Susan: I loved Halloween and I always made my own costumes. Two of my favorites were a Martian and a Jack of Hearts. I grew up in a small town and fancy things like face paints were not available, so I put green food coloring into flour and powdered my face green for the perfect Martian complexion. For the Jack of Hearts, I spent weeks painting two large pieces of poster board with Jack of Hearts images. I wore those sandwich style and I thought I looked magnificent!
Susan: You write a lot of books in different categories like picture books, early readers, and chapter books. When you come up with a story do you know which category it will fall under? Have you ever thought of writing for middle graders?
Jess: I always love seeing your studio. It seems like the perfect place to work. Do you typically get a lot of your ideas there, or do you also get ideas while you’re out and about? Do the cats get involved in your work, and do you ever have to shoo them out when you’re working on clay?
Susan: I usually get my ideas from life. Especially when I am traveling. (Note: Here's a photo of Susan and Elizabeth in Bologna - click the photo to see more about that trip!)
The cats love to hang out in the studio. (Note: See pictures of Susan's Studio HERE.) They know that they are not allowed at my clay table, because, you know, cat hair. Cooper is relentlessly curious and persistent and has to be shooed. Bilbo likes to eat a lot, which makes jumping up on the clay table an impossibility for him! But when I am at my computer my lap is their favorite place to be.
Susan: I know that you love art. Do your stories ever come to you as pictures before text? Or does the text always come first? Or is it simultaneous?
Susan: It’s interesting, I consider myself an illustrator first and then a writer, but my stories don’t come to me in pictures. The text always comes first. But after the text is pretty much done, I almost always create a book dummy. I need to understand the page turns and map it out. And I actually think that the dummy I usually submit with a manuscript helps sell the book, because it clarifies the vision. In the case of Eenie Meenie Halloweenie, Lucy used very similar compositions and settings to the ones I had put in my submission dummy!
Jess: I do love music and dancing. I feel like there’s rhythm in all of the arts: words, sounds, movements, and the elements visual of art can be organized across time and space to create structure and meaning. Whether I’m writing a picture book or chapter book, I always read it aloud to myself. For the Fairylight Friends early reader series, little changes made a big difference in the back-and-forth rhythm of the dialogue. I had to balance that with ensuring that the word choice and sentence length and structure were right for newly independent readers. Luckily, I have amazing editors and critique partners!
Susan: This particular story was always written in rhyme. But it took such a long time and two different critique groups to land on the perfect meter. That penguin page stumped me for years. I actually had written it, illustrated a dummy and submitted it for a critique with an editor at an SCBWI conference. I got a really discouraging critique (although the rhyme was praised) and I put it away. It wasn’t until my agent let me know she was looking for a Halloween book that I brought it out again. When she sent it out we had several publishers who wanted it! Writers do need to remember that critiques are subjective and different editors and agents can have a completely different take on something. And timing is everything.
And look! Here is a question from Elizabeth: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” — the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
Susan: To me it is finding the story outside of the text that is revealed only through the illustration. It is seeing that fuller life of the character shown in emotional connections or passions. For instance, in Poppy’s Best Babies, Rosalinde Bonnet has shown us the little brother’s passion for martial arts and Poppy’s passion for Rock N Roll, and rockets, and photography, and crafts. We understand her impulsive personality through the illustrations that bring out her back story. Even though I wrote the book, I am still finding things that make me laugh with surprise! (Note: Read more about Poppy's Babies HERE.)
I usually do virtual visits in a similar way to in-person visits. I thought it would be a lot harder to adapt them. In some ways, presenting virtually enables you to get closer to students when you interact with them as opposed to having a bigger, in-person presentation in a huge space. Typically, I meet with the students and teacher on Zoom, Google Meet, or some other online platform. I like tailoring presentations to what they’re learning and making them interactive so they can share their ideas and experiment with the concepts I present. I always do a Q&A at the end so they can have a chance to get their questions answered — that’s my favorite part.
I’m happy to be a Visiting Artist with the TN Arts Commission — and I know you are, too. That enables public schools in TN to have us visit at no cost, and there are some other grants available for virtual visits as well. You’ve also been doing a lot of them, right?
Jess: It really helps you get to know them! Susan, thanks so much for talking with me today — and for always being there for me. And thanks to Elizabeth for hosting us!
Susan: Yes! Many thanks to you Jessica for being a perspicacious critique partner and good friend, and to Elizabeth for being such a kind and generous supporter of so many authors and illustrators! e: My pleasure! Thank you both!
Note: This is Jessica's fave writing spot. She says, "I like writing anywhere that's comfy and has a nice view. This is the writing spot where I work most days. I love looking out the window and seeing hummingbirds at the feeder and rabbits on the lawn. At night, I plug in the fairy lights!"
Jessica Young grew up in Canada, and now lives in Tennessee. As a children's book author and art teacher, she loves sharing the creative process with students. Her award-winning picture books, early readers, and chapter books include the Fairylight Friends early reader series, the Haggis and Tank Unleashed early chapter book series, My Blue is Happy, Play This Book and Pet This Book, A Wish is a Seed, the Finley Flowers chapter book series, Spy Guy the Not-So-Secret Agent, and the forthcoming I’ll Meet You in Your Dreams. You can learn more about her books and school visits at: www.jessicayoungbooks.com.
About Fairylight Friends — A Magic Spark:
Ruby, Iris, and Pip go to fairy school together. Ruby loves to make art, Iris loves to fly fast, and Pip loves to grow things. Now, each of them must discover their special fairy power. Fly along with these fairy friends on their magical adventures, as they bake a snazzy cake, zoom across the night sky, and plan a big surprise party. With easy-to-read text and full-color artwork throughout, this sparkly early reader series is perfect for beginning readers!
About Eenie Meenie Halloweenie:
In this rhythmic read-aloud picture book, a little girl wonders what she should be for Halloween. Good thing she has a dress-up trunk full of different costume ideas!
Eenie meenie Halloweenie, kitty, bat, or snake? Perhaps a bear? I might just wear a costume that I make! Eenie Meenie Halloweenie is a celebration of the ingenuity of an adorable girl creating fun costumes from everyday materials. Readers will be inspired to do the same!
Susan Eaddy writes picture books and plays with clay in her attic studio. Her clay-illustrated books include Papa Fish’s Lullaby by Patricia Hubbell, My Love for You is the Sun, by Julie Hedlund and her clay artwork appears regularly in Babybug, Ladybug, Click and Spider Magazines.
She wrote Poppy’s Best Paper and Poppy’s Best Babies, illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet (Charlesbridge), and Eenie Meenie Halloweenie, illustrated by Lucy Fleming (HarperChildrens). She loves to travel and has used the opportunity to do school visits all over, including Taiwan, Brazil, Hong Kong, Switzerland and the US. She lives in Nashville TN.