We are excited to welcome Lindsay Ward back for her second year as a Writing with the Stars mentor. Lindsay is the author/illustrator of ten picture books, including IT’S SHOW AND TELL DEXTER! and DON’T FORGET DEXTER! (Two Lions, 2018), the first two books in the Dexter T. Rexter series, as well as five forthcoming books.
You have the enviable ability to write as well as illustrate your own books. How do you approach the writing process, knowing that you will be telling at least half of your story visually? What writing advice do you have for authors who do not illustrate?
I usually start with a story idea first, then I create the visuals around the text (although currently I’m working on something that started as a visual idea … so I guess anything goes with each new book). I definitely self-edit a lot as I write because I know that certain things will be shown visually. I don’t really think of it this way while I’m working because it’s how I’ve always seen my work, but it is tremendously helpful to be able to see the visuals in my head as I’m writing, knowing that I’m going to be the one executing them. That being said, I have a couple ideas sitting around that I think would be a better fit with another illustrator. It would be interesting to just be the author and not worry about the art for a change. That seems like it could be really freeing. I’m sure authors would say otherwise.
Your first book, WHEN BLUE MET EGG, is so special—I remember reading it for the first time years ago and thinking, “Wow!” How do you find that perfect blend of “humor and heart” that is so prevalent in all of your books?
Thank you so much. WHEN BLUE MET EGG is a really meaningful book for me, too. In a lot of ways I’m Blue and the story reflects my love for New York City when I lived there one summer during college. That story in particular was very difficult to write. After I decided to make Egg a snowball, I realized I’d written myself into a corner. Inevitably the snowball would have to melt … and I still needed a hopeful ending. Eventually I realized that things change in life and that’s okay. In Blue’s case, she embraces it. I guess she does what I always hope to do, even when it’s really difficult. The stories that have always resonated with me are the ones that make me laugh and connect. I try to consider that in my work when I write. Sometimes it takes many, many, many drafts to get there, but I know it’s right when I read it aloud and everything clicks together.
Dexter T. Rexter is a series character—congratulations! Is the next book, VACATION FOR DEXTER, the last or will there be more?
Thank you! It’s been so much fun to write the Dexter books! VACATION FOR DEXTER will be the third book in the series, and will release in April 2019. Hopefully, there will be a fourth. I have a few ideas, so we shall see …
You offer a variety of school/library visits and writing workshops on your website, but you also offer art demos where smaller groups of students get personal instruction time with you. How does this face-to-face interaction with your audience inspire you creatively? What words of wisdom do you have for other illustrators who might like to try this, too?
Art demos are one of my favorite things to do at library or school visits! These presentations are designed for 20-25 students so I really get a chance to talk to each student about their work and connect with them one-on-one. It’s wonderful. Kids are incredibly creative and they don’t hold back the way many adults do. Even if they are initially reserved about trying something new, by the end of the demo or workshop they are totally into it. Cut paper is a really fun way to explore, and is ideal in that it’s not quite as intimidating as painting or drawing. I encourage students to cut shapes and create an arrangement. Sometimes it’s clear what the image is and sometimes it’s completely abstract. Interestingly enough, it’s usually the kids who say they can’t draw who create the most incredible work. For other illustrators interested in doing workshops with kids, I would suggest coming up with a few different ideas and testing them out. See what’s successful and what you feel comfortable doing. Authenticity is always best when it comes to kids.
Your book, PLEASE BRING BALLOONS, was developed into a play by the New York City Children’s Theater in 2017. Can you share a bit about that experience? It must have been truly surreal to see your book come to life!
This has been one of the highlights of my career. My husband and I had the chance to travel to New York when the show premiered and it was incredible, surreal, and emotional. I just watched in awe during the whole thing. The play is designed for small children, so it’s interactive theater. It was wonderful to see a group of kids completely immersed in the story I’d created. I wish my two boys had been able to attend. I was pregnant with our second at the time (probably why I cried during the show), and our firstborn was too little to make the trip. We’ve since licensed the rights to it, so hopefully it will open in the Cleveland area one day and my kiddos can experience that magic, too.
Your forthcoming book, THIS BOOK IS GRAY, has a very intriguing title. Can you tell us a bit about this one?
THIS BOOK IS GRAY is definitely the most unusual and challenging book I’ve ever done. I’m in the middle of working on the finished art for it right now. It’s set to release in fall 2019. Almost the entire book is dialogue, with a large cast of characters. Readers will meet the colors on the color wheel, learn about the relationship between colors, and hopefully laugh … a lot. I’ve definitely got my work cut out for me with this one …
The color Gray is tired of being left out. He never gets to color. Not like the primary colors: Red, Yellow, and Blue, or the secondary colors: Orange, Green, and Purple. Even Black and White are included. But not Gray. Gray is a dismal, bleak, and gloomy color. So Gray decides he’s going to make his own book. A GRAY book. The GRAY-test book any of the other colors have ever seen … that is, if he can get to the end of it without all the other colors constantly interrupting him.
Thank you, Lindsay, for your time and for mentoring one lucky writer/illustrator in 2019. All information about how to apply to Writing with the Stars is on the WWTS Contest tab. Applicants, please remember to support these mentor authors. Buy their books, review them online, and tell your local librarians how awesome they are.