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Meet Mentor Brianne Farley

Last year in Writing with the Stars, one of the mentors was Camille Andros, who wrote a book called CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED. I tell any aspiring picture book writer who will listen that this is the perfect specimen of a picture book to study. It has a marketable hook, clearly sets up the main character’s problem, has a clear arc, uses the ”power of three” beautifully, infuses humor, has kid-relatable issues, and does this all to perfection. And the cherries on top of this cake are Brianne Farley’s hilarious and appealing illustrations. So, this year Writing with the Stars is proud to have the other half of the CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST team as a participating mentor!  

Can you give us an overview of your artistic process and the mediums you used?

Each book has been a bit different, but I normally start working in black and white with pencil, ink washes, and dip pens. I make several layers of these black and white drawings, scan them into my computer, and color them digitally. It’s quite a bit like printmaking. The drawings are my screens (if I were screen printing) or blocks (if I were block printing), and I use Photoshop in place of colored inks.

You previously worked at Random House as a book designer. Does that influence your thinking while creating a book?

Certainly! My very first book sold only a few months after I started at Random House, and it was incredibly reassuring to see what went on behind the scenes and discover what was to be expected in the publishing process. I felt like a double agent. I saw the many varied ways other authors and illustrators approach their projects, and what went into making a book into A BOOK after it left my hands. It taught me the importance of reading as many picture books as one can get their hands on and finding a group of people who, like you, want to talk about and think seriously about them. Hopefully it also made me a better author/illustrator to work with! At the very least I try to name my files consistently.

What is the best piece of advice you received from someone in the industry?

Despite what I said above, the best piece of advice I’ve received is to look outside of picture books for inspiration. I believe this is true for writing and illustrating.

The worst piece of advice?

Someone warned me that quitting my day job would put an enormous amount of pressure on book-making, but I did it anyway. They were so right! So it wasn’t bad advice at all (am I even answering this question??) but I’m still very glad I ignored them. So, it’s the best piece of advice I did the worst job heeding.

When reading SECRET TREE FORT, I had a sense that this had to be semi-autobiographical. Is it and, if so, which girl are you?

Your spidey-senses were spot on. I wrote this book while living in New York and missing Michigan. It was inspired by my childhood tree houses and my younger sister’s uncanny ability to sense when I was reading a book and try to tempt me to play with her instead. I am the eye-rolling, book-loving older sister and my sister is the charming and inventive one.

Do you ever have creative blocks and, if so, how do you overcome them?

This is the age-old question, isn’t it? I love coming up with story ideas. I keep a notebook in my purse for drawing and jotting down ideas. I transfer my favorite ideas to 4”x6” index cards that live in a box on my desk. The hardest bit is expanding these ideas into manuscripts. Sometimes I’ll say to myself, I’ll just work on this manuscript for 15 minutes. Then once I’ve started I won’t be able to stop and I’ll feel very clever for tricking myself. I also like to create deadlines and tell them to my friend or agent or editor and tell myself they’ll be very disappointed if I miss that deadline and very pleased with me if I make it. I’m sure they don’t notice either way, but it works for me.

What is a typical work week like for you?

I’m very fortunate to work from home. I work a typical work week, though Monday is usually spent doing chores I should have done on the weekend. When I’m working on final art I’ll often work through the weekend, though, so perhaps it comes out in the wash! During the summer I work on a vegetable farm every Friday. It’s the perfect foil to my typical routine of sitting indoors at a desk using only my brain muscle.

I love CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED by Camille Andros, which you illustrated. I think that picture of the bunny’s face on the other side of the beaker is hilarious and genius. How did you think of that?

Thank you! Who knows where these things come from. I do know that, on the facing page, there is a bunny stuck inside a beaker that was there in the initial sketch but my editor asked that he look “more squished” and attached a photo of a cat in a wine glass for reference. I loved that email.

Thank you, Brianne. And good news, there is a CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST sequel coming soon. Brianne also illustrated the upcoming BUILDING BOOKS written by Megan Wagner Lloyd. Please support these mentors by buying their books, leaving on-line reviews and telling your librarians. To apply for a mentorship with Brianne, please see details here  https://beckytarabooks.com/wwts-contest/       


  1. Amanda Davis says:

    I love the idea of keeping your favorite ideas on index cards in a box on your desk. I find that I write my new ideas down in so many different places it is sometimes hard to keep track. I am going to start doing this! Thanks for this tip and for sharing your insights, Brianne!

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