Thanks, Dionna, for having me here. Being part of Raven Quill Literary is a dream come true!
It's a great welcoming place, for sure. So tell me, how did you find your way into becoming a kidlit author-illustrator?
I've always been an artist. I tried everything to share my art with the world, from making bags and purses, home décor, murals, etc. One day my husband was watching the news and they had a segment on Jan Brett. He said, "Hey, you should do that." Until that moment I didn't even think of a children's book illustrator as a job. About a month later, I received a mailing for classes at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where I would occasionally take classes. They were offering a Children's Book Illustration class and I thought it was so serendipitous. From the first class I was hooked. I have never tried to do anything with my art other than children's books since that moment in 2006/2007.
Serendipitous, indeed! What happened next?
As for the writing part, it naturally evolved after learning to tell a story visually. I started taking classes at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. They offer lots of classes about writing for children and now (silver lining to COVID) you can take them online! I joined a critique group online and then a local group formed from one of the Loft classes. We still meet once a week and Lindsey McDivitt and Cynthia Surissi are both members. Our critique group is amazing and so helpful, keeping me motivated to generate new material.
Learning from and being supported by others is truly a part of the kidlit journey!
Yes it is!
I will try and not sound like a sap when I say this, but it is truly the best thing! Children are so imaginative and observant. They love to learn new things, as do I. It's such a challenge to write for children, you can't be lazy, they notice everything. I really love the thought of one of my books connecting with a child and making them feel something. I love trying to tell a story in 500 words (or less). It's so hard. Also, I've learned my stories have to have heart and a sense of hope, even for a tough subject, or they just won't work for young readers.
How is being an illustrator of children's stories especially fun for you?
Whether I am illustrating my story or someone else's, adding a visual backstory for kids is a lot of fun. I have to push beyond where I am comfortable to keep up with their imaginations. I love finding details in a book where every time you read it you discover new things in the illustration, and I think kids love that too.
I agree! So how did you and Kelly find each other, and why are you glad?
I've been working on Kelly for a while! Cynthia first suggested I submit to Kelly after I parted ways with my first agent. I was getting really nice rejections, but could never get over the getting-acquired road bump. I really needed an agent to find the right home for my stories. When Kelly mentioned she was looking for an author/illustrator, Cynthia reminded her I was both (Isn't Cynthia the best!!!). I feel so lucky to have a friend who is such a great cheerleader for my work. This time I sent Kelly a couple of dummy books and it worked! YAY!!!
Congrats! Kelly is great!
To be honest, I'd been watching Kelly do her thing as an agent for years. Since she represents two people in my critique group, I saw her feedback and suggestions frequently. She always has such insightful, helpful things to say about a manuscript. I've been impressed with her for a long time! I knew I needed someone editorial, organized, and someone who could make a plan for my career. Kelly is all of those things and more. And she is sooooooo nice!
You're right about that! Well, thanks for stopping by. And do let us know when your work is finally acquired!
Will do, and thanks for having me!!