The Book of Mistakes + an interview with Corinna Luyken

Mistakes final cover.indd

by Corinna Luyken (out TODAY from Dial Books)

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.

Meet Corinna!

2 CL portrait

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.

3 CL Shel

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.

4 CL life in hell

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.

5 CL gappers 1 6 CL gappers 2

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?

7 CL sketch

The Book of Mistakes took two years, and fourteen dummies, to make.

8 CL dummies

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.

9 CL pink petals

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.

10 CL 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.

11 CL sketches 12 CL sketches

I tried different ways of drawing the tree. And different ways of drawing the girl.

13 CL cupcakes 14 CL parasail

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.

15 CL so many trees

Every time I got stuck, I drew another tree, hoping for a clue in the drawing to help me find my way forward.

16 wheelbarrow 17 CL ramp

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.

18 CL gatefold

But it was all getting too complicated.

So I went back to the girl.

19 CL girl reverse faces

And I re-drew the entire book with her coming from the other direction.

20 CL other way

But it still didn’t work.

At times, I wondered if the solution was in the words.

21 CL text

But mostly, I had a sense that it was the images that would help me end the story. So I went back to sketching.

22 CL more sketches 1 23 CL more sketches 2

Slowly, I was getting closer.

24 CL getting closer

And then one day, I realized I was protecting the girl.

25 CL girl with basket

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.

26 CL shadow girl 1

Once I realized the girl needed another mistake, I pulled out the ink and some old sketches and began to experiment.

27 CL ink play

And as soon as I started to play with ink on a larger scale, I could see how it all fit together.

28 CL ink and balloons

The rest of the story came pretty easily after that.

BoM 40-41

Who are some of your story heroes?

The makers of these books are all heroes of mine:

30 CL heroes

(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:

31 CL Quinn art

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.

32 CL studio

Friends, isn’t this an incredible story? Take a look at how Corinna’s process evolved into these beautiful spreads from the finished book.

BoM 24-25 BoM 36-37 BoM 44-45 BoM 54-55

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.

ch1

Thanks to Dial for providing final art for use in this post, and to Corinna Luyken for use of the other images.

 

 

 

44 Comments

  • Judy Sobanski
    Posted April 18, 2017 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Corinna for sharing the journey of your picture book. It’s interesting to see how your story and artwork went through many stages of revision to get it to where you wanted it to be. I love the quote from Kate DiCamillo, too. It is so easy to get in the way of your own story. I look forward to reading The Book of Mistakes!

  • Posted April 18, 2017 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing this incredible story! I can completely relate to not only the evolvement of your art process, but the emotions you must have experienced in the journey of crafting it. I look forward to holding your book, turning the pages and getting entangled in the lovely words and pictures!

  • Anastasia W
    Posted April 18, 2017 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    What a beautiful book! I really enjoyed reading about Corinna’s process and how she experimented until the missing factor revealed itself. Simply stunning and truly inspirational.

  • Posted April 18, 2017 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    What a beautiful, inspiring post! It makes me want to draw through some manuscript problem-solving! Congratulations on your beautiful book!

  • Carella Herberger
    Posted April 18, 2017 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Thanks so much for allowing us to see your process and for sharing your early drafts and sketches. It is encouraging to see projects like yours and how they evolve, and how it DOES take time to get the right mix, because for those of us still trying to finish those dummies, we can see there is light at the end of that tunnel! So, thank you! Can’t wait to see this book!

  • Posted April 18, 2017 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Carter, thank you for sharing Corinna’s story with us. And many thanks to you, Corinna, for describing your long journey to achieving your dream of becoming an author and illustrator. It’s very inspiring! I found your decision to just focus on your writing and illustrating especially interesting.

    I’m very much looking forward to reading The Book of Mistakes. It’s on my library hold list! Corinna, I wish you all the best on the release of your book! – Susan

  • Posted April 18, 2017 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for sharing your process Corinna and what a wonderful story. Its always great to see those initial thumbnail sketches and to read about the underlying thought processes that an artist works through to reach the final result.
    Note: I am from the UK so I don’t expect to be entered into the competition for the copy of this book. I simply had to thank Corinna for this wonderful post. Thank you Carter too!

  • Posted April 18, 2017 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    This post made me all teary. I already love this book with my whole heart.

  • Posted April 18, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I can’t wait to read this book! Thanks for the peek into your process, Corinna. I’m inspired to get down to my own work today.

  • Posted April 18, 2017 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Absolutely loved this post – seeing all of the process and iterations is almost another wonderful book on it’s own! Can’t wait to experience it in person. Thanks for sharing!

  • Posted April 18, 2017 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Gorgeous! Thanks so much for sharing your journey, Corinna. It’s fascinating to see all the different sketches. I’m looking forward to spending some quality time with this book. :)

  • Koreen Heaver
    Posted April 18, 2017 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Corinna, your book looks positively magical!
    What a wonderful look into the uncovering of your book. As if it was there all along and you only had to find the right path to it. Your journey (and the quote from Kate DiCamillo) is a reminder to be persistent and allow a space for the story to land. Thank you for sharing your ‘mistakes’ along the way, it is inspiring.
    ‘The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip’ is also on my shelf. One of my favourites.
    Congratulations on your launch today, I hope it is well received!

  • Jessica Wall
    Posted April 18, 2017 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    What a beautiful book. I love reading about the process of making children’s picture books.

  • Posted April 18, 2017 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    This is a fantastic look into the process. Thank you so much, Corinna.

  • Eliza
    Posted April 18, 2017 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    I have loved Corinna’s work since we met back in 1996!
    I am so thrilled for the release of this book and I can’t wait to read it too and use it with the elementary students in my art classes as well as read it too me two boys at bedtime.

    What a lovely book which speaks so poignantly to transforming challenges into opportunities.

    Congratulations Corinna!

  • Lindsay
    Posted April 18, 2017 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    What an amazing interview! I can’t wait to read this book. So fun to see the process! Amazing. And also Mrs. Crump’s Cat in her favorites.I like her even more. 😀 Amazing, thank you!

  • Posted April 18, 2017 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating to perch on your shoulder and follow along, Corinna. I love your art, and am so impressed with your hard work on this book. What an inspiring and insightful post! Thank you for bringing us such a nice long look at Corinna’s work, Carter.

  • Posted April 18, 2017 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    How lovely. Thank you for sharing your process Corinna! Happy book birthday.

  • Stacy Couch
    Posted April 18, 2017 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    So gorgeous. I need this book.

  • Joan Swanson
    Posted April 18, 2017 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing your process and letting us know that life’s little imperfections turn into stories and art!

  • Posted April 18, 2017 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for sharing your process! I love seeing how different artists go about creating. Your book looks lovely, and I can’t wait to read it.

  • Posted April 18, 2017 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    This book looks fabulous! And I loved reading about your process – fascinating! I look forward to reading this. Congratulations on your success.

  • Sarah
    Posted April 18, 2017 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Feels like the story of my life! Thanks for sharing.

  • Julie Segal Walters
    Posted April 18, 2017 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    Amazing! Just amazing!

  • Posted April 18, 2017 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Clearly the long process paid off. The book looks gorgeous. Congratulations, Corinna, and thanks for sharing, Carter!

  • Joan Staa
    Posted April 18, 2017 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    So very interesting to read about and see your process! Thank you for not giving up and for investing all your creativity into this book, so that we may behold and enjoy!

  • Posted April 18, 2017 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    Lovely, lovely, lovely. Huge congratulations Corinna!

  • Posted April 18, 2017 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful illustrations! So inspiring to read of Corinna’s process!

  • Dena Buchanan
    Posted April 19, 2017 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    Love loved reading about Corinna’s process. It is inspiring and she is so talented. Congratulations to Corinna on such an amazing accomplishment and her obvious talent as an artist and writer.

  • Susan Bartle
    Posted April 19, 2017 at 1:07 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing the process of your book with us.
    Looking forward to purchases many copies for the school libraries I work with.

  • Myrna Foster
    Posted April 19, 2017 at 4:09 am | Permalink

    This was so much fun to read that I can’t wait to get my hands on the book! Congratulations on making something beautiful!

  • Manju Howard
    Posted April 19, 2017 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Corinna, Thank you for sharing your book journey. I’m in awe at the numerous ways you attempted to find the story that wanted to be told. And when you found it, “The rest of the story came pretty easily after that.” I love your concept and can’t wait to read/study The Book of Mistakes. Also thanks to Carter and Dial for this post.

  • Elizabeth
    Posted April 19, 2017 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Now, that’s my type of book! Awesome fun, and so exciting. Whoo-hooo! Can’t wait for the next one. Well done Corrine. Brilliant decision to drop everything else (except your family, of course) and concentrate on making magical picture books for all of us children, big and small. Love your work! Thank you for doing the hard work and creating the magic. ❤️

  • Elizabeth
    Posted April 19, 2017 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Sorry CorrinA. My friend is Corrine and I went into automatic mode.

  • Becki J. Kidd
    Posted April 19, 2017 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    What an inspiring story~Thank you! Curious how the title is about Mistakes and the multiple “mistake” dummies all led back to one of the originals that solved and made the book complete. Can’t wait to read and fall in love with the art.

  • Andrew Lefebvre
    Posted April 19, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    This book looks amazing. It’s great to see that steps and the process toward the success. Thanks.

  • Ryan Roberts
    Posted April 19, 2017 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    What a beautiful book. Thanks for sharing the process and commitment it took to make it!

  • Linda Whinnery
    Posted April 19, 2017 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    What a journey, Corinna! I so admire your tenaciousness to keep reworking, experimenting with your drawings. I’m very excited to read the first of what must be several books to come. Congratulations!

  • Posted April 19, 2017 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    This book looks fantastic!!!!

  • Posted April 20, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    I’m so inspired by Corinna’s commitment. Can’t wait to see this book!

  • Noel Csermak
    Posted April 20, 2017 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    This has been one of the most thought provoking and inspirational posts that I have seen in a long time. Sometimes as an unpublished author you begin to wonder, “how much work will this really take?’ Thank you for proving that all of the work, time, effort, planning and thinking are worth it. And thank you for sharing your real life struggle, growth and cherished end result!

  • Posted April 21, 2017 at 1:48 am | Permalink

    Wow. Those trees. Those TREES. That hair turning into birds!!!
    This is intriguing, resonant work. And how hard she worked on all those drafts, sketches, ideas.
    Wishing Corinna much success. She is hard-working, and so deserving.

  • Posted April 21, 2017 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    What a thoughtful examination of her deep process and creativity. Thanks for the honesty and beautiful drawings- even the drafts!

  • Megan Whitaker
    Posted April 22, 2017 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    Gosh, I love to see the process! One of my favorite ways to see a book evolve.

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