation.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft after work?

I try to keep a specific schedule, but it’s mostly about deadlines, they dictate my actual working time.

Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?

Sure, you have to, especially if you’re doing a historic work. I looked at hundreds of Miles Davis related research images for Birth of the Cool.

Ethnographic Holiday Greeting Card Sonny Robins: Cut paper & Photoshop

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Yep, I spend way too much time in social media.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

Yes, I use Photoshop quite a bit, depending on what medium I’m using.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet when illustrating?

I own an older version of a Wacom tablet. But haven’t used it much.

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

For the most part I seem to be fulfilling them! Fingers crossed. As discussed earlier, would like to do book covers. And of course every illustrator’s dream to get their stuff in the New Yorker. I think I will forever hold on to that fantasy.

What are you working on now?

I just did a poster/flyer for my son’s band, Satchy. I’m real proud of that ‘cause he usually rejects my unsolicited past attempts – that and my next book.

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

I use a lot of computer color these days – I’ll scan an ink drawing into the computer, and color it using layers in Photoshop. I like making each layer transparent, and using interesting brushes to mask things out. I get different textures and color combinations that way. Sometimes, I find it just as fulfilling as using watercolor but less messy and permanent!

Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

Probably just stick with it and keep your eyes on the prize. Early on in the process of doing my first book, a well – meaning friend said to me “Sometimes illustrators get projects and for different reasons, just can’t finish.” That scared the bejesus out of me. I thought to myself, “I have to finish, and do my best, no matter what.” Now, when I look at the book, I’m incredibly self–critical and some things make me wince, but I rectify it by thinking, “That was the best I could do at the time – you’re okay, Keith – you powered through.”

Thank you Keith for sharing your talent and expertise with us. Your journey to your first picture book is amazing. It proves that with talent you can be successful at many things. Make sure you share you future successes with us. To see more of Keith’s work, you can visit him at: Website:

If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Keith. I am sure he’d love to hear from you and I enjoy reading them, too.

Talk tomorrow,


I am happy to announce that Adriann Ranta Zurhellen at
Foundry Literary + Media is our Agent of the Month for May.

See bottom of post for submission guidelines.

Adriann Ranta Zurhellen is an agent at Foundry Literary + Media. She represents New York Times bestselling, award-winning authors, journalists, illustrators and graphic novelists, as well as many other pioneering creative thinkers and leaders in their fields. She is actively acquiring all genres for all age groups with a penchant for unusual voices, unique settings, and everyman stories told with a new spin. She loves gritty, realistic, true-to-life stories with conflicts based in the real world; women’s literary fiction and nonfiction; accessible, pop nonfiction in science, history, and craft; and smart, fresh, genre-bending works for children. She specializes in books about “cool women doing badass things.”

A magna cum laude graduate of the University of Arizona, Adriann’s first introduction to publishing was at The Editorial Department, a freelance editorial firm based in Tucson, AZ. After making the move to New York, Adriann spent two years at Anderson Literary Management and six years at Wolf Literary Services before moving to Foundry in 2015.

Adriann Ranta Zurhellen only accepts submissions by email. Please send all queries for Adriann to For more information on submitting your project, please see the Foundry Submissions page.

Fiction: Action/Adventure, Children’s, Crime, Family Saga, General, Graphic Novel, Historical, Literary, Middle Grade, Mystery, Picture Books, Women’s Fiction, Young Adult

Non-Fiction: Crafts/DIY, History, Humor, Illustrated, Journalism, Memoir, Pop Culture, Psychology, Science, True Crime

Favorite sub-genres: Contemporary YA, Domestic Suspense, Fantasy YA, Feminism, Literary Middle Grade, Psychological Thrillers, Speculative Fiction, diverse voices, narrative non-fiction, upmarket genre fiction


  • How did you decide to take the job as agent with Foundry Literary + Media?

I’ve been agenting for over 10 years now, first as an assistant at Anderson Literary Management, then building my list at Wolf Literary (now MacKenzie Wolf), and three years at Foundry. I’ve loved working at smaller agencies, and am now loving working at a larger one!

  • Do you work out of the New York City office?


  • It looks like you are open to all types of books. Do you have a favorite genre?

I’m a generalist for sure, but I’m most excited about women’s fiction and nonfiction—books that explore the modern female experience, lift up female voices and perspectives, and interrogate politics, history, humor, and craft, particularly for a large female audience.

  • Have you ever read something that is not for you, but you feel another agent at Foundry like and pass it on?


  • If a manuscript has a prologue, would that count as the first chapter when submitting?


  • How important is the query letter?

It’s incredibly important. I often make quick judgments about whether or not a project is for me, or the strength of an author’s writing, or whether the author is well-read in her genre and thus more serious about the work based on the query letter. It’s also important that this letter be really clean, spell checked, and professional.

  • What would you like to see in the query letter? Should writers try to keep it short?

Query letters should be limited to one typewritten page—it’s a pitch document, not a synopsis! Beyond title, genre, hook, and pitch, I love a query letter that has a zoomed-out paragraph on what the book is about: themes or conflicts that first inspired the writer to think more deeply about what’s in the book. (I don’t mean “I was inspired by a dream I had,” but rather “The book is about sisterhood and toxic female friendship” or something.)

  • Should the word count for your manuscript be included in the query letter?

I like to see this, yes.

  • Do you like comps mentioned in the query letter?

I love seeing comps in query letters. They’re helpful to me to better understand the pitch and potential audience, and they also show that the author is well-read in the category in which she’s writing. Remember to compare your book to successful, contemporary (past 5 years or so) titles—a good indication of success without access to Bookscan is the number of reviews on Amazon. One hundred plus is usually a good sign.


In the subject line, please write “MAY FIRST PAGE CRITIQUE”  Example: Paste the text in the email, plus attached it as a Word document to the email. Please make sure you include your name, the title of the piece, and whether it’s a picture book, middle grade, or young adult, etc. at the top on both the email and the Word document (Make sure you include your name with the title of your book, when you save the first page).

REMEMBER: ATTACH THE WORD DOCUMENT AND NOT GET ELIMINATED! Your First Page Word document should be formatted using one inch margins and 12 point New Times Roman font – double space – no more than 23 lines – only one page.

Send to: kathy(dot)temean(at)gmail(dot)com.

PLEASE FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES: Your submission will be passed over if you do not follow the directions for both the pasted email and the attached Word doc. This is where most people mess up.

DEADLINE: May 23rd.

RESULTS: May 31st.


Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 9, 2019

Book Giveaway: A LITTLE CHICKEN by Tammi Sauer

Author Tammi Sauer has a new picture book. It is titled, A LITTLE CHICKEN. Dan Taylor is the illustrator and Sterling is the publisher. They have agreed to share a book with one lucky winner. All you have to do to get in the running is to leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you do to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you.

Sharing on Facebook, Twitter, reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. Thanks for helping Tammi and Dan!


Dot is a little chicken, who is, let’s face it, a little chicken. Can she find a way to pluck up her courage?

“A gently humorous take on conquering fear that’s also a fine read-aloud.” —Kirkus 

Dot is scared of lots of things: wolves, bears, the occasional lawn ornament. But when one of her mother’s eggs rolls out of the nest, this nervous chick must find the courage to save the day—and her new sibling! So she bravely ventures down the steep hill, into the deep pond, and into the dark woods. Perfect for any kid who needs a little encouragement to face the challenging world, this story proves that sometimes a big hero is just a little chicken.


I am a big fan of wordplay. With this book, the fun started right away with a title that has a double meaning. First, “a little chicken” can simply be referring to a chicken that is small in size. Second, it can be referring to a character who is a bit of a scaredy-cat. I wanted a main character who was both of those things.

The wordplay continued with this character’s name. I felt it should reflect something small. Plus, I wanted it to sound like a name that was fitting for a chicken. I think Dot was the perfect choice.

Once I had this double-whammy of a title and the just-right name for my main character, I knew I couldn’t stop there. I compiled all kinds of chicken-related words, phrases, and puns. This gave me lots of material to pick and choose from as I worked to incorporate effective wordplay in my manuscript. Then I revised, revised, revised. After that, I revised. Then I revised some more. I also received some input from my critique group. This led to–you guessed it!–more revising.

I think kids love this book because Dot is not only a character that readers can root for, but she is a character readers can relate to. Dot reminds all of us that sometimes a big hero…is just a little chicken.


Tammi spent most of her first eighteen years on a farm outside the small town of Victoria, Kansas (population: 1,208). Her roles included gathering the eggs when the city cousins visited and wanted to engage in novelty farm-like activities, chasing pigs back to their respective pens when they tried to make a break for it (she did this once while wearing her eighth grade cheerleading uniform—don’t ask), and swindling her younger sister and brother out of their money.

Tammi graduated from Kansas State University with a B.S. in Elementary Education and married her high school sweetheart, Ron Sauer. They did not return to Victoria, causing the town’s population to plummet to 1,206. Ron and Tammi have a daughter, Julia, and a son, Mason.

She loved being a teacher and library media specialist, but currently she is a full-time picture book author. She has visited hundreds of schools and spoken at various conferences across the nation. Tammi has even gave presentations at Disney World! Woo-woo!

Writing is one of her absolute favorite things to do, but she also loves to read, ski, spend time with her family and friends, go to movies, and eat out as often as possible. What’s more, she’s hopelessly addicted to checking her e-mail.

Tammi and her family lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, with one dog, two geckos, and a tank full of random fish.

Tammi, thank you for sharing your book and journey with us. Here is the link to Tammi website. She has over 25 published picture books. I’m know I’m impressed. 

Talk tomorrow,



Author Liza Gardner Walsh has shared all her fairies picture books with us. Some how I missed this one, when I realized this, I thought it would be a great book to share now for summer. It is titled, HOW DO FAIRIES HAVE FUN IN THE SUN. Hazel Mitchell is the illustrator. Liza has agreed to share a book with one lucky winner. All you have to do to get in the running is to leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you do to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you.

Sharing on Facebook, Twitter, reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. Thanks for helping Liza & Hazel!


Everyone knows fairies are hard workers who look after the flowers and other growing things. But it can’t be all work and no play. Do they ever get a vacation? How do they enjoy their favorite season, summer?

Beloved fairy writer Liza Gardner Walsh explores the matter in a charming picture book of rhyming questions. Paired with warm and whimsical illustrations by Hazel Mitchell, this delightful book will help children discover just how fairies make the most of their busiest, most magical season of all.

And while the fairies do love to add some fun to everything they do, there’s also a gentle reminder here of our human connection to nature and the importance of nurturing it.


This book was the third in the seasonal fairies book series illustrated by Hazel Mitchell and written by me and in many ways it was the most fun to write so far. The trick with this one was that there is just so much to write about for summer and it is pretty obvious that the fairies love summer. So my challenge was to shape that and play with typical summer themes.

With each one of these books, I have picked a central theme to guide me as I brainstorm and I knew I wanted to focus on exploration. Summer is made for exploring and getting outside so I made a list of all the things my family likes to do in summer. Some of the things are obvious like hiking and going to the beach but then I thought about all the festivals we have in Maine and the lemonade stands my kids have every year.  I love this process of brainstorming and in looking at my list I found things like stargazing, hammocks, sun block, fireflies, miniature golf, and farmer’s markets. It helped that I was writing this one in winter so I got to fantasize a bit as I looked out at the snowy Maine landscape.

Because these books are all based on questions, I thought about the why’s and what’s. Questions with fairies are extra fun because the answers are a bit subjective! But what would they do with the money from a lemonade stand? Would they like to hike or would they just fly? Big stuff. But the magic always comes when Hazel applies her artwork and her wonderful side stories emerge. She has the ability to truly create a world that looks magical and fun. Which is what this book is all about.


Liza Gardner Walsh has written numerous books for children, including Muddy Boots, Treasure Hunter’s Handbook, Fairy Houses All Year, and Where Do Fairies Go When it Snows?– Do Fairies Bring the Spring and THE FALL FAIRY GATHERING coming out end of July, all illustrated by Hazel Mitchell. Liza has been a children’s librarian, high school English teacher, a Museum Educator and she holds an MFA from Vermont College. She lives with her family in Camden, Maine.


Hazel always dream of writing and illustrating books, in fact she says she first thought about making books when she was seven years old! At school she made little books, wrote stories and drew comics for her friends. It was a winding road to fulfill her ambition – after attending art college in England I served for several years in the British Royal Navy before working as a designer and commercial illustrator in England (her home country). When she came to live in the USA she began to illustrate and write for children professionally.

She was born in the coastal town of Scarborough, Yorkshire, UK. and now lives in Mid Coast Maine and works from home in her cozy attic studio. There is inspiration everywhere! Maine’s amazing heritage of children’s book authors and illustrators including Ashley Bryan, E.B. White, Melissa Sweet and Dahlov Ipcar is so inspiring.  Hazel loves living close by the sea and swim (when it is warm enough – Maine can be very cold). She does miss British fish, chips and mushy peas, but the Maine lobsters fill that void! Her two poodles keep her company in the studio, Toby (who has his own book) and Lucy, plus a lazy cat called Sleep.

Hazel is the author and illustrator of ‘Toby’ from Candlewick Press and she’s helped create over twenty children’s books including Borrowing Bunnies by Cynthia Lord (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Imani’s Moon (Charlesbridge), Animally (Kane Miller) and Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows? (Down East). You can read more about my books here.

Hazel uses this table to look over each page of picture book to make sure they all work together.

Thank you Liza and Hazel for sharing you book and your journey’s with us. Looks like another great picture book.

Talk tomorrow,


If you were thinking of taking advantage of this online writing course, now is the time to sign up. They having a 24 hour Twofer $70 Discount – offering you the Chapter Book Alchemist course and the Middle Grade Mastery course for the same highly discounted price with the sexy $70 discount. After that, it’s bye, bye Chapter Book Alchemist FREE bonus, and so long sensational $70.00 discount!


The Main Differences Between Writing Chapter Books and Middle Grade Novels by Mira Reisberg:

Chapter Book (CB) readers are generally aged 7-10 years old, but younger and older readers will also read them if they look juicy enough or accessible enough for younger readers or still relevant or super fun for older readers. CBs usually have illustrations, larger fonts and shorter chapters. Manuscripts range from 1500 words to 20,000 words depending on whether it’s highly image driven like a Scholastic/Branches chapter book or if it has fewer illustrations. Themes need to be age appropriate with fewer subplots and characters making it easier to follow for younger readers.

Middle Grade (MG) novel readers can be anywhere between the ages of 8-12, (with exceptions sometimes even spanning generations) and may or may not have illustrations. Upper MG can cross over into Young Adult and lower MG into chapter book readers. MG novels, which can run from 20,000 – 50,000 words give or take some words, will have deeper delving into characters, and more complex plots and subplots, often with longer chapters, regular size fonts, and more mature themes. Read on for more.

And Now For The How:

A lot of people are intimidated by the idea of writing a chapter book or middle grade novel but the thing is if you have a map that shows you what can go where and when, it’s like going on a road trip from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon or anywhere you want with a GPS or a great map. And while MGs in particular do take more time and patience then writing a CB or picture book, they are so much more rewarding and so much less competitive in terms of getting published.

Like any kind of creative writing, you need patience, curiosity, and a compelling main character or pair of characters who get their own main plots to move you through the story. But with a MG novel, your secondary and tertiary characters can also have their own subplots weaving through the story as your main character or characters go about solving the problem or gaining the goals that you established as the main through-line or initiating act in the beginning of the book.

Are You a Plotter or A Pantser?

Now some people are what’s known as pantsers, short for seat of their pants, who make it up as they go along and then go back and make sure it all fits together. Other people, like myself, are plotters or planners. We like to map out in general ahead of time, so we know what we want to do and follow that.

I like to create a rough outline with creative chapter headings that, in the case of a book that I’m working on, follow the arc of my main character as he shows why he considers himself the world’s greatest failure and the reality of why he really isn’t. Failure is really important in any plot driven book, especially in a contemporary biography, because it creates that all important element of suspense of whether our beloved main character will eventually solve the problem or achieve their goal. With each chapter you want to end with a cliffhanger and these can be really fun to do. In fact, from now on, when you watch any kind of TV, Netflix or Hulu series, watch how they create a cliffhanger at the end of each episode that makes you desperate to find out what happens next. And that’s the kind of suspense you want to create to make your reader want to read on. Finally, another thing you can do, that’s also really fun, is set up red herrings – where the reader thinks one thing is going to happen for sure, like finding the solution to a problem, and then it either doesn’t happen in an anti-climactic way or something really different happens.

Free or Inexpensive Speech to Text Dictation

And now for one last tip, which I’ll be demonstrating in our course, and that’s how to dictate your novel. You’ll need a mobile device like an iPad or iPhone, though I imagine it works on Android systems too, and a Gmail account or Scrivener for your iPad.

I absolutely love this, and in fact dictated this newsletter. Unfortunately, because of my hybrid accent it does make some typos, but it makes the writing go really fast and fluid like you’re telling your story to a friend. In fact you could write your whole novel by dictating it in Scrivener on the iPad, keeping separate chapters, reference material, and all sorts of stuff that you might need in one place that you then export to your main computer as either a Word document, which I recommend, a PDF, or whatever format you want. It’s pretty fabulous.

Here are the basics. If you use Gmail on your iPad or iPhone, or other mobile device, just look towards the bottom left for the microphone symbol, click that, and as they say in Australia, Bob’s your uncle, meaning there it is or you’re ready to go. When you want to pause, or stop, just press the microphone icon again. Easy Peezy and Bob you’re uncle. This microphone icon also shows up in the mobile version of Scrivener but needs a wee video to show how to access it. I’ve shown this nifty trick to many people who are blown away by how wonderful it is. Of course there will always be revisions needed, especially if you have a weird accent, but it makes for a less lonely experience somehow dictating it to your imaginary friend inside your mobile device.

Mira says, “I hope you found this helpful and thank you for being part of our community.”

Talk tomorrow,


Series: MFA For Breakfast
How To Grow Your Backstory

I just recently recorded my first podcast ever — Cover to Cover Book Beat with Rodger Nichols (the full 14-minute interview is here if you are curious), and one of the most meaningful compliments I got from the host, one that really got my head spinning a little, was when he said that my characters felt very real, like real people with rich backstories that as a reader he could kind of sense. The implied question there was: how did I achieve this? My answer is one that as writers we probably don’t want to hear: I took a long, long time to write this book. I was to embarrassed to admit this to this man on the West Coast that I’d never meant. But I’ll share it here with you guys on Kathy’s blog, as I’ve known her for years, ever since my debut novel was but a baby first draft, in fact. It took me 15 years to write the story. Draft after draft, revision after revision, pass after pass, it was an on and off process of stepping back, then trying again to come closer, to hear the truth clearer. In such a long time, if the story doesn’t fall apart, the characters might just mature and grow into their most real selves.

But, wait up, you might say. Fifteen years? This can’t be the only solution! I don’t have that kind of time! First off, ha, none of us do.
And secondly, no, I don’t think that kind of time is required. I sure hope not, anyway, because I’d like to write a few more stories in my lifetime, thank you very much, ones populated with characters that have backstories that feel rich and real. So, here are a few other strategies for growing our backstories:

1. Side writing

This one was hugely popular among many advisors and students at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults Program. The technique is kind of like journaling, but there is more to it than that. Here are the steps:

— Think of your character (I would start off with the main character). Get a notebook and a pen, sit down somewhere quiet and close your eyes.
— Now, picture your character somewhere in a space where they might feel comfortable. It could be their room or a place where they like to hang out and dream. Try to really zero in on the details. Note: you are not writing anything down yet. You want to wait until you have a really clear picture of your character and the space they are in, a real sense of the person in the moment. Only once you feel like you really have it, you can get ready to write.
— Now, gently, easily, ask your character a question. Please do not start off with anything too deep or intense. Think of it as a conversation, a light one, at first. Keep the stakes low. You are just getting to know them. As a teacher, I actually do this with my students sometimes. I try to just check in with them about things that have nothing to do with grades or personal issues. You might ask your character what their favorite color is and why they like it. You might ask them if they know the meaning of their name and how they feel about it. What did they have for dinner, did they enjoy it, why or why not? Can they describe it for you?
— Your job is not to think about what the character should or would say. It may sound a little crazy, but your job at this point is simply to record, and let your character keep talking. Prompt them with additional light questions, if necessary. And let them to the rest!

2. Side Art and Other Research

Is your character an artist, a musician, an athlete? Do they have a hobby? (Or can you gently suggest one to them and have them try it out for size?) If your character does have a hobby, art or sport, the best way to learn to deepen that character’s backstory is try to practice their craft. Take an art class. Do a jog on a weekend down a track path at your local school. Try to do this not as you, but as your character. What would they draw? What would they notice?

While working on my creative thesis at VCFA, another historical novel — that one is for now still awaiting its publishing fate and may still be a revision or two away from its total truth — I explored the art of my heroine’s father by enrolling in an art class and trying my hand on a few paintings. While getting some precious perspective on what being a visual artist actually entails, I also got deeper into my protagonist, the artist’s daughter, when I painted one small creation from her point of view. I painted her with her two friends, just the backs of their heads as they stood together. When I was finished, it surprised me how “spectral” one of the friends looked. Like a ghost. This added a great and terrible insight to the fate of that character and my protagonist’s pain.

3. Unimportant Scenes/Outtakes

In writing, and rewriting my debut novel, I wrote, then eliminated a great number of scenes. There is one where my protagonist spots her mother’s out of print book on a shelf of a used bookstore. Then there is an impromptu family dance: the protagonist, Sonya, joins her mother and stepdad as they all share a moment of closeness to the sound of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. In another shopping scene, Sonya visits a “currency” store in Moscow and tries Coca Cola for the first time. These scenes felt important, deep and meaningful to me when I wrote them. But after some time and distance I realized these scenes weren’t essential in propelling the plot, and so, with a mix of regret and satisfaction, I made those cuts. Looking back now, I realize, I couldn’t have skipped the step of writing these scenes, not if I wanted my book to feel complex, rich and real. Now I realize that the discoveries I’d made while writing those outtake scenes ended up permeating the ones that did stay.

So, go ahead. Write extra scenes. Have regular small talks with your characters. Explore their interests, not just with them, but through them, channeling their spirit. Then stand back and watch them grow up and deepen! Just tell them not to take 15 years to do so 😉

Katia, thank you for sharing your time and expertise with this article on How to grow your backstory. I look forward to reading next months article from you.

Talk soon,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 5, 2019

Book Giveaway: SWEET DREAMS, SARAH by Vivian Kirkfield

Author Vivian Kirkfield has a new picture book titled, SWEET DREAMS, SARAH. Chris Ewald illustrated the book. Vivian has agreed to share a book with one lucky winner. All you have to do to get in the running is to leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you do to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you.

Sharing on Facebook, Twitter, reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. Thanks for helping Vivian!


Sarah E.Goode was one of the first African-American women to get a U.S. patent. Working in her husband’s furniture store, she recognized a need for a multi-use bed and through hard work, ingenuity, and determination, invented her unique cupboard bed. She built more than a piece of furniture. She built a life far away from slavery, a life where her sweet dreams could come true.


Kathy asked if I would share the journey that resulted in the publication of one of my debut picture books, SWEET DREAMS, SARAH. And of course, I jumped at the chance! I love reading posts about how a book came to be written because I can always takeaway tidbits that help me in my own writing journey.

In 2014, I took an online nonfiction picture book writing class. I learned a lot about researching and how important it was to keep accurate notes. I learned there were many sources I could tap into to find great topics to write about. And I learned that writing a nonfiction picture book story required finding a way to make the topic relatable to kids…so that when they turn the last page and walk away, they will not be saying, ‘So What!’.

After reading all there was to read on the topic of Sarah E. Goode (which was almost nothing), I reached out to my local librarian who in turn reached out to librarians of Chicago area libraries and historical societies and museums where Sarah had lived and worked. This proved very helpful and I received vintage photos of the street where Sarah’s store had been located. They also emailed me photos of advertisements from local newspapers of the era: S.E. Goode Proprietor – Furniture Store. What a thrill it was to see that!

I also contacted the cemetery in Chicago where Sarah is buried and received a list of the people who were buried alongside her in the family plot. The more you investigate, the more you can learn.

When I had as much information as I thought I would get, I started writing. I wanted to show Sarah’s perseverance and determination…how she refused to give up, no matter how many times things didn’t go her way. And even when she applied for the patent, things didn’t go smoothly. Her application was originally denied. But did Sarah give up? NO! She made changes and corrections and resubmitted it. Kind of like when we send a manuscript to critique buddies and then use their constructive feedback to make the story stronger, right?

I had worked on the story for a month or two and then I sent it to Rate Your Story to get some professional feedback. It came back with a rating of ‘8’…not very good. It needed a lot more work. So, I revised and shared it with my critique buddies and embraced their feedback and made changes and sent it back to Rate Your Story…and got a ‘3’. YES! I was moving in the right direction!

Several months later, after revising and polishing some more, I submitted it to the Rate Your Story contest…and won 2nd place in the nonfiction picture book category. YAY!

That’s when I knew the story was ready for prime time…and then I used that manuscript as my go-to submission…for a 12×12 agent, for a Twitter #pitmad challenge, while perusing the #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List), and as a random send to an agent a friend had just signed with. In each case, I received positive comments and a request to see more work. And after many months of careful contemplation, I chose one of the agents and accepted representation. At that point, she sent the story out on submission to editors and within two months, we had a book deal.

The publishing journey was a long one…we signed at the end of 2015…and Sweet Dreams, Sarah just launched on April 2 of 2019…almost four years…and that is how it goes sometimes. But whether the process is long or short, the most important thing is that at the end of the journey there is a beautiful book that will inspire kids to dream…and build their dream into a reality…just like Sarah E. Goode did so long ago.


Shhh…don’t tell anyone, but for over seventy years, I’ve been having a love affair…with picture books. As a toddler, I devoured them (both literally and figuratively) and by second grade, I already knew I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher (so I could read lots of picture books to my students). But it wasn’t until I was almost retired and my children were married with kids of their own, that I decided to write a book for parents and teachers. Show Me How! Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking, published in 2010, was a joy to write, but difficult to promote, especially since I had self-published it. Then, in 2011, I turned 64 and my son gave me a surprise gift. We were going skydiving!

I’m so glad I took that leap of faith because, when my feet touched the ground, I knew there was nothing I couldn’t do if I set my mind to it. I’d been fearful of starting a blog—but after jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, starting a blog didn’t seen that intimidating any more. I began to review picture books and discovered Susanna Hill’s website where she reviewed picture books. Inspired by many of her followers who were actively pursuing picture book writing careers, I was hooked! That’s what I wanted to be…a picture book author!  I took another leap of faith and with my whole heart I jumped into critique groups, conferences, classes and of course, reading, writing and revising. I signed with Essie White of Storm Literary at the end of 2015 and have been blessed with a bunch of book deals.

But the biggest blessing has been the camaraderie of this incredible kid lit community. There is so much rejection and disappointment that it’s absolutely positively crucial to have the support and encouragement of others. Most of all, I love helping other writers follow their dream because I truly believe that with patience, persistence, productivity, and passion, those dreams will become a reality.

EPSON MFP image[/caption]

Here is the link for Darlene’s post about the Unsolved Mysteries of Sarah Goode:

Vivian, thank you for sharing your book and its’ journey with us. Looks like a really good book with nice illustrations. I bet it will be big with schools. I am sure it will make the winner very happy to receive it, too. Good Luck!

Unsolved Mysteries: Three Questions About Sarah E. Goode

When I decided to write a nonfiction picture book story about Sarah E. Goode, I had no idea how difficult it would be to find information about her. I mean, you’d think, a person who was one of the first African American women to receive a U.S. patent would have a lot written about her, right? Especially since she’d been a slave when she was a child. Just think about that…from owned to ownership. Those words actually spurred me on as I dug deeper, trying to unearth more information.

I turned to my local librarian and she reached out to some of the larger libraries in the country. We were sure that the Chicago Public Library would have loads of stuff – after all – Sarah lived and worked and died in Chicago. But, when the librarian at the Harsh Research Collection answered our plea, here is what she said: 

Wow! Your author seems to have amassed much more information than we ever dreamed there would be. We have nothing in our files on Goode and her name only comes up every Black History Month when some unlucky child has her name assigned for a report. All we’ve ever been able to lead them to is a photo of the patent and a brief blurb in a “Black Inventors” book. Essentially nothing more than can be found on the internet. 

When I read her reply, I knew that I had to pursue this story because Sarah had obviously not received the recognition in life or in death that she deserved. She was a trailblazing courageous young woman who could inspire the children of today to build their own dreams.

But even though I searched high and low, there were three things I was not able to track down and verify.


Searching around the internet, I found two or three sentences repeated on just about every website that had a bit of information (often untrue) about Sarah E. Goode. Several of the websites had her photo.


There is no known photo of Sarah E. Goode. The photo that appears on several websites? I don’t know who it is, but it is definitely not Sarah.


Some websites say Toledo, Ohio. Some websites say Toledo, Spain. What?

I can totally understand the confusion. On the 1870 Chicago census, Sarah was 15 years old and her parents listed her place of birth as Toledo, Ohio. However, in the 1880 Chicago census, when Sarah is a married woman of 25, she listed her place of birth as Toledo, Spain.


From all the research I’ve done, I surmise that Sarah might have been born in Northern Virginia…a slave state in 1855, the year of her birth. The border of Northern Virginia runs along the southern border of Ohio…a free state in 1855. It might have made sense for Sarah’s father, a freeman, to claim that his daughter was born in Ohio where she would be considered free. And, as for Sarah claiming she was born in Toledo, Spain, again, we can only guess. Perhaps she thought if she said Spain, that would grant a bit of the exotic to her existence. I doubt we will ever know the true story.



By 1883, a time when most women didn’t own anything, Sarah owned a furniture store in downtown Chicago. She built the innovative cabinet bed and applied for a patent. A year later, her application was returned – DENIED. Other similar inventions had already been patented. Sarah could have given up. But she didn’t.

Carefully she changed a word here and a sentence there, explaining more about her unique mechanism, the idea that had come to her so long ago. Slipping the paperwork and a bit of her heart into the envelope, Sarah sealed her fate and sent it off.

A year later, on July 14, 1885, Sarah’s patent was granted. In 1886, her business appears in Chicago’s city listing. But sadly, by May of 1887, an advertisement in the Chicago Daily Inter-Ocean newspaper shows another vendor selling cabinet beds that look just like Sarah’s. “Manufacturer of these beds went bust and we are now the exclusive distributors.”

We may never know why Sarah lost her business – illness, bad luck, or jealousy and possibly violence from business competitors—I did discover that her mother and one of her children had died the year before. She had lost two of the people she had loved the most. But there is one thing Sarah will never lose: her place in history. Sarah E. Goode will always be one of the first African American women in U.S. history to be recorded as earning a patent for her invention.

And now, the next time young students are given the name of Sarah E. Goode as a Black History Month or Women’s History Month project, there will be a book they can take out from the library, Sweet Dreams, Sarah. The author’s note, timeline of Sarah’s life and list of African American women patent holders in the back matter add rich STEM content to the book.

Thank you Vivian for sharing your new picture book’s journey with us. You are tearing up 2019. What a great year for you. Wishing you continued success.

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 4, 2019

Illustrator Saturday – Laurie Kutscera

Laurie Smollett Kutscera’s passion for children’s book illustration and writing began at an early age. Childhood memories of The Little Prince, the Peter Rabbit series, and Nancy Ekholm Burkert’s intricate pen work in Snow White, transported her to another world. Today, Laurie continues to work towards creating that magic and spirit in her own work.

Born in NYC, Laurie lived in Greenwich Village before moving to Queens as a young child. She graduated Queens College, where she studied fine art, calligraphy and children’s book illustration—mentoring under Professor Marvin Bileck, Caldecott recipient for Rain Makes Apple Sauce. Professor Bileck’s spirit and passion for the art of the book—and masters Rembrandt and Durer, became a foundation and constant source of inspiration.

Upon graduation, Laurie became a graphic designer and illustrator in the field of publishing and the performing arts for clients including; Simon and Schuster, MacMillan, The New York Philharmonic, Columbia Artists Management, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Children’s Opera of NY. She also took great pleasure in designing dolls, stuffed animals and an unusual array of critters for the toy industry.

When dear friends Marietta Abrams and Peter Brill sat around a campfire one evening while on their honeymoon in the southwest, they spun a tale about a young girl named Ravita, and asked Laurie to illustrate it. Enamored by this beautiful story, Laurie chose the earthiness of pastel on black charcoal paper to convey the rich texture of Ravita’s world and the rituals of her cliff dwelling tribe. A year (and several queries later), Ravita and the Land of Unknown Shadows, was published by Rizzoli/ Universe Publishers.)

Laurie has cruised the eastern seaboard from Nantucket to the Virgin Islands. It was then she began to write as a way to chronicle the ever-changing landscape. She continues to write and is currently working on several projects including a middle grade adventure for ages 8-11, as well as a several contemporary picture books for younger audiences. Her debut middle-grade novel, “The Misadventures of A Magician’s Son” is scheduled to be released by Blue Whale Press in Fall of 2019.

She lives on the north shore of Long Island with her husband and very loyal rescue doggie, Cody. She is a member of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge and The Children’s Book Academy, and continues to attend workshops and conferences for both writing and illustration.


After working up several sketches, I select one that best suits the format. For this project, I was asked to illustrate the cover of a newlletter that included a masthead and text in a box on the left side of the illustration. I scan the drawing into Photoshop, clean it up and print it on the backside of Canson Mi-Teintes Steel Gray charcoal paper. The tooth is not as pronounced on the backside so the color lays better.

I begin by scumbling color into specific areas of the drawing then paint over it with turpenoid. This melts the pastel into the paper — when it dries you have an interesting underpainting to work with.

I begin building color relationships and highlights throughout the illustration.


If I find areas where the color relationships aren’t working, I can repaint in turpenoid and start again once it has dried. This prevents reworked areas from getting muddy.

I add finer details with pastel pencils.

The finished pastel is scanned into Photoshop where I add a few additional details, highlights and a touch of brightness.

Interview with Laurie Smollett Kutscera

How long have you been illustrating?

For about 35 years. Somewhere in the middle I stopped for a while to launch a new business with my husband.

What and when was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

In the mid 1980’s, I designed and illustrated a poster for The Children’s Free Opera of NY. The production was designed for a younger audience and was based on Commedia dell’arte (17th century Italian comedic theatre). After researching Scaramouche and Punchinello, I decided on a traditional yet whimsical approach that would appeal to kids, a brightly colored linoleum cut of the main character dressed in 17th century attire, perched on a skateboard.

Did you choose to attend Queens College.

I did- but for all the wrong reasons! I wanted to attend a university close to home. I knew Queens College had an excellent Fine Arts Department—what I didn’t know was how this decision would profoundly affect my life.

What type of classes were your favorites?

Calligraphy was one of my favorites. I studied illuminated manuscripts and practiced alphabets ranging from Italic and Copperplate to Gothic to Uncial. The classes were taught by Don Kunz, an outstanding calligrapher, painter and Zen Buddhist, who stressed the importance of proper posture and breathing while writing. I also had the great fortune of mentoring with Professor Marvin Bileck, Caldicott recipient of Rain Makes Applesauce. He taught drawing, children’s book illustration, printmaking, and a marvelous course called The Art of the Book, where I learned to hand-bind books. My final project in college was a French fold, hand-bound book of calligraphy and linoleum prints of Aesop’s Fables.

Did art school help you get illustrating work when you graduated?

Queens College did not have a placement program, however, my calligraphy classes played a huge role in getting my foot in the door of many companies. I would do certificates and awards for organizations such as the New York Philharmonic and the Modern Language Association. Once I established myself, I was introduced to other areas within the company that needed illustration and graphic work. My career took off when I began designing posters, brochures and book jackets.

What type of illustrating did you do when you were first starting out?

I did spot illustrations for several publishing and theatre companies in pen and ink, watercolor, linoleum cuts and scratchboard.


What type of products did you design for the toy industry?

Oh gosh, I designed several doll collections and a variety of stuffed animals. My illustrations were sent to China where all the prototypes and final products were made. They were sold at Macy’s and various gift shops throughout the US. It was quite a thrill to see all my furry friends and dolls dressed in their nautical outfits and ballerina skirts come to life!

When did you decide to illustrate children’s books?

I entered college with visions of being a fashion illustrator. But when I meet Professor Bileck, I began to appreciate the art of children’s book illustration. The endless possibilities of how illustration and text can work together opened up a whole new world for me.

Was Ravita and the Land of Unknown Shadows your first picture book?


How did you get that job?

My dear friends Marietta Abrams Brill, a brilliant writer, and her husband Peter, a talented artist and curator at the Museum of the American Indian in NYC, spent their honeymoon camping out in the southwest. Sitting around a fire, they wove this beautiful tale about a young, fearless girl and the strange shadows that haunted her cliff dwelling tribe. Marietta and Peter returned from their trip and handed me their story. I started working on sketches in a variety of mediums, colored pencil, linoleum, pastel. Eventually we all agreed the earthy, textural qualities of the medium fit the story best. I had never worked in pastel, so I did a lot of playing before I actually started the illustrations.

Once the dummy was completed, we snail mailed 5 or 6 off to a variety of publishers we thought were a good fit. Soon after, Rizolli Books in NY offered us a contract. (This was back in 1993 when you could not only collaborate, but easily send your project off to an editor, unsolicited!)

What inspired you to write MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIAN’S SON by Blue Whale Press

I was sitting in a movie theatre watching the first 007 with Daniel Craig— Casino Royale. As the opening credits appeared, these large playing cards jumped on the screen. There was something very appealing about their graphic nature. I kept staring at them, asking myself, what if they were real people? What kind of personalities would they have? What type of adventures might they have encountered? The next morning, I jumped out of bed and began writing about a cast of unusual characters that would find their way into Alexander Finn’s heart! 

I know it is a middle grade book, but did you add illustrations, since you are an illustrator?

Actually, I began illustrating MISADVENTURES while I worked on the manuscript. In a sense, it was a collaboration—working back and forth, fine tuning the illustrations while I wrote, adding details to the story while I drew.

At first, I did all the illustrations in color, but after speaking with an editor at a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference in NYC, she explained most publishers preferred black and white illustrations for middle grade novels. So, I went back to my studio, took all the images into Photoshop and changed them to grayscale. To my surprise, removing the color gave them more of a mysterious, moody quality.

Once the manuscript was ready to submit, back in 2012, I planned to include the black and white illustrations, but then I kept hearing editors prefer to find their own illustrators. At that point I thought, OK, maybe it’s best to hold off on sending illustrations until I found a home for the manuscript. So, I tucked all the artwork away.

A few years later, editors and agents were requesting middle grade novels by author illustrators. So, I pulled all the illustrations back out and started subbing again. I guess the old adage is true— timing really is everything!

Would you like to write and illustrate a book?

That is my ultimate goal. I currently have a few projects I’m finishing up dummies for.  I also have a few manuscripts I’m hoping will speak to me— so I know how to proceed with the illustrations!

Have you ever been published by a US publisher?

Yes, Ravita and the Land of Unknown Shadows was published by Rizolli’s Children’s Division and distributed by St. Martin’s Press in NY.

 Do you have an artist rep.? If so, who and how long have you been with them? If not, would you be willing to consider representation?

I don’t have an artist rep at the moment and yes, I would love to work with someone that feels strongly about my work.

Do you do freelance illustrating full time?

No. I divide my time between illustrating and writing and our seasonal business.

Have you done any book covers for novels?

I’ve designed several book covers for MacMillan and Simon and Schuster that were graphic in nature, not illustrated.

Would you illustrate a book for an author who wants to self-publish?

It would depend on the project. Time is so precious right now— especially because I’m trying to focus on getting both my writing and illustration work published.

What do you feel influenced your illustrating style?

While my work has evolved over the years and the medium has shifted, my influences (while a bit eclectic) have always remained constant. I love the primitive, earthy qualities of Gaugin’s paintings. I try to bring an earthy essence into all of my pastel work. I also love the lyrical intricacies of Persian Art. These detailed works have inspired the many patterns and textures I incorporate in my own illustrations.

Have you worked with educational publishers? Which ones?

I’ve designed for McGraw Hill and the Modern Language Association.

Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines? Which ones?

No. I haven’t approached them as of yet.

Have you ever thought about illustrating a wordless picture book?

Now THAT would be fun! Thank you for planting the seed!

What do you think is your biggest success?

I’m hoping to update the answer to this question once MISADVENTURE’S OF A MAGICIAN’S SON, is released—but for now, I would say- when Ravita and the Land of Unknown Shadows was published––that was pretty huge. The book(s) were displayed in the windows of Barnes and Noble across NYC and Long Island. This was followed by an offer of representation by Marilyn Marlow at Curtis Brown. That was kind of amazing!

What is your favorite medium to use?

I love working in pastel. I’ve also been playing with watercolors and my new Ipad Pro, Apple Pencil and Procreate.

Has that changed over time?

Yes. Early on I worked in scratchboard, linoleum cuts and watercolors. As time went on, I shifted to colored pencil and Photoshop when an Art Director I workshopped with suggested I try another medium that gave me the outcome I was looking for without having to rework so heavily in Photoshop.

 Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

When an idea hits, I make room in my schedule to work out the rough details. I keep weekends and evenings available for following through on ideas, writing and illustrating. In the winter months, I have more time to devote to my artwork and writing. This might be the reason I love snow so much!

Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?

Absolutely.  For example, Alex, my main character in MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIANS SON, does quite a number of card tricks. I knew very little about this form of magic and needed to find someone really adept in this area. While the internet offered helpful information—I felt strongly that I needed a one-on-one experience. When I discovered a dear friend’s son was quite the card trick aficionado, I met with him and picked his brain on numerous occasions. He performed shuffles and fans and cuts while I scribbled notes and took lots of photographs. I also shot video that I watched over and over —this really helped me translate the energy of each trick onto the written page.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Yes, absolutely! Online writing forums and contests have been invaluable tools. In fact, it was an online opportunity that led me to signing with Blue Whale Press. And just recently, an online contest provided several requests for my work from a number of agents and editors.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

Yes. When I’m working in pastel, I often scan the finished piece into Photoshop to adjust highlights and shadows and maybe add a few finer details.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet when illustrating?

I have a tablet connected to my desktop computer- which I use mainly for end-of-illustration detail work, not really drawing. However, this past Christmas, I received the IPad Pro and Apple Pencil.  I think I stopped breathing watching those first few You Tube Demos! The possibilities are endless!

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

My goal is to publish quality picture books that I’ve both written and illustrated. I’ve come across some exquisitely designed books, with gorgeous fonts and illustrated endpapers that make my heart skip a beat. That’s where I hope my work to ends up someday. And if by chance someone decides to make a musical out of Misadventures…well that would be just fine too!

What are you working on now?

I’m working on two projects at the moment. One is a more painterly series of illustrations for a poem I wrote about a girl that paints her room in a southwestern landscape and ends up on an adventure through the Painted Desert. The other is more whimsical in nature about an anxious lizard whose favorite toy is stolen.

Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

For those who write: Read, read, read!

Become a part of the writing community: Join SCBWI, Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge, #50 Precious Words Contest, Tara Lazar’s Story Storm, The Children’s Book Academy- these are all wonderful resources to help strengthen your writing skills.

Work on your craft (try not to focus on the goal of getting published.) In the end, your work will flourish and editors and agents will be more likely to take notice.

For Illustrators:

Create a great website with a range of work that includes color and black and white images. Instagram is also a great resource for getting your work out there.  And yes, postcard mailings are still an excellent way to promote your work. (Tip: Try to send out mailings appropriately themed just before holidays and seasonal events such as Halloween, Ground Hog Day, Spring, Fall and Winter.)

Get involved in online contests. Don’t be afraid to take chances. Be inspired by other artists but don’t make the mistake of following trends too closely. Your work should be as individual as you are. Bring your spirit into everything you create and you will not only find success, but satisfaction too!

Thank you Laurie for sharing your talent and expertise with us. Make sure you share you future successes with us. To see more of Laurie’s work, you can visit her at: Website:

If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Laurie. I am sure she’d love to hear from you and I enjoy reading them, too.

Talk tomorrow,


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