Monday, October 21, 2013

New Author/Illustrator Kate Sullivan speaks at RISD, and shares some thoughts for aspiring children's book writer's and illustrators.

Kate spoke about creating her book, "On linden Square."
Kate Sullivan brought her hot-off-the-presses book, "On Linden Square" to RISD Tuesday, October 8. She spoke to a group of students from Book Dummy, Illustration I, and about a dozen students from earlier graduation classes of the Children's Book Illustration certificate program at RISD continuing education.

It was inspiring to hear Kate's honest and humorous tales of her journey to published children's book author/illustrator. It all began in 1995 with a snowstorm in Brookline, MA, where she was living at the time. The account of that day rattled around in her head for 15 years until she enrolled in the RISD Book Dummy class in 2010, curious about how to put together a children's picture book. She brought "A Dragon in Linden Park" to class, which told the story of a little girl and her neighbors.

Kate Sullivan reads her story to RISD CE students.
With the gentle guidance of Cheryl Noll and the valuable feedback of classmates, Kate honed and refined her story, and cut, cut, cut, ridding it of repetition, of unnecessary detail - even getting rid of the mother, who played a leading role in the original! (based on herself, of course!) In the final version, the mother is long gone. For all we know, Stella Mae Culpepper lives alone in Brookline Village and that's the way she likes it.
On Linden Square joyously describes the quirky and varied characters of a city neighborhood, from the Chatterjees, the Indian couple who want to move to Mexico, and Miss Arpeggio, who plays Beethoven whenever there is a lightening storm, to Fernando, who loves to play video games and sing karaoke. Off key. And as is often the case in the city, no one really talks to anybody else very much. Kate throws a blizzard and a snow sculpture into the mix and the reader gets to see what happens.

Then of course, there are the illustrations. Kate played with various styles, from oils to watercolors, finally settling on pen and ink with watercolor. Her style is very loose and playful, reminiscent of Quentin Blake and William Steig.

Some of Kate's preliminary sketches
She left the course with a book dummy and a quest. She began to send query letters and dummies to literary agents and was lucky enough to find an agent in NYC who especially enjoys working with author/illustrators, helping them to edit and perfect their work.

Kate's doll of Stella Mae Culpepper
After several more months of cutting and refining words and pictures, her agent sent her dummy to 23 publishers. Sleeping Bear Press loved the story and wanted to publish it. The editor and the art department worked closely with Kate for the next several months to create and design the final product, which was published this month.

Kate's story is one of persistence and creativity. She is now doing book signings, working on a blog, and reading her story about the joy of discovering the neighbors in your own front yard! She even has another story about Stella Mae up her sleeve!

To read more about Kate, go to her website and blog, where you can find links to purchase her book.

 I asked Kate to give a few thoughts for aspiring children's book writers and illustrators. Here is her response:
  • Follow your passion.  Don’t try to chase the marketplace, i.e., to create what is popular atthe moment in order to be successful.  That can lead down dead end roads.  Stranded on a lonely dead end road with a failed project and ideas that aren’t your own – now that’s really lost. 
  • BUT, if you land an agent and she suggests a change to your passionate little story or your perfect little watercolor, CHANGE IT.  She’s gonna sell your book.
  • If a project isn’t coming together, maybe it needs to sit in a drawer for a while.  Move on to something else.  When you open that drawer again, you will see your piece with a fresh perspective.
  • Listen and don’t listen to colleagues’ feedback.  Listen carefully to what others have to say about your work.  Sift through the comments.  Which seem on the mark?  Which don’t ring true for you?
  • Join the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  Joining gave me a sense of belonging, of being a part of something larger than myself.  AND I was able to sign my query letters, ‘Member of SCBWI’.  Didn’t hurt. 
Some sketches showing Kate's preliminary work on Linden Square


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  2. Looks like a wonderful book! Congrats to Kate... and to the wonderful program and teachers in the RISD CE Program.