Interview with Patricia Storms: Process, Personal Growth and NEVER LET YOU GO (Scholastic Canada)
I met Patricia Storms through her Booklust blog and then the National Cartoonists Society, and have enjoyed watching her children’s book career blossom. She has illustrated 20 books, three of which she is author as well as illustrator. Patricia says she was twelve when her first cartoon was published in a Toronto newspaper. She got paid five whole dollars for that cartoon, and has been inspired to write and draw ever since.
About NEVER LET YOU GO:
“I have described NEVER LET YOU GO as ‘The push and pull of parenthood’. Amazon’s description is quite nice, too: “Tender but never cloying, Never Let You Go gives a great, warm hug, followed by an encouraging pat as it sets up young readers to take their first big steps on the path to growing up. This story is destined to be a favourite read-aloud for parents and children alike, as the simple but powerful message of enduring love and support is one little readers will take to heart.””
Q. What was your writing/illustration process for NEVER LET YOU GO?
I wish I could say my creative process was smooth and organized. It is not. So often things just kind of ‘happen’ for me. The idea for this book came to me about 3 years ago. I was feeling really down in the dumps at the time, to be honest. And I had a massive migraine. I tried to take a nap to relax, and I was in this odd dream/awake space and that is when this image of a penguin parent and her child popped into my head.
I had just recently read the novel ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro, so I guess that title was sifting in my head. I kept seeing this image of the child going back & forth to the parent, with the refrain ‘Never Let You Go’ playing over and over. After that the rest of the words starting flowing in as well. It really was one of those rare times when the book came almost fully formed like a gift from the stars. I was so tired I didn’t even have the strength to write down the story, so I called out to my husband (who was in the computer room across from the bedroom) to write down my idea before I forgot it.
Click for bigger image. ©2013 Patricia Storms.When I felt better, I worked on creating a tight storyboard on large newsprint, and then I scanned the storyboard sketches and using Photoshop, I put the text in where I thought it would flow best. And then I promptly…let it sit on my desktop for a year.
The story was so different from anything I have ever worked on before, that I simply could not believe that anyone would like it. One of the reasons I was so uncertain about the story was because it was so personal and, well – ‘straight from the heart’.
Over the years my cartoon/illustration work has been cynical, angry, snarky, cheeky and silly, but I’ve generally avoided the heartfelt stuff. It’s not that I’m not capable of doing that work, but I was burned big-time when I was a young naïve teenage artist, and I’m still not sure if I’ve ever gotten over those experiences.
Creating this book was a very cathartic experience for me, I must say. Let’s just say the story is a lot about working out childhood issues. I suspect this is the case for many artists and writers in this business.
Q. What was your publication process?
Once again, my process is not, I think the ‘the norm’. But perhaps there is no ‘norm’?
The only reason that any editor ever saw this manuscript is because someone approached me. An editor at Scholastic had been looking at my old blog ‘BookLust’ (which now no longer exists) and was intrigued my some of my artwork.
Since we were getting along in our emails, I figured, what the heck, and asked if I could send her this manuscript I had sitting on my desktop. There aren’t very many words in the story (112), so it didn’t take long for her to read it. Basically, she wrote to me that she was very excited about the story and that’s when the whole process began.
After that it was a matter of getting the rest of the editorial team excited about the idea, and after that, well…it was a matter of convincing the next various levels to get excited about the idea, too. I had only sent black & white sketches to my editor, so at this stage I did some basic colour work in order to give the folks at Scholastic an idea of how I envisioned the story to be, with both words & colour.
It was almost exactly a year later before Scholastic finally offered me a contract. I don’t have an agent at this time, so I hired a literary consultant to negotiate my contract, and then the real work began. Because I had sent such a tight manuscript, there really wasn’t a lot of editing of words or layout that needed to be done. The major work was really getting the colours just right.
I had a lot of help from my art director as well as my editor. I was terrified most of the time, but it was a very supportive, nurturing environment. It was particularly scary because I was trying out some new styles. Usually I just hand-draw my art, ink it and then colour it in Photoshop. But this time I wanted to create a more warm and organic look, so I outlined the penguins with charcoal pencil (something I’d NEVER done before!) and I experimented with new brushes in Photoshop, and even added Japanese paper in the background for a wee bit of collage effect.
It was quite a growth experience for me, both artistically and personally.
NEVER LET YOU GO at Bologna
Q. What advice do you have for aspiring children’s book writer/illustrators?
Don’t be like me! Ha. What I mean is: be more proactive, get your work out there, don’t wait a YEAR before sending something out. I still struggle with this issue – a great deal of my success is because others have found me, not because of me ‘getting my stuff out there’.
I find it SO easy to just talk myself into the blues and thus not send work out because I figure, who the heck is going to like it? It’s a terrible battle I have in my brain. I would also recommend seeking out people who are also interested in writing and/or illustrating for children, be that writer’s groups in person or online, as well as organizations such as CANSCAIP or SCBWI.
I would also add something that I think is pretty important, and it’s an issue that I still grapple with, too – try not to be too obsessed with what is selling in ‘the market’. There is SO much information out there right now, it’s pretty overwhelming.
Be aware of what appears to be selling, but I think what will serve aspiring writers & illustrators best is the strength & confidence to discover one’s own voice, and to develop one’s own unique path & stories. Ultimately there is no ‘set way’ to be published.
It’s really about discovering who you are, and what stories you want to tell. I’m still working this out for myself.
Cake from Patricia’s Toronto book launch. Photo: Dorothy Kew.
Q. What are you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you’d like to share?
I’m working on a couple of picture book stories that are very close to my heart – one about a super cute monster and another about a girl & a rhino. I hope they eventually see the light of day. These stories also have a lot of heart and emotion. I think it’s where I’d like to go, if the universe will allow it. Plus I have a lot of picture book ideas which my husband keeps nagging me to develop.
It’s the same old problem for me – I keep thinking they are silly and dumb and no one will like them. I’ve really got to get over it. Regarding upcoming events, well – I’m hosting a launch of my new book, NEVER LET YOU GO at A Different Drummer Bookstore in Burlington on Sunday November 10th at 2:00pm. There will be homemade cupcakes at that event!
Patricia doing a drawing demo at her book launch, ably assisted by her husband. Photo: Dorothy Kew.
FFor more insights from book creators, see my Inkygirl Interview Archives and Advice For Young Writers And Illustrators From Book Creators.