Interview with Author Gale Galligan

Gale Galligan is the creator of the New York Times bestselling Baby-sitters Club graphic novel adaptations of Dawn and the Impossible Three, Kristy’s Big Day, Boy-Crazy Stacey, and Logan Likes Mary Anne! by Ann M. Martin. They are also the creator of Freestyle, an original graphic novel that they both wrote and illustrated. Gale was featured in The Claudia Kishi Club, a documentary now streaming on Netflix. When they aren’t making comics, Gale enjoys knitting, reading, and spending time with their family and adorable pet rabbits. They live in Pearl River, New York.

I had the opportunity to interview Gale which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Thank you for having me! I’m a graphic novelist named Gale Galligan. I love comics, shrimp chips, and animals. My family adopted a kitten recently, qualifying us for actual menagerie status. The count is now: two rabbits, one elderly leopard gecko, several fish, a toddler, and the aforementioned cat. They’re all very fun to draw.

What inspired you to get into comics, particularly those for younger readers? Were there any writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

There’s something so special about the stories you can get your hands on as a kid. You read them over and over again and they lodge themselves deep into your brain as a sense memory. Sometimes, they seem so accessible that you can’t help but try to make one for yourself.

What I’m saying is, I was really into Garfield growing up.

I started off drawing my own comics inspired by that, as well as other favorites like Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side. My favorite part was sharing them with people and seeing their reactions. As I grew older, I kept finding new stories to fall in love with. I was especially into Animorphs, the Chrestomanci quartet by Diana Wynne Jones, and all of the anime I could get my hands on in the early 2000s.

And I kept drawing the whole time! I drew comics about things that were going on in my life. I drew collaborative stories with my friends. I made a lot of fan comics and posted them online. Comics really were a way for me to connect with people and share big feelings with them, and I think that’s still what drives me today. 

As an artist, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?

I could go on forever but will respect your server space. Here’s a brief list of things I keep coming back to:

The works of Fumi Yoshinaga, particularly What Did You Eat Yesterday? and Flower of Life (sadly long out-of-print). Her storytelling style is so special – it’s gentle, bittersweet, and funny, and her characters always grow so naturally. It seems effortless when she does it. Ugh!!

Everything by Jen Wang. The acting, the panel work, the flow… the feelings! When I’m feeling stuck with my own work, one of the first things I do is pull out Prince and the Dressmaker. “Oh, I want to make comics! Let’s go!!”

My friendsssss. I’m very blessed to know so many incredible people. They’re excited about a billion different things and have all kinds of amazing talents. It’s hard not to come away feeling inspired about something.

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, Freestyle? What inspired this story?

Freestyle is about an eighth-grade b-boy named Cory Tan who’s been with his dance crew – his best friends – for years. They’re trying to win a big competition together before high school, but their captain is being really controlling and bringing everyone down. When he develops a newfound passion for yo-yo, he starts spending less time with his crew and more with his tutor-slash-friend-slash-yo-yo-mentor, Sunna. Will things come to a breaking point right around the end of the second act? You bet!!

There are a lot of big feelings (my jam), as well as yo-yo, b-boying, and the most gorgeous colors from K Czap. Please look at the book so you can compliment K’s colors, if nothing else.

As for where it came from… there were a few things I knew I wanted to do. I wanted to tell a story about young people navigating all kinds of expectations. I wanted to make something really, really fun and goofy and kinetic. And I wanted to take inspiration from things that bring me joy. Sports anime. Dance movies. The really special feeling of getting really into something and finding people to share that with. Yo-yo really pulls all of that together, and I am saying this very sincerely. It is such an incredible, personal form of expression. People are coming up with their own routines, inventing their own tricks, sharing with their communities – it’s really cool. I absolutely love watching people throw but am still not very good myself, so I’m living vicariously through drawings.

For those curious about the process behind a graphic novel, how would you describe the process? What goes into creating a script and translating that into panels?

The great thing is, there’s no one way to make a graphic novel. You could ask five different people and get five different answers. So here’s mine!

  1. Outline. Once I’ve pulled ideas from the ether, I write them out. The outline is like a short essay about the story I want to make, beginning to end, nothing fancy. Then I take it to my friends, writing group, and editor, get great feedback, return to my cave, and revise until I get something I like (hopefully).
  2. Script. Some people draw their scripts right off the bat. I write mine with words first, just because that’s how my brain happens to organize itself. My script is broken down into pages and panels, and since I’m the one who will also be drawing from this script, I’m writing with Future Me in mind. This can mean that parts are incomprehensible, or that there are fun little notes like “Sorry for the huge crowd, get yourself a treat.”
  3. Thumbnails. This is the visual version of a script. I sketch my pages out very roughly, just to give an idea of where people are, what they’re doing, and where the balloons and panels will go. During this part, I’m focusing on making sure that everything reads clearly. I want every aspect of a page to help guide the reader from balloon to balloon and panel to panel. As I draw, I’ll realize that parts of the written script aren’t working and improvise on the fly, adding panels, cutting dialogue, and splitting pages up as necessary. This is the next thing I send out for feedback – it’s always easier to make edits earlier in the process.
  4. Pencils. Once I have my thumbnails set, I can start really drawing the book. At this stage, I’m going into more detail: what people are wearing, how they’re acting, where I can put the camera, what’s in the background. I’m giving myself all of the information I’ll need for final lineart, and since my memory isn’t great, my pencils end up being fairly detailed. I also lay down rough word balloons at this stage.
  5. Inks. Now that the visual information is laid out, I can focus on drawing effective lines. Inks can convey lighting and add a sense of distance, point the reader’s attention at important parts of a page, add drama, and a billion other things. Once I’ve finished inking the art, I finalize my balloon placement as well.
  6. Actually, this is the part where I’m done. I’ve been fortunate to work with incredible colorists for my graphic novels – Braden Lamb on The Baby-Sitters Club, and K Czap on Freestyle – who really take them to a whole new level. So, when I finish inking, I get to sit back, wait for any edits that might come in, and cheer on the rest of the production team as they make the book into an actual book.

This all happens over the course of several years. Rinse and repeat!

What are some of your favorite parts of the creative process? What do you find to be some of the most frustrating/difficult?

My favorite part is inking because at that point, I’ve done all of the hard brain work already. I get to put on a podcast or TV show I’ve been meaning to catch up on and zone out for hours at a time. It’s very peaceful.

The parts that are most frustrating are the ones where I know a drawing looks wrong but haven’t quite figured out why yet, like a panel with complicated perspective. Or an unusual pose. Or a shoe from behind. Or a horse. Or a spiral staircase. Anyway, I love my job, and at those times I’ll take a little breather, jump ahead, and come back with fresh eyes. That usually helps.

And if not, well, it’s one panel out of thousands. It’s okay to let the shoe be bad sometimes! It’s okay!!!

As a graphic novelist, you are known for your work illustrating a few volumes of The Baby-Sitters Club graphic novel series, including starring in a documentary on the series called The Claudia Kishi Club. Could you talk to us about what it meant to you working on this series as well as perhaps your own personal connection as a fan?

I was a huge fan of the BSC growing up! I still remember my first introduction to Claudia. I had to flip back a few pages to reread everything when it slowly occurred to me that she wasn’t white because this was the first time I’d encountered an Asian-American character like myself in a book. I remember having a bunch of complicated feelings all at once. On the one hand, I was delighted that she was there; on the other, I recognized for the first time that I was assuming every new character in a book would be white because that was what I was used to.

So, the series is very memorable for me in that way. I also just sincerely adored the characters and stories. When I was asked if I’d be interested in drawing test pages to continue adapting where Raina Telgemeier left off, I had to go outside and yell at a tree. I’m very grateful that the BSC team placed their trust in me, and that I was able to share something I love so much with a new generation of readers! One of my favorite memories of working on the series is a signing I did with Raina and Ann M. Martin because we got to see people of all different ages who had been affected by this long-lasting series. It’s the coolest thing.

Aside from your work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

I love learning about all the different things that people can get really deeply invested in. Like, I was gifted a subscription to a cheese magazine and think it’s just the greatest. Cheese can take so long to mature, and there are so many different factors involved when it comes to how the cheese will turn out – I love that there are people out there with the passion to keep cheese traditions alive, and that there are people excited about innovating cool new cheeses, and that there are cheesemongers doing their best to share all of those cheeses with everyone! I love that it’s a thing!! Stuff like that. I think that everybody should make zines about whatever they’re into and then send their zines to me. That’s what I want you to know.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were asked?

“Hey, Gale, what would you say if you were going to step on a soapbox for five minutes?”

Well! Let me just… okay… one, two, here we go.

More people should be able to make a long-term living off of comics! It’s unfathomable that there are cartoonists working for huge publishers, putting in absurd amounts of overtime to make tight deadlines, who still can’t make ends meet on that work alone. The number of people who have pushed themselves to the limit, burned out, and had to leave – it’s heartbreaking.

I love comics. I want the art form to continue to grow and flourish. And for that, creators and the publishing teams supporting them must be able to grow and flourish. Good pay, good working conditions, health insurance. Resources and opportunities for aspiring professionals, especially those from underrepresented communities. I want comics to be an open door, and not all of that is about the skill it takes to make a comic, but also about the circumstances that comics are grown in. I think that’s true for basically everything. It’s all connected. It all matters. Let’s keep working to make things better.

Are there any other projects you are currently working on and at liberty to talk about? 

I’m working on my next original graphic novel! This will also be for middle-grade readers (and older readers of excellent taste), and it’s very loosely inspired by the experiences I had when I moved back to America just in time for 7th grade. I was a dweeby little multiracial Thai-American kid who was super used to international schools, where every one of my friends was from a different country, and all of a sudden every white kid desperately wanted to know “what” I was. So not only did I have to adjust to life in a new place again and suffer through the trials of early puberty and figure out how to actually keep friends now that we wouldn’t be moving anywhere else – but I also had to deal with a sudden identity crisis on top of that. 

That’s all very dramatic, but I promise it’s going to be very over-the-top weird, and silly.

What advice might you have to give to aspiring graphic novelists (both to draw who draw/write, or simply one or the other)?

Make thing! Make thing!! I’d highly recommend making some minicomics. One page, four pages, six pages, eight pages. They’re easy for other people to read and satisfying for you to make. You’ll figure out what methods work for you without having to commit to a full book first, and you’ll be able to share them with people for feedback. (If you’re just a writer or just a drawer: do it all anyway.)

Also, if you have feelings about something… ask yourself why! Why did you like a book? Why did you hate a movie? What would you have done differently? What could you steal for yourself? Taking the time to interrogate your reactions can be so useful for your own craft.

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/ comics would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

I’m writing my response in September, so this is a bit early, buuuut I’m going to go ahead and say every single LGBTQ+ comic available at the Shortbox Comics Fair. It’s a digital event that runs through the whole month of October, so you can literally just go to the website whenever, buy some PDFs, and indulge from the comfort of your own home. If it’s anything like last year, there will be queer comics in abundance, and I will, uhhh, spend less on coffee for a few months.

And then as long as I’m here, I’d also recommend Our Dreams At Dusk by Yuhki Kamatani and Fanlee and Spatzle Make Something Perfect by Pseudonym Jones.


Header Photo Credit Courtney Wingate

Love, Violet Interview with Charlotte Sullivan Wild & Charlene Chua

Charlotte Sullivan Wild is the author of the picture books LOVE, VIOLET, illustrated by Charlene Chua (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Jan. 4, 2022), and THE AMAZING IDEA OF YOU, illustrated by Mary Lundquist (Bloomsbury, 2019). She has previously worked as an educator, bookseller, volunteer radio host, and creator of children’s literature events. Originally from frosty Minnesota, she lives wherever her wife is stationed, most recently in San Antonio, Texas and now in Italy! 

Charlene Chua has illustrated many things over the years for kids of all ages. Her illustration work has won several awards, while books she has illustrated have been nominated for OLA Forest of Reading, USBBY Outstanding International Books, OLA Best Bets, Shining Willow Award, and Kirkus Best books. 

I had the opportunity to interview Charlotte and Charlene, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourselves?

Thanks for hosting us!

CSW:  I’m the author of the picture books Love, Violet and The Amazing Idea of You (Lundquist, Bloomsbury, 2019). I’m also a former educator, bookseller, and planner of kidlit events. I adore hiking, singing, and “aunting” (arms loaded with books). Just before Amazing Idea debuted, I became chronically ill with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS), a disabling energy disease. I can no longer do most of the things above or leave home much, but through careful pacing, I’ve gradually regained the ability to write. Originally from frosty Minnesota, I now live wherever my wife is stationed, recently in San Antonio, Texas, and now in Italy. You should also know we are proud mama-roosters to The Eggyatrixes, four adorable, opinionated hens.

CC: I mainly illustrate books these days; some of the books I have illustrated are the Amy Wu book series (Kat Zhang, Simon & Schuster) and Pinkie Promises (Elizabeth Warren, Henry Holt & Co.). I mostly spend my time illustrating; when I’m not drawing for work I’m drawing some personal comics or other art stuff.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Love, Violet? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

CSW: Love, Violet is the tender story of a crush between two girls and the courage it takes to share your heart—even when it’s pounding! Better yet, see for yourself!

CSW: Growing up, I never saw stories about the kind of love I experienced. But I was inundated with romantic fairy tales that–let’s be honest (or as we say at my house, “lesbi-honest”)–only promise happy endings to “certain” people. Those tales of love excluded many because of skin or body, ability or culture, harmful gender rules or queerness. But as a kid, I swallowed those poisoned stories whole. I longed for their promise of partnership. Yet, I also worried… would this happen for me? Somehow, I suspected I wasn’t quite right.

I was also surrounded by Evangelical Christian culture, which promoted pretty horrifying pictures of queer people, essentially: we were all male, pedophiles, and/or addicts spiraling toward early death. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this preacher’s kid and people pleaser suppressed her orientation DEEP until her thirties. When it finally clicked (and wow–was it obvious), I was already married and a professor at a religious college. Coming out meant blowing up my world. But in that chaos also came relief. Joy! I made sense! But also, a hard question.

How had I not known this basic thing about myself? Frankly, the question terrified me. Looking back, I recognized queer crushes all the way back to preschool. That was then I realized the full power of those children’s stories to frame reality for me, of what and who were possible, acceptable, or not. My views of gender and sexuality changed dramatically as I matured, toward acceptance and equality. But my own sense of self? It didn’t budge. My identity had crystalized in the 1970s and 80s, in that miasma of Disney and Evangelicalism, when I didn’t yet realize that I could exist. Early stories are so powerful. They kept me in the closet years after I’d rejected the prejudice that created them. 

So, I wanted to write a new story. One full of those first-crush thrills, the heart cartwheeling. A story inspired by falling head-over-heels for my spouse one snowy winter. A story about kids, at their level, but in a world in which love is love. People are people. Equal and accepted. A true love story to break the poisoned spell of hate. A story to say to every kid in an unsafe place: 

You are not alone. This love, this happy ending is for YOU.

In previous interviews you had discussed what the book meant to you as a queer adult who didn’t grow up with much queer representation. Would you mind speaking about that a bit here and what it means to you to create something like Love, Violet?

CSW: Welcoming Love, Violet feels indescribable. In a way, like reclaiming my childhood. And also, touching history. Standing on a bridge between the brave trouble makers on one side who made my family and this book possible, and the new children on the other, beginning their journeys with affirming stories like this one. It’s like passing on gifts passed to me. Sacred.

I’ve been overwhelmed by the personal responses. One reviewer’s daughter decided Love, Violet was her favorite book and commenced making valentines back in November! I couldn’t even picture queerness at her age, much less acceptance! And the personal stories people are sharing about their lives, about “ugly” crying, feeling seen–I will treasure this forever. 

That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t point to the tsunami of organized attacks on curriculum and books sweeping US schools and libraries right now. The target? Any information or books concerning people of color, queer people, those with disabilities, or any minority identity. The message is not subtle; it is LOUD. Educators’ jobs are being threatened. Children are being shown that THEY are not acceptable. Well, I have strong feelings about this. As should we all. I hope you’ll speak up wherever you live, support all kids, and the weary educators working for ALL their people. To have Love, Violet launching into this storm is a reminder of just how precarious and hard-won change is. 

It’s so important to resist this type of cultural violence because it causes real harm. I’ve written about the human cost of queer erasure, specifically, and how it nearly prevented Love, Violet from coming out (“No More Ghosts! A (Queer) Picture Book Love Story” in We Need Diverse Books Blog, 16 Nov. 2021). I also explore how cultural bias affected my creative process HERE and about writing against the cultural grain HERE. Erasure is not new. Or simple. It is the ancient tool of all oppression. Sometimes we use it against ourselves. Right now we need to stand up for each other and against every version of erasure targeting already marginalized groups. The only remedy for this hate is truth. Humanizing stories. And most of all, LOVE. 

In this sense, despite a decade of waiting for this book, Love, Violet feels right on time. 

Want to help? Find organizations supporting rainbow kids here (scroll down). Also, check out, buy, or share diverse children’s books with kids today!

How did you get into picture books? What pulled you to the medium?

CC: While I didn’t start illustrating intending to be a children’s illustrator, my work has always caught the eye of clients who work with children’s products. I illustrated my first picture book in 2007 I think; but I didn’t specialize in book illustration until 2015 or so. I enjoy working on books, and working with talented authors like Charlotte. It is a great privilege to be entrusted with bringing these special stories to life. 

CSW: (Shucks.) You brought Love, Violet to life so beautifully!

I’​​ve always loved poetry and art, which are the essence of picture books. But I also love music, theater, and film. What these forms share are performance and collaboration. Picture books are a mash-up of all of that. You write a score, a screenplay that, if you’re lucky, a talented artist like Charlene Chua will imagine into a visual narrative. A reader (perhaps the weary parent) performs your script, with the drama of page turns and vocal expression for a live audience. And that audience is just discovering everything for the first time! They are curious, honest, and impatient—so you have to perform! Yet, they can spin a handful of pictures and words into a whole universe. What a collaboration!

Plus? Picture books are inherently designed for togetherness, whether snuggled up at bedtime or circled on carpet squares. They are about sharing something–exploring, feeling and wondering together. It is one of the most powerful experiences we ever have, closeness and a story. How could I not love this form?

How would you describe your writing/ illustrating process? What are some of your favorite things about writing/ illustrating?

CSW: I usually start with daydreaming, gathering odd notes. Once an idea takes on life, I make messy outlines or charts (I describe charting below). Only then do I draft. Next, I revise a bazillion times, chart, revise, seek feedback. When my agent feels a piece is done, she submits it to publishers. If a publisher buys it there are more revisions, but so far, those have been light. Once I see the text and art together (which is thrilling!), I do a final sweep for flow or to cut anything now conveyed in the art.

I love creating! Yet the entire process involves discomfort. Whatever I’m working on isn’t done. So, even when I love something, part of me is always cringing! There is nothing like that final pass on book proofs when every last detail falls into place. It’s kind of like Violet snipping and glittering and “When it was just right, she signed her valentine, Love, Violet.” Ahhh! DONE!

CC: For books, I usually read the manuscript and let it simmer in my head for a while. Then I do character sketches (not that many, compared to some illustrators). I enjoy working out the rough sketches, especially with the text in place. For me, the picture book is meant to be a guided experience, so the placement of the text (and how it’s broken up) affects how the story will be read and interpreted along with the visuals. So I like concepting the artwork around that, and at this stage the art is very rough so it’s possible to imagine how things will work in different ways more easily. Once I have something in place that I like, it’s on the sketches, then later the final artwork. I mostly work digitally but for some books I do use traditional media. Love, Violet was mostly painted in watercolors and color pencil, then edited in Photoshop.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing or art?

CSW: Well, I’m an outlier here. I almost always enter through setting. Stories usually come to me through how they feel in the senses and the heart. Maybe because I’m a poet? (Or very likely ADD?) My antennae are highly over-tuned to everything. Which makes me a terrible sleeper, but maybe a better artist? As I developed Love, Violet, I became obsessed with that wintery atmosphere. Yes, I’m a Minnesota girl. But when I think about it, winter matches those whooshing, upside down feelings of new love. (Also possibly related–seared into my memory is a certain wintry night of my heart flopping, feeling SO ALIVE in my long red coat outside a cafe as a certain gal tugged her wool cap just so, caught my eye with her crooked smirk, the snow swirling through the lamplight, collecting on our eyelashes, salt crackling beneath my red shoe, the scent of damp wool and snow and baking croissants…. Sorry. I need to go make a valentine for my wife—)

Could you describe your artistic/writer background in some detail, like how did you get into art and what your art/literary education was like?

CSW: I loved writing from the beginning. Well, dictating, before I could write–I had a lovely kindergarten teacher, Miss Connors, who called us up to her typewriter to tell stories, which felt important. Whenever possible, I went to creative writing camp or took that community class. Later, I made a living teaching, which left little room for my own work. Eventually, I was able to cut back my load and earn an MFA in Creative Writing at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN, which was pure joy! Their MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults (MFAC) didn’t launch until I was nearly done, but I did nab a few lecture passes, which helped. When I first became interested in picture books, specifically, I didn’t know where to turn. Now writing/ illustrating resources are everywhere. There are infinite ways to train yourself. All of them involve studying form and craft, finding your process, trading feedback, and practice. I’d also include developing confidence in your voice. 

CC: I didn’t go to formal art school; I do have a degree in Illustration though the program was somewhat different from typical art school. Most of what I know, I picked up along the way from books (and later, YouTube videos) and just drawing a lot over the years. I did a bit of a design diploma when I was younger, and worked as a designer for some years. While I don’t do graphic design anymore, I think the skills I picked up there were invaluable especially for books – it helps when considering the type on the page, and also makes communication with the art team at the publishers much easier.

What are some of your favorite examples of picture books growing up and now?

CSW: As a kid I loved Tootle about a baby train who leaves the tracks to frolic in a field of buttercups (Gertrude Crampton, illustrated by Tibor Gergely, Golden Press 1945). But when I looked it up just now, I discovered it’s really about Tootle “Learning to Stay on The Tracks No Matter What.” Eventually the villagers fill the field to wave red flags and drive Tootle back to the tracks. WOW. It’s strange. What I remembered from this book is Tootle’s joy in the meadow, the flower garlands. Yet, what I lived out was obedience to all the red flags of gender. I stayed on those tracks, even as my heart longed for buttercups. Coming out felt exactly like finding that field. Books are subtle, powerful things. I hope Love, Violet will wave a GREEN flag to kids, reassuring them that joy comes from authenticity and honest connection.

My favorite books now? Ah, so many! Here are two recent favorites: 

When We Love Someone We Sing to Them / Cuando Amamos Cantamos by Ernesto Javier Martínez, illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez, is a sweeping “reclamation of the Mexican serenata tradition” as a young boy creates the perfect love song for another boy. And Papi helps. Gorgeous.

The Most Beautiful Thing, a moving generational story by Kao Kalia Yang, illustrated by Khoa Le (2020), flows like poetry with honest, kid-oriented details and illustrations I get lost in for days!

CC: Growing up… well I have a terrible memory so I really only remember the ones that I still have! One is Emergency Mouse by Bernard Stone and Ralph Steadman. I mostly remember it for the illustrations… as a child I just thought they looked weird and cool. It was only as an adult that I learned that Ralph Steadman’s other more famous work (he is frequently noted for his collaborations with Hunter S. Thompson)

Currently… there are so many to choose from, I could go on and on. I’ve sorta slowed down on my new picturebook reading due to the pandemic unfortunately; hopefully it’ll be a bit better this year. I think the last picturebook I purchased was a special order from the UK – Nen and the Lonely Fisherman (by Ian Eagleton and James Mayhew, Owlet Press)

For those curious about the process behind a picture book, how would you describe the process? What goes into writing one and collaborating with an artist/writer to translate that into Love, Violet?

CSW: Unless someone is an author-illustrator, the text comes first. After my agent sells a manuscript, the publisher finds the illustrator, who works independently. We don’t communicate directly, which allows illustrators to imagine freely. Yet the art and words still collaborate, like a dance. And from the beginning, I write in anticipation of illustration.

First, the text needs to break easily into a 32- or 40-page book (12-16 spreads). That requires distinct, illustratable beats (which is harder than it sounds), though I don’t decide the page breaks. I also create patterns that an illustrator might translate into visual layouts. For example, to convey Violet’s main problem, I use a mini-story (beginning, middle, end) within the story. Kids aren’t abstract thinkers yet, so they need to see and experience this problem for themselves. Here, I use a set up (“But whenever Mira came near…”), then three quick scene examples to show the problem is ongoing (Mira approaches Violet three times), and a final statement of the problem: “Violet went shy.” But for this simple text to truly spring to life, we need the art, layout, and even page turns to complete the experience.

In this case, Charlene places “But whenever Mira came near…” right before a page-turn to drive the suspense. Next, three spots (surrounded by white space) highlight the dynamic between the girls, yet keep us moving until–BOOM–the hammer drops–“Violet went shy.” The full bleed (no white space) of poor Violet cowering behind that tree overwhelms us with Violet’s despair over her problem. (Heart clutch!) The stronger the emotion, the more I like to pull back the language so the art can SING. (And how!) This is the essence of picture books. The images and text create the meaning together

CC: The process, at least on the illustrator’s end, is pretty solitary. I get the manuscript, sometimes I go over it with the art director, but not always. I’m just left alone to come up with the art and I quite like it that way. All the art is sent to the art director or designer on the book. I usually get feedback from them several weeks later. To be honest I am not sure when the author sees my art – I leave it up to the publishers to decide how best to liaise with the author. In my opinion it works best this way, as what I get back is usually edits that are concise and actionable (e.g please make the character on this page a bit smaller). Occasionally there are bigger things to fix (usually at the sketch stage), which do take more back and forth between me, the publishing team and the author. It is really rare for me to speak directly with the author during the illustration process. The exception are books that have special visual needs (e.g cultural depictions) that we feel would be better clarified upfront with the author.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)? 

CSW: What’s the most surprisingly hard thing about writing picture books?
For me? To get a narrative right, I inevitably must tap deep emotional spaces. It feels vulnerable. “But it’s just a picture book!” you say. Yes. And it must feel True. Alive. With a handful of words. To work, a book must convey something deeply human that transcends age. Even for humor. It’s like one of my favorite childhood picture books, The Monster at the End of This Book (Jon Stone, illustrated by Michael Smollin). Our dear Muppet Grover does everything possible to keep us from turning pages BECAUSE THERE’S A MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK! AHH! (Spoiler: it’s just “lovable, furry old Grover”!) Which is true of all my books. To finish, at some point, I must face the monster, the closet, the secret reason I’m writing this book. (Spoiler: The monster is usually ME.)

CC: Oh… there are so many questions I know I wish people would ask me, but right now I’m drawing a blank? 

Um…

Oh I know! “Do you have a queer slice-of-life comic with adult characters in a modern-fantasy setting?”

Please ask me that because the answer is YES. 

CSW: Okay, now you HAVE to tell us more….

CC: Aha… I’m not sure how much more I can say right now. It’s under development and currently only on my Patreon (note: my Patreon is mainly for my comics and non-kidlit artwork). Best I can do is say the comic is something like Nimona meets Heartstopper, but with adult characters. 

CSW: You had me at Nimona. But I’ve seen your comics and I am smitten. I want to see these on glossy paper!

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers/illustrators, especially picture book writers?

CSW: ​​Read picture books aloud with kids as much as possible. How kids react, drift, what they notice is so instructive. It’s important to hear and feel how texts perform. Do they flow? How do the page turns add suspense? Picture books are designed to be read aloud a bazillion times by exhausted adults. Your text needs to stand up to that. Also, study current picture books. Scores, hundreds of them. Type up the text with the page turns. Notice how the voice works, how words don’t describe the pictures; they do more. How the pictures say more than the text. 

Every writer is unique, but for me, “charting” picture books has transformed my process. My sketchbook is full of 4X4 story grids, one box per spread (a spread is 2 facing pages). This is actually a method from illustrators. I simply drop into each box an image or a few words to represent the content and layout of the page (say a half spread, or a page with three spots). This allows me to “see” the whole book visually. I can check pacing or focus, cut/ add scenes easily, without the distraction of language. I also chart published books to study them. I chart new ideas before I draft. If a story isn’t working, I chart it to identify the problem or to work out a solution. Charting has shaved months (years) off my process! I wish I’d known this trick when I started Love, Violet back in 2011!

CC: Pretty much what Charlotte said. As an illustrator, I always make a dummy book, even if the first draft is just pretty much stick figures. It helps in the same way charting does, but I find it also helps me figure out what descriptions I can cut out. A lot of things can be ‘described’ by the images so once I have a stick figure in place, I find it easier to trim out unnecessary words.

I should also add that unless you are self publishing, you do not need to look for nor hire an illustrator. The publisher usually chooses AND PAYS the illustrator. 

Also – be a nice person? The industry is pretty small, we all want to work with nice people. Be aware of how you use your social media especially; if you want to be an author, then it’s probably not great if the first thing people see is a list of all the books you hated, for example!

Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?

CSW: ​​I have a Halloween-ish book on submission about a monster-loving kid and her puppy who discover that mishaps and scary feelings are no match for monster love. Another project just going on submission features a child from a beautiful queer family who finds new ways to cope and connect with a parent while they are away for a long time, something I know TOO much about as a military spouse. As to other projects, here in Italy the fairy tale vibe is STRONG. (Also. Charlene keeps daring me to write a chicken book….)

CC: As far as confirmed projects go, I am working on Amy Wu and the Ribbon Dance (by Kat Zhang, Simon & Schuster), Boys Don’t Fry (by Kimberly Lee, FSG) and an upcoming chapter book series called Hocus and Pocus (by A. R. Capetta, Candlewick). 

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

CSW:

Jessie Sima’s picture books!

Joy Michael Ellison and Teshika Silver in Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution! (PB)

Mariko Tamaki, especially Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me with evocative illustration by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (GN)

Flamer by Mike Curato (who also makes GORGEOUS picture books)(GN)

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen (Trungles)(GN)

Pet, an exquisitely terrifying novel by Akwaeke Emezi is one of the most stunning novels I’ve read. Masterpiece. Top read last year. (YA)

Kaycen Callender, novelist for young people, wizard of voice. (MG, YA)

Definitely check out magical, lyrical novelist Anna-Marie McLemore (YA)

CC:

Nen and the Lonely Fisherman (PB)

Grandad’s Camper (PB)

Estranged (GN)

Blob (PB)

Anzu the Great Kaiju (PB)

Lilla the Accidental Witch (GN)

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