Years ago, I attended a conference where Christopher Paul Curtis spoke. I remember him saying he spent every Saturday morning writing at his local library (I believe in the children’s section) working on what would become The Watsons Go to Birmingham. He left me with a mental image of this big man huddled over a small table at the library, scribbling away on a pad of paper. Most Harry Potter fans have heard the story of J.K. Rowling beginning to write the series in a London cafe with her baby napping in a stroller next to her. I once read that Philip Pullman used to work in a writing shed in his garden where he wrote every morning until he’d met his daily quota.
I love these sorts of tidbits, the small window they offer for imagining how a beloved book or characters came into existence. I see Christopher Paul Curtis drafting a scene while a toddler has a tantrum in the nearby picture book section. J.K. Rowling is brainstorming the rules to quidditch while a barista grinds coffee beans and an espresso machine hisses steam. The squish of dewey grass under Philip Pullman’s feet as he crosses the lawn to his writing shed, notebooks tucked under one arm. I also like the insight they give into each individual’s process and routine of writing.
I love to learn about where and how illustrators work as well. For a while I subscribed to Home Companion magazine and they regularly featured a variety of artists in their studio or workspace. Children’s book illustrators Eric Carle, Etienne Delessert, and Tony DiTerlizzi were featured in different issues, and it was fascinating to get a little insight into how they spent their working hours. I loved studying those photos, seeing what they surrounded themselves with, how they organized their supplies (or didn’t), learning that Eric Carle kept his handpainted tissue paper sorted by color in flat drawers, or seeing that Etienne Delessert works in an attic studio with tall angled walls framed in wooden beams, or reading this insight to Tony DiTerlizzi’s process: “My work is more than just creating cool characters–it’s about the world they live in, the tools and artifacts. What’s the architecture look like? What does this character’s bicycle look like? Some of the detail makes its way into the book and some of it doesn’t, but if you truly understand the character’s world, it makes your job much more enjoyable.”
As a creative person, I find it inspiring and often informative to learn about others’ creative process and what they surround themselves with while they work. My interest in these things is what gave me the idea for a column in Kite Tales, the Rocky Mountain chapter of SCBWI newsletter I previously worked on. That column was one of my favorite things from the newsletter and I miss working on it, which brings me to the fun project I mentioned yesterday.
This week I’m starting an interview series with writers and illustrators about their creative work spaces and how they work. Kind of like a virtual Take Your Child to Work day (for children of all ages and no guardianship required). In the next four days we’ll be hearing how young adult writers Julie Anne Peters and Amy Kathleen Ryan and illustrators Danlyn Iantorno and Roberta Collier-Morales spend their working hours. They’re sharing photos and a little insight into their creative process. To kick off the series, I’m posting an interview every day this week starting tomorrow and–just to spice things up a little more–I’m also giving away a brand new copy of Julie Anne Peters latest novel By the Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead. To participate in the giveaway, all you have to do is comment on any post from this week and your name will be entered in a raffle. The cut off time for entering the giveaway will be Sunday at noon, mountain standard time, and I’ll announce the winner sometime soon thereafter.
I plan to continue this interview series throughout the year by posting one new interview each week on Mondays. (If you are an author or illustrator interested in participating, please contact me at the email listed in my sidebar. I’d love to feature people from all genres of children’s literature.)
I’m looking forward to getting a peek at the creative process of various writers and illustrators, and I hope you will be too!