Agent Monday: Creativity for a Stressed Writer

Note that became A DAY SO GRAY

Marie’s note that inspired her new picture book A DAY SO GRAY

Happy Agent Monday, everyone! These are tough times, and everyone reacts differently. For some writers, it’s a period of isolation that leads to deep thinking and bursts of incredible creativity. But if you are feeling stuck, rest assured, you aren’t alone. As a writer myself, I’m finding it hard to string together big ideas, even though I may be pondering plenty. Are you feeling the same?

While this can be distressing to an author who is used to having words a-flowing, do take heart. Your subconcious is surely hard at work. And take notes, because books do indeed grow from those seemingly small ideas that pop into your head.

Witness the note above that I wrote to myself after journaling early one morning. It was a simple idea, but it had some true power behind it – at least to me. So I stuck it on my desk and let it sink in. It grew and became a picture book manuscript, which then became A DAY SO GRAY, illustrated by Alea Marley, and published by Clarion Books.

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Starting pages from Marie’s picture book A DAY SO GRAY

The book features two friends, one who complains, saying, “This day is so gray,” and another who says, “No it isn’t!” and then points out all the colors in the landscape. It’s an optimistic book that reflects a side of me that is always looking for beauty and positivity everywhere. And it all came from a very simple but honest idea quickly jotted down.

So even while you may be feeling scattered and stressed, listen to the ideas that bubble up. For me, these quick thoughts are often unguarded and honest, so they truly express something important to me. Something with deep possibilities and meaning. Some jotted down notes come back to me as I think of them again and again – that’s one way I know that THIS idea demands attention. That it just might become a book. But some of the best ideas are those I’ve quickly forgotten until I looked back at some scribblings.

So journal. Keep a notebook and pen by your bedside to capture your early morning dreamy ideas. Go for a walk and immediately record with your phone an idea right as it comes to you, before it flutters away.

Gray coverIdeas do indeed flutter away unless they are caught and looked at. There’s something there. Some piece of you that is honest and true. Collect these thoughts and review them from time to time to see where the inspiration will take you.

It’s a small but important way to be creative, even when you are very stressed. Even when you find it hard to be productive as a writer.

And, it just might just become your next book.

*Marie is an author of YA novels and of picture books, and she’s a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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Earth Day Fun!

Butterfly craft fun!

Happy Earth Day everyone! Actually, every day is Earth Day! While Spring is bursting out all over, many of you are mostly keeping indoors to stay safe. I am too! So here’s a reading of my picture book GREEN GREEN: A COMMUNITY GARDENING STORY that you can see at home, along with ways that kids big and small can help our planet right now. Cozy up and just click on the link here.

And here’s a fun craft that you can do at home – make a butterfly finger puppet!

All you need is scissors, paper or card stock, a pipe cleaner or a twisty tie for the antennae, and stuff to decorate your butterfly with. You can use colored pencils, markers, crayons, stickers, glitter glue – use your imagination! For step by step directions and a butterfly template you can print out and trace, click here.

Another important Earth Day Everyday thing you can do to save the bees and butterflies – and the Earth – is to conquer all those new weeds popping up NOT with chemicals but with a simple to make at home Bee Friendly Weed Killer spray.  Got weeds? Yup, I’m sure you do! Then please check out how to get rid of weeds and keep our bees and butterflies safe by clicking here. Not only is it good for the Earth, but you’ll save money too. Win win win!

And for more ways to be GREEN GREEN, you can check out my picture book GREEN GREEN: A COMMUNITY GARDENING STORY for inspiration, which is available online through stores, by clicking here.

 

*Marie is an author of YA novels and of picture books, and she’s a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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On Magical Father-Daughter Walks

Me (then Marie Busterna) age 5 in front of my Wyckoff, NJ home

When I was a little girl growing up in Wyckoff, NJ, my father and I would often explore through wintry landscapes, my mitten in his gloved hand. “Look,” he’d say. “Do you see?”

He’d point out colors and shapes. Suddenly, together, we’d notice that snowdrifts had purple shadows. Red weedy canes rose up from the field. And golden poofs topped long grasses that nodded in the wind. That dreary winter day transformed from a dull slushy gray, into one that was filled with colors and shapes and stunning beauty. 

This “noticing” is something I still manage to do every day. Driving by a large open field, I can’t help but pick out russet-colored branches, dusty blue puddles, and swaths of golden and red weeds. And I’m always struck by the subtle beauty that is all too easy to overlook.

These experiences inspired my picture book A DAY SO GRAY (illustrated by Alea Marley, Clarion Books). The story is about two friends out for a walk in winter. “This day is so gray,” one grumbles. “No it isn’t,” the other says, and together they discover colors and beauty all around them. I’ve dedicated this book (not surprisingly) to my dad Santo Busterna. Kirkus noted that the book has an, “almost magical way of seeing and appreciating the world”.

If there is a magic to seeing, it’s a simple one we can all conjure up. It’s one that we can pass like a treasured spell book from parent to child.

Call this magic “mindfulness” if you like. Akin to meditation, mindfulness is said to ground us in the moment, reduce stress, and get us out of our anxious brains and into feeling more alive. Therapists share mindful exercises with their patients. Schools have even enacted mindfulness units to soothe today’s over-programmed kids.

My father, Santo Busterna, and I (note his carved cane!)

My dad was born in the 1930s, long before mindfulness was a thing. He grew up in the then-undeveloped wilds of Long Island. His father, my Nano, was a gruff Sicilian who spent long days building houses, lugging heavy cement blocks by hand. And my Nana was up to her elbows in hot soapy water as she cooked and cleaned for her husband and four children. His parents surely didn’t give him mindfulness exercises to help him notice and relax.

So I asked my dad recently, how did this happen? How did you become someone who noticed so much all the time?

“Well,” he said, “I just did. Back then, we had nature all around us. You stepped out your door and right there were the woods and fields for you to play in and explore.”

Of course nature can certainly be full of beauty, and it’s soothing to boot. But I’ve met plenty of people who grew up in natural surroundings, yet who are still stuck in their own heads. And I’ve known others who have had no real access to nature who still have a mindful eye for details.

In my dad’s case, I think the noticing came easily to him because he was a born artist. Artists are the epitome of mindful because they have to look closely and always observe things in order to then create.  

He sketched from an early age, and he loves to tell me of the time he sculpted a dog out of clay. “I was about six years old, and this dog was so perfectly done and so detailed that my teacher insisted I was a liar. That one of my parents must have made it.” For college, he wanted to go to art school, but his father made sure he studied something more practical: Chemistry. Degree in hand, Dad turned to the most creative career he could find, becoming a Perfumer. In his spare time, though, he carved countless original works in wood and in stone.

As for me? I’m not exactly a born artist. And I didn’t grow up surrounded by wild landscape. Instead, my childhood was suburban, full of tidy lawns and clipped azalea bushes, with a few patches of woods between properties. For me, I notice so much simply because my dad showed me how. And because of this I have become a writer, a close observer of the world.

When an adult presses the proverbial pause button to spend time with a child, to share the joy of noticing, well, that’s powerful stuff. This is something we can all do, and it can happen anywhere, at any time. Out on a winter walk. In a muddy park looking for early signs of spring. Strolling along a city sidewalk past busy shops.  Even while cozied up on a couch with a picture book on our laps.  

Noticing is a special magic, and sharing that experience with someone you love is pure enchantment.

I’m grateful that, no matter how busy my dad might have been, he always took the time to hold my mittened hand in his gloved one so that we could actively see some of the world together.

“Look! Do you see?”

Yes, Dad. I do.

*Marie is an author of YA novels and of picture books, and she’s a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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A DAY SO GRAY – my book birthday!

Today is the book birthday for my new picture book A DAY SO GRAY!!! Woo hoo!!! As of today, this book is available for purchase everywhere in bookstores and online. It’s illustrated beautifully by the talented Alea Marley, and published by Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

In this book, warm friendship and a fresh way of seeing things transform a snow-covered landscape from bleak to beautiful!  Kirkus says, “The thought-provoking and poetic text effectively celebrates balanced, helpful relationships and a positive, almost magical way of seeing and appreciating the world….Cozy up with this book to start a conversation about finding what’s bright when things seem dull.”

Please join the “party” and help me celebrate this birthday! How? Well, there are a bunch of ways to help this author (and any author you know). Here are a few (and any one of them will be much appreciated):

  1. Obvs, buy the book, if you can. Here’s the link to sites everywhere
  2. Share this post and other posts about the book on social media
  3. Know someone with a grandchild, a baby, or who needs a gift for one on the way? Suggest they check out A DAY SO GRAY.
  4. Attend a signing/reading that I’ll be at – and come and say hi! Don’t feel you have to buy the book there. Your presence will make a huge difference! Here’s where I’ll be, when.
  5. Read and review the book on your own sites, on book sales sites, and on Goodreads.com
  6. Mark my book as “to read” on Goodreads – that means others who are friends with you there will see it too
  7. Belong to a library? Then you can go onto the library’s site and key in this book as a requested purchase for your library system
  8. Are you a teacher/librarian, or do you know one? Perhaps you or they would want to use A DAY SO GRAY for a wintry story time, or for one about colors or mindfulness
  9. Tell anyone about the book who might be interested. Word of mouth is the best way to share!
  10. Be seen in the wild reading this book. Perhaps take a selfie and share it.
  11. If you see A DAY SO GRAY on the shelf somewhere, take a pic or a selfie with it and share online
  12. If you’d like to have me on your blog, or podcast, or chat with you for an article, send me an email at marielamba@hotmail.com
  13. Thinking of booking an author for a school visit? Check out my school visit pages here.
  14. A high five of any sort, whether online or in person, means a lot. Seriously, your support in any way, shape or form, makes a huge difference to this writer. Writing can sometimes be a long and lonely path, so just knowing there are so many good people in my life who are cheering me on? Well, that means the world!

Thanks, everyone! Thanks to my family for their support, always. Thanks to my fabulous agent Jennifer De Chiara. Thanks to my gifted editor, Anne Hoppe, and the wonderful and caring team of editors, designers, publicists and marketing team members at Clarion Books. And thanks to you!

No day is gray with all of you by my side!
🙂 Marie

Agent Monday: Senior Agent Stephen Fraser

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Happy Agent Monday to all!  Today I’m honored to be hosting at Q&A with Stephen Fraser, Senior Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. Stephen is a wonderful and kind agent with an acute eye for spotting talent! So let’s get to know a bit more about him here.

Q. Stephen, thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions! How did you get into agenting?

A. Happy to be here! I was an editor for 25 years at seven different publishers, working on everything from a children’s magazine, two children’s book clubs (both hardcover and paperback), and trade books (both paperback and hardcover imprints). When I left HarperCollins, there were no more jobs at the executive editor level available at that time – in fact, a lot of executive positions were eliminated – that was when Jennifer De Chiara asked me if I’d be interested in joining her agency. Interestingly, I had been the first editor she’d made a deal with when she had started her agency.

Q. Can you share some details about yourself, and how these have shaped who you are as an agent and as someone working with authors?

A. I was an English major in college and I did a Master’s Degree in Children’s Literature. Because I was an editor, I have a lot of experience working one-on-one with writers.

Q. What types of projects are you representing? Anything you are especially hoping to find in your inbox?

A. I represent everything from board books to picture books to chapter books to middle grade and young adult. Both fiction and nonfiction. I have done a few books for adults, like a couple of photograph collections and some Hollywood books. I have one adult novel I am shopping around. But children’s and teen are my primary focus.  In fact, the books that have won awards are all middle grade novels, like HEART OF A SAMURAI by Margi Preus which won the Newbery Honor; GLIMPSE by Carol Lynch Williams, which won a PEN grant; and ICEFALL by Matthew J. Kirby, which won the Edgar.

Q. Can you give us an example of one of your favorite books in each category that you represent, and why it’s your favorite?

A. One of my favorite picture books is THE GREEN UMBRELLA by Jackie Kramer. I love the circular structure of the narrative and the wonderful read-aloud quality. I love Janice Harrington’s touching verse novel, CATCHING A STORYFISH, which tells the middle grade story of a girl who finds her own voice. PURE GRIT by Mary Cronk Farrell is an outstanding nonfiction story which is true ‘narrative nonfiction.’ It reads like a novel. THE CHOSEN ONE by Carol Lynch Williams is a riveting story of a teen girl who runs away from a polygamist community. Guess what – I sold this story just one day before that news story broke about the Texan polygamist community!

Q. To help folks understand your point of view, what are some of your favorite TV shows and movies?

A. I love movies – I see at least two movies each week – and I like a variety of genres. EIGHTH GRADE was an honest and touching portrait of middle grade kids. INTO THE SPIDERVERSE was a hip, contemporary story for teens. Loved-loved-loved AT ETERNITY’S GATE, the recent film about Vincent Van Gogh starring Willem Dafoe. It really conveyed a sense of how Van Gogh saw the world. For TV, I am currently enjoying Season 7 of Homeland; I love my half-hour of silly with Will & Grace; and the series The Crown is TV perfection, in my mind.

Q. What’s in your reading pile?

A. I make myself read for myself for at least ½ hour every night. I’m currently reading a biography of Claude Debussy that came out last year and the latest historical novel by Louis Bayard about Abraham Lincoln. Plus a new book about Virginia Woolf, someone about whom I can never read enough.

Q. What makes a successful query to you?

A. I like a short description of the book – format,  genre, basic story line. And I like to know if the author has been published before (I need to know what publisher).  A good query is not too long and doesn’t include TMI.

Q. What are some common query mistakes that will result in an immediate rejection?

A. If someone begins, ‘Dear Agent’ or ‘To Whom It May Concern” I immediately delete it. A writer needs to be doing their research and to have the courtesy to address an individual agent.  Typos don’t make a good first impression. I guess the biggest mistake is a query for the kind of project that I am not interested in. And send one title at a time – I have gotten five picture books all banded together, which is too much.

Q. Are you a very editorial agent? What does that mean to you?

A. Yes. Because I was previously an editor, that is always my instinct: to see the potential in a manuscript and figure out how to bring it to full flower. I am glad to toss ideas around with a client, read a partial, or give feedback on a full manuscript. Not all agents work that way. I won’t let a manuscript go out until I feel it is right. I am especially fussy with picture books.

Q. What is your idea of an ideal client?

A.  A writer who stays in touch every six weeks or so.  Agents aren’t paid until they sell a book, so clients need to be respectful and appreciative of an agent’s time. I don’t mind chatting on the phone or communicating via e-mail. I don’t generally meet with clients who may be in Manhattan on vacation or for other business – I just don’t have the time.  If there is some event at a publisher which involves my client, that, of course, is different. And you know every writer is different. Some work very independently; some need more hand-holding. And that is okay.

Q. Where can folks go to follow you online?

A. Our website of course has a page about me here. I am also on both Twitter and Facebook. Or come to one of the writers conferences I participate in every year around the country. I am always looking for fresh talent.

Q. Your link for submission guidelines?

A. Please check our website for my guidelines here. E-mail queries only, please.

Thanks for taking to the time to chat with us today, Stephen! And for you fellow writers reading this, do check out the other Q & A’s featuring agents in past and future installments of Agent Monday. Stay tuned for more Agent Monday insights soon!

 

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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Cover Reveal! A DAY SO GRAY

Gray cover

You guys!  I am so delighted to share the cover of my newest picture book A DAY SO GRAY!!!  Illustrated by Alea Marley, it comes out through Clarion on October 29, 2019, but it’s available for pre-order now here.

If you belong to Goodreads, would you kindly add it as “to read” there by clicking on this link? That way others will see it too. Thank you so much!

What an amazing job Alea has done with this book. The images are absolutely stunning throughout…Honestly, I’m just humbled that she has brought such beauty to my words. To learn more about this fabulous illustrator and see more of her work, definitely visit her site here.

A DAY SO GRAY follows two friends as a day transforms from bleak and gray to full of beauty and joy, just by taking the time to notice colorful details everywhere. It’ll be coming out just before the holidays, ahead of those gray days to follow.  And I hope this will offer mindful and cozy inspiration for families everywhere.

The idea for this book came from my father, Santo Busterna, who, as an artist himself, always pointed to colors within the landscape, encouraging me as a young child to notice and appreciate the lovely details. To this day, I can’t drive past a winter field without picking out licorice red twigs, or golden poofs of wild grasses.

Thanks SO MUCH to my wonderful editor Anne Hoppe, the great team at Clarion, and to my fabulous agent Jennifer De Chiara for bringing this vision to life! And to each of you folks reading this for always being such wonderful advocates of books for children. 🙂

If you’d like more info about the book, I’ll be updating its page on my website here.

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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GREEN GREEN’s Book Birthday!

green-green-front-cover“They say it’s your BIRTHDAY!” Yup, it’s true. Today is the official publication day of GREEN GREEN: A Community Gardening Story!!!  It’s my debut picture book, co-authored with my husband, Landscape Architect Baldev Lamba, and illustrated by the phenomenal artist Sonia Sanchez. School Library Journal calls it, “An attractive read-aloud for beginning lessons on gardening.” This book is available everywhere books are sold. To purchase it, please contact your wonderful local bookstore — they will be happy to help you! Or, to order online, click here for a number of choices.

In the book, green grass is wide and fresh and clean for a family to play in, and brown dirt is perfect for digging a garden. But when gray buildings start to rise up and a whole city builds, can there be any room for green space? The neighborhood children think so, and they inspire the community to join together and build a garden for everyone to share in the middle of the city.

This is a fun and busy book, full of action, digging, construction stuff, nature, silliness and engrossing pictures. Every time I look through the pages, I discover something new and delightful! Can I just say I’m in awe of Sonia’s illustrations?

And at the end of the story, the book includes easy ways children and families can be more GREEN GREEN, including ways to help threatened honeybees and Monarch butterflies. There’s even a fun craft for kids!

Community gardening is such an important movement throughout the country, bringing together people and transforming the ground into lush gardens that feed and delight. GREEN GREEN is all about sustainability, something so close to my heart. And this book shows how children can make a real difference in our world. I especially love the diverse cast of children throughout the pages.

Just as a community garden needs many busy hands in order to grow, GREEN GREEN required the care and talent of so many wonderful folk. Thank you to my amazing agent, Jennifer De Chiara, to my editor Susan Dobinick, who planted the seeds, to my editor Grace Kendall, who helped this book grow, and to the wonderful team at Farrar Straus Giroux/Macmillan for, oh, just EVERYTHING they have done to bring GREEN GREEN into the hands of children across the world.

DSCN5510And thank you to the many folks in my life who continue to support this wacky writer! My family, my wonderful friends, my network of amazing writer buddies…my community! You’ve all helped me grow. 🙂  And thank you to the fabulous network of bookstore friends, librarians, and schools who are sharing GREEN GREEN!  And to readers out there? Adults who take the time to sit with a child in their lap and make a book come to life for a child? Wow. You are the real heroes of any book.

Yup – I’m a bit gushy here. But, hey, it is a birthday party, after all. 😉  Okay… just wanted to close with a huge THANK YOU to the fabulous indie bookstores Doylestown Bookshop in Doylestown, PA, and Clinton Books in Clinton, NJ for hosting us on our book launch weekend! (Both stores have author-signed copies of GREEN GREEN on their shelves right now for sale. To snag one, call or stop in at these stores.) And for an updated listing of where I’ll be doing future book signings and story times, you can check out my appearances page here.

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site.

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Be GREEN GREEN!: Bee Friendly Weed Spray

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GREEN GREEN – a new picture book by Marie and Baldev Lamba, for more info click here

Honeybees are dying off. One of the reasons? The use of herbicides, chemicals and pesticides. Honeybees play a vital role in pollinating fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Did you know that about a third of all food Americans eat is directly or indirectly derived from honeybees? Now imagine our world without them. Yikes! We need them, and now they need us! What can you do to help? Ditch those harsh chemicals!

Here’s an easy formula for a BEE FRIENDLY WEED SPRAY. You’ll help save the bees, you won’t have to worry about spraying gunk that will be dangerous for kids and pets, AND you’ll save a ton of money, too.  Win win all around.

IMG_1602BEE FRIENDLY WEED SPRAY RECIPE:

Fill a spray bottle with…
1 gallon of vinegar
1 ounce of liquid dish soap

Some tips: This spray works best in full sun. Spray on a day without rain to let it take effect. You’ll see results almost immediately. When weeds die down, it’s a good opportunity to remove any extra soil or plant debris from sidewalk and walkway cracks that would encourage future weeds. Keep a spray bottle on hand to zap any weeds that come back.

How well does this work?  Here’s my sidewalk’s BEFORE:

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And just a few hours later:

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And the next day… a great AFTER:

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I just removed the dead vegetation. Best of all – no bees were harmed! No animals either. Please spread the word and share this post with others. You can Bee the solution!

Want your kids to think green? Then check out my new picture book GREEN GREEN: A COMMUNITY GARDENING STORY (Farrar Straus Giroux), which is available in stores and online wherever books are sold. For more info and for links to retailers, please click here. This book celebrates the joys of gardening, and includes ways kids can help the world be more GREEN GREEN. School Library Journal calls it, “An attractive read-aloud for beginning lessons on gardening.”

*Marie is co-author of the new picture book GREEN GREEN: A COMMUNITY GARDENING STORY and a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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Agent Monday: Halloween Treat – Behind the Scenes with Illustrator Lee Harper

TTTCoverHappy Agent Monday – Halloween style! For a special treat, I’m excited to have a guest post from our talented client, author/illustrator Lee Harper. He’s going to take you into his studio for a behind the scenes look at how he created the images for Wendi Silvano’s too-funny TURKEY TRICK OR TREAT (Two Lions). Lee’s currently hard at work illustrating the sequel to Leslie Helakoski’s wonderful WOOLBUR picture book, titled WOOLBUR GETS READY FOR SCHOOL (Harper Collins). To see his portfolio, and get info on his books,  visit his website here.

****LAST MINUTE UPDATE! I just found out that TURKEY TRICK OR TREAT is read aloud by Scandal’s actor Guillermo Diaz on the show BOOK-A-BOO. The reading has fun animations and is available for streaming here.  Perfect treat for kiddos of all ages. 😉

Okay, take it away, Lee!

Tricks Behind Illustrating Turkey Trick or Treat
by Lee Harper

After I received the manuscript for Wendi Silvano’s Turkey Trick or Treat, I started by filling up sketchbooks with drawings. In the beginning, I let the story and my imagination take me wherever they wanted to take me without worrying about how it would all come together. A lot of the character development happened during the sketchbook drawing stage. There were a lot of animal characters to develop.

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There were also a lot of human characters to develop, each with their own costume.

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All the characters needed to look like they belonged to the same reality.

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Only a small percentage of my early stage drawings made it into the book.  As a result, I have a vast collection of storyless characters as this illustration shows.

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I mixed in some experimental painting during the drawing process to make sure the drawings would work in color. This sheriff turkey didn’t make it into the book but gave Wendi an idea for another turkey story!

When I had a general idea of the characters and an overall visual theme in mind, I started the dummy by creating a storyboard with thumbnail sketches on Post-its. At this time I also gave myself a drawing schedule that kept me moving along. I like to do this part fast, in one fell swoop. Details can wait for later.

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The great thing about storyboarding with Post-its is you can quickly mix and match images —like putting together a puzzle — and because each drawing is small, it’s impossible to delve prematurely into too many details.

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When the storyboard was done, I began a more detailed dummy by drawing each individual element of each page, scanning it, and placing it in Photoshop.

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I then arranged all the elements of each page, including the text. Since each element of the drawings was an individual layer in Photoshop, I could easily re-arrange things and make revisions.

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Once I had all the drawings completed, I saved each two-page spread as a JPEG file and created a PDF dummy to email to my editor and art director at Two Lions. After revising the sketches according to their notes, I printed out the pages 10% larger than actual size and traced them onto watercolor paper using a light table.

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After the lightly drawn drawing was complete, I soaked the watercolor paper with water and stretched it on a board to keep the paper flat during painting.

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While painting I referred to photo-reference material I collected during the drawing stage. I needed to show the farmer’s feet in one of the illustrations so I photographed my son Dan’s pants and boots. (There’s nobody in there.)

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This is the illustration with the boots and pants.

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Because Turkey Trick or Treat was the third in a series of books about the same character, I regularly referred to the first two books to make sure I kept things somewhat consistent.

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Here’s my watercolor palette while I was working. This is actually the first book in which I use a black pigment. Usually I make darks by mixing other colors, but for Turkey Trick or Treat I wanted a very pitch-black sky.

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I have an unusual painting process that involves spraying a mist of water in the air and swinging the painting through the mist. It eliminates hard edges.

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Here’s a painting under construction.

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And finally, an illustration comes to life.

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Thanks so much, Lee, for giving us such a great behind the scenes look into your studio and fun creative world!

Happy Halloween, everyone. And keep your eyes peeled tonight for Turkey trying to steal some of your treats!

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site.

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Agent Monday: Dig Deeper for Ideas

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Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Last day of February – WOOT!  I’m all about springtime and being outdoors and longer days and digging in the garden – and I can’t wait for all of that. I’m also eager to dig through the submissions in my agent inbox to find  the next engrossing read. However, what I’m often finding are manuscripts that, while well written, are just all too familiar. That’s a real shame. The writers have skill, but the idea behind their book is one I’ve seen too many times before. I wish that these writers could dig deeper so that more original plotting can grow.

What do some of those all too familiar plots look like? Here are a few examples:

For middle grade or YA: A child or a teen must spend the summer with a grandparent or other relative they hardly know – and it’s always in the middle of nowhere or on some waterfront setting. There the kid uncovers some sort of mystery they must solve, whether magical or spooky or historical, and an unlikely person ends up helping and becoming a close friend. In the end, the kid learns about themselves, and also sees that unknown relative in a new light.

For women’s fiction: A young woman has tried to make a go of her career and love life, but finds embarrassing failures and is forced to go back to her home town with its small town ways. There, she eats humble pie, sees that simple life as not so simple and even sophisticated and enviable and heartfelt, and that old flame of hers is there to rekindle a different life path.

For women’s fiction or memoir: A person’s life falls completely apart, and they go on a journey to leave it all behind and are challenged in new and surprising ways that change everything.  For a memoir, this can be a trek or a world tour or some other adventurous trip. For fiction, it is often spurred by a death in the woman’s family, or a divorce by a cheating spouse, and the heroine either inherits or buys some rundown home in some isolated place and is challenged to make a go of things – of course the attractive but surly and mysterious handyman is there to help.

There are many other too familiar plots I could site. Just conjure up ideas of dystopian fiction, fantasy middle grade, silly picture books, and you will likely come up with a number of familiar story lines yourself. Call them tropes if you like, and they could be entertaining, and well done. But I say talented writers can go deeper in their ideas and plotting. As an agent, I’m looking for originality and fresh journeys to go on. In a weird way, it’s a lot like trying to find something on NETFLIX to binge watch. You want something engrossing and interesting and wonderful. Something worth investing your time in, and you want to be surprised and delighted in the adventures that enfold. You don’t want to watch a few minutes and have many things figured out, and to feel like you’ve seen something just like this before.

Pile of LightbulbsSo what’s a writer to do? I say dig deeper. Find what you most love about your idea, and then as you plot, don’t go to the first or second idea of what could happen next. One technique that I really like to use when plotting my own novels is from Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (a craft book I highly recommend). Think of what could happen next in your story. Then write, say, 5 more ideas. Then 5 more.  Take that last idea on your list and use THAT. You’ll be using something on a much less obvious train of thought.

And you’ll be creating something that may just surprise and delight you, and please agents and readers too.

 

*Marie is an Associate Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site.

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