Monday, June 23, 2014

Welcome to the Writing Process: An Author/Illustrator Blog Tour

I was invited to join this Blog Tour by the very talented Jennifer Goldfinger.  I met Jennifer through a professional Author-Illustrator list-serve where we discuss the mysteries and secrets of the children’s publishing world. (Well, not really). Jennifer and I finally met in person at the recent SCBWI New England Conference…

Now on with the tour:

It has been an extremely busy few years for me. I took a year off from illustrating in 2013 to focus on bringing my Princess K.I.M. books to the stage in Princess K.I.M. The Musical. (Read more about our Upcoming Summer show!)

2013 also brought the publication of two books, which I wrote and illustrated:

What am I currently working on?

I am back at my drawing desk working on an exciting project, one which has a very personal connection to my life and that of my daughter. My next picture-book, is called JANINE, and was inspired by my daughter Janine! Along with the book, Janine and I are developing a corresponding website; (The site is live, but we are still filling it with content- so continue to check back.)

My daughter has given me permission to develop a character based on her life as an individual with disabilities. My real life Janine is now 28 years old and is quite an inspiration. Despite her challenges, she faces each day with optimism. Janine, the main character in the book, is a spunky, endearing child who happens to be on the Autism Spectrum. The basic theme, without giving the story away, is about embracing differences, staying true to who you are, and standing up for others.  
Here is a Mock-up cover. Janine publishes in Spring 2015 by Albert Whitman:

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This is the first time in my career where I am hoping to use a book and it’s website to inspire social change. Our mission for the book, Janine, and the website is to help change public perception of children with disabilities and increase awareness and acceptance through children's literature, poetry and film. (Changing public perception has become a family passion. Please view my daughter Kristin's awarding winning documentary short on the subject: FOLLOWING FLAME.)

My daughter Janine and I hope to tour schools together in the Spring. STAND UP. INSPIRE, INCLUDE and INVITE will be our theme. Janine is an amazing role model, not only for kids with challenges, but for all children, their parents and teachers. Yes, she was teased and bullied, and the book is based on a real incident, but through it all, she learned to embrace who she is, and focus on the things she can do, not the things she cannot. Janine hopes to   use her own experiences and stories for positive good and encourage children to stand up for eachother.
Book Janine.
Real Janine. (@ 1993)

Why do I write what I write?

I have wanted to write this story for years, but it took me awhile to figure out how. As a parent of a child with disabilities, I became an advocate, helping Janine to navigate through school, social situations and now life. We have kept our journey private, while sometimes enduring negative attitudes of society towards people with disabilities. When Janine was a child, there were not many books where the main character was disabled. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of any. Publishers have recently been open to publishing more on this topic, (we are including a list of books on the website). Publishing has come a long way in 20 years, but I am hoping more books are created on the subject of disabilities. ALL kids want to read about themselves in books.

How does my individual writing/illustrating process work?

1. Inspiration.  2. Words.  3. Dummy.   4. Submit.  5. Sell.  6. Create Art. (With a lot of edits, waiting, and revisions  in between!) Those who know my work, know that many of my stories, including Janine, are connected to experiences in my own life or that of my children or people I met along the way. The difficult part is finding the right publisher. Fortunately, this book sold fairly quickly to Albert Whitman, who has a long history of publishing topics which other publishers shy away from. My gratitude to my Editor, Kelly Barrales-Saylor and Albert Whitman for sharing my vision. 

Though it sold quickly, this story had been simmering in my head for years and years. I struggled with HOW to show a disabled child with autistic-like traits without saying the word disabled, autism or CP in the text. My goal all along was to show the character for who she IS, without a label, and I think I accomplished that goal in Janine.

Here are some views of my illustration process.
Dummies, sketches and finishes for JANINE 
A messy desk after a day of painting.

Janine was an easy character to develop on paper. After all…I brought up the real Janine, a happy child who is now an inspiring adult. In Spring of 2015, I’ll get to share JANINE with the world…you are going to LOVE HER!

Thanks for visiting!

The tour continues next Monday with a friend and former Massachusetts College of Art classmate, Author and Illustrator Teresa Flavin
Teresa now lives in West Yorkshire, England. Her final book in her MG trilogy from Candlewick publishes this July;

Happy Summer!

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