Can you hear my heart beating quickly?
I remember this feeling – kind of scared – very excited – a little anxious.
When I was in 7th grade, we made an apron in home ec (short for home economics – the class all the GIRLS took so they would know how to cook and sew…BOYS took woodworking so they would know how to…build a log cabin?).
Each student received a piece of material and a pattern and instructions on how to proceed. It took a great deal of courage to make that first cut, knowing that if you did it incorrectly, your finished apron would look ridiculous.
I’m sure artists feel the same way when their hand hovers over a clean blank canvas.
As I hover over this new project and lay out the template for future posts in the ‘WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES’ series, I experience those same feelings. My vision is to provide insights and information from experienced authors and illustrators – my hope is that you will find these posts educational and entertaining.
Lucky for me, the award-winning, multi-talented children’s author and illustrator, Iza Trapani, graciously agreed to participate. I’ve gotten to know Iza through her wonderful picture books and her warm and generous comments on many kid lit blogs.
Kids have an innate curiosity that drives them to always be asking WHO? WHAT?, WHERE? WHEN/ and WHY? So here, without further ado to answer those questions AND to provide us with a recipe for a treat that is guaranteed to excite your taste-buds, is the lovely Iza!
WHO? Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?
I immigrated to the U.S. from Poland when I was seven years old. One of my favorite books was a collection of poems called Sto Bajek (100 Tales) and I still have a copy! The author was Jan Brzechwa and his poems were full of Seuss-like humor and hyperbole. The wordplay, tongue-twisters playful language and clever concepts never ceased to delight and amaze me. One example is a poem about a group of animals pondering over the existence of holes in a hunk of Swiss cheese. As they theorized, they suddenly noticed that the cheese was gone. A crow had swooped down to eat it, telling them that they were more concerned with the holes in the cheese, than the cheese itself, so she ate the cheese and left them the holes! That just blew me away!
In the U.S., my first introduction to English books was a wonderful Mother Goose collection, and soon after that I fell in love with Dr. Seuss- the early readers we were studying in school (which were a welcome change from Dick and Jane!)
Though I did not experience many picture books as a child in America, I have certainly made up for it as an adult!
WHAT? What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started writing for children?
Great question! First of all, I wish I had known that children and early educators are not scary at all. I used to be painfully shy, but I soon discovered that once I was published, I was asked to do school visits and to present at conferences. It was really hard for me. I could barely get up there and say my name- never mind do a whole presentation. But over time, I learned that my audiences were always kind, receptive and supportive. They admired what I did and wanted to hear all about it. Twenty plus years later, I have turned into a complete ham 🙂 and am not the least bit worried about being the center of attention.
What else have I learned? Not to be attached to my words. I used to consider my early writings precious. I hated taking out parts that I was attached to. Now I have learned that there is always a way of saying something differently, and usually it’s an improvement. I adore the editorial process, of having another set of eyes and I have no problem of doing complete revamps of my manuscripts. When I look back at some of my early stories that I considered so dear, I find much fault with them. These days, I am my own worst critic. As soon as I finish a book, I think of all the ways I could have made it better. With each book I strive to perfect my craft- but I am rarely satisfied. But I guess that’s part of being an artist- that constant struggle to grow and improve. Not a bad thing, really.
WHERE? Where do you like to write/draw – inside, outside, a special area in your home, on the computer, in a notebook?
I have lots of writing spots at home: In my studio- at my husband-built desk (Rob is a furniture maker) or in a comfy chair, or in a wicker love seat on my studio terrace when the weather is nice. Or on the living room window seat, or the couch by the fire in winter. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter where I am. While working on a story, I am completely immersed and the surroundings are irrelevant. I used to have a romantic notion that if I sit in a special spot the muse will join me, but that is rarely the case. I can’t just sit down and shove a story out. Story ideas usually appear on their own time- usually when I am in the midst of struggling with a different draft. When I do have an idea, I do much of my brainstorming in the shower, in the car, on walks. Walks are great for problem solving. I always have a small pad or my iphone with me to jot down or record notes, and I often write my first rough drafts on paper, but then I do the bulk of the work on my laptop.
As for the art, I sketch in various spots as well, but mostly I work at my Rob-built drafting table in my studio.
WHEN? When during the day (or night) are you most productive? Do you set a schedule for working or do you write/draw when the muse speaks?
Typically, Rob brings up a tray of coffee and toast to bed early in the morning (I do count my blessings!) and we read for a while. I also use this time to do some social networking (and play a few games of FB scrabble- because I am addicted :-)) Then I will take the dog for a hike or jog on our farm, or go to a Pilates class, pick up some groceries while I am in town, and after that I will spend the rest of the day in my studio, either working on text or art, or both. Once I am in my studio, it’s hard for me to leave. I spend a good deal of time revising and fine tuning my stories. The illustrations are especially demanding and time consuming. Laying out the book, developing the characters, making sure they are consistent from page to page, working out the colors and design elements are all big challenges. But this is also my passion, and I am so grateful to be doing what I love!
WHY? Why did you choose the nursery rhyme ‘Little Miss Muffet’ as the basis for your picture book manuscript?
As often happens, I was struggling with another nursery rhyme adaptation, and decided to take a break from it. I looked through my Mother Goose books to see if something might spur an idea. I lingered on Little Miss Muffet. Next thing you know, I had a plot. Since Miss Muffet was afraid of the spider, she could also be afraid of other critters. And so, I introduced a mouse, frog, crow, and other progressively larger animals to startle her. I thought the juxtaposition of the prim and proper Victorian Miss growing disheveled as she escapes from these various creatures would be fun. The story is somewhat autobiographical, as I am a scaredy-cat myself. While I am a nature lover who spends a lot of time outdoors, I am also quite skittish and easily spooked 🙂
My editor noticed that I had quite a few positional and directional words (up, down, over, under, etc…) in my draft, and she suggested that I add even more. That was hard! I had to make some major revisions to incorporate those words while working within the restraints of rhyme and meter. But I love the word-tweaking, puzzle-solving process.
Iza, please feel free to share any tips that will help aspiring writers/illustrators.
Pursue your dream actively and don’t be discouraged by rejection. It’s part of the process. Read, write and/or draw a lot. Be critical of your work and strive to make it as good as it can be. Read your stories out loud to make sure they flow. Read and study the books in your genre. What makes them good? Or maybe not? How would you do it differently? Join SCBWI http://www.scbwi.org Read books and blogs on the craft of writing and illustrating. There is a wealth of information out there.
The Purple Crayon http://www.underdown.org is the very useful site of editor/author Harold Underdown, who wrote The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books. It’s a great resource.
In addition, I’ve compiled some of my blog posts that might be helpful:
http://izatrapani.com/wp/?p=1792 Read Picture Books if You Want to Write Them
http://izatrapani.com/wp/?p=469 So You want to write a Picture Book?
http://izatrapani.com/wp/?p=472 So You Want to Illustrate a Picture Book?
Rhythm and Pattern in a Picture Book http://blog.janicehardy.com/2012/05/guest-author-iza-trapani-rhythm-and.html
http://izatrapani.com/wp/?p=865 Plotting a Picture Book
http://izatrapani.com/wp/?p=1460 Uneven Rhymes- You Gotta Get the Beat
http://izatrapani.com/wp/?p=1601 Picture book revisions
http://izatrapani.com/wp/?p=2023 Inspiration for Picture Book Illustrators
Photo courtesy http://www.thehungrymouse.com
Here is one of my favorite, easy and delicious cookie recipes:
Butter Balls (adapted from the Silver Palate cookbook)
In a mixer, cream 1 stick of softened butter.
Add 3 TBS honey.
Slowly add 1 cup flour and 1/2 tsp salt.
Add 1 TBS vanilla extract.
Add 1 cup somewhat finely chopped pecans.
Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for one hour or more.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease cookie sheets (or use parchment paper)
Remove dough from refrigerator, scoop out and form balls by hand (I like to use a cookie scoop to ensure uniform sizes.)
Place on cookie sheets about 2 inches apart and bake for 30 minutes.
In the meantime, sift 3/4 cup of confectioners’ sugar onto a plate (or work surface).
When cookies are done baking, remove from the oven. While still warm, roll them in the confectioners’ sugar. Let them cool, and then roll again in the remaining sugar.
Thanks so much for this interview, Vivian!
Oh my goodness, Iza…thank YOU so much for sharing all of this! I know the resource links will be super helpful to everyone. Your answers to the questions were fascinating! And the butter balls…my grandmother used to make those…I’ll bet many of my readers will be trying them this weekend!
Dear readers…to learn more about Iza and her books, here is her contact information:
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I hope you enjoyed the first in the ‘Will Write for Cookies’ series. Please come back on Saturday, November 16th, to meett our next distinguished guest, founder of the ultimate picture book resource, Perfect Picture Book Friday and author of Can’t Sleep Without Sheep and many other picture books, Susanna Leonard Hill.
- Ann Jonas Has Died (wakingbraincells.com)