Have you always wanted to be an author/illustrator?
When I was in high school, I applied for my first job working at Hicklebee’s, a children’s bookstore in San Jose, California. I always knew I wanted to be an artist, but it wasn’t until I started meeting authors and illustrators visiting Hicklebee’s that I realized that I wanted to make picture books.
What comes more naturally, writing or illustrating?
I always thought of myself as an illustrator only. It’s what I studied in school, and what I focused on when I first set out to get published. Writing was never something I thought I could do; that part happened by accident. Eventually I started to write with some encouragement from my first agent, and found that I really loved it. Now I can’t imagine not doing both, although I still love getting the opportunity to illustrate other author’s stories. Illustrating comes naturally for me. I don’t overthink it—whereas writing is a constant challenge for me.
Can you take me through your creative process?
I usually begin with an idea or a concept of some kind. Every once and while I imagine a character first, like with my book Don’t Forget Dexter!. But usually the story always comes first. Once I have a manuscript that feels solid, I begin sketching to determine what the characters will look like and what medium I think will suit the story best. I usually revise over and over again and I’m a perfectionist so if it doesn’t feel right, it will bother me until my gut tells me otherwise. My agent helps tremendously with the revising process too, as we do a lot of back and forth before going out on submission. It always helps to have a second pair of eyes to catch what I miss.
Where do your ideas come from? Specifically, where did the idea for Don’t Forget Dexter!come from?
My husband and I were pregnant with our first child when my husband was required to get a T-DAP booster shot prior to our son’s birth. My husband went to get the shot and while he was waiting to be seen he texted me a photo of a toy dinosaur that had been left beneath a chair in the waiting room. Following the photo he added “well, they left me here.” I laughed out loud when I read the text and immediately sat down to write Dexter’s story. To this day it’s still the fastest idea to story moment I’ve ever had.
I knew I wanted Dexter to talk to the reader directly from the beginning. Knowing that I was going to break down the fourth wall allowed for me to experiment with a different type of voice altogether. In my head, Dexter was always neurotic and insecure about himself. I wanted readers to find him endearing and funny, but also a little over the top. I could hear is voice in my head from the start and as crazy as this may sound, there were many times where I felt as though he was just telling me what he would say, rather than me deciding on what his dialogue would be.
Don’t Forget Dexter! is your ninth book. How has your work evolved over the years?
I think my work has changed a lot over the years. When I compare the first picture book I ever wrote and published, Pelly and Mr. Harrison Visit the Moon, I feel as though my writing has come leaps and bounds from where it was. I’m proud of every book I’ve published, but there are certainly things I would change if I could, knowing what I know now as a writer and illustrator. Each book has given me a new experience and challenge creatively. I feel as though I’ve become stronger with each book and hopefully my readers do too. I’m also a lot more open to different mediums. In the beginning I was solely focused on working in cut paper, without considering its limitations. Now I try to consider each book and what medium would help me tell the story in the best way possible.
What do you hope young readers come away with from your books?
Two things: a sense of adventure and that anything is possible.
Do your children factor into any of your books? Did having children change the way you write/illustrate?
Absolutely. Before I had my boys, I began amassing my picture book collection. I didn’t always pay attention to the stories of the books I would buy, which sounds crazy, but back then I cared more about the art. Now, I’m very particular about the books I add to our collection. I take note of how my kids respond to the books we read with them, what resonates and what doesn’t. In many ways, my boys have helped me become a better writer. They’ve also inspired books that I’ve done: Brobarians, Don’t Forget Dexter!, Rosco vs. the Baby, and a new board book transportation series I’ll be doing with HarperCollins in 2019.
What are you working on now?
I just finished up the sequel to Don’t Forget Dexter!, titled It’s Show-and-Tell, Dexter!, which will come out in July 2018. In January I will begin working on a new book with Two Lions, This Book Is Gray, as well as the transportation series I mentioned with HarperCollins.
Is there a book from your own childhood that still resonates with you today?
The Snowy Day and No More Monsters for Me! are still two of my favorite books of all time.