Posted on: January 12, 2017
On January 28, Author/Illustrator Jessixa Bagley, will present as part of our webinar series, From Bright Idea to the Final Page Turn. Jessixa (pronounced Jessica–"The x is decorative") took home the Washington State Book Award this past October for her 2015 picture book, Boats for Papa. She was also kind enough to create the adorable artwork we're using to promote our event. We asked Jessica about her writing and art below. Join us on the 28th for her webinar on style and voice.
1. In addition to writing and illustration picture books, you're a cartoonist. Do you feel these two art forms share some common ground? And how do you feel your experience in one affects the other?
Jessixa: Making comics and making picture books share a lot in common. They are both the perfect synthesis of text and pictures- each one is designed to support the other equally. If done well, they both tell a side of the story and come together to ultimately tell one. Between their use of composition and pacing, they achieve the same effects of pulling the reader into a world and through a story. The space that the art and text create (or a lack of text in wordless versions) provides opportunity for subtext and subtle nuances to happen that allow the reader to interpret the story. I learned so much about making books from making comics for so long.
Jessixa: It varies. I don't have an exact formula that I follow in the beginning. Sometimes I get an idea for a story and start writing right away (I'll write in my phone notes, sketchbook, type on the computer), sometimes I draw a character a bunch of times and come up with a story for them after getting to know them for a while, sometimes I make bullet point statements or dialog then I move around to assemble into a story. If I start writing first then I start making thumbnails pretty soon after I put the story down on paper. (Thumbnails are key for me, they help me figure out pacing of the story and rough composition.)The two sides of picture books are so linked for me, I can't write for too long without getting anxious to draw and if I draw anything first, I get anxious that the story needs to come out!
3. Looking at the covers of your books, we see similarities and differences. We recognize your signature style, but we also get a sense of the feelings each story will evoke. Could you tell us about one or two artistic techniques you used to set the mood for one of your books?
Jessixa: Well I'm creating a world in a sense. I picture all of my characters from my various books living in different corners of the same Woodland world, so I want them all to feel like their paths could cross in some way. My two biggest techniques are my line work and my painting. My line work is created with very tiny/fine pens. I want to create textures and definition but as delicately as possible. I do my painting with watercolor that I let bleed and pool-up (I think it's technically called "blooming" in the watercolor circuit) and move across the paper to create an organic non-uniform texture. I achieve this by painting with fine brushes and an ink dropper instead of big washes of watercolor. For me, this creates a richer and sometimes somber feel which I think gives an added emotional depth to the story. My style directly comes from how I make fine art drawings and paintings-my illustrations are just a more controlled version.
Jessixa: Vincent Comes Home (Roaring Brook Press,Spring 2018) is a collaboration with my husband. I would love nothing more than to make more books with Aaron! We've made art collaboratively since we first started dating in 2004. It's always been a part of our relationship, so making books together feels very natural. I hope we can keep coming up with great stories to tell together!
Jessixa Bagley is a Seattle based artist and children's book author/illustrator. She has been a professionally practicing fine artist, comics creator, and illustrator since 2002. She has a BFA in painting and printmaking. Jessixa loves drawing anthropomorphic woodland critters- something that is inspired by her growing up in the Pacific Northwest. Her first picture book, Boats for Papa (June 2015) has won numerous awards accolades including the 2016 SCBWI Golden Kite Award for best picture book text and the 2016 Washington State Scandiuzzi Children’s Book Award. Jessixa has several other picture books out or soon to be published: Before I Leave (February 2016), Laundry Day (February 2017), and Vincent Comes Home (Winter 2018). Vincent Comes Home is collaboration with her husband, Aaron Bagley. All of her books are Neal Porter Books published by Roaring Brook Press. You can check out her blog and follow her on twitter @JessixaBagley
Posted on: December 17, 2016
The Inland Northwest Region is fairly small, but we're bringing you some BIG names during our webinar series, From Bright Idea to the Final Page Turn. Our next interview is with Linda Ashman. Linda will be our final presenter on February 11th. Here's an introduction to a few of Linda's picture books, the blog she congributes to, and her craft book for writers. Her agent even pops in wwith some info on the industry. Thanks, Linda and Jennifer!
Question 1: You have written over thirty books for children. Wow! Could you tell us how you got started?
A: My career began about 20 years ago when I was turned down for a job I really wanted. When I got the news, I blurted out to my husband, “All I ever wanted to do is write children’s books!”—a big surprise to both of us. I hadn’t read a children's book in years, had no clue how to write one, and knew nothing about the publishing business—but I quit my job anyway and plunged in. This was back in the dark ages, before we had so many resources online, so I bought a few books about writing for kids, joined SCBWI, and promptly started stacking up the rejections—two years’ worth before I sold my first manuscript.
Question 2: Do you have any advice on building a career in this business? A few tips for writers and illustrators that may have one or two books on the shelves?
A: The best advice, of course, is to keep writing and/or illustrating. If your first book happens to be a blockbuster (like, say, Fancy Nancy or If You Give a Mouse a Cookie), you might build your career writing sequels (nice!). But most books don’t reach those sorts of stratospheric sales levels, and aren’t likely to stay in print forever, so it’s important to get new work into the publishing pipeline.
Question 5: What's coming up in 2017? Do you have any book news yu can share, or upcoming picture books by others that you're excited about?
A: I’ve got two new books coming out next year that I’m very excited about. First, Ella WHO?, illustrated by Sara Sanchez, comes out in April with Sterling. It’s about a young girl who discovers a baby elephant in her new house on moving day, but the rest of her family is too distracted (and clueless) to notice. Then Will’s Winter Nap, illustrated by Chuck Groenink, will be published by Disney-Hyperion in October. It’s about a boy whose bedtime is repeatedly interrupted by a succession of animals looking for a warm and cozy place to sleep. As for books by other authors, I always look forward to new releases from my blog mates, and to discovering more new books through our blog.
Question 6: Your book, The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books is a great resource for writers at every level. Could you tell us about this book and where we can find it?
A: The book came out of a series of classes and workshops I taught a few years ago. It’s structured like an 8-week self-directed writing workshop, with instruction, examples, interviews with industry experts, a substantial reading and resource list, and lots of writing exercises (at least one of which led to a book sale, as Tammi Sauer describes in this post: Ooh, la, la! Mary Had a Little Glam (+ GIVEAWAY)). The guide has been used by brand-new writers as well as published authors, as a textbook by writing instructors, and a study guide for writing groups. It’s available in kindle format from Amazon, or as a PDF through my website (http://lindaashman.com/how-to-write-picture-books/).
Posted on: December 12, 2016
Picture Book author, Josh Funk, will talk about rhyme, meter, and the challenges of writing picture books that follow an added set of rules on February 4th during our webinar series, From Bright Idea to the Final Page Turn. We asked Josh a few questions about his books, his writing process, and Twitter. Get to know Josh, and don't forget to register for: To Rhyme or not to Rhyme? (Registration details can be found on the main event page.)
Question 1: Your first picture book, Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast, is a rhyming story about two breakfast foods racing through the fridge for the last drop of syrup. It’s quirky! Something a lot of agents and editors say they’re looking for. What’s your advice to writers that want to write quirky books?
A: It’s funny you use the word ‘quirky’ because I think that quirky is actually a modest way of saying ‘funny’ when referring to your own writing. When writing a query or submission letter, you don’t want to come across as arrogant – and using the word ‘funny’ to describe your own writing could potentially be seen that way (it also sets the expectations of the reader relatively high for humor level). But the word ‘quirky’ gets ‘funny’ across in that humble and low expectation sort of way.
So advice for writers who want to write quirky, goofy, silly, humorous, or even funny? I think one of the things that inspires me more than anything is that I’m not an illustrator – but I like to imagine things that I think will be fun to see illustrated. I know that anything I write will be drawn, painted, collaged or created in some way by an incredibly talented artist. Breakfast foods causing culinary chaos? Pirate-dinosaurs? Dragon pen pals? All of these things make me laugh just thinking about them.
So what do you want to see illustrated?
A: It’s not the most exciting of origin stories. I woke up at 2:33am on February 27th, 2013 and had the word Pirasaurs! in my head. I texted it to myself and went back to sleep. By the end of the next day I had a full first draft.
The lesson: Always keep a writing utensil (analog or digital) on your bedside table. (I find my best ideas come either while in the shower or right as I’m going to sleep and on the precipice of dreaming)
Question 3: Your characters in Dear Dragon get to know each other through a poetry pen pal project. Did you find the added constraint of telling the story through the characters’ letters more difficult, or did the structure make it easier to write?
A: To be honest, I’ve never really thought about the structure making it easier or harder to write. Dear Dragon is a non-traditional story in that it doesn’t have a conflict and rising tension explicitly defined. The story is more about the relationship between the characters – the human (George) and the dragon (Blaise) – and how it grows throughout the school year.
In many ways, it was like writing two intertwining stories in first person, one from each perspective. The main difference being the fact that when telling a story in first person, it’s usually intended to be read by some unknown reader – but in this case, each letter was intended to be read by another character in the story.
Question 4: You are an active Tweeter. Do you have a few Twitter tips for writers and illustrators that haven’t quite gotten the hang of it?
A: Twitter is like a giant cocktail party and everyone’s invited. You can jump into any conversation between anyone … or lurk in the corner and just listen in. You may get ignored, but you might make some new friends (or e-friends). Have fun with it! Share others’ good news and successes. Talk about books you love (and certainly tag the authors and illustrators). If you read articles or blogs that entertain or inspire you, share those (again, always tagging the creators). And always stay positive.
A: The sequel to Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast comes out on May 2. In The Case of the Stinky Stench, Inspector Croissant (Sir French Toast’s nephew) enlists LP & SFT to help determine the cause of a mysterious odor threatening to destroy the fridge. In all honesty, I kind of like this one better than the first. I wrote it before the first came out, but I had seen sketches and illustrations of Brendan Kearney’s world and just knowing what he could do inside the refrigerator gave me so much to play with when writing this one.
And in September, my first non-rhyming book will be released: It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk. It’s about Jack … and the beanstalk, but Jack doesn’t want to climb the beanstalk (“There’s probably a giant up there!”). Or sell his cow (“Bessie’s my best friend.”). I think kids will really enjoy seeing Jack cause serious frustration with the storyteller.
Thank you for inviting me to be interviewed!
Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as picture books – such as Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast and its upcoming sequel The Case of the Stinky Stench along with Pirasaurs!, Dear Dragon, It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk and more!
Josh is a board member of The Writers' Loft in Sherborn, MA and the co-coordinator of the 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conference.
Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes picture book manuscripts.
Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________.
Posted on: May 1, 2016
Our regional picture book workshop with Award-winning Author Bonny Becker was a huge success. The daylong event was held at the Eastern Washington University downtown Spokane campus.
Throughout the morning, Bonny focused on picture book story structure, sharing information about beginnings, middles and ends that provided insight for both novice and experienced writers.
"I've been to lots of workshops on picture books," one writer said, "But Bonnie knows the nuances of the form. This was a terrific opportunity to work with a pro. And at a great price."
Bonnie talked about the importance of starting with an idea that is both simple and profound. Picture books are sometimes rejected because they are too slight, or too long and involved. Bonny offered quick critiques on the ideas shared by attendees.
After lunch, we spent 45 minutes writing, and then people rose to read what they had written. Bonny asked the room for feedback on the stories, and gave her own critiques as well. One attendee commented, "First time I’ve heard a workshop speaker provide real, tough feedback that leads to positive change."
Later in the afternoon Bonny passed out blank ‘dummies.’ Writers wrote, illustrators sketched, and everyone looked at how their story filled 32-pages.
One writer commented, "Making the book dummy helped me realize I don't need as much text as I thought."
Bonny received top marks in evaluations following the event, indicating Bonnie encouraged attendees at every level, as well as offering inside tips she has learned through her picture book career. One attendee said she learned, "It's possible for anyone (including me) to get published."
Bonny Becker is author of the best-selling Mouse and Bear picture books, including A Visitor for Bear, winner of the E.B. White Read Aloud Award and Amazon’s Picture Book of the Year, and The Christmas Crocodile, illustrated by David Small. She’s published 14 books for children.
The evening before the intensive, Bonny read bedtime stories to young and old at Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane.
If you missed the event, Auntie's has some of Bonny's autograghed books for sale.
Posted on: November 17, 2013
Attendees critiqued excerpts of published literature, worked on exercises in character, point of view and dialogue, and shared their work aloud.
YA Author Matt de la Peña explained the difference between plot and theme. His style was to ask questions and encourage thought and discussion, as well as share his own beliefs and what he wants to accomplish in his work. One major point Matt made was the importance of keeping the reader involved in the story.
Writers applied exercises to their work-in-progress or to completely new material.
We wanted to send Matt home with a souvenir of the Inland Northwest. Having no SCBWI sweatshirts on hand, we went with second best.
Matt's visit was made possible by the cooperative efforts of SCBWI-INW and the Gonzaga University's Visiting Writers Series.
Posted on: October 19, 2013
A sell-out crowd enjoyed SCBWI-INW's recent annual conference at the Spokane Club. People enjoyed the new venue, calling it so much roomier/light. Beautiful! Comfortable and welcoming.
Scholastic Press/Blue Sky Press Assistant Editor Grace Kendall reported on the current state of the children's/YA publishing business. One writer reported, I loved what Grace said about the state of children’s publishing. “Just because it’s shifting doesn’t mean it’s dying.” Grace also gave tips on creating one-of-a-kind characters. She got high marks for moving around to different tables in an effort to meet everyone attending.
(photo M. Hunt)
Tansatlantic Agent Fiona Kensole charmed everyone with her British accent and high energy. I had a chance to speak to Fiona for a few minutes, said an attendee. She gave me excellent insight into careers in publishing. Below Fiona speaks with Annette Helberg during a break.
(photo Kary Lee)
Other speakers included North Idaho Middle Grade Author Dianna Winget , Oregon Author/Illustrator Carolyn Conahan and Poet Kristina Pfleegor. Other comments after the conference included:
- It’s always great to be surrounded by children’s writers, always inspirational, very practical useful information!
- Great line-up and diversity of topic.
- Excellent, encouraging critique. She gave a lot of specific ideas and I can use to improve my manuscript. The write-up she provided was excellent. It helps me remember what we talked about and her very specific ideas.
- The speakers were so approachable
- Connections! Connections! Connections! Synergy.
- The opportunity to meet with other writers of all levels was my favorite part of the conference
Dianna Winget with writer Beth Bollinger came all the way from Chicago.(left) Marcia Loft, Spokane; Patricia Nickolina Clark, Leavenworth; Karen Robbins, Seattle.(Right)
(photos Kary Lee)
The day ended with the very popular First Pages Critique session where the editor and agent gave their first impressions on hearing the first page of more than a dozen people's manuscripts. Their enthusias for some of the submissions was exciting for local members.
(photos Kary Lee)
A book sale and author signing rounded out the day. Joanne Jacobson, Newport, WA at the book table. (left) Attendees chat during lunch. (right)
Posted on: September 27, 2013
#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
#2: You gotta keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about til you're at the end of it. Now rewrite.
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
#8: Finish your story, let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
#9: When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you've got to recognize it before you can use it.
#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone.
#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience.
#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.
#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.
#17: No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let go and move on – it'll come back around to be useful later.
#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d'you rearrange them into what you DO like?
#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can't just write ‘cool'. What would make YOU act that way?
#22: What's the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
Follow Emma Coats on Twitter, @LawnRocket