As Illustrator Month continues, 24 Carrot Writing is excited to host New England-based author/illustrator Deborah Freedman, creator of several picture books for young readers. Her books have received many starred and enthusiastic reviews, honors, and awards — including SCBWI’s Crystal Kite Award and a Parent's Choice Gold Award. Welcome, Deborah!
You’re recently back from Nerd Camp in Parma, Michigan. Can you tell us a little bit about this event, how long have you been doing it, and what’s your favorite part of this outing?
I love Nerd Camps! I could talk books all day if you let me, and for the past four years visiting Parma has been a highlight of my summer. It’s a place where passionate, progressive educators are sharing their most creative ideas about raising readers, in a relaxed atmosphere, perfect for spontaneous, informal conversations and getting to know people. I’ve met so many I truly respect and admire — and they give me hope for the world. I’m incredibly grateful for all teachers do.
Let’s talk about CARL AND THE MEANING OF LIFE. What was the process for bringing Carl into the world, from inspiration to completion?
Carl, as a character, first popped up in one of many revisions I did for my book SHY. But no one at Viking understood what this funny earthworm was doing in that book, so my darling was deleted. But not killed! Late in 2016, I was sitting at my desk, questioning my purpose in life, when this small character with big questions came back to me… and this time, he had his own story.
You’ve worked with Kendra Levin at Viking Children’s Books on a few of your projects. Have you and Kendra discussed or applied any of the exercises from her book, THE HERO IS YOU?
I’ve worked with Kendra on four books and have learned so much from her. We do talk about the creative process a lot, and she is as insightful about that in person as she is in HERO. The real Kendra, like the author Kendra, is a wonderful creativity therapist; when she helps steer me through some particular problem, she’s also giving me the tools and confidence to deal with it myself the next time.
Tell us a little bit about the process of working with your editors. How long does it take, from start to finish, once one of your manuscripts is acquired?
With Kendra, each book has started with a fairly clear concept, characters, theme… but I’m plot-challenged, so that’s where a lot of our work together happens. Even once I hope I’ve got it, she will push me to clarify my intentions and go deeper. With some projects, I chase an idea in a bunch of different directions before finding the right path, and other stories slowly evolve — but all of our manuscripts have taken a long time, up to nine months of back and forth with text and thumbnails before I start doing tight sketches. Once everything is approved for final art, Kendra hands me off to Jim Hoover, who has art directed all of my five books at Viking.
With any of my publishing teams, a lot gets done by email, though of course I love those long phone conversations or occasional in-person meetings where we can really hash things out.
Wouldn’t it be great if there were one place authors could go to learn everything we need to know about having a book out in the world? My main mistake has been worrying too much about what other people are doing. In the end, experience has turned out to be the best teacher, helping me to slowly trust my own instincts and simply do what I enjoy and do best—for author visits, marketing, all of it. I think that figuring out how to present our public selves to the world is a lot like finding and honing a writing voice. Which can take a while!
You and I met years ago at the SCBWI Summer Conference in LA standing in line at a coffee bar, just after your debut picture book was released. You evolved from SCBWI member seeking publication to debut author/illustrator to multi-published author/illustrator who now presents at conferences. How important has the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators been to your writing career?
Yes, I remember that! I’d sold my first book, Scribble, after being “discovered” at the NYSCBWI conference, and it had recently come out. Travelling to LA that year turned out to be important for my career too, because it helped me connect with my first agent. But honestly, I mostly value SCBWI for helping me find a wonderful writing community of people like you — who are supportive, inspiring, and dear to me. We never stop needing each other.
When you are taking a break from working on an assignment, what do you do to grow your craft/art?
A break? What’s that? ;)
I should take more long breaks. But there always seem to be things on my desk, in various stages, because I’m very, very slow at developing ideas and am afraid to turn the incubator off! I have also discovered that valuable cross-fertilization seems to happen between projects when more than one is going at a time.
But every day I do make time for reading from a wide range of both kid’s and adult fiction, nonfiction, essays, poetry… and my husband and I take frequent advantage of our fortunate, easy access to amazing theater, music, and museums. Other art forms give me a break from my own brain for a while and then later expand it.
At 24 Carrot Writing, we pay a lot of attention to goal setting and planning. Do you set illustrating/ art goals? If so, what do they look like?
I do my best to stay loose and open for as long as I can, and have figured out that I need to schedule in enough space for experimentation and play, and also time to overcome my inevitable inertia, fear, self-consciousness…
My main goal is simply to grow with every book; I just want to feel like I’m always pushing forward.
My biggest dream is that someday the final product will be as good as what was in my head. :)