Korrie Leer is an author illustrator whose debut, BIG SIBLING GETAWAY (Albert Whitman & Co.), launches on September 1, 2020.
We are thrilled to have Korrie join us as we continue to celebrate 24 Carrot Writing's Illustrator Bonanza!
Korrie talks about her early rookie missteps, the revision process, how her artist eye informs her writing, and best of all how fan girl art keeps her motivated.
Tell us about your journey to becoming an author/illustrator. Which came first – the words or the pictures?
My journey to becoming an author/illustrator was a long one! I studied elementary education in college and while I loved teaching (especially reading and literature), I found myself daydreaming about creating my own books.
In the beginning, I did everything a new writer is NOT supposed to do. I wrote in rhyme (without any real effort in getting it right). I wrote stories using over 1000 words. I rarely sought feedback and when I did, I was reluctant to make changes. At this point in my writing career, the words came first. I wrote pages and pages in a lot of detail and then drew very obvious illustrations to go with it. The illustrations were showing the same thing the text was telling. (Another big no no.)
After a few rejections from agents, I knew I had to make a change. I put a pause on the actual writing and illustrating, and put all of my energy into researching and learning. I joined Julie Hedlund’s 12x12, SCBWI, and basically read, watched, and listened to everything I could on writing for children. The best thing I did was attended a SCBWI conference. Not only did I learn A LOT from people already in the industry, but I made friends with new writer’s in the same position as myself – people trying to break into the industry.
Now, with a little more knowledge under my belt (I still have a lot of learning to do), the words and the pictures seem to come in whatever order they want, filling in in places where the other is lacking. Sometimes, a scene or a character that deserves a story will pop into my mind and I fill the words around it, other times I think of a concept that seems like a good idea and then have to think of the illustrations that can bring it to life. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that an illustration should give information that the text doesn’t.
While at first I approached picture books as a simple, straightforward way to tell a story to a child, I’ve come to realize that they’re actually very complex. Layers and layers of hints, and Easter eggs, and meanings are hidden inside each word, each picture. And while it’s much harder to execute, it’s definitely been more fun this way!
What was the most surprising but rewarding revision that happened along BIG SIBLING GETAWAY’s path to final art and/or words?
My art was MAJORLY revised on the road to publication and the first big critique came from my agent, Samantha Wekstein. The sample illustrations I queried her with had muted colors and characters with huge eyes, and I mean HUGE. They were messy and now looking back at them, probably not ready to be submitted. Luckily, Samantha liked the story enough and, I guess, saw enough potential in my art, to give me a revise and resubmit. (For those who don’t know, agents will sometimes respond to a query with a critique and ask for the author to send their updated materials.) I was so excited when I got that email, but I was also very nervous. I didn’t want to mess up the opportunity.
When I started revising my art for BIG SIBLING GETAWAY, my husband and I were making a cross country move (in our tiny car with 2 cats) from New Jersey to California. I wanted to get back to Samantha as soon as possible. I wanted her to know that I could handle critiques and that I could be a client that would get back quickly. I drew in the car, in hotels in pretty much every state from east to west, and then finally finished an resubmitted when we reached San Francisco. It’s kind of crazy now that I think of it, but it was totally worth it. It’s still so surprising to see how far my art has come from those first few pages.
Oh yeah! Another giant change was the title. My book was originally titled THE GETAWAY BOX. The title change came from my publisher, Albert Whitman & Co. While I liked my original title, it had been done before and didn’t give potential readers a clear idea about what the book was about. As a writer, I never expected to change the name of my books, but I love that THE BIG SIBLING GETAWAY addresses older siblings upfront. I wrote the book for them – they should know that!
Below is an example of one of the first illustrations I queried and an example of one of the illustrations that is in the published book.
Did your creative process stay the same for both your debut BIG SIBLING GETAWAY and ZOO-MATE WANTED – or did experience bring changes?
Funny enough, ZOO-MATE WANTED was technically my first book. I originally titled it I Belong in the Zoo. It rhymed (badly) and it’s illustrations were halfheartedly drawn in a sketchbook (also badly). It was… not good. I shelved it almost immediately after I was done writing it and referred to it as my “zoo book.”
Shortly after, I began working on BIG SIBLING GETAWAY. It was only after I went through the major revisions on BSG that I realized that my zoo book might be salvageable. When I was finally ready to show ZOO-MATE WANTED to my agent, it was absolutely nothing like it was originally.
To be completely honest, when the idea to change I BELONG IN THE ZOO to ZOO-MATE WANTED came to me, I wasn’t immediately excited about the idea… I was bummed. I knew how much work it was going to be. Everything needed to change: the characters, the plot, the illustrations, the title. Luckily, because I had just done a similar revision (though not as intense) to BSG, I felt confident enough to give it a shot. And thankfully, after a few major revisions, it paid off!
I don’t think experience has necessarily changed my creative process, but it’s definitely given me the confidence and the courage to take something that’s not great and make the changes and put in the work to make it something I’m proud of. I really believe that that is the one thing I would tell someone who wants to publish a book – any story you want to tell can be reworked and rewritten until it’s great, you just have to be willing to put in the work and make the changes.
Are you leaning into your illustration skills to create swag for your launch? What are you creating?
I am! And I’m super excited about it. Right now I’m working on a few hand painted canvas bags that I want to use in a preorder giveaway campaign. I love the idea of swag and I’m hoping that people will appreciate something handmade. Plus, I’m having a great time making them.
I’m also fully stocked up on bookmarks and bookplates! Right now, I’m still waiting on my local bookstores and libraries to decided how they’re going to handle their fall events with the current situation, but I’m confident I’ll find a way to get these goodies out into the world.
I’ll definitely be sending some out from my twitter page - @korrieleer
You are an aspiring novelist. How do your illustration skills benefit your ability to craft a story with words?
I’m very passionate about my novel. I’ve been working on it for about 2 years now. (Writing is so hard! Lol) It’s been strange to go back and forth, working on picture books and the novel, mainly because in picture books I’m so used to limiting the text and letting the pictures give the majority of the information. While this habit of limiting text can be a challenge, I do think my illustration skills benefit my ability to craft a story with words in other ways. For example, because I do see these elements of my story so vividly in my mind, as if they were illustrations in a book, I know exactly what I want out of my writing – it just takes a little longer to pull the right words together. But I will say, I feel pretty accomplished when I feel that I’ve crafted the character or setting I see in my head successfully.
I also have a less relevant way my illustration skills benefit my novel writing – creating my own fan art. (Embarrassing but true!) If I’m feeling weighed down or stuck in a rut on my book, I find it really motivating if I have visuals. For example, in the middle of writing my first draft I didn’t think I would ever finish. I couldn’t imagine actually writing the entire book – I had major writer’s block. I took a break. During the break, I fantasized about the book being done and being real. I envisioned the cover, and it made me so excited, I drew it! I printed out my imaginary book cover and pinned it on the bulletin board over my desk. Having the “finished product” in sight gave me the motivation to keep going. Now, during my revision process, I’ll occasionally take a break and doodle a character or two. I found that having this related, but external outlet to the actual book has allowed me to see the book in different ways – plus it’s super fun!
Do you still draw just for fun? What do you draw?
Besides this novel doodling hobby, I do draw for fun – often! The main reason for that though, is not for myself. I actually babysit three kids (Hunter, Wiley, and LJ – hi, guys!) and they ALWAYS ask me to draw for them. For LJ – usually adorable animals, Wiley – army men and ships, and Hunter – athletes and sports scenes. The three of them have been my biggest fans and are usually the first people to see a new picture book idea. (I’m sure they’ll be super pumped when I show them their names in this.) So yes, I do draw often and when it’s not for a book it’s usually something I’m working on for one of them – and I absolutely love doing it! Plus, I usually get a special drawing back from them as well (:
To learn more about Korrie visit her at https://www.korrieleer.com/. Click here to pre-order a copy of a BIG SIBLING GETAWAY.
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