Monday, February 2, 2009

A Chat with Cheryl Harness Part

Today I will be having the third and final chat with author illustrator Cheryl Harness.

Marya: Welcome back to TTLG Cheryl. Today I would like to talk to you about
the book creation process.

Cheryl: Hello right backatcha. I'd love to talk about how I do my books.

Marya: For those of you who don't know, Cheryl illustrates other people's
books and she also creates books that she has both written and illustrated. I thought I would begin by asking you how things work when you are going to write and illustrate a book yourself. For example, for Young Teddy Roosevelt, did you come up with the idea for this book yourself or did a publisher approach you about the idea?

Cheryl: There was a story on television some years back about a book containing TR's letters to his children - did you know that he illustrated them? He did, with funny little line drawings. Anyway, hearing of that book filled me with instant enthusiasm for a TR book. After all, I grew up reading those Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, the first of the series set in the very picturesque time of TR's presidency [1901-1909]. As I read more about the man himself - I mean, I knew the basics, but finding out more about Teddy, his overcoming of chronic ill health, tragic early deaths of those he most loved, etc., etc., ETC. I just HAD to do a book about him.

Marya: I see. And what did you do once the idea was in place? Did you write
it first and then illustrate it or did you do the written work and the artwork at the same time?

Cheryl: Writing's the foundation; it always comes first. The first thing that I always do is go to my encyclopedia, a fine place to get a brief but solid introduction to the life & times. Then I'll begin looking at what has been done for older readers. For instance, when I worked on my Thomas Jefferson [Nat'l Geo., 2004], I read Natalie Bober's wonderful book, Thomas Jefferson, Man on a Mountain.[S. & Sch. 1988]. Based upon these, I write an outline and send this off to the editor. Now when I was first starting out, in the late 1980s, I sent a carefully, completely done story, literally cut and pasted into a 'dummy,' illustrated w/ very tight pencil drawings, photocopied, colored w/ colored pencils and pasted into place w/ the text. THEN I slipped each page into an acetate sleeve, all these pages held w/ a plastic binder, you know? usually used, back then anyway, for a term paper. THEN I gift-wrapped the whole shebang w/ white tissue paper, kissed it for luck, & mailed it. By golly, every single time I send art and/or writing off to an editor to this day, I still kiss the envelope for luck before sending it away.

Marya: What form is the book in when you send it to the publisher. and what
happens to it next?

Cheryl: The outline might well be little more than a page breakdown and/or a storyboard. For example, here's what I put together for a possible book about the wonderful/horrible individual who was our 7th President, Andrew Jackson:

p. 1 paste
pp. 2/3 endpapers
pp. 4/5 title page
pp. 6/7 It’s winter 1767. Many a mile and a stormy sea away from their native Ireland, Mr. and Mrs.
Jackson were pioneering in the wild Carolina country. They were building a new life for themselves and especially for their boys, little Hugh and Robert, and for the new baby, soon to be born. Life was hard, but the future looked bright.
Then Mr. Jackson got hurt. With all his might he’d been struggling to lift a huge log when he hurt himself so badly that he died of his injuries. A few weeks later, redheaded Betty Jackson gave birth to her third son. All the long years of his adventurous life he’d wear the name of the father he never knew: Andrew Jackson.
pp. 8/9 serves as a messenger in Rev War in which his 2 older brothers die, taken prisoner, wounded
by a furious sword-slashing British officer, & orphaned by age 14 (Betty & Robert died of smallpox)
pp. 10/11 wild Andy, known as "the most roaring, rollicking, game-cocking, horse-racing, card- playing, mischievous fellow that ever lived in Salisbury" [NC] becomes a lawyer! / off to Nashville [western NC]
pp. 12/13 Rachel [m. 1791, again in ‘94]/ the Hermitage/ Andy the politician [involved in Tennessee statehood convention]
pp. 14/15 1796-97 - AJ: U.S. Congressman, Senator, judge: Tenn. Supreme Court (1798-1804)
pp. 16/17 1804-13 AJ: merchant, planter, race horse breeder/War of 1812 AJ: the general. "Old Hickory" leads 2,500 militiamen 800 mile-march > Natchez, Miss…. Bloody Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Creek War Mar. 1814 [several duels, challenges in this period as well as a gunfight w/ Thos. Hart Benton!]
pp. 18/19 Battle of New Orleans/ Jean Lafitte & the pirates Jan. 1815
pp. 20/21 Florida campaign against the Seminole/ nasty presidential election No. 1 in 1824
pp. 22/23 nasty election No. 2 "rise of the common man"/ death of Rachel, just before Christmas, 1828 (buried at the Hermitage in her gown for the Inaugural Ball)
pp. 24/25 wild inauguration: big cheese in town
pp. 26/27 Jackson White House/ 1st term of "King Andrew the First" [issues: nullification, Bank of U.S., internal improvements. Peggy Eaton]
pp. 28/29 Black Hawk War/ Indian removal/T. of Tears.
pp. 30/31 2nd term: war on the Seminoles, Texan independence
pp. 32/33 last years 1837-death: 8 June 1845
pp. 34/35 Epilogue: the world of and/or chronology of President Andrew Jackson MAP States [2 new ones: Arkansas & Michigan] & territories….. inventions : 1st steam locomotives, daguerreotypes, & such
pp. 36/37 backmatter
pp. 38/39 endpapers
p. 40 paste

Then I cross my fingers! It's a bit like entering a contest, sending a story idea to a publisher. For the publisher, remember, it's a bit of a gamble

Marya: Goodness that is a lot of work. Right, so you have sent the publisher the mockup. Let say they love it and want to go forward. What happens now?

Cheryl: Now what happens is that I make a list of all of the illustrations TBD [To Be Done] in my calendar book then I march down that list like Gen. Sherman through Georgia. Very systematic. I lay in a supply of recorded books from the library and rule the first board, meaning I draw with a ruler and a pencil the size of the open book. This is called a spread: 2 pages, gutter line down the middle. I draw my border with an extra 1/2" or so beyond the actual 'trim size' of the book. This extra margin is called the 'bleed': the color can 'bleed' off the edge. Icky sounding, I know. Then I tape the rough, tracing paper dwg [drawing] to the watercolor paper or illustration board -I've mostly used the latter over the years. heavy, cold-pressed illus. board. Hot-pressed paper is real slick-feeling: crummy for watercolor, which is what I use, that + some. colored pencil. Underneath the rough dwg I slip a piece of graphite paper which allows me to trace & transfer the dwg onto the good stuff. I refine and complete the dwg w/pencil then I paint it. It takes me about a week for a big, complicated double-page spread. And I paint at the size you see in the books. For my picture book biographies published by the Nat'l Geo,. for example, ea. of those paintings were approx. 12" x 18"

Marya: How many times do you typically go back and forth with a story? How does the editor tell you what he or she wants you to change? Do you have a face to face talk about the project?

Cheryl: Generally, I'd say that the editor and I have perhaps a dozen email exchanges regarding the text and she'll send me the marked-up manuscript. I'll do all of the fixes and we may well discuss one or two things that I don't feel need fixing! But for that I must have a sensible reason. This is all most congenial. We'll at least one long telephone conversation as we go through the ms. line by line. Now, when I did my novel, Just For You To Know, a few years back, it was a much more complex project, requiring three revisions. It was a happy process. I know that the editor & I are of the same mind: we both want a good book. With my picture books, this revision process takes a few days. Time is of the essence! It's the illustration that is the most time-consuming. For my Washington Irving book the paintings took approximately three months.

Marya: How long does all this take?

Cheryl: My novel was finally published (in 2006) almost two years after it was accepted, June 18, 2004, a very happy day, by the way. Upon completing a picture book [approx. 6 to 8 months), 6 months to a year pass before the book is published. The paintings must be prepared to be scanned and printed. the pages must be folded and gathered and bound.

Marya: What happens when the book is all ready? What role do you play now?

Cheryl: I talk with young readers about my books, sign books whenever I can, and attend young author conferences, lit fests, and I've visited many a classroom over the years. I love this part of my job. It isn't meant as merely promoting my books. I come intending to tell younger writers what I've found out about the step-by-step of creating a book and to encourage them to ENGAGE. Why leave the creative process to the professionals? WHY should they have all the fun? Find your perfect work, the best use of your time and your talent while you're here on the planet. You know what Marvin Gaye said: "As long as you're alive, you might as well live!"

Marya: Thank you Cheryl. We have learned a great deal from you. Good luck with all your future books.

Cheryl: It's been a pleasure Marya. Talk to you soon.

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