A Peek at the Creative Space of Caroline Stutson

Halloween is right around the corner and so for this week’s Creative Spaces interview it’s my pleasure to welcome Caroline Stutson, author of By the Light of the Halloween Moon illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. By the Light of the Halloween Moon opens with an illustration of the legs of a child dangling off a dock on a moonlit night. The text says:

A toe!
A lean and gleaming toe
That taps a tune in the dead of night
By the light, by the light,
By the silvery light of the Halloween moon!
When you turn the page a cat joins the dangling legs and the text says:

A cat!
A thin black wisp of a spying cat
Who eyes the toe
That taps a tune in the dead of night
By the light, by the light,
By the silvery light of the Halloween moon!
The story grows from there with the cat being joined by a witch and a ghoul and all manner of fun and spooky creatures. It’s a charming, musical story and one of my all-time favorite Halloween picture books.
Her latest picture book, Cats Night Out, had me at hello with its combination of two of my favorite things: cats and dancing. The book is gorgeously illustrated by J. Klassen and is already garnering some potential Caldecott buzz. These are serious dancing kitties too, their somber faces concentrating on their dance moves, which is a brilliant and comical match-up with Caroline’s fun rhythmic words like, 
“Ten cats line-dance, keep the beat
in rhinestone boots on Easy Street.”
Caroline is also the author of Mama Loves You (illustrated by John Segal), Mountain Meadow 1 2 3 (illustrated by Anna-Maria L. Crum), Pirate Pup (illustrated by Robert Rayevsky), Night Train (illustrated by Katherine Tillotson), and several other picture books. To learn more about Caroline Stutson visit her website.

Describe your workspace.

My workspace is in an office that I share not very graciously with my husband. I don’t have a sign saying: QUIET, AUTHOR AT WORK but my husband has learned to tread lightly when I’m at the computer and I go through the same sort of tiptoeing around when he is busy in his workspace doing woodcarving.

Most of my writing involves paper and pen these days since I’ve stopped working on chapter books and middle grade novels. I try to make my manuscript the best I can  make it before going to the computer. When I’m not at the computer, most of my writing takes place wherever I settle, indoors or out depending on the weather.

This yard belongs to our last house. Sigh. I used to love to sit out by the pond and write. But the house was falling apart so we moved to a house with no yard at all. But I still dream about our enchanted cottage.

In my office there is a just right green chair with a footstool where I usually start my writing day.

Seymour in the green chair.

I love looking at my favorite writing things. There’s a bookshelf crammed with poetry collections and treasured picture books that I like having close. Whenever I’m stuck, I reach for one of those books to get going again.

One wall holds dog and cat pottery storytellers and my Tattered Cover signing medals.

Another holds a quilt I made for our grandson when he was a baby. A third has three illustrations from old picture books and two framed illustrations that Anna-Maria Crum did for Mountain Meadow 1 2 3. 

I have waited many years for an office like this one; I never stop appreciating how fortunate I am to have it.

Describe a typical workday.

I do my best work early in the morning. When I’m not dashing off to storytelling or preparing for telling stories, I write all morning and return to it after lunch for an hour or two. I used to be able to write for much longer periods of time. But I have a back that does better walking than sitting and a mind that gets foggy if I write too long.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits?

I don’t have many rituals. I try hard to write every day because it’s much easier to have an established routine. I don’t allow myself to read mysteries and novels in my just right green office chair in hope that sitting there is saved for writing only. 

What do you listen to while you work?

Because most of my picture books are rhymed, I’m constantly reading my work aloud which requires quiet. I love listening to music and public radio but don’t dare do either one while I’m writing.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Keeping focused is a challenge. If I’ve been working on something for a long time and it doesn’t seem to be improving, I set it aside and work on a different project. That helps me see the first manuscript with fresh eyes when I return to it.

Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

When I was trying to write middle grade novels, I used an outline even though I didn’t want to use one. I much preferred using index cards with scenes on them that I could move around easily. (Maybe this is one reason my novels weren’t very good.)  For picture books I make sure I have at least twelve distinct scenes that have actions related to each other, a cause and effect chain. With picture books it is important that the setting changes frequently to hold the interest of the reader and furnish strong illustration possibilities.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

I’m an only child. I’m not so good at sharing. I don’t think I could share my workspace with someone else unless we were working on a project together. But I’m always happy to have my dog Seymour and my cat Maisie nearby when I’m writing.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

The best advice I’ve ever gotten is to read, read, read. I heard someone once say you have to read at least 100 picture books to truly know what a picture book is; I believe that reading good and not so good books hones our writing skills and inspires us to write the most wonderful book that we can.         

One Response to “A Peek at the Creative Space of Caroline Stutson”