Today marks a milestone. I completed the final illustration for my children’s picture book. As I glued the last piece in place, sitting back to examine my work, I experienced a quiet glow of satisfaction. No fanfare blew, no confetti fell from the ceiling (although the floor around me was, as usual, already covered with tiny scraps of paper), and so far I have yet to receive any unsolicited calls from publishers desperate to make me a superstar. Still, it feels good just to be done with the thing. I began working on this book a full eight years ago, and it’s been a labor of love (as all art worth making must be).
The story, a simple fable about anthropomorphized talking tools, is a personal one to me, born out of a period of frustration and longing and loneliness, written with a deep sense of having been made for a purpose and a hope in things yet unseen. I’ve always been of the opinion that a story’s genre and style should, as well as possible, match the author’s message. Sometimes children’s stories say best what’s to be said.
Shortly after writing its initial draft and sketching the characters, I became interested in collage art—using scraps of old magazines to create new images. Upon encouragement from friends and family, I used this method to create the illustrations, poster-sized to maintain the level of detail I wanted each picture to have.
Looking back, I wish I’d kept a tally of how many magazines I’ve destroyed to make these illustrations, as well as how many glue sticks I’ve gone through. My estimate is that I’ve harvested colors from easily thousands of magazines, and worn at least a few hundred glue sticks down to the plastics. A conservative guess is that about 600 hours went into the collages (15 in total at about 40 hours apiece). This time was spread over nearly a decade; while my picture book waited in the background, I put out two books for adults and spent three years in grad school (during which I barely touched any other projects).
“So what are you going to do now that you’re finished?” my wife asked. I almost laughed. “You forget you’re married to the man with 1000 hobbies,” I told her. Art and writing are, for me, like the hydra: cut off one head and two more grow to take its place.
First things first: the actual story text some serious overhaul. Needless to say, I’ve grown a lot as a writer in the past ten years, and I think that some trimming and sanding and polishing are in order before this thing is ready for prime time.
I also need to learn all I can about children’s publishing. All my previous experience is in writing for adults—sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. Picture books are a whole different animal.
And, of course, there’s my other writing to attend to—more short fiction, and the ever-looming “second novel.” In the immortal words of Semisonic, “Every new beginning starts with some other beginning’s end.”
Who knows? Given the speed this project has moved at thus far, maybe I’ll be able to get this thing published and into a form people can actually read within another ten years.