Kate Messner’s Studio Tour

Kate Messner - 1 (1)Today on Tuesday Tours I’m excited to share the writing room of Kate Messner, which overlooks Lake Champlain. Kate creates beautiful books written in multiple genres, and she also blogs on her website about a variety of topics. Some of my favorite posts from her site include Picture Book Math, Bullet Journaling (Children’s Authors Version), and Owning Our Words. Kate also gives her time and expertise for free to teachers and librarians interested in learning how to write for children in her summer series Teacher’s Write! And she helps her fellow authors connect with schools by showcasing the listing of Authors Who Skype on her blog.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I write books for kids of pretty much all ages – from picture books to chapter books to novels for older readers. My best-known picture books are HOW TO READ A STORY, OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW, and UP IN THE GARDEN AND DOWN IN THE DIRT, all from Chronicle Books. I have three series with Scholastic Press – the Marty McGuire books, the Silver Jaguar society mysteries for middle grade readers, and the Ranger in Time chapter book series about a time traveling golden retriever. And I also write stand-alone novels with Bloomsbury, including THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z., SUGAR AND ICE, EYE OF THE STORM, WAKE UP MISSING, ALL THE ANSWERS, and coming this June, THE SEVENTH WISH. I draft all my books on my MacBook Pro, using Scrivener, but I also do a lot of brainstorming, off-draft pondering, planning, mapping, and outlining using colored markers on big sheets of paper.

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How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process
Several years ago, when I transitioned to writing full time, we built a separate writing room in the back of the house, overlooking Lake Champlain, and it’s been absolutely wonderful. The room is tiny – just enough space for a big desk, a chair, and a wall of bookshelves – but it’s soundproof, which means that I can work quietly no matter what’s happening with my family upstairs. I also love that I have to go down to the basement, step out into an unheated storage area, and then go back in another door to get there. That really gives me the feeling of “going to work” when I transition to the writing part of my day.

Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
I generally wake up at about six, get my daughter off to school, check email, and try to settle in to my writing. I used to work out first thing in the morning and write later on, but lately, I’ve been writing from about 8 to 11:45 and then taking a break for a noon fitness class at the gym. I’ve found that after an hour of boot camp or kickboxing, I find a second burst of creative energy, so I’ll usually take a quick lunch downstairs and go back to writing until it’s time to pick my daughter up from sports practice after school.

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Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
I have a shell full of incredibly smooth, polished pebbles on my desk. I picked them up on a magical little beach during a family trip to California a couple of summers ago. They are fabulous rocks, and I play with them when I’m stuck. I’m also lucky enough to have art from illustrators Brian Floca and Mark Siegel on my walls, which just makes me happy to be in the room, even when it’s not the easiest writing day.

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If you could share a studio with anyone in the world, whom would you pick?
My day to day writing habits are probably too weird for me to share a studio with anyone. I talk to myself constantly and sometimes act things out in my little room so that I can find the right words to describe what a character is doing. Yesterday, for example, I was writing a scene where a girl has to lift a heavy wooden shelf that’s fallen during an earthquake to free her brother, who’s trapped underneath. I was struggling to describe how she did that, so I pretended I was lifting the (attached) bookshelves in my studio and used that experience to think about what my body was doing and what it would look and feel like for my character. Also, I take little exercise and yoga breaks while I write, so it’s not unusual for me to stop working for two minutes to plank or stretch or do jumping jacks. I’d be a terribly disruptive studio mate, but I do love writing when I’m on retreat with other writers. There’s something about the collective creative energy.

Kate Messner - 8 What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Personal space for creativity doesn’t have to be a huge space – mine is tiny – and if you can’t swing even a small dedicated space right now, it’s always possible to carve out temporary sanctuaries. I know people who set up desks in corners and closets and laundry rooms, and I think just the act of saying, “I go to this place to write” can be helpful.Kate Messner - 4

sketchy ocean waves background

sketchy ocean waves background

 

 

What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
I have two books coming out in June and I’m super excited about both. The first is THE SEVENTH WISH, a retelling of the old fairy tale where a fisherman catches a magical, wishing fish. My version is set in an ice fishing community on Lake Champlain and is about not only ice fishing and wishes, but also Irish dancing, addiction’s impact on families, and the limits of magic. The lovely, lovely Anne Ursu read an early copy and called it “An empathetic, beautiful, magical fiercely necessary book that stares unflinchingly at the the very real challenges contemporary kids face and gently assures them they are not alone.”
My other June 2016 title is book 4 in my Ranger in Time series, RACE TO THE SOUTH POLE, in which Ranger travels to early 20th century Antarctica with a Maori-Chinese boy who’s stowed away on Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova, hoping to be part of the first expedition to reach the South Pole. You can find me on Twitter or my website  

Thank you for sharing your writing room with us, Kate! It’s great seeing where you work. I’d also like to personally thank you for sharing your thoughts on gender issues in kid lit and speaking up about sexism in the industry. Whether it be on Facebook, Twitter, or on your blog, you’ve given us all some food for thought. Best of luck on THE SEVENTH WISH!

Tuesday Tours will be return in May when illustrator Christina Forshay shares her newly-moved-into studio in California. If you’d like to get updates on Tuesday Tour guests, please subscribe to my mailing list.

Matthew Cordell’s Studio Tour

Matthew Cordell - 9 (1)Today on Tuesday Tours we have the talented author and illustrator Matthew Cordell sharing his studio from just outside of Chicago. I love Matthew’s illustrations and I’m not the only one, as he’s the illustrator of over 25 books and counting. One of which is the New York Times Notable picture book, HELLO! HELLO! He’s currently busy at work finishing up the artwork for two picture books, as well as developing sketch dummies for two others, one of which he’s also writing. This busy workload might create a bombed out studio—his words, not mine 🙂 . But it also lends itself to an amazing energy that flows throughout Matthew’s work.

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It ain’t beautiful. But it is ugly beautiful.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I was born and raised in a small town in South Carolina and moved to Chicago when I was 24 years old. I’m now married to my lovely author wife, Julie Halpern, and we have two kids (6 and 2) in suburban Chicago. My schooling was in graphic design and fine art, but after a detour or two, I made my way into the world of art and storytelling with books for children. And thankfully so. It reignited my nearly flamed out artistic passions and I really, really love it here. I like messy, expressive, unconventional (dare I say ugly) art. I also like humor in art. Not so much the knock-you-over-the-head-with-it kind, I guess I’m more drawn to the subtle stuff. Generally speaking I like people and things that don’t always take themselves so terribly seriously. A sense of humor and humility in work and in life. These are musts. My art is primarily created by drawing in pen and ink and coloring in watercolor. I’ve strayed from this particular combo here and there, but pen and ink is what I love (sometimes hate) and end up doing the most.

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There’s a ton of books on bookshelves down here. Some of which are pertinent to my work, some of which are just books we’ve accumulated as a family over these many years. And, of course, more clutter.

How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
When I went full time book maker back in 2007, I was working in one of the 3 bedrooms of our house, on the upper level. A little small, but lots of natural light with a nice view of the backyard. But when our second child was born in 2013, I had to vacate that room and move my operation down to the basement. Since it’s mostly subterraneous down here, there’s very little natural light (2 window wells) and it’s basically cold year round, I don’t love it, but I can certainly get by. I thrive off of natural light, so truthfully it can be a bit of a bummer working in a basement. Lately when I’m painting, so I can bet a better handle on color, I’ll temporarily set up a table in our master bedroom by a window and get the natural light fix. My wife suggested this a couple of books ago for me. Great idea, really, to mix it up. Truth is, I’m not terribly picky about stuff. I don’t need a beautiful or organized (or clean for that matter!) space to be happily at work. I do like daylight and I miss that in my current workspace. Eventually I’ll have to figure something else out. Eventually. With young kids and a heavy workload, stuff like having the studio you want takes a backseat in life.

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My drawing table. On the table here are a few studies for the next picture book I’ll soon be starting final art for, WOLF IN THE SNOW. I think I’ll be trying something new (new to me) drawing with several layers of colored inks. To be determined…

Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
Half of my day—the morning—is spent working as a Dad for my 6-year-old (driving her to school) and my 2-year-old (doing stuff 2-year-olds like to do). My wife (author Julie Halpern) works in the morning and takes over with the kids usually around lunch time. I spend the rest of the day (and sometimes nights after everyone’s in bed) down in the basement. No rituals to speak of really. Usually I start the work day by answering emails and social media upkeep. Then it’s draw, write, repeat.

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Corkboard with odds and ends and some favorite pics of the fam.

When was a time you had the most fun working in your studio?
It’s hard to pinpoint any one moment that has been fun or rewarding. I think my favorite part of the process of creating a book comes just after all sketches are approved and it’s time to make the final art. But the favorite part is just after THAT. When it’s finally time to make the final art, I really set in dreading making that very first mark on paper. I’m afraid of what it will or won’t look like. Then, when I finally work up the nerve to start, and it’s looking good, there’s a huge rush of relief. The ice is broken. And then I’m up and running and it feels great. Give or take the snags and self-doubt speedbumps along the way. Oh! And FINISHING a book and being DONE and mentally fat and happy with all that has just been accomplished. That final, final moment after all the days, weeks, months, years (?) that went into making a book from very beginning to very end. That is absolute bliss, man.

Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
I have a poster of Mister Rogers hanging above my computer desk. Folks who don’t know much about Fred Rogers, I highly suggest you poke around and see what you find. As far as I can tell, he was, like, THE perfect human being. Selfless, kind, wise, accepting, curious, sincere, humble, funny… I find him—his life and his life’s work—tremendously, incredibly inspiring.

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My computer desk. Underneath all those papers (lots and lots of sketches!) is my trusty lil’ scanner. Underneath that other pile of papers (more sketches!) is my trusty lil’ laser printer. Underneath that other big pile of papers (sketches!) … that’s just a big pile of papers (sketches).

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This shelf houses all of my favorite books. Picture books, comics, image ref, dictionary, thesaurus, etc. It’s sort of organized.

A bunch of weird, random, keepsakes. Including some things friends have made for me, an old cheap chalkware statue that will always remind me of my Nana’s house, and some old weird kid busts that my wife got from somewhere!

A bunch of weird, random, keepsakes. Including some things friends have made for me, an old cheap chalkware statue that will always remind me of my Nana’s house, and some old weird kid busts that my wife got from somewhere!

What’s the biggest distraction for you when you’re creating? How do you deal with it?
Social media. Facebook, specifically. I’m on Twitter too but I never really grabbed onto that one. I don’t do instagram, tumblr, or anything else. I just don’t have the mental capacity to keep it going on more than one platform. I mostly use Facebook in a creative/professional capacity. I love sharing work and discovering and seeing new work and works-in-progress from my contemporaries. I accept that it’s become a part of the job, in a sense, but it does get super distracting. I usually just try to take little breaks (equivalent, I guess, of, like, smoke breaks) and check in on the Facebook between chunks of drawing/painting. That kinda keeps it at bay.

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If you could live inside the world of one of the picture books you’ve illustrated, which one would it be and why?
Definitely SPECIAL DELIVERY (written by Philip Stead). It’s totally weird and wild and fun and exotic. High adventure! Lots of animals! Beyond that, it’s basically only kids and old folks in that book. My favorites.

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A pile of books on my floor that have been recently inspirational, or recently purchased, or recently looked at, or recently useful in SOME way.

What other artists, writers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
I love John Burningham. I think he might be my #1 book making inspiration. He’s so… out there. I also really love Quentin Blake, William Steig, Jules Feiffer, Bernard Waber—folks who have been or were so very loose-limbed with the pen. I’ve really been getting into the picture books Quentin Blake and Russell Hoban did together. Sendak, of course. Saul Steinberg is always in the back of my mind somewhere. Arnold Lobel is amazing. Virginia Lee Burton is great—often for nostalgic purposes too. Lately, I’ve been digging into Leo Lionni’s books. In terms of more contemporary inspirations… I’m always super diplomatic answering this sort of question! Truth is, there are a great many authors and illustrators today that I find inspiring. But I hesitate to name just a few, because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by leaving folks out! (Total cop out.)

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If you could relocate your studio for part of the year to another geographical location, where would it be?
Hmm. That is a great question! Since my daughter’s in first grade and fully entrenched in school now, we don’t have this option. But I love the idea of it. Since it’s fantasy at this point, how about one of two places that don’t really exist? Um… Northern Exposure’s Cicely, Alaska. Or Gilmore Girls’ Stars Hollow.

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A small couch where I often sit when it’s not covered in stuff. On top of the understuff here, are character sketches and color studies for a picture book I just finished, BOB NOT BOB.

What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
My advice would be… don’t get too hung up on making THE perfect space. Often times, that is ultimately procrastination anyways. Just find the room or area you need, set yourself up more or less, and get to work! Everything else will fall into place. Let the making of the work define the space, not the other way around.

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There’s shelves on the walls with various toys and tchotchkes collected by the wife and me over the years. They used to be “collectibles”, but since we’ve had kids, the “collectibles” are just “toys” that come off and go back on the shelf at any given time.

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What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
I just finished a picture book called BOB NOT BOB which I loved illustrating through and through. The story is clever and unique and funny and a just the right amount of weird and was written by authors Audrey Vernick and Liz Garton Scanlon. Currently, I have several plates in the air: about to start final art for my next author/illustrator picture book, WOLF THE SNOW (Feiwel and Friends, 2017); writing and sketching up another picture book that will be a follow up to my 2015 book, WISH (Disney-Hyperion); and I’m about to start a sketch dummy for THE ONLY FISH IN THE SEA, a follow-up to this year’s SPECIAL DELIVERY (Roaring Brook). wishMy next book out will be another picture book I had the great fortune to illustrate called LOST. FOUND. by author Marsha Diane Arnold. Super clever and fun and sweet despite there only being two words in the whole book! (Guess what they are?) That’s out November 3. I had three other books out in 2015, WISH, SPECIAL DELIVERY, and FIRST GRADE DROPOUT by Audrey Vernick. It’s been a blockbuster year! My website is matthewcordell.com but it’s shamefully out of date. Better yet, maybe, connect with me on Facebook!

Thank you so much, Matthew! Looking forward to seeing you this weekend at the Prairie Writers Day. And I’m anxious to see what BOB NOT BOB is all about—I just love the cover. Best of luck on all the books you have coming up!

Little ElliotTuesday Tours will be back on December 8th when Mike Curato, creator of the adorable Little Elliot books,  shows us his Brooklyn studio.

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Recap of the Sheboygan Book Festival

I had such an amazing time meeting passionate readers, as well as other authors and illustrators at the Sheboygan Children’s Book Festival. A BIG thanks to JoAnn Dent and crew for organizing such an incredible free festival for children’s literature! Here’s some pictures from the events.

 

Tui Sutherland’s Studio Tour

A - 1Today on Tuesday Tours we have Tui Sutherland otherwise known as Erin Hunter, Rob KiddHeather Williams, or Tamara Summers. Yes, Tui is the writer behind a number of bestselling series and books, some of which feature her real name, and some that feature a collective name or pen name. What fun having so many alter egos! But the name Tui is the most well known name in our household because it’s the one featured on one of my daughter’s favorite books Spirit Animals: Against the Tide. We’re anxiously awaiting this weekend because we’ll be meeting Tui in person at the Sheboygan Book Festival. trading cardsWe have our book packed, all ready to be signed. We also hope to get a Tui trading card. A great bonus at this book festival, where authors and illustrators are honored with their very own cards that attendees can collect—how great is that!

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A - 22Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
Hi, I’m Tui, and I like to write about dragons and griffins and secrets and explosions and falling in love and betrayal and telepathy and setting things on fire—sometimes all in the same book, but usually spread out over a series! Things to know about me:

* My name comes from a kind of bird (the tui!) which only lives in New Zealand.

wings of fire

* I am a mom with two hilarious little boys (my bears) who are basically miniature whirlwinds of chaos and joy and havoc and Nutella.

* I was a two-day champion on Jeopardy! a few years ago, so at one point I totally knew all the presidents in order, but don’t test me on that! ☺

* My current ongoing series is the dragon fantasy Wings of Fire; I also wrote the Menagerie trilogy with my sister Kari, plus the fifth book in the Spirit Animals series, and about thirty other books so far.

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How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
We moved into this house about three and a half years ago, right before my younger son was born. My current study used to be a teeny tiny bedroom, but we took out the closet and now it’s a slightly less teeny tiny office. This is definitely where I write best—I love being in my own little space. Although I must admit I still haven’t properly organized it, even though we’ve been here three years! When I’m in here, I always feel like I should be writing instead of tidying or filing, so it’s usually a big mess, but I’ve been tackling a corner or shelf at a time for the last month and it’s starting to look more presentable now.☺

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If you had to pick a quote to hang above your desk for inspiration, what would it be?
I really should put up quotes—there are so many I love! There’s one from Jo Walton’s amazing book Among Others where the young narrator says: “When I grow up I would like to write something that someone could read sitting on a bench on a day that isn’t all that warm and they could sit reading it and totally forget where they were or what time it was so that they were more inside the book than inside their own head.” YES, exactly that, that’s what I want to write!

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Or I also love Madeleine L’Engle’s quote: “You have to write whichever book it is that wants to be written. And then, if it’s going to be too difficult for grown-ups, you write it for children.” Ha ha!  So great!

And then I recently came across a lovely one from Carl Sagan in Cosmos – I don’t know if it’s too long to include all of this, but it’s so beautiful and makes me so happy: “What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.” Happy sigh.

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But the only quote that’s actually visible from my desk is on a random magnet on my filing cabinet, and it’s a picture of Marcie from Peanuts, and it says: “Some of us think we look kind of cute with our glasses.” Which I guess says something about me, too! ☺

menageIf you could live inside the world of one of the books you’ve written, which one would you chose and why?
Hmmm…could I be a dragon?  Because if I was still little human me, I don’t think Pyrrhia would be a very safe place to live!☺ But if I were a dragon, maybe a RainWing or a SeaWing, it would be pretty cool to live there. As myself, though, I think I’d love to visit the world of the Menagerie (which is a secret zoo of mythical creatures) so I could meet the griffin cubs and Zoe’s pet woolly mammoth. Or if I knew I’d get a spirit animal (perhaps a red panda? or a slow loris?), it would be amazing to live in Erdas (the world of Spirit Animals)…maybe not while it’s in the middle of a big war, though!

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What’s the biggest distraction for you when you’re writing? How do you deal with it?
My biggest distraction is the guilt I feel about being at my desk instead of with my children.  It’s kind of ever-present—no matter what I’m doing, I always feel like I’m either neglecting my writing or my kids. I don’t think I deal with it very well yet (they’re still little! it’s only been five years!).☺ I guess what I usually do is spend the month before a deadline holed up in my office doing nothing but writing, and spend the other seven or eight months of the year more focused on the kids. This is not an ideal solution, believe me. I hope one day I find some kind of better balance where I can stop worrying about it!

Evidence Tui's 3 year old was in her office :)

Evidence Tui’s 3 year old was in her office 🙂

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The other terrible distraction is, of course, the Internet, where there are so many brilliant authors saying smart things all the time. I could spend all day reading what Anne Ursu and Justina Ireland and Shannon Hale and Daniel Jose Older have to say about the world and books (and unfortunately some days I do!). The only way I’ve found to deal with this is to give myself time limits—OK, Tui, you can have ten minutes of the Internet and then it’s back to work!

A box decorated by children at a school visit

A box decorated by children at a school visit

What are the three best things about your writing space?
For me, I love that my writing space is at home—even though it’s sometimes distracting to be here, I really love being able to wear my pajamas while I write (that’s seriously the #1 thing—if I had to get dressed and wear shoes in order to write, my books would never get written!). Being at home also means I can easily go get tea if I need it and say hi to my kids when they get home from school or if they want to show me something they’ve made.

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The second thing I love is the framed Wings of Fire full cover art over my desk, which was a present from my sister and her husband—it helps so much to be able to look up at those dragons (and at the map of their world) for inspiration when I’m writing the new books.

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And the third thing is probably the little bed where my dog Sunshine sleeps while I’m writing . . . we’d both rather have her in my lap, but then it’s hard to type!  So she has her own cozy spot, and it’s really sweet and comforting to have her close by, especially when it’s the middle of the night and everyone else is sleeping. (That’s my writing time—I’m an extreme night owl, writing mostly between 11pm and 4am, which is another reason I can’t work anywhere but at home!)

A - 11What other artists, writers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
Jo Walton, for sure; I love her writing so incredibly much—her dragon book Tooth and Claw is genius and her book Among Others might be my favorite of all time. She did an event at a nearby bookstore not long ago, and everything she said was so wise and thoughtful and brilliant that I was literally in tears by the end.

A - 6Rainbow Rowell is another author I adore; I would love for my books to be that funny and heartfelt at the same time. I saw Kwame Alexander speak a few months ago and he also made me cry, he’s so smart and generous and joyful and intentional.

In terms of artists, I recently bought prints by Aaron Becker, Grace Lin, and Peter Reynolds, all of whom are amazing, and I would like to get something by Joy Ang (the artist for the Wings of Fire covers), Kazu Kibuishi, and Ben Hatke as well. Oh, and I find Hayao Miyazaki’s movies very inspiring, too—I’d like my stories to have that feeling of beautiful sparky weirdness!

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What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
I loved Liz Garton Scanlon’s answer to this question—that often what people need even more than space is time. That’s so true! Although I have my own space, I still find it hard to write unless I’m bossy with myself about making time for it. I also think your space should have things you love in it, that make you happy. The photos on my desk of my kids and my dog when she was a puppy make me smile all the time, and my shelves of favorite books make me feel like I have my best friends close by. (My shelf of to-read books is also exciting but probably less helpful, since I keep looking at it and wishing I were reading instead of writing!)

All the stuff Tui shoved into the hallway in order to take these beautiful tidy-looking photos :)

All the stuff Tui shoved into the hallway in order to take these beautiful tidy-looking photos 🙂

winterWhat’s coming up for you now and where can we find out more?
I’m currently working on book nine of the Wings of Fire series—Book Seven: Winter Turning was released in June, and Book Eight: Escaping Peril comes out in January 2016 (and has an awesome cover!)! The third book in the Menagerie trilogy will be coming out in paperback in the next year.  And everything I’ve ever written is listed on my website: www.tuibooks.com.

Andrea, thanks so much for having me here!  I can’t wait to meet you and lots of wonderful Wisconsin readers at the Sheboygan Children’s Book Festival next week!  Yay!

Thank you, Tui! I love that you shared the stuff that got moved into the hall in order to get tidy-looking pictures. I can sure relate to that! Thanks for sharing your space and influences—I now have some new quotes to add to my cork board ☺. My family and I are excited to meet you this weekend at the Sheboygan Book Festival!

Charlie AnnJoin us on October 13th when we take a look inside one of my favorite novelists Kimberly Newton Fusco’s Rhode Island writing retreat.

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Stacy Tornio’s Studio Space

TAN-screenshot-cover-245x300Today on Tuesday Tours we have another wonderful author, who also happens to live in my beautiful home state of Wisconsin and who will also be attending the Sheboygan Book Festival with me and thirteen other authors and illustrators in early October. Stacy Tornio is the author and co-author (along with Ken Keffer) of a variety of books ranging from picture books to activity guides to keepsake journals. But what all her books have in common is that they each aim to connect children with nature. Stacy was the editor for Birds & Blooms Magazine before taking position working for weareteachers.com. She also volunteers with Master Gardens, teaching kids gardening skills.

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404055_4058561455758_1546710029_nTell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.

I’ve been a children’s writer for about 10 years now. I’ve always done it as a hobby while working full-time. But just recently, I left my full-time job of 10 years to work part-time. This is giving me more time for writing kids’ books, so I’m very excited. I focus a lot on children’s non-fiction and especially love creating material on gardening, nature, and the great outdoors.

 

FullSizeRender(2)DNsidebarcathysHow long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
I’ve had my writing space for several years, but only recently did I really personalize it to make it fun. In the past, I’ve always done most of my writing on my laptop while sitting on the couch, in bed, etc. But now that I have this fun space, I actually find myself sitting at my desk and working.


Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
DNsidebarwlnMy day is pretty varied as to when I sit down and write. I’m working part-time as a senior editor for this wonderful website, weareteachers.com, so this keeps me busy. I’m also freelance writing for a few websites. But I always, always have writing to do for a book, and I try to do something every single day. This often means brainstorming or researching—there’s a lot of this in non-fiction writing. This is great because when I do sit down to write, I like to have everything gathered. This way, I can get in several hundred or even thousands of words at a time. I tend to do a lot of thinking about stories and subjects in the car, in the shower, etc. So I really am ready to go when I get in writing mode.

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Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?

My space is filled with inspiration from nature since this makes up so much of my writing in general. You’ll especially find lots of little bird trinkets in my space.

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If you had a couple hundred dollars to improve your space, what would you do?
I would buy some sort of cool fancy chair or beanbag where I could just sink in when I’m in the middle of cranking out those thousands of words!IMG_1288
What’s the biggest distraction for you when you’re creating? How do you deal with it?

My two dogs, Payton and Daisy Mae. It’s kind of a good distraction, though, because I find that it’s good for me to take several breaks throughout the day.

If you had to pick a quote to hang above your desk for inspiration, what would it be?

I have these awesome marquee letters that hang above my desk. They spell out NATURE and light up! Also, here’s one of my favorite quotes by John Burroughs related to nature—
I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.
IMG_1142What other artists, writers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
Kid President inspires me. He’s joyful, delightful, and always makes me smile. I love what he and his uncle have done with their videos and their message, and I adore the book he put out earlier this year.

DNsidebarKOABIf you could relocate your studio for part of the year to another geographical location, where would it be?
A place where I could see mountains and beach from the same window, so maybe the Pacific Northwest.

What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Do it! Start with a single chair or an inspiring sign. You don’t have to do it all at once, but reward yourself for being a creative person and put it together little by little. A creative space doesn’t have to look like it came out of a magazine. It’s whatever you want it to be.

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What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
We have a brand new kids nature book coming out on October 1 called The Secret Lives of Animals. We are so, so, so excited for it, and we’re really hoping kids love it. Check out more about me at destinationnature.net.

Thank you, Stacy! I’m digging the sign you have up that says ‘Like a Boss’—I have one just like it hanging over my desk too 🙂 I’m excited to meet you in a few weeks and check out your new book!

Join us on October 6th when we visit author (of more than 30 books, including my daughter’s favorite Spirit Animals 5: Against the Tide) Tui Sutherland’s dragon-filled Boston studio.

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Liz Garton Scanlon’s Studio Tour

AllThe WorldI’m thrilled to have Liz Garton Scanlon share her Austin, TX bungalow with us on Tuesday Tours today! Liz is the author of one of my favorite picture books All the World (illustrated by Marla Frazee), as well as many other great stories that have entertained my family over the years. Each of her stories is full of authenticity—so true and touching that it pulls at the heartstrings and gets straight to the emotion of the story, such as my favorite phrase from All the World—“Babies passed from neck to knee”. With her new book A Great Good Summer, Liz joins forces with illustrator Marla Frazee once again, but in a very different way. This time instead of a picture book, Liz has released her debut middle-grade novel, and it’s been receiving great praise and reviews. She hasn’t forgotten about picture books though, as she’s also recently released In the Canyon (Illustrated by Ashley Wolff) about a young girl experiencing the Grand Canyon for the first time. To get a signed copy of any of Liz’s amazing books, visit her at the Sheboygan Book Festival, where she’ll be presenting along with me and thirteen other authors/illustrators October 9-11th.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I write poetry, picture books and novels on my laptop in my own little nook in Austin, Texas.

How long have you had your space and how does it affect your writing process?
My husband and I bought this tiny 40’s bungalow about 12 years ago and after a few years we were popping its seams. (When we moved in, we had little girls and they eventually got big.) So we added on a little space, including a kind of closet-ish room for me. Big enough for the old library table I use as my desk.

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Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start writing?
Do you mean besides coffee? 😉 I send my kids off to school and then I either walk or run with my dog before I get to work. That gets my blood flowing, and I often get ideas while I’m moving. Sometimes I remember them long enough to write them down.

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If you had to pick a quote to hang above your desk for inspiration, what would it be?
I DO have quotes above my desk — lots of them. One thing I read every day, because it’s right there, is William Stafford’s When I Met My Muse, in which the muse says, “When you allow me to live with you, every glance at the world around you will be a sort of salvation.” Here’s a link to the whole thing.
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Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?8unnamed
My space is full of talismans. I have baby pictures of my daughters that keep me grounded. There’s a drawing I did as a little girl at that stage where you don’t draw bodies — you just draw arms and legs coming straight out of a person’s head.
I like to think it keeps me child centered. And I’ve got a candle that looks like a rock. My editor Allyn Johnston sent it to me after we did All the World together with a note that said, “It all began with a rock” (because that’s the first word of that book). It’s my most tangible reminder that we can make something out of nothing, all of us, at any time, and that in so many ways it is simple…

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What’s the biggest distraction for you when you’re writing? How do you deal with it?
Because I work at home, there is NEVER not laundry to be done or a floor that could use a good sweep. Sometimes I’m good at ignoring those things (ask my family) but other days I’m wild with distraction. That’s when I just have to pick up and go elsewhere. There’s a coffee place just 2 blocks away with a very good decaf latte. That’s the beauty of a laptop.

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If you could relocate your studio for part of the year to another geographical location, where would it be?
I actually already do spend about a month every summer at our family cottage on a lake in Wisconsin. I’m not always very good about working there, but I definitely re-charge there. And find inspiration there. And I think that as my kids get older, and as I do too, that I may use it as a work space more and more. Like, when water skiing becomes less important.

 

What other artists, writers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
Oh, this morning I was in tears over a radio interview with architect Frank Gehry. Seriously. I’m inspired by brave, wild, imaginative people every day.
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What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
You can create a lot of amazing art — written or visual — at the kitchen table, at a coffeehouse, in your bedroom if you have to. To me, almost more important that claiming space is claiming time. Time that you demarcate and value. Put it on your calendar. Make it important and unmissable. And then sit down somewhere and do what you do.

InTheCanyonWhat’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
My newest books are the brand new picture book IN THE CANYON, which takes place in the Grand Canyon and is exquisitely illustrated by Ashley Wolff, and my first-ever middle grade novel, THE GREAT GOOD SUMMER, which takes place in a made-up Texas town, features a crooked preacher called Hallelujah Dave, and sends a couple of 12-year-olds on a Greyhound adventure! I’m working on my next middle grade now. Visit me at http://lizgartonscanlon.com and check out some really great activity guides (teacher-created) for each of my books at http://lizgartonscanlon.com/teachers-guides/.

Thank you, Liz! I can’t wait to sink into a Great Good Summer and I’m looking forward to seeing you at the Sheboygan Book Festival in a couple of weeks!

coverJoin us on September 22nd when we take a look inside author and naturalist Stacy Tornio‘s writing space.

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Rowboat Watkins’s Studio Tour

A couple of weeks ago I came across the most unusual and charming picture book called Rude Cakes, and fell in love with the storytelling and the illustrations. It wasn’t until I’d re-read it that I glanced at the authors name—Rowboat Watkins. Rowboat? Hmmm… I turned to the bio page and was informed that his wife gave him the name. Intrigued, I went to his website and was thoroughly entertained by his longer bio. I thought it’d be a kick to see where he’s creating all this great stuff, and I’m thrilled he agreed give us a peak at his studio this week on Tuesday Tours! His creative style extends to his Brooklyn workspace, where he wrestles with the option of tackling household chores or creative pursuits each day, and where he keeps company with marshmallows and clay gorillas (you’ll see what I mean).

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pic_of_me_1200wTell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
Although you would never suspect if from looking at me, I’m an incurable neat freak living amongst crumb Visigoths. I live in the middle of a black hole in which all of Life’s unread mail and unpaid bills seem to gather, and in which most of Humanity’s dishes, and spoons, and whisks seem to daily convene in our sink. Which is notable only because there are but three of us living here. And nothing we eat during most days would seem to require a whisk. Or a cleaver. I have no idea why there are fourteen butter knives covered in peanut butter (or jelly) when it is only 10:00am…and maybe one sandwich (that I know of) has been invented since we all woke up this morning. But it is a sandwich which has apparently lived on 6 or 7 plates during its construction. Or at least before its eventual departure or demise. Which is all to say that my preferred creative medium is order. At this point I’m willing to settle for a spotty impersonation of tidiness. And some pencils and pens without syrup on them. Or whatever that sticky stuff might be. And a pad or two. And a window of desk space not occupied by marshmallows. Or little gorillas. The latter, I concede, are no one’s fault but my own.desk1_1200w

How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
We have lived here for 10 years. My wife and I, that is. My daughter’s only been here for 9 and a half. The dog for 4 and a half. And the marshmallows and gorillas for maybe a year. Depending on who you ask. In defense of my odd familiarity with the migratory patterns of cleavers and whisks, I would like to note that I work next to the kitchen. Out of the corner of my left eye, at this very moment, I can see a synod of greasy spatulas on the counter. A loaf of unwrapped bread. And a gaggle of foggy glasses.

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In front of me is a computer screen. Most of the marshmallows are gone. Thankfully. There are a couple stragglers, but what can you do? At least all of the gorillas are back in their boxes. Or over on the mantel. It was starting to look like The Battle of Hastings on my desk. As you might suspect, it kind of becomes impossible to do anything when you are living in the middle of the Norman conquest.

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Out of the corner of my right eye I can see the couch. Where my dog is currently asleep. And behind her, the playground across the street, peeking out from behind the trees. The window is open and I can hear the sprinklers sprinkling, and birds chirping, and someone dribbling a ball, and little kids talking on the jungle gym. And the skittering of plastic wheels rolling. And the faint beep of a truck backing up somewhere in the distance. And a plane flying overhead. But it’s all heard softly, and is mostly just one sound of a nice summer day.

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Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
I wish I were organized enough to have a ritual, but most days are a clumsy dance of getting my daughter off to school or camp, drinking a cup of coffee (or two), walking the dog, and trying to remember worrying about spatulas is not a valid reason not to be making more headway on whatever’s directly in front of me. Things are thrown into even greater disarray when my latest fatwa against Facebook has been repealed for no good reason. The current ban is mercifully still in place, so at least there’s some hope of getting something done before picking up my daughter from camp, and taking her to the orthodontist to see if they can save the retainer she stepped on yesterday during lunch.

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When was a time you had the most fun working in your studio?
Whenever I forget what I can see out of the corner of my eyes, and am drawing in my sketchbooks and not worrying about what everything means, it’s usually pure delight. The same was true when I first realized that, if marshmallows look so fun to draw on, no one but ME was stopping me from drawing on them. Or that maybe all those gorillas I made out of sculpey for no good reason would be happier if they had a rocket ship made out of construction paper? Or a bed? Or a boat? Why? Why not? Fun pretty much never happens in my studio when I’m tarrying over technicalities like WHY.

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Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
Nope. I have all kinds of things piled around my desk, or taped onto the blackboard, or propped on the chalk shelf over my computer screen. Lucky wheatshaft pennies found in pocket change. Rusty washers. Drawings by my wife and daughter. Drawings by friends. Pink Pearl erasers. Japanese masking tape. I like it all. And it all becomes like a messy bouillabaisse of inspiration.

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What’s the biggest distraction for you when you’re creating? How do you deal with it?
Worrying about dishes. Or that I don’t know how to do what I am doing. Someone else, who actually knows what they are doing, should be doing this. There must be a better way to draw this bed. Or that forest. If I were a different me, I would draw this whatever more persuasively. And Facebook. And email. What are the rules again? Weren’t those yesterday’s rules? Ugh…yesterday’s rules totally sucked. If I had better rules in place I would surely be further along. THERE ARE TOO MANY GORILLAS ON MY DESK! I can’t think with all this crap around my keyboard. With all those soiled whisks in the corner of my eye! If only I were my dog, I’d be living the Life of Riley. Look at my dog over there. Maybe I should take her for a walk? Maybe if I drove a Zamboni over my desk I would be able to see my thoughts again? Maybe I’m not liking what I’m working on because it all feels like TORTURE, and I should start all over, and pretend I am having fun? Wasn’t that the problem with yesterday too? Oh yeah. Torture=bad. Fun=good. I should write that down. I’ll do it tomorrow.

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What do you like to nibble/drink when you’re working?
Coffee. Root beer. Pink lady apples. Popsicles. Peaches when in season.

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Which other artists, writers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
At this very moment, the first two names that come to mind are Joshua Oppenheimer and Petit Pierre. The former is the director of The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence. Both of which are too bracing and lovely for words. And the latter is the French guy who spent his whole life making this joyous wonder of a thing.

I only discovered Petit Pierre the other month when my friend Sergio sent me a link. You should watch the link. There are too many picture book writers and illustrators to name, so I won’t even try.

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Does music influence your work? What are you listening to now?
I can’t listen to music while I work. Lately I have been listening to The History of the World in 100 Objects. Which I listened to when it first came out. It is great, but I am terrible at doing two things at once so I either have no idea what I’m listening to, or I am not paying attention to what I am drawing. And I have no idea why I keep putting it back on. But you asked. I’m best served when listening to nothing at all.

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What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Hmm…I don’t think I would take advice from a guy who perpetually worries about whisks and cleavers, and listens to podcasts he can’t remember, and lets himself be overrun with marshmallows.

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What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
My new picture book Rude Cakes was just published by Chronicle Books in June. I’m working on two more books for them, which are supposed to come out in 2016 and 2017. But I’m still doing line work for the first of them, so I can’t swear the time-space continuum will necessarily comply. All I know for sure is there are no greasy spatulas or horrific piles of mail in either. You can visit me at http://rowboatwatkins.com.

Thank you for sharing your studio, Rowboat! In addition to laughing out loud at some of your marshmallow escapades, I love the youtube video you shared of Petit Pierre work. Can’t wait to see your upcoming books—maybe some clay gorillas will grace the pages? 

i-dont-like-koala-9781481400688_lgI’m heading to LA for the SCBWI Summer Conference, so Tuesday Tours will return in a few weeks with a look inside illustrator Charles Santoso’s studio in Sydney, Australia.

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