We recently had the pleasure of asking long-time Pippin artist Pascal Lemaitre how he found himself as an artist. We thought it’d be fun to share his answer here; hope you find some inspiration for yourself from this wonderful and fascinating answer.


Every kid draws and then some stop at a certain age. I went on because I saw my father painting and I thought it was cool. I was proud of my father. I met some artists and I loved the way they were. Of course I drew images I saw. I have a lot of father figures.


I wanted to be a serious artist. A painter. Dramatic self-portraits.Paint or die. Then I decided I needed to accept who I was.I was just a guy who liked to draw funny weird stuffs, that's all.


In a way it freed me of the burden of willing myself to be "someone". I decided it was time to embrace who I was to avoid a future full of frustration and bitterness. On that path I saw there was a brotherhood of non-serious artists. It helps. Then it's all about getting a life that brings intensity into your art. That's why I spend a good chunk of time far from my drawing table. This process of learning to accept yourself is common to every human being, but when you draw you bring that in your line. Here’s another way to think about it:
-Get a life.


-Unfortunately you need to work a lot to find who you are.  Because it's when you try different things that you find which one suits you better. 
-Drawing is like dancing. You need to practice a lot.
-Read books. Philosophers. Poets.
-Fall in love.
-Walk in the forest.
-Build around your dream.


-Be generous, you will create a flow and people will help.
-Life is crazy. It takes so much time and energy to build a person, and life is so short. So don't think too much about it. Focus on your art and life.
-Our work is about collaboration. So listen to art directors, editors, agent, and writers.
-See it as a way of sharing knowledge and learning. Editors are not enemies. We build together.
-Money is a tool. So invest your money in a trip where you'll discover the world.
-Break the walls in your head.
-Listen to you, Don't follow the crowd.
-If you study and there’s no pain, that means something is wrong.
-To grow up is hard. To broaden your art you need to go against your habits.
-Look at small children. The way they draw. Their intensity. Their need. Do this just to remember why you draw and to keep the pleasure of it.

Posted by michael at 08:07 AM Link to this post

My friend Doug Fraser, who taught illustration at the Alberta College of Art and Design, once told me that in the middle of a class one of his students put up her hand and asked, “Doug, when will we get our styles?”


Without missing a beat one of the other students said, “I think they’re arriving at 2 o’clock.”   


The journey to discovering my own voice was a long one so I’ll try and be brief (and you know I can be long-winded when I’m not careful!). Actually, the journey of discovery seems to be ongoing. I’m fairly restless where my “style” is concerned — always pushing for the next big thing, as it were. I’m usually happy with my art when I’m finished with it but can always see other ways I might have done it, which leads neatly into my next illustration project, and that one into the next. It’s a nice organic process.


In my case I saw a lot of students enter the illustration program at the Alberta College of Art who I thought were very decent picture makers. But then I spent some time looking through the graduation show (as I neared the end of my first year of general studies). To my surprise almost all of the illustration students were producing work that could only be called “good illustration”. It looked like illustration. It was good. But it was boring. I quickly changed my mind about my area of study and chose to study drawing and printmaking in the fine arts program.


The illustrators whose work I truly loved spoke with such a strong and powerful voice that they somehow transcended mere illustration. I wanted to be like them! Eric Carle. Stephen Gammell. Lane Smith. Jack Kirby. Chihiro Iwasaki. Bill Sienkiewicz. Anything they laid their hands on always looked only like their own work. Their voices were so strong you could identify their drawings without having to read their names on their books. That’s the kind of illustration I wanted to make! I decided that studying fine art would be a better way to find that voice because that voice doesn’t come from studying illustration techniques and doing illustration assignments. It comes from searching deep within yourself and finding who you really are. It comes from observing the world around you and learning where you fit. It comes from experimenting with different media and trying to express different ideas. I tried video installation projects. I tried abstract expressionist painting. I spent hundreds of hours doing figure drawing and learning anatomy and color theory.


The funny thing was when I graduated from art college I was further from a career in illustration than I’d been when I started. I showed my work in a gallery with some printmaking friends and thought about the future. I needed a job! So I took my burgeoning digital skills and found myself a graphic design job (not as a designer but as a production guy — I did digital typesetting; colour-correcting photos; pre-press; etc. And some designing.) And all the while I spent my free time drawing comics. I knew that my real calling was to draw Spiderman for a living! I still have a big pile of rejection letters from my submissions to Marvel and DC comics. I actually got pretty close to a professional comics gig with both of them before realizing that I was doing the one thing that had discouraged me from studying illustration in the first place: I was imitating other artists. I could draw pretty well (as evidenced by almost getting the coveted gig with DC Comics) but I took a step back and realized that my voice was nowhere to be seen. And I started to hate my drawings because of that. And it was REALLY hard work. So I kept my nose down and did my design job and thought about my dream illustration job.

I saved lots of money (design pays really well!) and spent my free time putting together a portfolio of what I thought were terrific illustration samples. My art used to look vaguely like Marilyn Manson album cover art — it was a strong mix of my fine art “voice” with digital techniques that I’d taught myself by studying Dave McKean’s wonderful Sandman covers and Bill Sienkiewicz’s amazing graphic novels.

I showed this portfolio to Doug Fraser who said, “Your drawings are beautiful! They’d look great on my wall but I’m not sure what art directors are going to do with it.” I’m stubborn. I booked a trip to New York, Toronto and London and took my portfolio on the road for a month. My first meeting was with Steve Heller at the NY Times who said, “These are great but I can’t use them. They’d look great on my wall, though.” And that set the tone for my month of showing the portfolio.


However, in Toronto I managed to have one particularly nice meeting at an ad agency. The Art Director I met liked my portfolio, even though he agreed that it would look better on his wall. And, since my portfolio was fairly slim back then, asked if I had anything else he could see. The only other thing I had was my sketchbook, which goes everywhere I go but is never shown to anyone. So I showed it. He was puzzled by it. Where the portfolio was dark and brooding and full of muted colours and foreboding (the goth influence was pretty heavy) my sketchbook was full of silly, light-hearted drawings — the sort of things one draws on a napkin while talking on the phone. He put them side by side and compared, then said, “Now if you can take the rich textural elements of your portfolio and mix-in the fun and frivolous side from your sketchbook I think you might actually have something really cool! Come and see me when that happens.” That was an eye-opener. It had honestly never occurred to me that you could try selling something to art directors that took only a few minutes of your time and was, for all intents and purposes, SILLY. It had never occurred to me that my voice might also encompass that FUN side of my personality — the side that I didn’t have to work hard at.

Luckily I’m a good listener. And this AD was right. I began to morph the fun art with the dark, textural stuff and slowly the art began to look more and more like MINE. And the organic approach I had always used in my sketchbooks took over the way I looked at paying work. My palette got brighter. My drawings became more and more accessible. And I was having more fun than I’d ever had before!


I had a chance meeting with Bill Sienkiewicz at a comic convention a couple of years ago (I still have a soft spot for comics). I watched him draw and listened to him chatting with a couple of fans. When they left I pulled out a copy of Grumpy Bird and showed it to him. I told him how I had loved his work when I was in art college (and still did) and how, while I never tried mimicking him, I had borrowed a bunch of his techniques and applied them to my own art, which was definitely in a similar vein back then (the dark, brooding gothic phase). I explained that Grumpy Bird was a direct descendent of his own twisted drawings. He laughed and said something like, “I LOVE it when someone can take something that I took from someone else and turn it completely of its head and become something else altogether.” He put Grumpy Bird beside one of his dark fantasy drawings and you couldn’t see the resemblance at all. I like that.


So my advice to illustrators? Listen more than you talk. Listen with both eyes and ears. Because sometimes other people know your work better than you do. Sometimes they see what you can’t because they aren’t invested in it like you are. Also, your voice comes not from your mouth, but from your hands. Let your illustration do the talking for you. And if you have listened just right, and processed everything carefully, you might just find that you have something to say. And never stop listening! Because when you think you’ve found your voice you might just be surprised when someone else can answer another piece of the puzzle for you. And because no one likes a big talker! Ha Ha! Your style is your brand. It’s your identity. It is what makes someone look at your work over the hundreds (or thousands) of other illustrators out there. Be proud of it.

And that's my three cents worth!
Posted by michael at 09:05 AM Link to this post

–  What is the first children's book you remember reading / being read? Can you tell us what you remember about that experience in as much detail as possible?

When my mother read me the Babar books, I entered a wondrous world where elephants wore spats and old Cornelius was drawn with wavy lines to show how shaky he had become with age. 


And who came to the rescue of Babar and Celeste when they needed help? The Old Lady, that's who. I really loved how small she was in comparison to the elephants, yet she was powerful in ways that the elephants were not and I imagined myself helping the elephants the way she did. I loved the art in these books; it had so much detail that I discovered something new with each rereading. The simply-told stories were filled with action, ingenious plot devices, and even tragedy. I sobbed when one of the elephants -- Babar's father? -- was shot. The text was printed in script, another grace note in this elegant elephant world. 

– Where do you like to read most and at what time of day?

I've read that before the Industrial Revolution, it was considered natural for people to fall asleep at night, awake for a stretch, and then fall back into a 'second sleep.' I was relieved to discover this because I am a 3 a.m. waker upper and this is when I read. This year, by the glow of the flashlight from my phone, I read my nocturnal way through all four volumes of Robert Caro's Lyndon Johnson biographies, which are absolutely brilliant. I also read books while riding on the Jitney between Sag Harbor and New York city, but during the day when I'm home, I read the paper and magazines. 

– What are your writing habits? Got any? Where do you write, when do you write, on what kind of computer or in what kind of notebook?

I work on a MacBook with an elaborate ergonomic set up involving a split keyboard that tents higher in the middle than on either side and a stand for my MacBook that elevates it so that I'm looking straight at my screen without tilting my neck. I have a mouse that I switch from left to right sides every week or two. I also have a pile of books on a table that's my stand-up desk. I take my laptop over and work there for an hour or so at a time.

I don't have any set time when I have to be in my office, but I usually go in about 8:30 or 9. I try to do some work every day, seven days a week, and I like the rhythm of that. I'll start my day writing or answering e-mails or making necessary phone calls, and then I settle into work around 10:00. But sometimes, if I'm writing a longer piece -- say a Myth-o-Mania book -- and I'm into the first draft, I'll jump right into work and let e-mails and everything else slide for days or even weeks until I'm finished. The only constant in my day is my dogs. Toby can tell time to the minute, and every day at 3:00 I hear his toenails clacking on the floor of my office as he comes in to stare at me, unblinking, until I get up and give him and Pinkie their supper.


They are like old retirees who show up for the early bird specials. After they eat, we go for a walk in the village and do some errands and my work day is over. 

– What are you working on now? What has the process been like so far? What are the highs and lows with this project(s)?

I'm about to go back to work on what I hope will be a series of stories -- maybe graphic novels for the 2nd-3rd grade set -- starring a duck. We live on a cove in Sag Harbor. I hear ducks quacking all the time, and it always sounds comical to me --QUACK wack wack wack wack -- like the punch line of a duck joke. That's all I'll say right now about this project, as I'm in the middle of it and talking about work in process is like letting the air out of a balloon. 

– If you could offer one tip that has been more important than any other in your writing career, what is it?

This certainly isn't a career-making tip, but here goes: When I get stuck or I feel as if my story is tying itself in knots, I get up and do something else. Taking a walk is great because I'm looking around and not really thinking too hard about anything and if I'm lucky, up bubbles an idea or a phrase or something that leads me to be able to untie the knots in my plot -- all with no conscious effort. It surprises me how often this works -- by thinking of something else or nothing in particular, part of my brain is working to get me back on track. Thank you, brain!
Posted by michael at 09:03 AM Link to this post

We asked Harry Bliss how he found his own, distinct voice in illustration recently. We were so fascinated by his telling that he agreed to let us post it here. Enjoy the many guises of . . . Harry Bliss!

Style came to me after years of being inspired by artists as far apart as Ben Shahn to Charles Schulz.

< shahn_v_schultz

I spent years mimicking these and dozens of artists I'd admired in some form and it was very good for me in terms of developing hand control, familiarity with mediums or simply keeping my 'chops' up. If you go back and look at my work twenty-five years ago you'll see a lot of different styles, depending on the assignment.

< harry copies pablo

Mimicking Pablo

I had illustration jobs (mostly book jackets) that needed, say, an Art Deco look or a renaissance feel, so all that influence came in handy. Still, at some point you want to find your own look and this comes, ironically enough, when you stop searching for a style.

For me, it was The New Yorker that really forced me into straight drawing, just an idea in my mind traveling from my brain down to my hand and onto the paper with nothing to look at— pure visual communication. This of course is the central component in drawing gag cartoons. Think of a James Thurber drawing, the crude beauty and expressions in those works— masterful stuff that was so pure. One day, a prominent New Yorker writer came across Thurber trying to copy something in front of him, working from life because Thurber felt his drawings looked too crude at best, and the writer said, "What the hell are you doing? Stop that! It you get any better you'll be mediocre!" Ha!

It's sort of tragic, but my father never found his visual 'voice' because he couldn't shed the other great artists whom he'd loved — all his stuff looks like a Gorky or a Avery or some impressionists he's trying to mimic. My uncle too, spent most of his life trying to be Andrew Wyeth. Here is one of his paintings. It’s great, but you'd swear it’s a Wyeth...

Harry's Uncle

When I draw now, whether it's for a picture book, cartoon, New Yorker cover, or 'doodle', they all look like a 'Bliss' — it just happened. I guess the influence gets washed out of you over the years and that's when it gets really fun. I had a 75-year- old painting teacher, Lou Sloan at PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts), call it 'freedom' and I liked that quite a bit.

Harry is free

Posted by elena at 03:02 PM Link to this post

Happy 15th Birthday, Pippin! Love, Holly.

It’s hard to believe that Pippin is celebrating its fifteenth birthday this year.

I left HarperCollins, where I was an Executive Editor, in March of 1998, was married a few weeks later, and a couple of weeks after that, I opened the doors at Pippin, from our apartment on East 19th Street. I dreamed about the day when my Pippin answering machine (remember those?) might actually have messages on it. Emails were just becoming the norm too, and the suspense of dialing in to AOL from my IBM Thinkpad to see if anyone had news, or possibly even an offer, was real.

I studied NEGOTIATE TO WIN on a nightly basis, and everything went as well as one could hope, by turns exhilarating and terrifying. About a year later, our first child was born, and she was a beauty, but she was loud. While the babysitter tended to her during the day in the living room, I held meetings in the bedroom, with classical music playing in case the baby cried (who can stand to hear their babies crying?). I remember many an author and artist, among them Harry Bliss, Pascal Lemaitre, and Jef Kaminsky, sitting on the edge of my red comforter, while I sat at the drafting table that was my desk. Nobody minded, because we all were working on projects we loved, without an acquisitions board. We were gambling on our own taste, and it felt so liberating!

By the time Baby Charlotte turned one, working out of the bedroom was increasingly challenging, and Pippin moved to East 38th street—we spent a wonderful decade there. That’s where we began to receive our first royalty statements, as the projects we had sold became real books. Watching our original library grow was inspiring, and our client list began to grow too. But always, the reason for bringing on new authors and artists remained steady—we had to fall in love with the work first, and that holds true to this day.

I thought I’d share some highlights and lowlights from the past decade and a half . . .

~The decision to call the company Pippin, in honor of the first book I had edited by myself, ZEKE PIPPIN by William Steig. It only took a minute, because I was the only one casting a vote.

~The generosity of Bill Steig’s offering to make our logo, dressing Zeke in a business suit because as he so eloquently said, “you are going to do business, right? I’ll give him a tie and a desk.” That’s Bill—no bullshit.

~ Fred Marcellino’s gift of designing our stationery—we’ll never change that stationery, for it’s a living reminder of those two Pippin heros, Fred and Bill, who are no longer here.

~Making the first deal, for Sally Cook’s GOODNIGHT PILLOWFIGHT, and learning the hard way that editors like to know when it’s a multiple submission.


~Hiring the first assistant—he could do no wrong because at once, somebody else was making copies . . .

~Writing to Kate DiCamillo and getting an answer, a GREAT answer, that being YES!

~The 2001 Caldecott Medal, a Caldecott Honor, and a Newbery Honor all in the same year—thank you David Small, Doreen Cronin & Betsy Lewin, and Kate DiCamillo.

~Signing on Peter H. Reynolds, on the basis of how he drew a teacup (he loves tea).

~Finding out the hard way (again) that it’s a bad idea to accept an advance payment on paperback publication—because there might not be a paperback.

~Making a deal for my big sister Alison’s #1 New York Times Bestseller SOMEDAY, paired with Peter H. Reynolds, after it was turned down more than a dozen times.

~Finding out the hard way (yes, again!) that when you order the “film” for a picture book that’s gone out-of-print, it comes in an eight-foot tall canister.

~Advising Kate McMullan to get more ‘tude and lay it all on that garbage truck book, I STINK! (She had more ‘tude than she ever knew.)

Despereaux Taxi

~From our 38th Street office window, watching the taxis go by with Universal’s ad for DESPEREAUX, our first film, on top. Sometimes it pays to be on the mezzanine floor.

~Auctioning David Small’s graphic memoir STITCHES, our first adult trade book.

~Publishing my own first book, under pen name Hallie Durand—now I’ve seen the publishing world as an Editor, an Agent, and an Author . . . need I say more?

~Going digital with our contracts, and admiring the way Elena negotiated the sale of our empty filing cabinets on Craig’s List. She’s tough.

~A 2013 Caldecott Honor for David Small’s ONE COOL FRIEND and the 2013 Newbery Medal for THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate, the award dinner being the very night after Elena Mechlin’s wedding to Greg Giovinazzo. We both showed up.

~Those last six weeks on East 38th Street, Julie Just at the conference table with her headphones on (to block out noise), Elena and I unable to make eye contact because of the boxes, and all of us getting on really well despite the discomfort—I think it was Mr. Jones, my fifth grade teacher, who said, “There is no ‘I’ in team.” He’s right.

~And finally, our glorious move to the new headquarters at 110 West 40th, Suite 1704, no more headsets and no more boxes—we made it!

Happy, happy birthday Pippin!
Posted by michael at 01:09 PM Link to this post

A small consolation for the end of summer is the end of summer's required reading. At my house, just shy of Labor Day, we can almost declare victory. We have found and lost and found our school's list, and the kitchen magnets holding up the list, for the last time. There were the books attempted that fell by the wayside, snubbed as “boring,” or “too babyish.” The mysterious titles that for whatever reason didn’t seem inviting. And then somewhere along the way, the ones that became fast favorites and could be enthusiastically checked off.

My children, 10 and 15, tore through John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Ruta Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray, Joan M. Wolf’s Someone Named Eva, and Francisco Jimenez’ The Circuit. Plus, in not-required reading, Wonder; Teenagers: An American History; Chiggers (a graphic novel); various mysteries involving cupcakes; and a biography of Betty Crocker.

True, as of August 30th, at least one mandatory book was not quite at the halfway point: uh oh. But I try not to get involved. My only rule, recently adopted, is that you can't stay up until midnight the night before school starts to finish your book. That's because you've done this every single year up until now, so this year is going to be different. Definitely.

But enough about my kids’ reading—what about mine?

My own summer list is much more important, at least to me. I’m a literary agent, and not only that, I’m an agent here at Pippin. I read for a living. What does a person like me, who is panning for nuggets of literary gold on a daily basis, choose for hammock reading? What could possibly meet my expectations? Every Memorial Day I envision an ideal book, a novel or hefty tome that will be transporting and unforgettable as I attempt to balance it while embedded in damp, stretchy rope. It better be something really good.

Alas, there was no actual hammock this year—and I hate to admit that I mostly read e-books, so there was no balancing act either. It’s kind of strange to have nothing visible to show for my efforts, no pages stained with salt, sand, rosé zinfandel…. Even so, I'm pleased with my choices. I succeeded in polishing off two long novels and some shorter books, devouring the big stuff in the concentrated two- and three-hour gulps that are the true hallmark of summer reading. I caromed through the shorties:The School of Good and Evil (a new YA); Skellig; The Virgin Suicides; Dream Gardens, a book about formal gardens; and a book on nutrition (no idea where that one is). The bigger books, in ambition more than poundage, were Neil Gaiman's American Gods and Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings.

I dove into American Gods during this summer’s hottest weeks, which was pretty perfect, since much of it takes place on sub-zero midwestern prairies and frozen lakes. If I imagine the elevator pitch for this book, it might begin: The gods have all been forgotten, and they are angry. There is so much more to this epic noir roadtrip, filled with con-men, Norse gods in cheap suits, and attractions like the Largest Carousel in the World (in Wisconsin), but I'm not even going to try to tell you.

The Interestings is another kind of American epic, weaving in and out of years from roughly 1974 to the present. If you were around in the 70s, you will love the details (“Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific” shampoo!). But to me it’s New York in the 1980s and 90s that is so beautifully captured it's almost eerie, when everyone in the newly prosperous city begins to seem coated with a “moneyed gleam, as if they'd been licked all over by the same magical dog." Such a smart, funny, and moving book: definitely hammock-worthy.

The end of summer was devoted to some favorite children’s books, in my childhood home in Washington, D.C. Sadly, my old bookshelf is the best place to find most of them these days. I'll pick just two here: The Sugar Mouse Cake, by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham, and The Black Sheep, by Jean Merrill and illustrated by Ronni Solbert.

I can attest that these books stand up to a hundred re-readings, so it’s hard to understand how they can have gone out of print. Beats me. Gene Zion is best known for Harry the Dirty Dog—also illustrated by Graham—and who doesn’t love Harry? But I say their Sugar Mouse Cake is right up there with it.

It tells the story of Tom, a lowly dishwasher in the Royal Kitchens who dreams of being a pastry chef. When he bakes the finest cake in the kingdom for a contest, mean rivals nearly make him miss his chance to win, until his talented dancing mouse Tina saves the day.

The happy resolution of this story is irresistible. I hope someday it will be back on bookstore shelves, and I see it has its own Facebook page, so I guess that's a start.

tom and mouse

The Black Sheep is a tragi-comic eco-fable about an island of madly sweater-knitting sheep, published in 1969. The sheep put great store in dressing for success, even if that means they work nonstop knitting sweaters to keep warm, since they sheared off all their wool.

black sheep

The black sheep, meanwhile, cares only about growing flower gardens, which turns him into an outlaw. Despite its many funny details, like the math word problems as the ewes knit and purl themselves to distraction, the sight of the black sheep walled off alone behind boulders always gives me a chill.

Jean Merrill is remembered for her brilliant novel The Pushcart War, about which a New York Times reviewer wrote, “It’s rare to find a book for young people with both a point of view and a sense of the ridiculous.” That could go for The Black Sheep as well.

Happy Labor Day. It's back to school and office. If you had told my 14-year-old, summer-lazy self, stretched out on the couch eating Whip ‘n Chill pudding and reading Tess of the d’Urbervilles, that I would someday get to read novels for work, I would never have believed it. But that’s what I’m doing now, here at 110 West 40th Street—minus the Whip 'n Chill. Amazing.

Posted by elena at 10:08 AM Link to this post

You love an assignment. Why wouldn't you? So much easier than tromping around the lakes trying to sift through the zillion ideas that come floating up out of your scattered brain. If you worked for someone else who was always dumping unasked-for-projects on your desk, maybe you'd hate them, but such is not the case.

"It's your lucky day," said someone close to you during a phone conversation a couple of years ago. "I have an assignment for you."

Oooh! Goody!

"Yup, I know how you love an assignment," said the someone. "And here it is: a powdered doughnut*."

A powdered doughnut! Fabulous!

"Right?? It's the perfect story," said the someone, who could hear your happiness over the phone. "Don't say I never gave you anything."

This is just exactly the kind of assignment you most love. A single phrase. A single image. A single line from a song. A powdered doughnut: who could ask for anything more?

You immediately set to work. Work begins by picturing the doughnuts you have known: powdered, yes, but what about jelly--your favorite when you were tiny--and glazed, raised yeast and classic cake? Chocolate-covered Bismarcks, as they are known in the midwest, or Boston Creme, as they are known in the Northeast? Custard-filled. Apple fritters. Doughnuts with sprinkles, as they are known everywhere but upstate New York, and jimmies, as they are known nowhere but upstate New York.

And the granddaddy of them all: Persians, as they were sold at both Hemstrought Bakery in Utica, New York or in the back of Trumy's in Mapledale, New York. Nothing compares to a Persian. Oh, you miss Persians.

But you digress.

Doughnuts, we have gathered you here today to discuss the fate of one of your brethren: the powdered.

You write all kinds of books. You most like writing novels and you least like writing picture books. These two reasons--the most-like and the least-like, are probably why you focus on both novels and picture books. The ends of the like spectrum. The extremes.

"Like" isn't the right word, though. "Challenged by" is more accurate. Novels are hard, and they take you a long time because you never know what they're really about before you begin. That means you have to write, say, 900 pages before you start whittling and shaping what ends up to be, say, 220 pages. You have to create the granite before you can begin to chip it away to reveal the sculpture waiting inside.

But you love writing novels because they take so long. You can wander and meander and not have any idea where you're going but it doesn't matter. You're open to serendipity. Take me wherever you're going, novel, you think, I'm just along for the ride. As long as you manage a couple thousands words a day, that's good enough.

Picture books, ugh. They're the other end of the length spectrum, because they're usually no more than 300-400 words, and they are so very hard for you. Trying to get one right is like capturing a firefly inside a jar and hoping it doesn't die before you can figure out why it's all lit up like that. (That analogy makes no sense and yet somehow it does make sense, to you anyway.)

The love and the hate, that's what you like. That's what challenges you. The safe middle, oh no. Perish the thought.

Again you digress. Back to the powdered doughnut.

This was one of those rare, so rare, so horribly rare, books that just kind of wrote itself. The Sheriff! His deputy! And their mission: to bring a dozen doughnuts safely home!

Writing it made you laugh the whole way through. You sent it off to the someone who'd given you the assignment in the first place.

"I knew you'd love this assignment," she said, and then she started cackling in that semi-maniacal way she has. "Good job."

"Off it went to a fabulous editor--thanks, Nancy Conescu, for your smarts and your humor--and then to a fabulous illustrator, who came up with all those fabulous illustrations--thanks, Isabel Roxas, you little genius you---that made you laugh all over again. Fabulosity all around.

At some point in the whole process, you and the editor and the illustrator all sat around a restaurant talking about doughnuts and laughing. Here's hoping that The Case of the Missing Donut makes you laugh, too, along with some little kid you love.

*Doughnut became donut when I crowd-sourced the spelling on Facebook; the vast majority came down firmly on the side of donut. (Apologies to all the traditionalists out there. It hurt me too.)

Posted by elena at 12:08 PM Link to this post
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