WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES
INSIGHT, INFORMATION AND INSPIRATION
Earlier this year, I went to lunch with one of my local critique buddies. We drove to a lovely restuarant in Massachusetts and met with two other author/illustrators. I really connected with Jen and, when I found out she wrote and illustrated picture books, I knew I’d want to have her on Will Write for Cookies.
Jen is a sweetheart and this past May, when I held the 2nd Annual #50PreciousWords Writing Challenge, she offered to donate a copy of her newest picture book, HELLO, MY NAME IS TIGER.
Jen lives in a town a quick drive away from Boston and Cambridge, with her husband and two daughters. She has a studio in an old Mill that’s on a bike path. It takes her 5 minutes to bike there, but it’s downhill from her house, so it takes twice as long to get home. She usually drives to the studio so she can bring her dog Lila. Sometimes they take breaks to go rollerblading.
I’m so glad Jen took a break to visit with us.
ME: Welcome, Jen! It’s so good to have you here. I know everyone is anxious to hear about you.
Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?
JEN: I lived on a farm as a young girl and it was a big outing to go to the library to get books. We’d come home with stacks and stacks to hold us over until the next long drive to the library. I have such a strong memory of reading THE PLANT SITTER and HARRY THE DIRTY DOG by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham. In the PLANT SITTER, I was so taken by the visuals of plants taking over a whole house that the walls fell down revealing a house shaped plant. I also loved HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON, THE FIVE CHINESE BROTHERS, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, WINNIE THE POOH and CHARLOTTE’S WEB.
ME: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
JEN: I know how to break down a story now to see if it has the elements that makes it have tension and resolve, how flaws in the protagonist and their failed attempts can make the story progress. Before I would write and cross my fingers that it worked.
I’m also getting better at showing not telling in my longer books. The use of words can make a sentence much more dynamic if you don’t describe too much. I don’t have as much trouble with this in picture books since I’m an illustrator. I tend to picture what I’m going to illustrate at the same time I’m writing it, so the illustrations pull a lot of weight.
ME: Where do you like to write – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?
JEN: When I’m stuck on an issue an a book, I “write” when I first wake up in the morning and my eyes are still shut, I also “write” when I’m scrubbing my hair in the shower and even when I’m walking my dog. This is when ideas pop into my head, or problems are worked out.
The physical part of writing, I do in a couple of places. Inside, I write on a laptop, on a big brown fuzzy couch in my living room next to a giant window looking out a the treetops. Because I’m also an illustrator and fine artist, I also have a studio in an old mill where I do my artwork and sometimes write, although I do many first sketches on that couch too.
I also have what I call a “meditation chair” hanging on my porch. I go out there to think, solve problems and pound on my keyboard.
ME: When do you write – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?
JEN: It varies… I write when I have any free moment. As I said earlier, I’m also an illustrator and a fine artist, so I toggle between writing, illustrating and painting. I can work from 2 to 16 hours a day depending on other commitments and deadlines. If I have the time I can work for hours on end, I’m so immersed, it still feels like only a few hours. As a fine artist I sell my paintings in a gallery in Provincetown, MA called the Rice Polak Gallery.
Dropping Daisies, 36″x 48″ Wax, oil stick, pastel
ME: Why do you write for children?
JEN: I’ve noticed when casually talking to other author friends that we tend to write for an age that we had strong memories and emotions. I lived on the farm from ages 6-12. I remember so many stories, feelings and hardships from those ages. I think my super power is seeing the world like a 6 year old.
Bored, gouache, colored pencil, watercolor.
BEAR BIRD, antique and colored paper, colored pencil, gouche
ME: Also, if you have any thoughts or advice for aspiring writers, please share. As well as anything else you want to talk about that parents, educators, writers, librarians might want to hear. 🙂
JEN: Many people want to be children’s book authors and/or illustrators. One of the most important things to do is keep pushing yourself by writing and rewriting, go to conferences, show your work around, write it again, get knocked down, cry a little and take a deep breath and do it all over again. The people I know who are successful in this field did what I mentioned above, again, again and again.
ME: Thank you so much, Jen! This has been fabulous. I love hearing about how others have taken journey…and it’s especially helpful to hear it from the double perspective of an author/illustrator.
Dear friends, if you’d like to find out more about Jen, her artwork, and her wonderful books:
Children’s book website
And I know you are waiting anxiously (just like the little boy in HELLO, MY NAME IS TIGER) for the sweet treat at the end of the post. So please take it away, Jen!
JEN: My favorite cookie is a fresh baked variation on the Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie. It’s one of the only things I bake and I’ve memorized the recipe when I was a child. I tend to put in less flour, and bake a little less than the recipe because I like gooey cookies. Recently I’ve changed up the recipe even more because my daughter is vegan.
I’ve discovered that replacing the butter with coconut oil, I like the cookies even better than before. It has a slight coconut taste and it lasts longer than the butter version. I don’t think substituting the egg makes a difference in the quality of the cookie, so choose your preference.
In the picture below I also substituted 2 cups of almond flour for one of the cups of flour (because I ran out of flour and I was curious how it would come out, delicious and extra nutty, btw).
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
1 cup coconut oil
¾ cup of brown sugar
¾ cup of white sugar
2 eggs or egg substitute for vegan cookies
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
1 cup vegan chocolate chips (trader joes’ chocolate chips happen to be vegan)
1 cup broken walnuts
I only like to use one bowl, so I mix the wet ingredients first then add the dry ingredients and mix well. Put tablespoons worth of batter on a cookie sheet with room around the blobs and cook for around 8-9 minutes. Watch carefully so the base is slightly brown and the rest is slightly soft.
ME: Oh dear…this sounds just too tempting. I may have to try these when my grandson comes for Grammy Camp next week.
Meanwhile, don’t forget to leave a comment to enter the giveaway of a copy of HELLO, MY NAME IS TIGER.
And for those of you in the path of the Texas storm, we are praying for you.