Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
I received my favorite Christmas gift in the early 1980s, a Commodore 64 computer. I was around ten at the time. Being a kid, of course, it was fun to have all new computer games to play. But what I was most excited about was getting a Koala pad (one of the first consumer-level drawing tablets for a computer) to create my own art on the computer. That pad combined with a color-ribbon Okimate printer provided me with countless hours of creating all kinds of grammar school pixel masterpieces. I had always enjoyed being creative prior to getting a computer, but that was when my passion for art soared. It led to me majoring in computer graphics and animation at Columbia College. After graduating, I was hired by a company that created software for video editing, animation and effects. My career there lasted over seventeen years, during which I was promoted away from doing anything creative. When the company downsized our entire office a few years ago, I took my severance and treated it like a runway where I could transition my life/career back to where I belonged, doing art and illustration: specifically children’s book illustration. Over the past six years, I have illustrated six books including “Chicago Treasure” which is the first book that I have also coauthored.
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
“Chicago Treasure” is the most recent book I have worked on as both co-author and illustrator. The concept for the book came from author Larry Broutman. He has three previous books and said he woke up one morning with the idea of taking photographs of children and turning them into the main characters in classic children’s stories. He contacted me about illustrating scenes around the kids. That concept expanded from the 10 or so illustrations that he was thinking of at the start to over 60 illustrated scenes in the final book. Along the way, I also worked on creating newspaper-like articles that summarized the stories and put a clever twist on them, based on the kids featured in the images. We call those “Chicago Pretender” articles as they have a lit bit of reality and a whole lot of imagination in them.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I am not sure if my writing habits are unusual… I might spend a bit too much time researching. With the “Chicago Treasure” project, I had to really get myself refamiliarized with all of the classic fairytale, folktale and current pop culture stories and characters. I found myself at the library a lot rereading them. It is very interesting to go back and revisit stories that you have not heard since you were a child and read them from a grown-up point of view now. This helped me with the illustrations, as well as writing the short stories we created based on them.
What authors, or books have influenced you?
Because I have been so focused on illustration, I would say I am more influenced by several illustrators (who oftentimes are also authors). I have been very fortunate to take illustration courses by Lee White and David Hohn, both of whom have incredible careers in children’s books and illustrations. I have been mentored first hand by Terri Murphy and Janet McDonnell, who ran my local SCBWI Chicago-Area Illustrators Network. Both Terri and Janet have flourishing careers in children’s books and have taught me everything I know about the children’s book industry and beyond. It is their generosity of knowledge that has had the biggest influence on me. I am forever grateful to them both. Last, but not least, Larry Broutman, who brought me into his latest book project, is a fascinating person and has the most generous spirit. I am so inspired by his collection of books, his kindness, his drive and, most of all, his friendship.
What are you working on now?
So many of my friends and peers keep telling me I should work on my own book. I was reluctant to do so for a while, as I was not confident enough in my storytelling ability. Having focused solely on my technical illustration skills for so long, this is an equally challenging endeavor. But I think I am finally ready to give it a go. I am currently working on a manuscript/book dummy for a children’s book idea I have.
What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
I have been active on social media for quite a long time. I do not have as large a following as some, but I am very connected to the communities I am a part of. Those connections have certainly played a large role in the promotion of my books. People who have known me for a long time have championed me as I made this shift in my career path over the past six years and are so supportive. Beyond that, any time you can get out there and connect with people by speaking at events, school visits and any other publicity certainly helps. Since this is all a bit new to me, I am still navigating and trying to figure out what are the best websites where I best fit in and can be active in online communities.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
When I decided to pursue children’s books, I joined the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators). It is an incredible organization full of likeminded individuals all on their own journeys towards creating children’s books. They are worldwide and have chapters and networks around the world. My local Illinois chapter has several networks with meetings that are open to the public, so anyone can attend and begin learning more about the children book industry and how to break into it. I love being a part of this group so much that I have since become a Co-Rep for the SCBWI-IL Chicago-Area’s Illustrators network.
My other piece of advice would be to write what you know. Stories that are uniquely you and related in some way to your life and your experiences always seem to turn out to be the most authentic and interesting.
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
“Do great work and be great to work with.” I think most of us work really hard at giving our best when it comes to our craft, and that is important. But equally, if not even more important, is to be someone who is also great to work with. That means being upbeat and having a positive personality when interacting with others. It means meeting deadlines and making the process go smoothly for all involved in your projects. It is such simple advice but very effective. I share it with everyone. It’s a small world, and being known as someone that is good to work with will definitely take you places.
One other saying I rely on is “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” This is so true in all aspects in life. Sometimes you have to say yes to a concept or project before you even really know how you are going to complete it. Say yes to chances and opportunities, even if they scare you. (For many writers and illustrators, public speaking comes to mind). Stepping outside your comfort zone is certainly scary at first, but you never know where it will lead and how much it will enrich your life along the way!
What are you reading now?
Recently I have been going back and reading some of the classics I never read growing up, books like “Treasure Island” and “Lord of the Flies.” I also have read a relatively new YA series: “Arlo Finch” by John August. There are two books in the series so far, and I have enjoyed both of them.
On a more personal level, I really connected with “The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America” by Tommy Tomlinson. I could relate to so many of his challenges and habits. I realized I am not the only one who struggles with similar things.
What’s next for you as a writer?
Once my children’s manuscript/book dummy is ready, I will be submitting it to agents and pitching it to publishing houses.
What is your favorite book of all time?
My favorite book has evolved and changes at different periods in my life. There was a time I was pulled into books that were about to become films. I would read them (and the entire series if there were more than one). At another point in my life, it was a self-help book on finances or health/fitness that was my go-to for making changes and rereading for reinforcement.
More recently, my focus has been on reading all kinds of children’s books to stay current and inspired. I read the children’s book “The Day the Crayons Quit” by Drew Daywalt, and I absolutely love it. It is so clever and imaginative. It is a children’s book that is also written for the adult reading the book to a child as much as it is for the child. That is my current favorite for sure.