06 December 2014
Jennifer K. Mann's TWO SPECKLED EGGS - interview and giveaway!
I am thrilled to share TWO SPECKLED EGGS by debut author and illustrator (on the same book), Jennifer K. Mann. I adore this book. Who hasn’t had a Lyla Browning in their life (or been a Lyla Browning) - that girl who was a little too smart, a little too geeky, perhaps a little too creative? I know many writers and illustrators who can relate to that! Jennifer is visiting today to answer some questions about her new book…
Q. First, Jennifer, CONGRATULATIONS! This is your first book as author/illustrator and only your second picture book (the first you illustrated - Turkey Tot by George Shannon). How’s it feel?
A. It feels amazing! I’ve dreamed about being published for a long time, and now to see my dreams and my effort in the form of a book, in bookstores, in kids’ and grown ups’ hands---I think every author/illustrator knows the feeling of that first book. The excitement that comes with each step toward publication is so much fun, like being a kid again!
Q. Your path into children’s books certainly hasn’t been direct. How did this passion take hold of you?
A. I’ve always loved to draw, and that is why I became an architect. But something was missing for me in that kind of drawing, and I didn’t realize it until I had kids and started reading beautiful picture books with them. I knew then that I wanted to make that kind of art!
Q. The story of TWO SPECKLED EGGS feels so familiar. Is it based on true experiences?
A. Yes! I have two photos of my own 7th birthday party. I am all dressed up, and so are my friends. In one photo we are all squealing with delight at someone’s performance during a party game, but I can also remember feeling unhappy with that part of that party—girls out of control! In another, we are all seated on the sofa. There is a girl I don’t recognize—who is she? Had I invited her? How did she fit in with the rest of the girls? I remember too that I sometimes felt alone at my own birthday parties. It seems that birthday parties rarely go just the way the birthday girl, or boy, wants them to.
Q. How long have you been creating art and illustrating?
A. I have been an artist my whole life, but more of a dabbler than anything. I have been a printmaker since college, and I also love to paint in miniature (mostly birds---not sure why) on little collaged scraps of paper. (You can have a look at my tiny collage bird paintings on my website). Even while I worked as an architect, I took art classes on the side, and secretly wished I had gone to art school instead of architecture school. When I recognized my desire to make books for children, I shifted gears and really focused on learning how to make narrative art that would delight kids and adults.
Q. Your journey will inspire so many of my readers. How did you break into the children’s book market?
A. The short response is: desire, diligence, grit, patience, and a little bit of luck! I think it helped that I developed a thick skin as an architect!
The long response is: I happened to mention my early interest in picture books to just the right person in about 2004, and he gave me the best advice ever: join SCBWI! So I did. And I enrolled in a terrific UW extension course in illustrating for children taught by the wonderful and talented Brenda Guiberson. I had some early ideas, worked on them lot, sent them out to editors, and received many kind but firm rejections. (but most were personal rejections, which I learned was code for “Keep Trying!”) I also took advantage of every SCBWI workshop and critique and portfolio show that I could, while studying very closely stacks and stacks of picture books. I analyzed my favorites, and tried to figure out just how those masters did what they did. Finally, after a lot of hard work, I had a dummy that felt like a book! That dummy helped me win the Grand Prize in the SCBWI Western Washington Portfolio Show, and then the SCBWI Don Freeman Award. I took that dummy to the portfolio display at the SCBWI New York conference, where it got some nice attention. Soon after, I signed with my wonderful agent—Holly McGee at Pippin Properties. My story and dummy went down a bit of a winding path and remained unpublished for a few years. But in the meantime I illustrated TURKEY TOT by beloved author George Shannon, published by Holiday House, and I wrote and illustrated TWO SPECKLED EGGS! And now, I am so pleased to say that that dummy, the first one that felt like a book, will be published this spring--my second picture book as author and illustrator. It is called I WILL NEVER GET A STAR ON MRS BENSON’S BLACKBOARD, and will be published June, 2015, by Candlewick Press.
Q. What is your illustration method?
A. For these first three books, I developed a technique that allowed me to achieve the look of collage, without the permanence of glue and paper—because I don’t like commitment, I guess!
So, here’s roughly how I do it: I don’t necessarily start with thumbnails, but I tend to go back and forth between thumbnails and full size sketches—I have to switch scales depending on the problem I am solving. Once I have worked out sketches of all of my spreads, I draw the individual elements of a spread in ink or pencil smaller than full scale so that I am forced to stay nice and loose. I scan them, enlarge them to full size, and print them on watercolor paper. Then I paint each little bit, and scan it all back into Photoshop. This is when I pretend I am using scissors and glue, but I use Photoshop to cut out each element in a spread, and collage it all back together, moving elements around, changing scale and composition until it feels right. Sometimes I incorporate photographs, or textures that I have scanned or created in Photoshop. Ultimately I delivered digital files for my final art. However—I am working on a new project with Candlewick that demands a somewhat lighter hand and more tender style, and it just may be traditional pencil and paint—we’ll see!
Q. How are you celebrating the release of TWO SPECKLED EGGS?
A. I’ve had not one but two terrific book launch parties—one here on Bainbridge Island at Eagle Harbor Book Company, and the other in Seattle at Secret Garden Books. Suzanne at Secret Garden made the most delicious Silver and Gold Cake (Ginger’s favorite) and my friends gladly put on their party hats and pecked at the cake for me, just like Ginger and Lyla. I made a Silver and Gold Cake for the Eagle Harbor Books party, but it wasn’t nearly as scrumptious as Suzanne’s. And of course I made sure that all kids who came to my book parties took home some malted milk eggs—not as ubiquitous these days as they were when I was a child!
Right now, Two Speckled Eggs is being celebrated in an exhibit of children’s book artists at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art. My work is hanging alongside that of Julie Paschkis, Nikki McClure, and Woodleigh Marx Hubbard. What an honor to be featured alongside those amazing artists in this beautiful new museum!
By the way, I thought I had invented the Silver and Gold Cake, but if you look it up, it exists outside of my kitchen! But the recipes I found had no coconut or pineapple—a travesty. So if you want to try to make Ginger’s favorite Silver and Gold Cake, find a great recipe for a light and fluffy pineapple layer cake, and then make Seven Minute Icing (my childhood favorite) with coconut in it, and Voila! (This is Jennifer's good luck mug.)
Q. I wish you much continued success and look forward to seeing more from you! What's next?
A. I WILL NEVER GET A STAR ON MRS BENSON’S BLACKBOARD, will publish this June. This is the story of Rose, who’s a little dreamy and rather messy. She’s also an artist, and she finds it a little tough to get on her teacher’s right side.
And, I am currently working on a new book with Candlewick, tentatively titled SAM AND JUMP. It is due out early spring, 2016. It’s a sweet and tender story of a little boy who leaves his beloved stuffed bunny behind on the beach one day. I’m excited to take a new approach to the illustrations for this book, much less Photoshop, more pencil and paint, I hope!
Candlewick has kindly agreed to send a free copy of TWO SPECKLED EGGS to one of my lucky followers. Must live in the US to win. Enter below:
TWO SPECKLED EGGS. Copyright © 2014 by Jennifer Mann. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.