WILL WRITE AND ILLUSTRATE FOR COOKIES
INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION
LIZ BEDIA AND ERIKA MEZA
I’m always saying that this is the BEST kid-lit community – filled with talented creators who write and illustrate the most beautiful books and who are kind and compassionate people. That description definitely applies to our guests today!
Elizabeth (Liz) Gilbert Bedia grew up in the rural Midwest surrounded by fields, blue sky, and a multitude of animals, where she became a keen observer with a big imagination. Liz loved creating stories about the world around her and turned to books to learn more. After college she worked as a researcher, educator, and audiologist. While raising her own children, she returned to her creative roots and started writing books for children. She loves creating heartfelt stories for children about our amazing world. She is the author of Bess the Barn Stands Strong (Page Street Kids), Arthur Wants a Balloon (Trigger Publishing, UK), and the forthcoming Balloons for Papa (HarperCollins). Liz lives in central Iowa with her husband, two children, and two dogs. For more information, visit: elizabethgilbertbedia.com.
Erika Meza is an author and illustrator from Mexico. After studying graphic design back home, she moved to Paris to attend the Illustration (Image Imprimée) program at ENSAD. She now lives with a French cat in London and works with ink, gouaches, watercolor pencils and Photoshop, fueled by chocolate and incessant cups of coffee. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @ErikaDraws.
ME: I’m so very excited to welcome you both! We’ve got double the number of answers and other special surprises, so why don’t we get started. I know everyone wants to find out more about you.
ME: Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?
LIZ: As a child, I loved to curl up with a good book, but I also loved being read to. I remember the vivid world of Narnia coming to life right in our classroom as my 3rd grade teacher read C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Another childhood favorite was E. B. White. Charlotte’s Web spoke to my rural upbringing and my unabashed love of animals. But there was one author whose books I read again and again – Judy Blume made me laugh, cry and spoke to me in a way no other author did. I found myself in her books. I will always be grateful for that.
As for illustrators, I don’t recall a specific one from my childhood, but I do remember a storybook full of fairy tales that I loved to look at because of the beautiful illustrations. They were done on sepia paper and were textured and etched in black with monochromic colors. So lovely!
ERIKA: i grew up in Mexico, so I didn’t have the usual names everyone in English speaking countries grew up with. Quentin Blake and Beatrix Potter didn’t enter my radar until I was older!
Instead, I was fascinated with a set of children books my grandad had: it had a very broad range of styles of illustrators (from 50’s UPA and limited palettes to classical, realistic drawings), and I obsessively read Peanuts, Trino and Mafalda (I still sustain Quino radicalised my politics as a child!), and I started reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short stories since they were thin and easy to follow.
ME: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing/illustrating?
LIZ: There are so many things I wished I had known, but the top three would be:
- Have patience – It is SOOOO hard to be patient. There is a lot of waiting in publishing for everyone. It took me a long to time to learn to be patient, I still struggle with it at times. One thing I have learned to do is let go of a project once it is submitted and to focus on other projects. It seems so simple, but it does help with my patience and my need to press the refresh button every five seconds. And, who knows one of the “other projects” may turn out to be the next project to go out on submission.
- Give yourself some grace – I wish I had been kinder to myself at the beginning. I have always been my toughest critic. It is my voice that is the loudest saying, “No, that idea will never work” or “No, this version isn’t good enough”. BUT there is a balance between the drive to improve work and the wisdom to let yourself flow with the inspiration and see where it takes you. I do think this “balance” takes some time to develop, but I wish I hadn’t been so hard on myself at the start knowing I would eventually find the balance.
- Enjoy the journey – It is difficult not to get caught up in the pursuit of publication. But there is SOOO much more to the journey. Along the way, I have met and been welcomed into one of the most supportive and gracious families – the KidLit family. They celebrate my successes, stand by me and offer a hug when the rejections roll in, and are there for all the moments in between. I don’t think I would have or could have continued writing if it wasn’t for all of the amazing friends I have met along the journey. So, enjoy it!
ERIKA: That style would come on its own, once I allowed the full impact of my personality and tastes to be reflected on it. A lot of teachers and professionals told me as much, but I didn’t internalise it until it finally happen, on its own, as it was meant to be.
ME: Where do you like to write – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?
LIZ: I want to answer – all of the above. Of course, that doesn’t give the full picture. I am not a good “sitter” – I like to move, so my writing space tends to change based on my mood and what I am working on. When I am fleshing out a story – I write, then I pace and ponder or even go for a run, then I write some more. I like to let my thoughts simmer. I DREAD a blank piece of paper or blinking cursor on an empty screen – so I work out things as I move. Though when I am working on finalizing my manuscripts or revising – I do sit and focus. I love to write where is a lot of natural light. I am old-fashioned when it comes to drafting out a story. I use a legal pad and my trusty fine-point markers, then I move to my laptop as the story takes shape and with revisions.
ERIKA: Anywhere! I moved a lot as a child, and I still do as an adult. So I’ve learnt to adapt to any space I find myself in, and to get into the zone despite my surroundings. My very first picture book I wrote, I wrote it in the waiting room of a French bureaucratic office…!
ME: When do you write – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?
LIZ: I am an early bird, I am usually up by 5am. Mornings tend to be my most productive time. However, I am definitely an “anytime the muse strikes” kind of gal. Often the muse visits in the middle of the night, so I keep my phone close for voice memos and a stack of post-it notes and pen in my nightstand drawer.
ERIKA: Whenever I am on my own. Granted, that happens a lot since I live alone, but I find that I have to be making up stories and dreaming up characters and scenes (or studying my surroundings) all the time; except when I am with someone else: family, friends, a date, even someone fixing something in my flat. I need to give the other person my full attention, or I’ll go dreaming off into the distance…!
ME: Why do you write/illustrate for children?
LIZ: Love. The love of writing. The love of children. I think I have always been a kid at heart. I love letting my imagination run wild, the art of create a story, and the challenge to see it through to the end. I love that the inspiration for a story wakes me up in the middle of the night or taps me on the shoulder in the grocery store. But what truly drives me is the children – my own, ones I already know and ones I haven’t met yet. I love chatting and visiting with children. Hearing their dreams. Seeing the light in their eyes. And, all of the thoughtful questions they ask, such as – how do I know I am a writer? Or where do I begin? During a recent school visit, I shared that as a child I didn’t think I was any good at writing. So, I did what I was good at – science and never gave writing a chance. I said to the group of middle school students, “But I should have.” They all nodded knowingly at me. Then one of them said, “You know I do have a story I’ve been thinking about writing…” And that…that is why I write for children.
ERIKA: I find the amount of control over my entire little universe extremely satisfying. I have my suspicions that illustrating is, for me, a leftover of my own childhood: I couldn’t get along with other kids, and drawing allowed me to come up with characters and friends of my own who accepted me as I was, and allowed me to do what I wanted. So illustrating now means I am never alone, and that (hopefully!) I am creating small worlds for other lonely children out there to inhabit, and find shelter in what I’ve conjured up in paper.
ME: Also, if you have any thoughts or advice for aspiring writers and/or illustrators, please share. As well as anything else you want to talk about that parents, educators, writers, librarians might want to hear.
ERIKA: The main thing would be: don’t expect perfection in your sketchbook. You need room to play, experiment, mess up, learn and grow: if you expect every page to be perfect in a sketchbook you will never be able to face the blank page. The more you draw, and the more pages you use, the better you’ll become. Some people rip apart pages that are ruined, embarrassed of their mistakes, when in fact these are showing your progression and your improvement; plus, I’ve been known to find characters awkwardly drawn years earlier, when my skill set wasn’t yet good enough, that still held potential or inspired a new story years later. The sketchbook is a treasure trove for future you: any mistakes you may make now will be useful later, I promise.
ME: And guess what, everyone! We had a double-your-pleasure dual interview…and we are going to have a double-your-pleasure dual dessert session! The first recipe is from Liz.
LIZ: Mrs. Reed was a lovely neighbor and friend of my family. She lived on a farm down the road from our home. She shared this recipe with my mom years ago. It is a favorite of mine, because of all the happy memories I have making sugar cookies with my mom over the years. I continued the tradition with my own children. To this day even though they are in high school and college, both of my kids look forward to making sugar cookies at the holidays.
Mrs. Reed’s Sugar Cookies
Combine: Mix together:
1 cup margarine 4 cups flour
1 ½ cups sugar 3 tsp. baking powder
2 eggs 1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla 2 tsp. nutmeg
Combine ¼ cup sour cream and 1/8 tsp baking soda – set aside. Mix margarine and sugar together. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix dry ingredients together. Add dry ingredients and sour cream mixture to wet ingredients, alternating the sour cream mixture with the dry ingredients until dough is thoroughly mixed together. Chill dough for at least 3 hours to overnight. Roll out dough on a floured surface and cut out cookies using desired cookie cutter shapes. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. BAKE for 8-10 minutes at 350 F.
½ cup margarine or butter
1/3 cup 2% or whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla
Allow the cookies to cool on a rack or parchment paper. Then, frost and decorate with sprinkles.
And here is your second sweet treat – this one is from Erika:
For those of you who learn by seeing, here’s a youtube video:
In a non-stick flan mold you add the sugar (evenly spread) and you leave it to cook on the stove until it reaches a dark color. Heat oven to 350 F. When you see this reaction, remove the mold from the stove and make sure that it is evenly spread so that you can leave it to cool off.
Mean while, mix in a blender the 3 eggs, the La Lechera Condensated Milk, the regular milk and the tea spoon of vanilla (extract). After it is well mixed, place it in the flan mold where the cold caramel had rested. To cook, fill baking pan with 1/2 inch of warm water, and cover with a tent of aluminum foil. Bake until custards are just set, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove pan from oven, and remove custards from pan.
Serve when cooled, or cover flans with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to unmold. To unmold, run a knife carefully around the edge of each custard. Invert onto a plate, and drizzle 1 teaspoon of coffee liqueur, if using, over each flan.
WOWOWOWOW! Please someone…hide the scale! Because these sweet treats look like something I need to try! I know we are all grateful to Liz and Erika for stopping by to share their insights, their journey, and of course, their recipes! And these generous women are not done yet. There’s a giveaway to be had – a copy of their beautiful book, BALLOONS FOR PAPA…so please make sure you leave a comment. Also, don’t forget that the best way to thank an author and illustrator for writing a beautiful book is to buy it, review it, tell your friends about it, and ask your local library to purchase copies for their collection.
I hope you all have a wonderful weekend! In just two days, the #50PreciousWordsforKids International Writing Challenge will get underway. If you are a parent, I hope you are encouraging your children to write a story. If you are a teacher, I urge you to use this as a great activity for Children’s Book Week. Kids are natural-born storytellers and we want to empower them to make their voice heard. Parents and teachers can email their children”s stories to me from March 3-7: email@example.com – I’ll be posting all of the stories on my Mother’s Day blog on May 9.