Monday, February 2, 2015

Interview with Author & Illustrator Christa Pierce

Christa is an author and illustrator from Portland, Oregon. She is a lover of tea and acrylic paint - but not together. Christa received her BA in Illustration with a creative writing minor from Seattle Pacific University in 2013. She is currently working on making her debut in children’s publishing, as well as preparing other illustration projects. Christa is particularly interested in visual storytelling, speaking to students about the relevancy of the arts, and empowering others to find expression/catharsis through image and narration.



FM: Tell us about your current book. Give a short summary. You can follow this up with any points you hope readers will take away with them)

CP: In my children’s book, Did You Know That I Love You?, a small blue bird is telling a rust-colored fox how much she loves him. She tells him with words, shows him with her actions, and concludes by reminding that that no matter what happens, she will always love him. I wrote it simple, sweet, and universal so that readers can project many different relationships from their lives into the story. I was also sure to keep the imagery clean and balanced, for a feeling of calm and to keep the focus on the relationship between the two characters. I wanted the book to be a sweet ode to love. I hope that whoever reads my book feels loved, and takes away a sense that they deserve to be cared for and treated with tenderness.

FM: Can you tell us about your publisher and how the process worked in getting published?

CP: I had a very unusual publication experience – it was a wonderful whirlwind!

The words of my children’s book, Did You Know That I Love You?, were first a journal entry in my art diary, and later I combined the words with drawings as a children’s book dummy for a college class final project. The children’s book dummy was so well received by my teachers and peers that I decided to start attending SCBWI meetings, and researching everything I could about how children’s publishing worked. I befriended an established author and illustrator, and spoke with her on the phone to ask her some of my questions about the process. I wanted to write her a thank you card, saw her agent’s email listed online, and asked him if I could please have her address. He ended up asking to see my book dummy, and loved it. Soon, he was representing me, and we had offers from more than five publishing houses, which is very unusual. We ended up getting to have an auction, and I spoke to each editor on the phone. I chose HarperCollins, the biggest children’s publisher in the nation, and signed a two-book deal with them shortly afterward. This whole process, from journal to signing the book contract, took less than a year. The time between getting an agent and choosing my publisher was just a couple of weeks. I felt like I was in a dream. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. I remember the auction for my children’s book was during my senior finals, and I was so excited and nervous that I could hardly eat for days.

I loved working with HarperCollins on Did You Know That I Love You?, and am currently working with them on a second, unrelated children’s book. Working with an agent, and editor, and a designer feels good – since usually I work alone, it’s fun to have three of them to collaborate with. It feels safe and collaborative to work with them, because we’re all working together to make the best project we can with our various talents.

FM: How did you get the idea for this book?

CP: My mom inspired me to write the book. We had been having a difficult summer together, the tension had been building between us for the last couple of years, and we were finally going to counseling to work on mending our relationship. Counseling was good for us, but draining and difficult. I wrote this book one of those summer nights when I was upset and couldn’t sleep. I’m proud to say that during the editing process, we didn’t change any of the words from my original late-night writing session. My writing was from the heart, simple, and universal. I was writing it to my mom, and I was also writing it to myself – my younger self, who needed to be comforted. When I wrote it that night, I alternated visualizing myself as both characters. I wanted to be the bird, smaller because I’m the daughter, reaching out and comforting my mom, the fox. But I also wanted to be the fox, to be the one receiving that love and comfort. Really, I just wanted my mom and I to be ok, and writing this journal entry was my first attempt at grasping what our relationship could be like.

FM: What is a typical writing day like for you?

CP: I am a more confident painter and than a writer. I know I am a good writer, but I’m still learning to have confidence and pride in it, so I usually start my day by painting out my story ideas – since visual art is my most confident medium. Then, when I feel like I’m getting a better grasp of the story concept, I move to writing. Usually, when I start writing, I write a lot. I’m a naturally anxious person, so I do what I can to keep myself relaxed and creatively free. I usually burn incense and put on music. A clean space also helps me think.

My best writing happens when I’m relaxed and inspired. If I don’t start writing from a painting session, then I’m usually in bed trying to sleep, or taking a walk on the farm, or looking at art, or listening to a friend’s problem when I get inspiration to write. Then, I have to hurry to grab a pen before I forget what I’m thinking. A lot of things inspire me, usually examining emotions and relationships, so I try to always have a pen and journal on hand.

FM: What do you enjoy most about writing?

CP: I enjoy that hurried, frenzied feeling when I have a good idea or phrase, and I need to hurry and write it out before I forget it. It’s an anticipation feeling, like, ‘I wonder what kind of story this will be?’ or ‘I wonder what kind of truth I could touch on with this idea?’.

FM: What is the most difficult part of writing?

CP: I get stuck a lot in writing. Unlike with paintings, sometimes there is a halting stage after the initial exciting beginning, when I realize that the story isn’t resolving in a satisfying way, or just isn’t communicating what I intended. Children’s books are such an efficient, concise form of storytelling that sometimes it’s a struggle to say everything I want in such short hand.

FM: How has publishing a book changed your life?

CP: I think about this all the time. I signed this two-book deal with HarperCollins just before I finished college, so it was an immense relief to be able to graduate knowing that I had a job. Not only did I have a job, it was a job I never dreamed I could actually have, I could work on it whenever, and whenever as long as I made good work and met my deadlines. Publishing the book has brought me so much, pride, joy, and confidence. It has also changed my day-to-day life by allowing me the time and freedom to continue pursuing other book concepts and art shows. Each day I get to paint and write – my dream. That being said, having this kind of a creative job also puts me under a special kind of pressure – my success depends on me believing in myself, believing in my ideas, and making good projects that publishers want to pursue. It’s on me if I don’t manage my time well, or if I don’t put together good projects. My number one problem is keeping up my faith in my abilities – if I have a day with low confidence, that day I won’t make good work. If I let myself doubt my abilities for longer than a day or a week, it can be a real problem with my deadlines and self-imposed goals.

FM: Is your book is based on true events? If so, how has that affected those around you or why made you choose to use historical events?

CP: My book is not based on true events, but it was inspired by true events. This little book about love has meant so much to my mom and I as we work on and grow our relationship together.

FM: What are your plans now?

CP: Currently, I am working on a second, unrelated children’s book with HarperCollins. The next couple of years will involve me doing a lot editing and promotion, and after that, I’ll have to see where life takes me. I would love to have more of my book ideas published. I would also love to illustrate another author’s work. Since children’s book writing and illustrating gives me such fabulous freedom with my time right now, and because I don’t know what will happen next, I’m looking into ways that I can take healthy growth-risks and plant my roots here in the Hillsboro community. I would love to open a little art studio/lesson space where I could keep working on pursuing children’s books while also interacting with the community.

FM: What is your best tip for aspiring authors?

CP: This might sound cheeky, but WRITE. Or if you’re an illustrator, ILLUSTRATE. I so often hear from acquaintances that they want to write children’s books, but they haven’t written anything down yet. The first step is to just get the words out. Don’t judge yourself. Just get it written and then you have the hardest step over with, and can move on to editing it and making it better. Don’t try to do it all by yourself – edit it with peers, befriend published authors and ask questions, show it to everyone, go to Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators meetings and introduce yourself to strangers. If you keep editing, improving, and meeting new people, you never know what can happen.

FM: Do you have a website? If so, please give the URL. If not, where can readers go online to learn more about your book and to order?

CP: My book is now available in bookstores everywhere! It can also be ordered on Amazon.com. To learn more about the book, watch this is a fabulous video HarperCollins and I made: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwGggfYSTSA

I’m very proud of my Etsy store – www.etsy.com/misswhimsyjane

This is my website – www.christapierce.com

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*Stories for Children Publishing, LLC. (SFC) and its divisions do not receive any compensation for product reviews beyond a sample and/or limited access to a paid website. SFC donates all books sent for review to a charitable organization. SFC may do a contest or giveaway of samples we receive.