I’m so excited to introduce you to my friend Corinna. How lucky am I to know her? Very. How lucky are we that her voice is in the world? Even more so.
Stay tuned all the way to the end of this post for a chance to win a copy of The Book of Mistakes, thanks to Dial.
When, how, or why did you get into picture books?
I grew up in a house filled with books. Perhaps more importantly, my mom, stepmom, dad, and grandpa all took me to the library. So I read a lot.
From reading I learned to love the sound of language, but I also learned something about looking deeply. Many of my favorite bookmakers— Shel Silverstein, Quentin Blake, Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, the Petershams, Edward Lear— did incredible things with ink and line.
I also learned quite a bit from Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting on PBS. Important things, such as “We don’t make mistakes, we just have happy accidents” and “They say everything looks better with odd numbers of things. But sometimes I put even numbers — just to upset the critics.”
Also, there was Matt Groening’s Life In Hell (we had the box set) which I read over and over.
But it wasn’t until after college, when I was handed George Saunders’ and Lane Smith’s The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, that I knew making picture books was what I wanted to do.
Which was seventeen years ago. During those years I waitressed (a lot), taught art to kids, and eventually, became a mom. I sent stories to publishers and collected a nice pile of rejection letters. (Even one from Dial, who is now the publisher of The Book of Mistakes.) And then about four years ago, I realized that if I didn’t give all of my attention to making books, it might not happen. So I stopped knitting, I stopped going to garage sales and re-purposing old furniture. I stopped almost everything creative that wasn’t about making picture books or being a mom. I joined the SCBWI, started going to conferences, and meeting people outside my small community. And that has been an incredibly important part of my journey. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the SCBWI.
How did THE BOOK OF MISTAKES originate? Can you tell us about your process?
The Book of Mistakes took two years, and fourteen dummies, to make.
The very first dummy, which I sent along with a query to my (now) agent, Steven Malk, was half the size the book is now. In that version, the story ended with a girl, a party, and a pink-petaled tree.
Steve said he loved the beginning, but he thought the ending needed work. It took me a year to find a more satisfying ending. During that year, the book doubled in size. And I learned some very important things about my process as an illustrator-writer, including how to listen, how to trust the work, and ultimately, how to find my way out of the dark.
There’s an interview with Kate DiCamillo on All The Wonders, which I listened to multiple times while working on this book. In it, she says:
“It’s that thing, always, of getting out of my own way. I feel like the story knows more than I do. The story is smarter than I am. And wiser. And so I can’t make the story conform to me because it would ruin the story. The story shapes me. Every book that I’ve written has changed me and deepened me. So then I’m in different territory entirely than I anticipated. But I’ve been doing it long enough now to know that I want to be in a different territory than I anticipated. Because that’s where all the wisdom is, in this story that wants to be told, as opposed to me telling the story.
For me that process, of listening to the story that wants to be told, looked a bit like this:
First, the old ending had to go. And with it, some images that I loved, such as this boy with the extra-wide fingers.
I don’t know if I would have been able to take this spread out of the book on my own. But Steve suggested that with these images (which he also loved) I was beginning to repeat myself. And as soon as he said that, I could see it was true.
From there, I began to experiment. For me, this means drawing… a lot.
I tried different ways of drawing the tree. And different ways of drawing the girl.
I knew she needed to be carrying something, so I gave her a basket, a cart, cupcakes, a pitcher, a tool-belt, even a parasail. But nothing was quite right.
So I drew more trees.
Every time I got stuck, I drew another tree, hoping for a clue in the drawing to help me find my way forward.
Some of those trees came with wheelbarrows and rocks, some with umbrellas and flags, one had a giant cliff, and another a skateboard ramp.
For a while, there was even a gatefold reveal of the tree.
But it was all getting too complicated.
So I went back to the girl.
And I re-drew the entire book with her coming from the other direction.
But it still didn’t work.
At times, I wondered if the solution was in the words.
But mostly, I had a sense that it was the images that would help me end the story. So I went back to sketching.
Slowly, I was getting closer.
And then one day, I realized I was protecting the girl.
I had fixed her. I liked her. I didn’t want to mess her up again. And as soon as I realized that, I knew she needed a bigger mistake.
At that point I came across a few early sketches I had made. They were of a girl on skates with a shadow that looked like wings. At the time, the drawings felt important, but they never seemed to be going anywhere, so I’d let them go. But sometimes I’d still think of that image.
Once I realized the girl needed another mistake, I pulled out the ink and some old sketches and began to experiment.
And as soon as I started to play with ink on a larger scale, I could see how it all fit together.
The rest of the story came pretty easily after that.
Who are some of your story heroes?
The makers of these books are all heroes of mine:
(Though as I write this, I see favorites that are missing— Suzy Lee’s The Wave, The Philharmonic Gets Dressed, Last Stop on Market Street, All In A Day, The Gardener, almost everything by Kate DiCamillo… it’s impossible to make a complete list!)
I’m also a huge fan of poetry— Carl Phillips, Issa, Basho, Mary Oliver, Yehuda Amichai, E.E. Cummings, Galway Kinnell, Naomi Shihab Nye, William Stafford… I’ll stop before that list gets too long as well!
What’s your favorite piece of art in your house?
It changes from week to week, but it’s often something my daughter made. Right now, I’d say it’s this:
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a second PB with Dial right now. It’s about the heart— and how it can open, close, and open again.
I’ll also be illustrating a MG novel for Candlewick (Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi) due out spring 2019.
Friends, isn’t this an incredible story? Take a look at how Corinna’s process evolved into these beautiful spreads from the finished book.
The fine folks at Dial are giving away a copy of this book, and I guarantee you will want to keep this one on your shelf for all time.
Comment here by 11:59 PM PST on Friday, April 22nd. U.S. addresses only, please.
Need more mistakes? See this post for more of Corinna’s work.
Thanks to Dial for providing final art for use in this post, and to Corinna Luyken for use of the other images.