Hello, lovely readers!
It's great to have you back at the Oasis! Remember, this is the place to refresh your spirits, recharge your creativity, and get a literary mood boost!
Now, stretch your smiles wide and get comfy and cozy for a delightful chitchat because today we have another awesome creative on the KidLit Oasis series... Children's author and illustrator Jaimie Whitbread is here to share some wisdom, insight, and inspiration with us!
Welcome, Jaimie! Thank you for joining us on the blog. Please briefly describe your journey to publication.
I was pretty sure about wanting to be a picture book illustrator about half-way through college, and started plowing towards that goal single-mindedly as soon as I graduated.
I was just going to be an illustrator. I would tell people I was going to illustrate books and, oh yeah, maybe I’d write one someday, too. How short-sighted that turned out to be! In my head I had all these stories and characters that I’d been drawing for years, with a secret wish to see them out in the world someday with their stories fully fledged and ready to fly, but somehow it just didn’t occur to me that what I really wanted to be was a writer.
After about four years of single-mindedly trying to become an illustrator - skill-building, sending out postcards to art directors, looking at art reps, all that - I realized my mistake. I was aiming for a career in illustration, no writing in sight, but I kept telling people I wanted to write someday. I knew how disciplines worked - if I wanted to write “someday” I’d better start writing right then and get those awkward growing years out of the way as soon as possible.
So at that point I circled back and really started focusing on my writing. I put off my attempts to get my foot in the door with my illustration, since if I was going to debut, I wanted to do it as a writer and an illustrator. It was such an exciting time! Writing out the stories I’d always had in my head was completely new and felt momentous. And yet it felt strange and scary. To give so much of my time up to writing that had previously been focused entirely on art. I had felt like I was “almost there” with illustration and now I was starting this whole new thing that would need its own time to grow. But boy I really liked writing, so there was no turning back.
In 2017, about 8 years after setting publication as my goal, I won the Don Freeman work-in-progress award from SCBWI for a dummy book I’d written and illustrated about a tiger searching for her stripes. The same dummy helped me find my agent, Jamie Weiss Chilton of the Andrea Brown Agency, and eventually sold to The Innovation Press. It will be my debut book, and, I hope, the first of many!
Everything took a long time, but I think that’s because art takes a long time. Every discipline takes time to develop. Until my writing and my illustration had gotten to a certain level, I didn’t see much traction - which I think was a good thing. I’ve only just now gotten to the point where I’m absolutely proud of the work I am able to produce.
What do you find most challenging in this business, either on the creative or publishing side of things? What do you find most rewarding? What helps you stay motivated?
I think the uncertainty of whether a project will ever find its feet out there in the world is the most difficult thing I struggle with. Each project takes such an enormous amount of effort and thought, and my hopes are always so high for each one - and yet it’s such a highly saturated market, and an uncertain industry. It can be hard to keep tangling with a difficult manuscript, knowing how many potential pitfalls stand between it and being published even if I do get it written. It’s always tempting to self-reject.
I just try and remember that bringing each story to life is its own reward. That each untangled manuscript will make me a better writer, whether it sees the light of day or not. But also that no amount of potential future rejection can un-write it – a finished story with all the characters in place and doing and saying all the things I imagined them doing and saying is a gift to myself. That’s become my litmus test for whether a project deserves my time or not. If I would want to see it written whether anyone else ever reads it or not, then it’s worth my time. I am the only guaranteed reader of any story, so I better be in love with it, proud of it, glad to have written it. Whatever happens after that is out of my hands.
Could you share any craft tools or techniques that you find most helpful to you when working on a project? What does your revision process look like?
Because I’m an illustrator and a writer, I go back and forth a lot between the two, using one to inspire the other. I love to draw characters and scenes from manuscripts I’m working on, and to brainstorm stories based on my one-shot illustrations. The back and forth between the two keeps everything fresh and exciting through the long drudgery of getting something written and revised.
I do a lot of work in revision. I think one of my gifts is in seeing what a story should be – the dramatic, comedic, poetic potential – and being bothered when it’s not up to snuff. I get so frustrated when a manuscript feels under-cooked, I end up with pages and pages of notes on character and plot and theme and how I can make it all better. Then it’s just a matter of keeping at it until it really, deeply satisfies my inner lover of great stories.
What's coming up for you next? Please tell us about any new releases, exciting news, upcoming events or anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
My debut book, A Tiger Without Stripes, is out March 3rd! It’s a thoughtful, modern fable about a tiger searching for her stripes, which touches on self-identity and self-acceptance.
I’ve been doing a weekly over-view of the creation process for A Tiger Without Stripes on my social media, called Tiger Tuesdays, so check it out!
Thank you, Jaimie, this was an amazing chat! I love your attitude in regards to the many uncertainties in this business and what you said here is a good reminder for all of us: "I just try and remember that bringing each story to life is its own reward."
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Connect with Jaimie:
Jaimie Whitbread is a writer and illustrator living in Texas. She loves to work outdoors, and gathers her inspiration through the time-honored traditions of petting cats, being crawled on by bugs, and getting very excited about birds and clouds. A Tiger Without Stripes is her first picture book, and (she is proud to say) has a cat on every page and several very pretty clouds.
If you'd like to support my work, please order one of my books and/or invite me to your elementary school for an author visit.
About the Author
Rosie J. Pova is a
award-winning children's author, speaker, and writing coach on a mission to inspire children not only to read and write more, but to use their creativity, follow their passions, dream big and believe in themselves.
Rosie visits schools and shares her inspirational journey as an immigrant from Bulgaria and how she became a published author, encouraging kids to persist, push through rejections, and hold a high vision for themselves.
Rosie's upcoming picture book, Sunday Rain, will be released in Fall 2020. It's a story that celebrates imagination, the love of books, and new friendships.
Rosie is represented by Rebecca Angus of Golden Wheat Literary.