It’s the final Cabin Tales interview! With Frieda Wishinsky, award-winning author of more than 70 books for young readers, both fiction and non-fiction. Hear about her aversion to horror, her fondness for chronological order, and the similarities she finds in writing and gardening. 20 minutes, all ages.
A full transcript is available at CabinTales.ca.
[1:20] Interview with Frieda Wishinsky
CA:… Are you a planner or a pantser?
FW: Used to be much more of a pantser; I’m more of a planner. … I don’t really do an outline for a picture book, but I usually think through where it’s going…. Because you can really get into complications. Even with planning, you get into complications if you don’t have a sense of where you’re going.
[2:00] CA: Do you have any advice for young writers who might have started something and got … stuck in the middle?
FW: Yeah. … do an outline from the middle. …and see if you can figure out where it goes from there. …Or put it away, stop thinking about it, and come back to it later. … Your mind works while you think it’s not.
[2:45] CA: Is there a way that you like to start books?
FW: Probably all over the place. I’d have to look. … I do believe in the overriding rule of getting yourself into the story. ‘Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ is such a great opening because… there’s so many questions in that one sentence. … you get tons of information from that opening conversation. … It’s a provocative question. …
[3:50] CA: What kind of endings do you like? And do you have any faves? …
FW: Sure. I don’t know if this is a favourite ending. This is from my Emily Roebling book…. I started off with “When Emily Warren Roebling was growing up in Cold Spring, New York, in the 1850s, many girls were told they weren’t smart, especially in math or science.” She became the really driving force with building the Brooklyn Bridge. And my last line is “In 1899, she graduated in Law from New York University. She was 56 years old. Her final essay focused on equal rights for women.” … it kind of ended with her fulfilling that promise that she made herself, that she was going to pursue something even though she was told she shouldn’t.
[5:00] CA: Have you written sad endings?
FW: No, I don’t think so. I don’t write YA. … I’ve written profiles of people who had kind of sad endings… like Emily Roebling. I didn’t end the book with “And then she died of cancer,” which is what happens actually. … That was really sad to me. …But I didn’t end the book like that… I tried to end it with the moment where she graduated, which was a positive thing. I’m okay with a somewhat sad ending, as long as it doesn’t end with complete despair. Because that’s too hard for anyone to cope with….
[6:20] CA: So when you’re drafting, do you tend to revise while you draft? Or do you try to just get it out and then come back to it and revise?
FW: … A bit of both…. let’s say I’m writing a picture book. I’ll get up to a point, leave it for a day, go back, and then revise what I’ve done. I may continue or I may not like it. … I usually don’t write a whole thing out at once. That’s hard. But sometimes… I’ll go with whatever I’m feeling at the moment.
CA: So how much time do you typically spend revising versus drafting? …
FW: Much more time revising than drafting. I like revision.
[7:00] CA: Do you tend to start at the beginning of the story and then proceed chronologically?
FW: Yeah. I like chronology. Because it’s easier. I don’t like flashbacks that much. … I’ve never written where I’m really going back. …. What do you do?
CA: I tend to go start to finish, yeah. And in terms of writing, I proceed scene by scene. …
FW: I’m like you. A few times I’ve stumbled on a place where they’re filming something. And they will take things completely out of context. …. I don’t know how people do that, because how do you get your mind in the middle of something?… I guess the scene has to have a beginning and the middle and an end. Maybe that’s it….
[8:40] CA: And do you have a favorite POV to write from…?
FW: No…. I don’t know why, but it depends on what I’m writing and what sounds like it works better.
[9:00] CA: And do you have any favourite settings…?
FW: No, but I really do believe we write the settings that appeal to us personally. So write the settings that feel natural to you. And don’t feel you have to go exotic … There’s nothing wrong with telling a story that takes place in your little town …, or something that you fantasize. …
[9:40] CA: What about characters? Do you have any favourite characters from children’s fiction?…
FW: One of my favorite kids books is Chrysanthemum, a picture book by Kevin Henkes. I love stories about standing up to bullies, and that’s what I tend to write a lot. … I like funny books. …There’s a book, Doctor Xargles. … It’s incredibly funny. I love James Marshall. … my first shelf in this room is full of my favourite books, and they really range from Miss Rumphius, which I love, by Barbara Cooney … to George and Martha. … So it’s not one kind. I think it’s just, really, a book that’s done really well….
[11:00] CA: Did you write as a kid?
FW: Yeah, I did. I wrote letters, I wrote essays. …. I wrote stories for school, but I don’t think I wrote stories for me. And I know there are kids that do that. They’ll say, Oh, I wrote this whole book. You know, I don’t remember doing that…. But I definitely wrote. And people forget that writing is more than just writing a book….
[11:40] CA: Did you ever have a storytelling aloud experience as a kid…?
FW: Probably all the time but I don’t remember anything specific. I do remember some bits of hearing stories, and they were so odd. … I remember sitting around and hearing someone tell about a mountain exploding and all the people died of this hot stuff that spewed out of mountain. And it was about Mount Vesuvius. And I had never heard of a volcano before. … it terrified me. … I don’t like scary. … I don’t even know how people do horror. I mean, I do death. … I wrote about the Lusitania. But not horror. Horror is different. … I don’t like being scared. I don’t like being startled.
[14:15] CA: And what kinds of things scared you as a kid? Volcanoes.
FW: There was a movie called The Day the Earth Stood Still… The other movie that scared me was a book that I did read. It’s about the end of civilization. …On the Beach. …That was really scary, that sense of complete devastation. Really scary.
[14:50] CA: Do you have any phobias?
FW: I’m pretty phobic of Nazis. … I definitely have a doom thing. And I think it’s because of family history. I always figure, Yeah, the Germans walked in and they killed everybody. That could happen again. Why wouldn’t it? It happened. … that sort of lingers over what happens in the news….
[15:35] CA: Do you have a regular writing practice? …
FW: I’m almost always working on something. But I’m disciplined undisciplined. So I know people who get up at 7, sit there at their desk for four hours, don’t get up, and then do other things from 4:00 o’clock on or whatever. No, that’s not what I’m like. … Most of the time it’s daytime. And its erratic. … I create a lot of lists, I organize my time. … I’m actually quite organized but in a non-traditional way. … I’m always trying to check off things on my list, but I don’t ever finish all the things on my list. …
[17:45] CA: And do you work on one project at a time?
FW: No, never. …. I’m always open for some new idea. …
[18:00] CA: And so you get some ideas from what you watch, and probably what you read. And are there other sources for some of your best ideas?
FW: People say things to you. Watching people. Yeah, everything. Everything. Everything’s a possible idea….
[18:45] CA: Do you keep a journal? …
FW: No but I keep ideas. …. I write little notes. … I’d like to be a little more organized about keeping all my ideas together. … Like always put it in that book instead of, you know, little pieces of paper that can lose….
[19:15] CA: And have you ever had a crisis of confidence in your writing?
FW: I always a crisis of confidence. Daily. All the time. …
CA: And so what would you say to young writers who are scared, either to write or to share their story with the world?
FW: I think at the end of the day, being scared is important, and that the best part of writing is writing. … I can’t control if someone’s going to publish my book, what’s going to happen to it. But if at the end of the day, I produced something that I think is kind of good, that journey to making it good is the only thing I really own, and the only thing at the end that I really love. …
[20:30] CA: … You’ve been a great guest. Thanks again so much for doing this. …
FW: Great. Thank you very much. Bye.
[20:45] Frieda Wishinsky introduces herself
FW: Hi. I’m Frieda Wishinsky, spelled like “wish in sky.” Well, I have a book that’s coming out in the spring with Liz McLeod. We did a book, How to become an Accidental Genius. So How to become an Accidental Activist — which is very timely — is coming out sometime this spring. And we have a contract for How to become an Accidental Entrepreneur, which we haven’t written yet. And then I have a bunch of picture books that I’m working on. I’m in a picture book mood. They’re out being rejected or not. Picture books are still my favorite genre. They’re the hardest to write and I love them the best. I’ve always wanted to write an article about how writing and gardening are similar. I have a really pretty garden, and I think of that as very much like being a writer because you’re editing, certain things are more in the forefront, there’s a path, you have to wait a lot, things change all the time. It’s very similar.
[22:00] Find out more about Frieda Wishinsky
You can hear more creative writing advice from Frieda Wishinsky on Cabin Tales Episode 6.5: Author Interviews about Beginnings,” on Episode 7: “Just Get it Over With” about endings, and on Episode 8, “The Never-ending Story,” about revision. You can find out more about Frieda Wishinsky, her books, and her editorial services from her website at FriedaWishinsky.com.
[23:05] Thanks and goodbye
…This was the last of my interviews, which means this podcast is completely over. I had a blast making Cabin Tales – the stories, the exercises, the interviews, all of it. … I wish you all the best as you write your own tale. …. Thanks for listening.
Host: Catherine Austen writes books for children, short stories for adults, and reports for corporate clients. Visit her at www.catherineausten.com.
Frieda Wishinsky has written over 70 picture books, chapter books, novels and non-fiction books. Her books have won or been nominated for many prestigious awards, including the Governor General’s Award, the Print Braille Book of the Year Award, the TD Literature Award and the Marilyn Baillie Picture book award. Find her online at https://friedawishinsky.com.
An interview with Karen Bass, award-winning author of 8 young adult novels including Graffiti Knight, The Hill, and Blood Donor. Hear about her favourite fictional monster, her preference for third-person point of view, and her memory of growing up on a farm telling herself stories. 25 minutes, all ages.
A full transcript is available at CabinTales.ca.
[1:15] Interview with Karen Bass
CA: Are you a planner? Do you know the ending of your story when you begin?
KB: No and yes. I almost always know the ending but I don’t always know how I’m going to get there. So I will sort of free-flow through the middle quite often…
[2:35] CA: Do you tend to have the voice that you want to write this book in when you begin to draft? Or does that develop as you go?
KB: My agent has made me rewrite a couple whole books into first person. …. Usually I have to fiddle around and find it. You know, do the usual character interviews, get to know the character…
[3:10] CA: So you do that sort of character exercise yourself?
KB: I do sometimes…. With a contemporary story, for example, you should know what their favorite pizza is and sort of what their typical day looks like you know how much time they spend on the Internet or whatever. All those little things really come through even if they’re not relevant in the story.
[4:00] CA: And is there a place where you get your best ideas?
KN: No. Actually, I get ideas from all over the place. … Although I guess if there is any one thing that sets my imagination off, it’s traveling…. When you are in a new environment, you are more aware and paying better attention than your everyday environment and so you see that story potential more….
[4:35] CA: Do you work on one project at a time?
KB: Mostly, yeah. Although you know, you always have that thing when you’re working on a project and then the shiny new idea comes along …
[5:00] CA: Do you write at certain times of the day? …
KB: …. I often find that my best writing time starts early afternoon… normally I’ll just put in a solid couple hours in the afternoon. My brain is too unfocused in the mornings…
[5:35] CA: Are you part of a critique group or a writers’ support group… ?
KB: There’s a group of writers in Hamilton and Burlington and I’m part of that, and we are all traditionally published. … I would highly recommend it to writers. And I would recommend that, if you’re in a writing group, it’s really good if you’re not by far the best writer there. …It really helps you grow by leaps and bounds when you have someone who knows a little bit more about the craft than you do. …
[6:40] CA: Yeah. So you must have been good at receiving constructive advice? …
KB: Yeah. At that level I could. It was a whole different thing when I first started publishing. …The editorial letters really just sort of ripped me apart. …Learning that editors are on your side, and aren’t trying to rip you to pieces, was a process for me at the professional level. …. Now I’m much better with it.
[7:30] CA: What is the process like for you in terms of drafting and revising? …
KB: I probably spend more time revising because the first draft will come out fast. And I think that’s the difference between the sort of pantser versus the plotter. I think we spend the same amount of time on every book; it’s just where the time is spent. …
[8:15] CA: Right. And do you have any advice for young writers who maybe are pantsers and they write themselves into a corner or they get stuck?…
KB: … There are times when I’ve had to go back a couple of chapters and change things because, you know, there’s no realistic way my characters could escape that situation or whatever it is. … You really have to be more open to revision and to letting it sit for a while and then looking at it with fresh eyes, so that maybe you can see those holes. And don’t be afraid to get other people’s point of views.
[9:00] CA: And do you have a favorite POV to write from?
KB: I really almost always write from third-person past-tense, simple past, which of course is a problem in YA because then my agent always wants me to change it to first person. Even when I write in first person, I still prefer to write past tense. … First person…is actually one of the harder ones to write because, if you don’t have a unique voice, it can sound very flat. …
[9:50] CA: And have you ever done an unreliable narrator?
KB: … I don’t know if I have, but it’s an intriguing idea, right? …. Make the challenge, right? We need to all try to write it at least one unreliable narrator story….
[10:30] CA: … Did you tell stories around a campfire as a kid or have an off-the-cuff storytelling experience?
KB: … I was always telling myself stories. … We didn’t go camping. My dad was a farmer and that’s what he did in the summer; he farmed. So the camping thing wasn’t really part of my wheelhouse until I was an adult…and took our kids camping. You know, I don’t even know if we told them stories. And now I feel like I’m missing something.
[11:05] CA: And you have written a spooky story. Did you incorporate any of your own fears into that?
KB: A little bit. Growing up on a farm in northern Alberta, the one fear I always had was bears, and there was a bear in the story… Being out in the forest and the unknowns and ‘What was that sound?’ I incorporated that part of it for sure. …My incorporating is more the physical and mental reactions that my characters have to fear or to anger or to that emotion.
[11:55] CA: And are some of your stories based on your own childhood and growing up?
KB: Part of my story Summer of Fire had some family dynamic resonance for me, but mostly my characters are pulled from composites…
[12:15] CA: And do you have any favourite plot twists…?
KB: … One of the more successful ones that I could think of off the top of my head was Scorpion Rules with Erin Bow. I don’t know if I want to give that away for anyone who hasn’t read it. …
[12:45] CA: Can you recommend any techniques for young writers for building tension …?
KB: …Make sure that the reader is right there with what the character is feeling. … you have to have the character emotion coming through on the page. And then from a technical point of view, when you’re getting to a really tense part, do not have long meandering sentences. …
[13:40] CA: What are some of your favorite books or styles, even?
KB: I love stories that have tension in them. Like I love reading action and adventure. A little bit of a thriller edge to it, but not generally horror. … My favourites are all over the place. One of my all-time favorites is The Book Thief …. a beautifully written book will grab my attention…. But character and plot for sure.
[15:30] CA: And do you have any favorite characters from fiction…?
KB: …This is a book that is really obscure. It’s an American author, Janny Lee Simner, …and it’s called Tiernay West: Professional Adventurer. And its middle grade. And her voice was so unique that it still, you know 10 years later, sticks in my head. …
[16:30] CA: And then what about settings? Do you have favorite settings from fiction? …
KB: I have to say Berlin, but mostly because I love the city so much. Part of my first novel, Run like Jaeger, was set in Berlin. And then I have an unpublished — yet to be published, hopefully yet to be published — book set in Berlin. … I think a well done setting in a book, it really does become like another character for you. …
[17:20] CA: And do you have any exercises that you would recommend to young writers for building a setting? …
KB: … walk the streets on Google Street View if you can’t go to it. … As exercises go, one setting exercise that I really like, it’s describing the character’s bedroom. And have one thing in the bedroom that is maybe a bit of a surprise or out of place. … And it’s just amazing how much character reveal you can put into that. …
[18:45] CA: And what about a favorite monster?
KB: I go for the classic vampire. …I love Dracula and read it I don’t know how many times. And then again I read Salem’s Lot by Stephen King years ago, and another book that scared me half to death. And I thought, ‘That is what vampires are supposed to be like.’ I’m sorry. I don’t care for other ways that they’re written. They are not nice and they should scare you. …
CA: Okay yes. …monstrosity should have a cost. …
KB: I even think with magic, there needs to be a cost … There has to be something, some way that you pay the price, whether it’s a monster or whatever it is….
[21:40] CA: And do you have any favorite scary stories?
KB: You know, I actually don’t read horror anymore. I used to, and Stephen King was my favourite when I was in high school, which was a long time ago. And The Shining always stood out …I was actually afraid of walking into bathrooms with the shower curtain closed for years because of that book. …One of my favourite in recent years ,of just sort of the creepy factor, was The Night Gardener by Jonathon Auxier. …
[22:20] CA: Great… Thanks again Karen. Bye.
[22:40] Find out more about Karen Bass
You can hear more creative writing advice from Karen Bass on Cabin Tales Episode 6, “Begin in the Darkness,” on Episode 7.5: “Author Interviews about Endings,” and on Episode 8, “The Never-ending Story,” about revision. And you can find out all about Karen Bass, her books, and her latest news from her website at KarenBass.ca.
[23:20] Thanks and coming up on the podcast
I’ll be back next week with leftovers from my interview with the picture book author Frieda Wishinsky. …. Thanks for listening.
Host: Catherine Austen writes books for children, short stories for adults, and reports for corporate clients. Visit her at www.catherineausten.com.
Karen Bass loves writing action and adventure, and she likes to slide in some history when she can. She has twice won the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction. Karen lived most of her life in rural Alberta but now lives in southern Ontario. Karen loves having a whole new part of Canada to explore and use as inspiration for new stories. Find her online at www.karenbass.ca.
An interview with Chris Jones, illustrator of 25+ picture books and leveled readers plus multiple magazine features, and author-illustrator of graphic novels and comics for all ages. Hear about his love of wild settings, his resistance to the bound pages of a sketchbook, and his method of creating narrative tension by putting his characters through emotional workouts. 25 minutes. All ages.
A full transcript is available at CabinTales.ca.
[1:15] Interview with Chris Jones
CA: So you’re working on a project right now with your wife writing and you illustrating?
CJ: Yes, my partner. I started a book about a ladybug …. I really wanted to draw the bugs but I just couldn’t get the plot to go. So I said, Do you want to take a stab at it? Because she’s a writer. So she came up with a really good treatment for it. …. So it’s been fun…
[2:10] CA: When you work on your own projects, do you write as well as illustrate sometimes?
CJ: Yes I do. …. It’s rare that everything is clear at the beginning. For me, it takes a lot of revising and exploring to kind of find out how I want the story to go. …
[2:45] CA: …. And do you have any favorite plot twists, or the ways that the story turned around as you were working on it, that sort of surprised you? …
CJ: Yeah. I love plot twists. … always unexpected twists in the story are coming up, new angles. …. You get an aha moment and you’re like, Oh, this would work…. That’s inspiring when I’m working on stories. And I love twists in movies and books as well. …
[3:25] CA: And in terms of narrative and just getting a reader to turn the page, do you have any advice for young writers on pacing or building tension?
CJ: … I usually can centre it around strong emotional reactions. So I put my characters through stuff and their reaction, their emotions, create the tension. You know, they’re feeling really sad or they’re feeling really desperate or some other strong emotion. And then that drives them through the story….
[4:10] CA: And what about settings… Do you have any favourites? …
CJ: My style is kind of irregular and organic. …. I love drawing jungles, alien planets. … because I love the organic feel of all the vegetation and the rocks and all that stuff. That’s my go-to setting.
[4:40] CA: … Do you have any advice for young author-illustrators for either character or setting?
CJ: I focus it around, What do I want to draw? Or what kind of setting do I want to tell a story in? …. And then I’m like, How can I tell a story around that? And then I think back to my childhood, some strong emotions or some things I went through. And then say, Oh, the grasshopper could be nervous about going to school in the jungle or something. …
[5:35] CA: And do you keep a sketchbook where you just sort of doodle?
CJ: I used to. In high school and college, I used to sketch a lot. But now I find sometimes I’ll use it just for really rough notes and stuff. But I’ve always found sketchbooks, for me, too precious. … I find I don’t use sketchbooks very much, only for like really rough jotting down stuff…
[6:30] CA: And what about endings? How do you feel about sad endings? …
CJ: I love sad endings. I have done some adult comic stuff where I’ll immediately go for all sad, all hardship. I love it. Adversity — I love it. …In kidlit typically, … you end it on a happy note. But any chance I have to do non-kidlit stuff, I’m always like going for dreary and sad when I can. Because it’s that strong negative stuff that brings out all the good juicy emotions…
[7:10] CA: Is there any activity or place that you tend to get your best ideas from?
CJ: …Usually my best ideas come when I just sit down and doodle. I’ll just let it be free. Try not to edit – like that’s hard for me because of all the years of client work. … And then when I do that, I’ll connect different things together … I always keep my sketches, even though they’re all on tracing paper. But I keep all the pads…So doodling for me is key. …
[8:00] CA: So that’s something that you would recommend to young artists and authors?
CJ: Yeah. My first instinct is visual. … When I write, I plan out everything by drawing it. It’s harder for me to write out what’s going to happen. Instead I have to kind of draw it out, and then dialogue comes from that as I piece everything together. …
[8:30] CA:. So if you’re working on a graphic novel, you don’t write out the story. You start with the images?
CJ: Yeah. … I will kind of start with the problem…. I’ll have ideas for really good scenes around that, and how they can push the story. But my struggle is tying it all together into one kind of arc. That’s my struggle. But I just keep doing different scenes and different scenes … I do my best thinking visually until a point, and then I kind of have to sit down and write a bit, even just a summary, to tie it together. And then when I go back to drawing … I’ll piece it all together …. It’s kind of a back and forth all the time. But I usually start visually.
[9:35] CA:… You don’t just get it all out and then revise it all. You do a back and forth?
CJ: Yeah… I spend a lot more time revising everything instead of the initial first draft type of thing. I’m always going back and forth. … So every time I go back and forth, it shifts how I view it and I get better ideas. …
[10:15] CA: …What would be your advice in terms of revising for young people?
CJ: I think for young kids, they see the finished product. So they’re not understanding the whole, what it took to get there, which was very laborious. … when you’re just starting out, it’s more important to get something done and look at it, and not worry so much about trying to make it perfect or trying to make it more than you can. …Sometimes you have to work on more, different projects before you’re ready to come back to the first one and say, Oh, here’s how I could make this better. …The more things you have on the go sometimes can help as you get stuck.
[11:20] CA: People who work on picture books… do tend to have far more than one project on the go at any time…[for me] It’s sitting down and actually finishing one that’s difficult.
CJ: I know. Sometimes you have too many ideas …My problem is keeping track of them all. I just have them everywhere. And then I forget. Like I had good ideas before; where are they? I don’t want to look through, you know, hundreds of stacks of papers to find them. I need a better way to document them.
[12:00] CA: And have you ever had the experience where you’ve drawn or worked on completely different things and then found a way to unite them in one narrative?
CJ: … yeah, I’ve used bits from ideas and pulled them in, because I really like the little ideas but I have no idea what to do with them in the story. So I’ll just grab them and try to steal them and put them in what I’m working on.
[12:40] CA: Speaking of stealing, are you ever inspired by other artists or other stories? …
CJ: When I was growing up, I had a huge comic collection. I was always inspired by it. …But now, I’ll see artists I really admire or writers who I really like, and I’ll be inspired … But I think for me, the key is to kind of stay true to who you are. …. And also I try not to look too much at other work, because there comes a point where I reach a level where I’m like, I get discouraged…. And I lose my creative energy. So it’s important for me to really limit that to small fragments when I need it, and then focus on my own creative energy, because that’s where the magic will happen. …
[14:20] CA: And have you ever illustrated like a fairy tale or Shakespeare or some classic piece of literature … and doing them in a new way?
CJ: Aside from a few illustrations, just one-offs for like Shakespearean stuff, I can’t recall any. … I’ve never really felt the urge to do that. What really inspires me is working on something completely new. … because I just feel like I can really sink my teeth into that with less limitations because I can take it how I want instead of trying to remain true on a certain level to what’s existing before.
[15:35] CA: Do you write or draw stories based on your own childhood, or using real moments?
CJ: …If I’m doing personal stuff, I’ll definitely draw from childhood experiences… A few years ago, I did a comic about my experiences as a paper boy growing up and all the trials and tribulations with that. … That’s where all the good inspiration comes from, all those childhood emotions. So I love to draw on that.
[16:30] CA: Have you ever based any stories or illustrations on things that you’re afraid of?
CJ: Yes. The book Andy’s Song, where he loses his voice… I kind of based that on my fear of losing my ability to draw or ability to create. How would I feel? …
[16:55] CA: Do you have a critique group, or …is there somebody who responds to your work before it’s out?
CJ: … For my writing, yeah, I always want someone to look at it because I’m not as confident in my writing. So yeah, I’ll get my partner to look at stuff. But usually for the illustration side, in the past I’ve used other illustrators and I just bounce stuff off them, like how does this look? … But typically, I feel like I’m such a private person with my process until it’s ready to be shown, that I struggle with showing anything, even for feedback. … I will just step away and then come back a couple weeks later with a fresh eye. And it’s almost like I’m seeing it as someone else … Because you get too intimate with something when you’re working on it, so I find that stepping away and coming back can also help a lot.
[17:55] CA: … do you read your work out loud?
CJ: Yes, that’s really helpful because it’s so easy to not notice things unless you’re reading it out loud. And how it flows and how it rolls off the tongue and, you know, is it hard to say. Yeah, I do that.
[18:15] CA: And what are some books that influenced you?
CJ: I was always into humor and I was always reading… graphic novels and comic stuff. But I also like … the Lord of the Rings, that type of story with the deep setting and the deep characters. … And specially science fiction, … because I love the unknown and the exploration and the adventure…
[19:00] CA: Have you ever created monsters?
CJ: Yes. I have a real fondness for drawing monsters. I’ve always loved drawing very expressive faces and very outlandish monsters with expressive faces. So yeah, I’ve done a few series of illustrations with that. …The next kind of project that I’m trying to work on is going to hopefully centre around some sort of monster. …
[19:40] CA: And what kinds of things scared you as a kid?
CJ: … I’m still scared of dark lake water. I love to swim, …but if I can’t see the bottom in a lake, I get really freaked out. Like something’s under there; it’s going to get me. …
[20:00] CA: And did you tell scary stories around a campfire as a kid or have any off-the-cuff storytelling experience?
CJ: No, I never did that. … maybe I need to do that with my kids. …
[20:20] CA: Do you have a regular practice? …
CJ: Yeah. For me routine is key, because when you’re working for yourself and when you’re working at home, it’s very easy to slide into different habits that aren’t good for your productivity. So I always try to get up at the same time. I have a morning routine. … I always do my important thinking work in the morning first thing, get that done. … having a routine really frees me up to focus on the work…. I don’t think about what I’m doing today; I’m always kind of following the same pattern…. A lot of times it’s hard to leave your work though, when you work from home. It’s always there.
CA: So how do you manage not to let it bleed into all the hours of the day?
CJ: When I used to live on my own, where my drafting table was right next to my living room, it was very hard. …. But now my studio’s in a different part of the house. That really helps. And it helps if I get an early start because if I get an early start I felt like I’ve done enough for the day. … So, when I’m working I’m really focused, and then that helps me leave it at the end of the day… come back fresh. … Know when to take a break because, as much as you want to get stuff done, sometimes you just need to take a break for your brain.
[22:20] CA: Nice. Okay. Thank you so much for doing this. …
CJ: My pleasure…. Bye.
[22:35] Chris Jones introduces himself
CJ: So I’m Chris Jones. And I grew up with a passion for drawing. I would always be sitting on my living room floor drawing, copying, you know, Mad Magazine, and drawing. And all through school I’d be the one doodling in my notebooks in class instead of paying attention to the teacher. And that just continued through my whole childhood. And then I went to OCAD, and graduated OCAD. And then after that I wasn’t really sure how to make a career in art. We didn’t really get taught any of the business side of it. So I wasn’t really sure. Like I still loved to create, but I just kind of fell into like a graphic design job. And I stuck with that for about 15 years. And it was kind of like a soul-sucking day job that I didn’t really like. But I was always creating on the side. So after 15 years I’m like, I’ve had enough; I need to go out on my own. And I just made the leap. Because I was always working on this side, so I said, I’m going to do this. So in 2011, I went out on my own, full-time illustrator. And then it gave me the freedom to be my own boss and work on my own projects more so, and develop my skills better because I would be doing it full time. So I did that in 2011 and I’ve been doing it since. And I fill my time with illustrating for kids lit magazines, picture books, educational materials. And then I feel my free time with all my personal projects. I work on graphic novels, comics, picture books. Yeah. That’s it in a nutshell.
[24:10] Find out more about Chris Jones
You can hear more creative writing and illustrating advice from Chris Jones on Cabin Tales Episode X, “Picture a Story,” featuring interviews with illustrators, and on Episode 6, “Begin in the Darkness” about opening stories. You can find out more about Chris Jones and his work from his website at MrJonesy.com. And follow him on Twitter @mrjonesy.
[25:04] Thanks and coming up on the podcast
I’ll be back next week with leftovers from my interview with the award-winning young adult author Karen Bass. Thanks for listening.
Host: Catherine Austen writes books for children, short stories for adults, and reports for corporate clients. Visit her at www.catherineausten.com.
Chris Jones is an illustrator with a passion for visual storytelling. He illustrates for picture books, graphic novels, magazines and educational materials. Chris has illustrated over 20 books for young readers, including Scholastic’s Take Me Out to The Ice Rink, and This is The Rink Where Jack Plays. When not illustrating for clients, Chris spends his time writing and illustrating his own comic and picture book projects. Find Chris online at: www.mrjonesey.com; Instagram @mrjonesey; Twitter @mrJonesey
An interview with Katherine Battersby, Peggy Collins, and Christine Tripp. Chris has illustrated more than 50 children’s books for educational publishers; Peggy has illustrated over a dozen books and she’s the author-illustrator of several. Katherine Battersby has illustrated 12 books, 7 of which she authored herself. Hear about their delight in touching young readers’ hearts, their early days of drawing and writing stories, and their disciplined ways of carving out time for their heavy workloads. 20 minutes; all ages.
A full transcript is available at CabinTales.ca.
[1:40] Interview with Katherine Battersby, Peggy Collins, and Christine Tripp
CA: Did all of you start drawing when you were young?
CT: I did, yeah. Mostly I stayed in my room and I just drew pictures for myself. That was probably as long as I can remember. Definitely five and six years old. …I was not very academically inclined. But the teachers always enjoyed my drawings….
[2:45] CA: And what about you, Peggy? Did you start as a child?
PC: Yes. I wrote and illustrated my first book in grade one and told my teacher that this was what I was going to do…. You listen to guidance counselors briefly and they’re like, ‘Yeah, you’re good at science; you should do something meaningful with your life.’ And then, then you realize, No, this is better. …
[3:30] CA: And Katherine, did you start young as well?
KB: Yeah, I sure did. … So as soon as I could hold a pencil I was creating stories. … I was sort of creating funny little cut-outs and things that you could flip through or that you could unfold or they were always kind of interactive and upside down. Yeah, I’ve always been obsessed with words and images and the way they work together…
[4:30] CA: Is there someone who mind taking thirty seconds to say the process of illustrating a picture book?
PC: Sure. I thumbnail like crazy … I start really small and I think about my composition and my pacing and what … absolutely needs to go on the page. And then my art director can’t understand what those are usually. And so then I have to develop them a little bit further so I work a little bit bigger. … I do most of my thumbs on paper, because I can do them while I’m watching TV with my kids. And then I move into digital.
CA: Okay. So you storyboard while watching TV?
PC: Yes. … So right now, with the three books I’m working on, the series that’s almost always on is Sons of Anarchy…
[5:35] CA: And do you have a regular practice?
KB: Yes I do. I am very diligent with keeping working hours. …Creative work can really sneak into everything … So I have gotten very very strict with myself in keeping business hours… Often my most creative time is in the morning because that’s where my energy is. …. I often put Mondays aside-ish for business-type things like invoicing and emails … And then I always try to finish up half an hour before the family gets home. …
[7:45] CA: And Chris, I know you’re not working on a book right now but when you are working on a book, do you have a certain practice?
CT: I did more early on. I would get up and … get dressed and do even make-up to almost psych yourself into thinking you’re going to work. … And then I would take breaks just like as if I were on a job, and then come back and work, take lunch, back to work. Then there were times when I would end up working all night …But mostly I would not work weekends … I need to be alone. …But you definitely have to be disciplined… It just doesn’t work otherwise.
[9:30] CA: And Peggy, you juggle teaching and your books. So how do you find a practice, like simply hours, timewise?
PC: I struggle with it. … I teach at two different colleges. … The week that my kids are not here I work, I work a lot. And I try and manage all of the things when they’re not around so that when they are here, I am full-on Mom. …. A lot of times I’ll get up at 5:00 a.m. and do my work early. And then I have two shifts for driving in the morning… I teach from 9 until 3:00 every day. And then I go back and pick everyone up. And then it starts all over again. So in terms of balance, I don’t think I have it. … I am working on three big projects. … all of these things were delayed, so I am struggling. … But it’ll happen. It’ll get done.
[11:50] CA: What is the best thing about doing this? Like what do you love most about doing this? It’s a lot of work. Why do you do it?
PC: …I get to draw, all the time, whether I like it or not. In the days that are the worst, where I feel like I’m really struggling, I remember the days where I cleaned toilets for the summer… and I thank everything that I’m not wiping someone’s bum or something as a job. … my worst day is when I can’t work out a character or I might not have enough time to finish something.
CA: That is the message: Being an artist is better than wiping someone’s bum.
[12:50] CA: What’s the best thing about being an illustrator, Chris?
CT: …I’ve just always drawn and I can’t imagine doing anything else. … I just love to draw. And thankfully I’m good at it. …. It’s just I love to draw so I couldn’t do anything else. That’s all I could do….
[13:45] CA: And what about you, Katherine? What’s the best thing about it?
KC: …Before I put pen to paper is when an idea, it could be anything and it could be everything. And it feels like it might be the best, most exciting thing I’ve stumbled across yet. So that brings me the most joy. … And then the complete opposite end of the spectrum, when the book is done and… it’s out in the world and I’m no longer terrified because it’s been out for a while, and then I start hearing from kids. And I hear little ways that my book has made a difference in little individuals’ lives. And that, oh, it really makes me emotional….
[15:35] CT: I had that happen once and I know what you’re feeling. A woman called me… about the first trade book I did….Her daughters had read it and they said to her, “That girl looks like me.” And the mother said it was the first time that her children… had ever seen a book with a black parent, a white parent, and biracial children. She just wanted to thank me. … But it just never dawned on me when I was doing it that I was doing anything other than drawing. …
[16:50] PC: It is something. …It’s the kids, right? … kids go to the library and they pick out books, and when they pick out your books to bring home, that’s something pretty special. …The best part about it is that connection. I got to go to Saint Lucia for a book festival, and there were like 2000 kids chanting the title of a book I had illustrated. And I just like bawled, like the whole time. … Those are those epic moments that keep you going when you think you’re done for….
[18:30] CA: All right. It’s really nice to talk to you all.
[19:25] Peggy Collins introduces herself
PC: My name is Peggy Collins. I am an author and illustrator of books for kids. I’m also a teacher, learning to teach on the online format, which has been interesting. I have two kids. They’re all big now, 15 and 10. And I had a bit of a hiatus in my career, and things are starting to pick up again finally, so the direction is a good one. And I’m just sending off a new contract for a new book today. So that’s exciting. Yeah.
[20:05] Christine Tripp introduces herself
My name is Christine Tripp. I’m an illustrator. And I have 4 kids who are not kids — they’re all going to be 40. It’s just insane. And I’m not working on anything right now. This summer has been nice and calm and slow. But it’s a good thing because in January I broke my shoulder, so I wouldn’t have been able to do anything anyway. Every time I moved it hurt. So it was just as well that I’m not too busy. I’m just sitting in here with my Covid, with my masks, and learning a whole new life.
[20:45] Katherine Battersby introduces herself
My name is Katherine Battersby. And I am an author and an illustrator, primarily of picture books. I have all sorts of different picture books coming out and a bunch more coming out still. I’ve had one just released called Perfect Pigeons and another one coming up called Trouble, and I’ve got my first graphic novel series coming out end of next year called Cranky Chicken, which has been a blast to work on. If you can tell from my accent, I’m not originally from here. I’m half British, half Australian. I grew up by the beach in Australia. And I now live here in Ottawa, with my husband who is a poet and my little girl who is obsessed with books. And she’s a lot of fun. And that’s me.
[21:30] Find out more about Katherine Battersby, Peggy Collins, and Christine Tripp
You can hear more creative writing and illustrating advice from Katherine Battersby, Peggy Collins, and Christine Tripp on Cabin Tales Special Episode X, “Picture a Story,” featuring Interviews with 5 illustrators and author-illustrators. You can find out more about Christine Tripp on her public profile on the website of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, at scbwi.org. You can find out more about Peggy Collins and her books from her website at PeggysIllustration.com. And you can find out more about Katherine Battersby and her books from her website at KatherineBattersby.com.
[22:40] Thanks and coming up on the podcast
I’ll be back next week with leftovers from my interview with the author-illustrator Chris Jones, creator of comic books and graphic novels and illustrator of more than 20 books for young readers.
Thanks for listening.
Katherine Battersby is the critically acclaimed author and illustrator of twelve picture books, including Perfect Pigeons and the popular Squish Rabbit series. Her books have received glowing reviews in The New York Times, starred Kirkus reviews, and have been named CBC Children’s Choice books. Her debut graphic novel series, Cranky Chicken, was published in 2021. She is regularly booked to speak in schools, libraries and at festivals and she is a passionate advocate for literacy and the arts. Katherine currently divides her time between Brisbane, Australia, and Ottawa, Canada, with her husband, daughter, and their mischievous puppy. Find her online at www.KatherineBattersby.com, on Twitter @KathBatt, on Facebook at @KatherineBattersbyAuthor, on Instagram @katherinebattersby/.
Peggy Collins is a mother, a storyteller, an artist, a teacher, and a lover of books, technology, and learning. She lives in Ontario, where she teaches concept art and character design development. She is the illustrator and author-illustrator of more than a dozen picture books. Find her online at www.PeggysIllustration.com, on Twitter @peggysbooks, on Facebook @ thelittlesproject, on Instagram @peggysillustration.
Christine Tripp has worked in animation, magazine and newspaper Illustration, gag cartooning, and comic strips, but eventually she found her real passion… illustrating children’s books. Over the past 20 years, she has illustrated over 50 books for publishers such as Scholastic USA, Scholastic Canada, and Pearson Canada. Chris considers herself fortunate to have a career that allows her to do exactly what she has loved to do since she was a child: draw! She lives in Stittsville, Ontario, with her husband and their dogs, Kevin and Bob. Their 4 children and 9 grandchildren are her greatest source of pride and joy.
An interview with Marty Chan, playwright and award-winning author of 18 books for young readers. Hear about his intricate revision process, his deep appreciation of young readers and writers, and his delight in making things hard for his characters. 25 minutes, all ages.
A full transcript is available at CabinTales.ca
[1:10] Interview with Marty Chan
CA: Are you a planner? Do you know the endings of your stories, or some of the major plot points, before you begin?
MC: I’m a bit of both. …If it’s a mystery, I definitely need to sit down and plan everything out because I need to know where the plot twists are, I need to know the solution so that I can write toward it. But if I’m doing something that’s more of a character exploration, then I feel like I can just sort of jump in and improvise and discover the story as I’m writing. So … it really depends on the story.
[2:00] CA: Do you have any advice to young readers who might be stuck in the middle of a story?
MC: That’s the classic problem…And it leads to what they often call writer’s block. And I always think that where you notice the problem is not where the problem started. It probably started a few scenes or a few pages earlier, where you made a decision that pushed your character into the problem that they’re in now or the dead end that they’ve reached. … Go back a few pages, go back a few scenes, and then make a different decision for your character and see what that does to the story. It might push you to another dead end, but at least it’ll start to inform you about what the character can do and who they are. …
[4:00] CA: Do you have a favorite first line?
MC: Oh, one of my personal favorite first lines from my work is from the very first book I wrote, The Mystery of the Frozen Brains. And the opening line was: I hated secrets. …The opening line instantly raises the question of who hates secrets or how bad is the secret that this main character hates it?
[4:35] CA: Do you tend to write in first person?
MC: Generally I like writing in first person for younger readers. … My middle grade fiction is often first person. …My steampunk fantasy series The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles, that goes more into third person because I have to cover a lot of different settings and subplots. So having third person gives me the latitude or the ability to jump from one to another.
[5:15] CA: And have you ever opened with dialogue?
MC: … I know that when I work with kids and their writing, their natural instinct is to start with dialogue …. Just remember that if you don’t identify or describe the people who are speaking, it’s just a jumble of words flying at the reader. …So, if you start with dialogue, always remember you’ve got to give an anchor to the readers so they kind of know where we are, where we’re situated, and who’s talking and why we should care. That is when revision comes in handy …
[6:30] CA: …. Do you tend to edit yourself as you draft? Or do you sort of get it all out on the page and then go back and revise?
MC: When I started writing, I was constantly going back to the beginning… And then I discovered that because I focused so much on second guessing myself and reshaping those opening few paragraphs, then at a certain point I started to lose the spark for the rest of the story. … Once I started seeing the pile of stories that I never finished, I started thinking, “Well maybe the approach is wrong for me.” … So what I often do is I will just work all the way through to the end of the first draft before I’ll even start second guessing what’s happening, because I just want the joy of discovery for myself to get to the end of the first draft. What that means, though, is that I spend more time revising than I will spend writing a first draft. …
[9:00] CA: And when did you start writing? Did you write as a kid?
I started writing when I was in high school. … I did a lot of reading because I spent a lot of time hiding in the library from bullies. And by reading, like a lot of Hardy Boys novels, I started getting inspired to come up with stories. And oftentimes what I would do is I’d daydream. …. So I would daydream all the time, come up with different scenarios, but I never wrote anything down until my high school language arts teacher gave us a homework assignment. …. He said, “I want you to imagine you’ve won the lottery and you have $1,000,000 and you can spend that money on anything you want. All I want you to do is write down and describe how you use your lottery winnings to redecorate your bedroom.” I was a lazy teenager so my idea of a dream bedroom was to have a bed I never had to get out of to do all the things I wanted to do. So I said I would use all the money to put my bed on an elevator. … He said, “Marty, you have a great imagination. Have you thought about becoming a writer?” And it was at that moment that I was inspired to write… Because of him, I am the writer that I am today….
[12:30] CA: You give workshops to kids? Do you ever read kids’ writings?
MC: I have given feedback. I was the writer in residence at the Edmonton Public Library, and part of my job was to critique and give feedback to anyone who submitted their work to me. … Being a kids’ author, that magical moment is when you can see a kid’s eyes light up and they see the possibility that they could become an author just like me. It makes all the work I do worthwhile.
[13:35] CA: Do you have any favorite scary stories or scary movies? …
MC: I am a huge zombie fan. When I was a teenager, a group of my friends went to a drive in. … And there was a dusk to dawn which included George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead…. I loved it and I’ve been a zombie fan ever since. … And I think it kind of reflects in the writing that I do. My latest book is called Haunted Hospital. … I feel like my love of scary stories has given me the inspiration to write scary stories.
[14:50] CA: And what scared you as a kid?
MC: My mom. … I remember I had to deliver flyers to different houses…And there was a German shepherd in the yard. … And I froze as that dog came running right up to me. And thankfully she was happy to see me. …But ever since then I have been scared of big dogs, and it’s only been recently that I’ve been sort of a little calmer about big dogs.
CA: And have you ever put that in one of your stories?
MC: …If you read the Marty Chan Mystery series, anything that you see in there that you wonder, “Did that actually happen to Marty Chan?” 7 times out of 10 the answer is yes.
[15:55] CA: So you do base some stories on your own childhood?
MC: Yes. I think if you’re a writer and an observer of the world, you can’t help but put things from your own life into the stories. … Probably the most successful of all the books I’ve written is something called the Mystery of the Graffiti Ghoul. … that is the one that is the most personal in terms of the elements in the story were very much based on experiences that I had as a kid. And to me it taught me how, when you come up with story ideas, the first reader that you have to engage or entertain is yourself. … I thought, “I’m the only Chinese kid in town who actually understands what that experience is like,” but I would capture things that were universal for anybody. The first chapter is about a clothes shopping nightmare … everyone has been in that situation where they’ve been embarrassed by a parent or guardian or family member while they’re shopping for clothes. …
 CA: You’re sort of tormenting your character. You could solve their problems earlier but you’re going to make them suffer for a while. How do you feel about that?
MC: Well, I love it. Because when we’re reading, we want to cheer for the character, and if everything is too easy for the character then why do we brought bother reading? …. If they see that the hero wins too easily, they wonder why bother going on the journey in the first place.
[19:20] CA: Do you have any favorite settings from fiction?
MC: In general, my favorite setting is anything in New York. … The great thing to do is if you love a setting, a real setting, before you go visit that setting or that city, just read a whole bunch of books or watch movies that are set in that city, and then go through that city and try to find those landmarks. Because it’s one of the most amazing things that you can do as a reader is to see how the writers have captured the sense of a place. …
[20:05] CA: Nice. And you do any setting exercises? …
MC: … I do a lot of out-scenes. Like in the case of the Ehrich Weisz Chronicles, that’s set in New York. …I found maps of the time period that I was writing about. … In the 1890s, before the subway was built, the trains were on elevated rails. … I actually flew to New York and … walked the route that the characters were to going to go through in that first book, just to get a sense of the place and what it would feel like. And it made it much more real in my mind…
[21:20] CA: Is there somewhere where you get your best ideas…?
MC: Just from research. I love reading books… At a certain point it’s like the confluence of several different things that I’ve heard and researched that will just come together one day. It literally is like a lightbulb … I can’t explain how that happens. All I can say is that if you want to be a writer … open yourself up to the world and just pay attention to everything that goes on around you. …Fill your tank up as much as possible because you never know when that one thing you learn about will be the spark that gives you the great idea.
[22:35] CA: That’s probably a great note to end it on. Thank you very much for doing this…
MC: Great to meet you too. Take care. …
[22:40] Marty Chan introduces himself
MC: My name is Marty Chan. I am a kids’ author and playwright. I have a very short attention span, so if you take a look at my work, you’ll realize that I hop around a lot. So I’ve worked in theatre, television, radio, kids fiction, magazine writing. One of the things I love about writing is that it gives me the opportunity to create worlds and it also opens a door to doing pretty well anything. The great thing about being a writer is that you’re only limited by your imagination, and you know how big your imagination can be. So if you can dream it, you can make it real.
[23:30] Find out more about Marty Chan
You can hear more creative writing advice from Marty Chan on Cabin Tales Episode 5.5, “Author Interviews about Tension,” on Episode 7, “Just Get it Over With,” about endings; and on Episode 8, “The Never-ending Story,” about revision. You can find out more about Marty Chan and his books from his website at MartyChan.com.
[24:30] Thanks and coming up on the podcast
Thanks for listening.
Marty Chan writes books for kids, plays for adults, and tweets for fun. He’s best known for Mystery of the Graffiti Ghoul, which won the 2007 Diamond Willow Award. His newest book, Haunted Hospital, launched in Fall 2020. He works and lives in Edmonton with his wife Michelle and their cat Buddy. Find him online at MartyChan.com.