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Interview with UNBELIEVABLE FIB Cover Illustrator Gilbert Ford

This week, we’re celebrating the release of Adam Shaughnessy’s The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB, and I had the great privilege of interviewing the book’s cover artist, Gilbert Ford. Some of my very favorite middle grade covers are Gilbert Ford creations (Seriously! Check out his portfolio!), and this one’s definitely going on the list. Read on to find out how this cover was created and see a sneak peek at some of the other projects this talented artist has in the pipeline.


Elaine Vickers: Can you tell us a little about how you came to illustrate this cover? What was the process like behind the scenes?

fib1Gilbert Ford: Elise Howard, the art director, contacted me to do the cover. She sent me the manuscript, I read it, and we talked on the phone about a couple of directions. Her main concern was the title because it was long and it would take up a good amount of space on the cover. After we talked, I sent her some sketches. Then we narrowed down a direction and I went to final.

What were your first impressions when you became acquainted with THE UNBELIEVABLE FIB? 

It was a fun read and I loved learning about Viking mythology. Mr. Shaughnessy also incorporated elements from folk tales like the Bony Legs hut. There were so many options for illustrations it made drawing the sketches a lot of fun.

fib2There’s so much I love about this cover–the bright colors, the imposing figure behind the words, the way the kids just beg you to follow them around the corner and into the book. What are your favorite things about this cover?

Stylistically, Algonquin let me be a little arty with this cover. I was able to paint a lot of it, making the trees really colorful. I only added a few elements in Photoshop later. The cover is also a direct scene from the book. I think in middle grade, if a child picks up the book to look at the cover, he or she hopes to read about that scene in the book. Book covers for older people don’t have to be so literal.

You’ve illustrated some of my very favorite middle grade covers. (Three Times Lucky, Moonpenny Island, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, and A Snicker of Magic, just to name a few.) Do you typically read the whole manuscript, or just a synopsis? When you read, what are you looking for?

fib3I prefer to read the manuscript for all the book covers I illustrate for two reasons. First, the author has spent a lot of time writing the book and would like to know the illustrator took the time to read it and get the details right. 2. More importantly, I think children read a book based on its cover. I remember feeling cheated when I was 9 after reading a book that had nothing to do with the cover.

What is it about your art that makes it such a great fit for middle grade?

I’m not sure. I think my drawing style maybe reflects cartoons a little, and kids like cartoons? My agent thinks it’s because I read the books. Who knows!

ford1You’re an accomplished artist in so many areas. Can you tell us a little about your art beyond book covers?

I’m currently illustrating two picture books.

One is called Soldier Song by Debbie Levy, and is about how a song called “Home Sweet Home” united the Union and Confederate armies for a day. It deals with creation and destruction and the book is done in warm and cool colors respectfully. It’s 80 pages and the scenes are pretty emotional. I’ve be
en waking up at 5 AM in order to get to that place where I can really get a feel for the duality of North, South, war, music, death,life—without being interrupted by emails.

ford2I’m the author of the other one and its called The Marvelous
Thing That Came From A Spring
, about the invention of the Slinky. It’s illustrated through building dioramas and photographing them. This book requires more of a playful and sculptural side of me, incorporating everyday materials as props in the scenes.

Both books are dream projects and they’ll be out in Fall of 2016.

Thank you so much, Gilbert, for this generous and insightful interview! Readers, leave a comment on any of this week’s posts and you’ll be entered for a chance to win a copy!

Or if you don’t want to take your chances, here’s where you can buy your very own copy of The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB right now:

Indiebound

Amazon

BAM

Barnes & Noble

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Filed under Book Launch, cover art, Interviews

Interview with THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON Illustrator Ben Mantle

This week on Emu’s Debuts, it’s all about the dragons! We’re celebrating the debut of Penny Parker Klostermann’s delightful debut picture book, There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight. Today I’m thrilled to have snagged an interview with the books incredibly talented illustrator, Ben Mantle, who had some great insights into a part of the process we writers often know little about.

Elaine Vickers: Can you share with us the process of how you came to be the illustrator of There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight?

Ben Mantle: This was pretty straightforward really. My agency sent me the text. I read it. I loved it. I think I then read it another 10 times just because it was such fun to read, as the rhythm was so good. I really liked that it had a slightly dark storyline too. I emailed my agency and said – I would love to illustrate it and then I read it more times, faster and faster each time. Again, purely because it was such fun to do!

EV: I adore thisimage 1 dragon! Did he always look like this, or did he change throughout the process?

BM: The dragon was the first character that I tackled as he is the main driving force in the book. My first initial few sketches didn’t quite catch what I had in my head. After all, the Dragon is ruthless, but more than that he is just incredibly greedy animage 2d not to mention a little bad. I mean, he does just go around eating people. In my original design he just doesn’t have the manic look that I wanted or that look of desire of a very hungry person who has just sat down for an all you can eat buffet. I knew that a lot of his character would be in the eyes, which is why they are one of the main changes. His new Beady little pupils really gave him something and the curving brows are a sure fire sign of a baddie. All good baddies have large eyebrows.

EV: What is your artistic process? Tell us a little about the creation of these illustrations!

BM: Not long before the text for There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed A Knight came througimage 4h, I had been feeling that I really wanted to stop relying on the computer so much and get back to painting again and I thought this book in particular with its fantasy setting, would suit being painted.

Equally, because the story has that hint of darkness, along with being very funny, I thought that it would be a nice contrast to have the artwork more traditional. Long before the painting stage though, I start making lotsimage 3 of little thumbnail images to capture the key moments in the book. I then scan these in and enlarge them to the correct size and start neatening them up. I do this because I often think my original sketches are more fluid and uninhibited by detail.

Next there’s a few stages of printing out, re-drawing, tidying up until everyone is happy (designer and editor). In order to then paint the final art, I print out the roughs, which have been tidied up by now, and use a drawing board I converted into a lightbox (Ok, not so much me, but a guy who is actually handy with tools), I trace the rough shapes with watercolour, adding in a little shade/texture at the same time. As you can see by the image, I paint each bit separately as this gives me more flexibility, as well as knowing that if I make a mistake, I haven’t just ruined everything! Having said that, I love the mistakes you get with paint, especially if, like me, you haven’t used it for ages.

image 5 image 6

image 8 image 9

EV: Can you share with us any particular challenges or funny incidents that happened while you were working on this book?

BM: For me, the real challenge of any book, is knowing what to show and what to leave out. What is the ‘moment’ that needs to be illustrated? With this book, I had decided that you would never actually see the Dragon eating a person, but it would be implied by the image. Plus, I felt that it was funnier to show that moment just before or just after.

Do you have a favorite character or illustration from the book?image 10

BM: Oh, my favourite character has to be the cook. I have a real soft spot for him and my favourite illustration (and I think one of Penny’s too) in the book is the one of the cook being seasoned by the Dragon as the cook seasons his own pot of food. After all, the Dragon is just doing what comes natural to him and this is a nod to that.

EV: You’re such an accomplished illustrator, but I know you’re a picture book author yourself. How has that changed and informed your illustrating?

BM: I’ve just finished writing my third book, so now the main thing I have realised, is just how hard it is! It has definitely made me appreciate the relationship between the text and the image and that the best text knows exactly what to not say. It’s a very reciprocal relationship. The image can really add to the story, but only if the author/text is confident enough to leave breathing space. Penny is a whizz with text, as soon as I read this book I loved it and I’m looking forward to cracking on with our next book, which I can honestly say is absolutely fantastic.

Thanks so much, Ben, for sharing your time and your amazing artwork with us!

Comment on any post this week for a chance to win your very own SIGNED copy of There Was an Old Dragon.

Or buy a copy right away. You can find one at YOUR local indie bookstore here: Indiebound

Or, you can order online through Barnes and NobleAmazonBooks-A-Million, or Powell’s.

For personalized signed copies of There Was an Old Dragon, you can order from Texas Star Trading Co. and give your dedication details in the Gift Message box. You can also contact them by email at texasstartradingco@sbcglobal.net or call  (325) 672-9696.

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Filed under Book Launch, Celebrations, Illustrators, Interviews, Picture books

Straight from the Editor: Penny & Jelly!

For the grand finale of our week-long celebration of Maria Gianferrari’s sublime Penny & Jelly, we’ve got a special treat: an interview with Maria’s editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Cynthia Platt. While we are all woof-ing it up for this delightful picture book, Cynthia was the editor who first saw and fell it love with it way back when, and here she shares her wisdom regarding the process of acquiring Maria’s AMAZING book and of guiding it through through preparation until it arrived, this week, to the world. Without further ado, say hello to Cynthia Platt!

What about PENNY & JELLY hooked you–and how did you know you wanted to publish this book?

I’m always saying that I want young, funny, character-driven picture books–and there in my inbox was just that. Also, from the start, I loved the DIY and crafting aspects of the story. And Penny and Jelly’s relationship is so wonderful. I could keep going….

What process did you and Maria follow after the offer had been made and accepted? Anything particularly interesting happen along the way?

After the initial email introductions, we got to work editing with lot of back and forth, sifting through the small details–of which there are always so many of when it comes to picture books. We were also lucky in that Maria lived in Massachusetts at the time so we got to sit down and spend an afternoon together talking about the book and getting acquainted.

What inspires you most about a picture book?

I’ve always been a die-hard reader, and I can easily trace the books that have both meant the most to me and inspired me to love reading even more. Those special books, for me, go back to the picture books I loved as a girl. So, as an editor, it’s a real gift to be able to assist in the creation of a picture book. Part of me always hopes that each picture book that makes its way into the world might be that special one for a young reader.

If you had to use three adjectives to describe PENNY & JELLY, they would be:

Warm, funny, and smart–then again, I’d describe Maria that way, too!

What qualities do you admire most in a writer?

Not to sound like a politician, but that’s a really interesting question to answer–because I think I’d answer differently as an editor and as a reader. As a reader, you just are looking for someone who writes a good book–someone whose worlds and characters you find engaging. As an editor, though, the writer isn’t some distant figure. It’s someone with whom you not only work closely, but with whom you work with on something near and dear to their hearts. So, you hope to work with writers who not only inspire you creatively, but also with whom you can relate on some level.

As a book is launched, what do you most hope will happen for it?

That someone picks it up and reads it. That lots and lots of someones do. And not only that they read it, but that they love it and find something in it that speaks to them.

Do you have a favorite book or a favorite quote or both? 🙂

Without a moment’s hesitation: Middlemarch. I love many books, but this one has become my bedrock.

What surprised you about publishing when you first got into this work?

As a sometimes overly-passionate reader who grew up pre-internet, it wasn’t always been easy to find people who shared that level of enthusiasm. Then I went into publishing and found this rich world of book people. It was a “these are my people” kind of experience.

What part of PENNY & JELLY do you love most (if you HAD to pick just one moment in the beautiful book)?

Well, if I HAVE to pick one, I love the moment when Penny begins to despair that she really doesn’t have anything she’s truly good at, and that she and Jelly solve the problem together–and that what she’s best at is being Jelly’s friend. Every time I get to the end of the book when they’ve been declared “Best Friends,” I smile. And believe me, I’ve read the book a lot of times at this point!

Thanks for sharing your ideas, wisdom, and all your love for Penny & Jelly with us! And readers, remember that by leaving a comment below, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a signed copy of the book and also some serious swag from Maria. To order your copy of the book today, visit http://www.pennyandjelly.com. Happy Reading!!!

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Filed under Celebrations, Editing and Revising, Writing and Life

THE MONSTORE launch party continues with agent Ammi-Joan Paquette!

Today we’re welcoming Ammi-Joan Paquette, the agent who sold THE MONSTORE, to do a guest post on what originally got her excited about the manuscript, and what makes it a successful debut picture book. Welcome, Joan!Ammi-Joan Paquette

LAT: THE MONSTORE is Tara’s debut book. Was it also the first manuscript you saw from Tara?

AJP: Yes! Tara queried me with this picture book, also mentioning that she had several other projects in the works. I read and loved THE MONSTORE, and asked Tara if any of her other works were complete and available to send me. She did! The more I read, the more I loved Tara’s effusive writing, dynamic characters, and wildly inventive imagination. I was hooked.

LAT: What was it about THE MONSTORE that really made you sit up and take notice?

AJP: I think THE MONSTORE is the definition of high-concept. Right from the title you know that you are in for something really special—and then the story itself delivers on every level. Tara takes an out-of-this-world premise and pairs it up with a story that is both fun and wacky, yet also very warm and relatable to kid readers. You are reading about Zack and his parade of defective monsters, but you are also reading a story about a boy who is fed up with his pesky little sister—and a kid sister who turns out to be a lot more than she seems. And all of this is wrapped in a delightful read-aloud package full of rollicking rhythm and wacky wordplay. How could I not sit up and take notice?
monstoresmallcover
LAT: Now that you’ve seen the final version, is it much different from the original that you first fell in love with?

AJP: Yes and no. The story’s gone through some polishing revisions, of course, but the text is very similar to the one I originally read. What is wildly different now, of course, is that it comes with some stunning artwork! James Burks has done an amazing job bringing THE MONSTORE to life, and his characters take the story to an entirely different dimension. Being able to pick this book up off the shelf and leaf through its pages, then send my mind back to that day, three years ago, when I opened yet another email query, this one from a debut author named Tara Lazar… well, that’s really something, isn’t it?

LAT: Quick! Use three words to describe THE MONSTORE:

AJP: Hilarious! Inventive! Winner!

LAT: Is there anything else you want to add?

AJP: You should also know that Tara Lazar has several other books on the horizon—the next one of which is forthcoming from Aladdin next year: I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK is another wacky tale about an alien who falls out of his library book and into a different story altogether. And her next book, LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD, is forthcoming from Random House Books for Young Readers as well. If I were you, I’d keep a particular eye out for Tara’s books, because I think we’re going to see some increasingly amazing and memorable stories coming out over the next few years. So mark your calendars and clear space on your bookshelves—because this picture book author is here to stay!

LAT: Thanks, Joan! I have to agree that THE MONSTORE is a winner. I’m also looking forward to your own picture book, GHOST IN THE HOUSE, along with not one, but two, new novels, PARADOX and RULES FOR GHOSTING, all of which come out in just a few weeks! Congratulations on all of your success as an agent AND as an author, and thanks again for taking time out of your crazy busy schedule to celebrate THE MONSTORE launch party with us!

Ghost in the House cover Paradox cover Rules for Ghosting cover

Don’t forget: this is your last chance to leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of THE MONSTORE!And you can find your own copy of THE MONSTORE (or buy one to give as a gift!) at places like Indiebound, Amazon, and BN.com, or at your local bookstore.

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Filed under Agents, Celebrations, Interviews, Updates on our Books!

Finding the perfect title and cover: a peek behind the curtain

*** toots horn ***
I am thrilled to help celebrate the launch of BLAZE this week!
*** throws confetti ***
Join the party by leaving a comment below…
at the end of the week one lucky commenter will win a signed copy!

For Laurie Boyle Crompton, one of the more unusual developments in the path to debut publication was dealing with a delayed release date combined with a new title and cover—after they had all already been revealed to the public! Since my own debut still doesn’t have a title, this topic struck a chord with me, and I wanted to know the backstory. Laurie’s editor at Sourcebooks, Aubrey Poole, graciously agreed to let me ask her a slew of questions about the whole process.

Aubrey Poole

Aubrey Poole, Associate Editor, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky and Fire

LT: Hi Aubrey, Welcome to Emu’s Debuts, and thank you so much for agreeing to let us in one behind-the-scenes decision-making for BLAZE’s title and cover!

AP: Hi Laurie, It’s great to meet you! I’m happy to be a part of the Emu’s Debuts blog. I’m so excited about BLAZE!

LT: As you can tell, we are, too! So, how far into the process were things when you decided that a new title and cover were needed? Fans seemed pretty happy about the original title, FANGIRL, and its cover. Why did you decide to change them, and how hard was it to do?

AP: Well, it was nerve-racking! The decision to change the cover and title happened simultaneously. The funny thing about the first title and cover is that we all liked them. You know, if it’s a bad cover or a bad title, it’s actually easier, because everyone agrees that they need a change. But there was a lot of support for FANGIRL as the title.

Original title and cover

Original title and cover

What started to concern us about the title and cover – especially in combination – is that it was leaning too heavily on the comic book angle. Personally, I’m not much of a comic book reader, but I enjoyed reading Blaze’s story (obviously!). However, if I saw that original title/cover combo on a shelf at Barnes & Noble, I wouldn’t have picked it up, because it looked too “comic-booky.”

AP: So, first we started brainstorming title ideas. We loved Blaze’s status as a quirky outsider; we thought that was relatable to a lot of teens, so we started there. We actually used the movie Easy A as a comp (industry lingo for competitive or comparison). I looked at blogs and websites for gamer girls and geek girls. We had many ideas with “geek girl” in the title. We played on comic book words and characters; we tried using text-lingo to play up the online aspect of the book. We had pages of title alternatives — probably close to 100 different ideas. Then those got whittled down to our favorites, but there was still a lot of internal debate, so we turned to the fans for their input. And I have to give a big thank you to all those on Teen Fire for hearting “Love in the Time of Supervillains” as much as I did! Although, there were quite a few people who still liked FANGIRL better. And I get it – we liked it too. But we felt like the new title direction would appeal to a broader audience. It was actually my colleague, Leah Hultenschmidt, who came up with the idea of combining two of our favorite titles into one – and that’s how BLAZE (OR LOVE IN THE TIME OF SUPERVILLAINS) came about!

AP: Next came the cover. Everyone loved the colors and how fierce it was – but it was still too “comic booky.” We sent it back to the designer, Christian Fuenfhausen, with a new direction and the new title, and then it just clicked. Actually, here is an excerpt from the email I sent to the design team about the new “positioning” (some more publishing lingo):

“We think this new title is fun and quirky and expresses the tone of the book perfectly. It’s a character-driven story, so the title focuses in on the most important component – Blaze herself – and Love in the Time of Supervillains is intriguing and will make readers wonder about its meaning and want to pick up the book to find out more. While we want the cover to be quirky and fun, we don’t want to hang the packaging on the comic-book element. Tapping into the “geek chic” or “geeky is cool” counterculture trend is something to consider but we don’t want to narrow the audience to comic book fans. Drawing comics is what makes Blaze a quirky outsider, but it’s not what the book is about.”

New and improved title and cover!

New and improved title and cover!

AP: So, then we got back the cover with the pink hair blowing straight back like a blaze, and everyone just knew that we had nailed it! Now we just had to worry about replacing all of those images out there in cyberspace.

AP: Because of these changes (and because we decided to hire an illustrator to draw Blaze’s comic for the interior covers and to add a few illustrations throughout the book), we actually pushed back the release date on this book from August to February. We thought we had a good package, but we wanted to make it truly special. We’re sort of infamous (in our own minds at least) for the number of iterations our covers go through. We want to make beautiful books!

LT: Wow, Aubrey, that’s fascinating! Here’s a question that’s been on my mind all along… One thing that jumped out to me, personally, about the original title/cover combo is that it felt very middle-grade. When I later learned about some of the main very YA plot points in the book, I was more than a little surprised! Was steering the book toward an older, more appropriate teen audience at all part of the title/cover consideration?

AP: That’s a really interesting observation about the original cover/title feeling middle-grade. Maybe what I perceived as ‘comic-booky’ was coming off as cartoonish and young to you. But to be honest, I was more worried about the cover not appealing to a broad enough audience. There are definitely some sensitive topics in the book, though, so I’m glad the new cover is more appealing to an older audience.

LT: Okay, two more, just for fun… First, I know you must have been very excited about this book to acquire it in the first place, and I admire the decision to push back the release date to allow time for interior art as well as the new cover and title, but how did you stand it–knowing that you had this super book that no one would see until February 1st!? Didn’t it drive you crazy?

AP: Sure! Well, yes and no. As editors we’re working on books a year or more in advance, so I’m pretty used to being excited about a book that no one else will see for a while. So pushing back the date wasn’t too hard. But when I got the final art it and the I saw the final cover – that’s when I started to get antsy. Lucky for me, I was able to show off the ARCs to friends and family, and I could get a fix by eagerly scanning the Waiting on Wednesdays blogs that have been so supportive and enthusiastic for the book. The toughest and most gratifying have been the last couple of months as the release date crept closer. I’m dying to finally see it in the hands of readers, but there’s also been some fantastic pre-pub buzz that’s elevated the book’s profile. The marketing and PR team have gotten very excited by the general enthusiasm and are planning some additional fun promos like a book trailer.

LT: And last but not least: I’ve seen the ARC, but I can’t wait to see what the final released version looks like. I know you must be SUPER excited that launch day is almost here. How does it feel to finally be at this point? Is it any different than other books you’ve edited?

AP: For me, this year is particularly exciting. I’ve been acquiring books for a while now but only two have been released so far – an adult romance and another YA called SEND by Patty Blount. SEND was a Junior Library Guild pick and has been doing really well. So, it was a very gratifying moment for me to realize that other people liked the book, but it also set the bar kinda high. But the majority of the books I’ve acquired are coming out this year: BLAZE in February followed by three middle grade books in each successive month, including MY EPIC FAIRY TALE FAIL by Anna Staniszewski [Ed. note: a fellow EMu!], THIS JOURNAL BELONGS TO RATCHET by Nancy J. Cavanaugh, and WONDER LIGHT by R.R. Russell. (The last two are even debuts!) So, it’s going to be a bit of a roller coaster Spring. I feel like I’ve climbed to the top of that first epic hill, and now I’m waiting in my car, teetering at brink, about to have my stomach float up into my chest… I can’t wait!

LT: As debut authors, I think we can all relate to that feeling! Fantastic interview, Aubrey, and best of luck with your upcoming releases. Thank you again for giving us an insider’s peek into the process!

AP: My pleasure. Thank you!

Remember, if you’d like a chance to win a signed copy of BLAZE, please leave a comment on this or any other post this week!

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Filed under Celebrations, cover art, Editor, Interviews