Before I answer this question I want to say that I experienced one of the the most magical conferences of my career this past weekend with SCBWIMidSouth and my critique group! It was my first time attending this particular conference, but I was blown away by the surrounding talent, the speakers, and the kindness I encountered. And I’ve been to lots of conferences, believe me- this one was stellar!
I also had some encouraging feedback (the kind that will carry me through another week … another month … another year)! John Rocco even high-fived me! He’s awesome. Him being on the faculty list sold me on this conference in the first place. Not only did I get to hear him speak and have him sign my favorite book, “Super Hair-O and the Barber of Doom,” but he said I had “mad skills.” I’ll never forget THAT.
So…. “how did you come to be here sitting in front of me?” Kristen Nobles from Candlewick asked as I sat down for my portfolio critique. She wanted to know a little about me and my background up to this point. I answered her back, but what I said wasn’t strung together very well spur of the moment. And of course I was a little nervous. But when I left the conference, that question circled and circled in my head. It’s a really good question, and I’d like to have a really good answer should anyone ask me again.
So here’s my answer… my long, thought out answer…
I was the art kid. I was good at it in elementary school, middle school, and high school. It was a strong sense of my identity and still is. It’s what made me (feel) special.
I was not a particularly gifted reader, I was so very average. I loved the book fair! It made me want to want to read – are you following? In 3rd grade I was given a little money each book fair to get some books. I usually bought picture books (even though I was “too old” for them). But I could see that words and pictures played beautifully together. Then, I picked up “The Witches” by Roald Dahl… it was a thick book with a pretty witch on the cover. So I started it…and finished it- a thick book! (Revolutionary for me :) Again, it was words and pictures. I fell in love with reading then. I still wasn’t a bookworm or anything, but I experienced a secret, sweet, magical something when I found that perfect book. It usually had pictures and was funny.
Fast forward. I go to art school. I figure out that I gravitate to art that reaches many people vs. art that hangs in galleries. It was the art that almost every person could relate to, feel something from, and get a hold of that I wanted to make. I finally figured out that what I really wanted to do with my life’s work was make pictures for the words in books.
I didn’t quite know how to make that happen. It’s not a straight path. So, I became an art teacher in a high school to pay the bills, but I knew this was only a stepping stone and not my calling. But I don’t regret it one bit. I learned how much I loved kids, even the big ones. I shared my love of books and illustration with them! I’m not sure if I affected any of them, but they affected me. I wanted to practice what I preached to them about following dreams, so I quit. And my husband and I moved to Brooklyn, NY!
It was only for a year, but I had my New York experience in a little apartment living in the same city as so many artists have, are, and will. I worked at Fishs Eddy near Union Square, and attended night classes at the School of Visual Arts. I will never forget THAT.
I joined SCBWI in the middle of teaching, but I didn’t get very active until I came back to Georgia and longed to be near artists and writers again. SCBWI filled that void well and continues to feed my soul. I met my writers group through SCBWI, and this single thing has shaped my work more than anything. I am surrounded by talent that abounds me once a month. In their midst, I started writing and really began pushing my art. I’ve also met and/or become friends with several inspirational people: Lori Nichols, E.B. Lewis, Kelly Light, and now John Rocco are all mentors of mine whether they know it or not.
Then I had a child. There isn’t anything more bonding than experiencing stories together. I fell in love with books again, as a mommy. Now, the draw was/is bigger than ever. I WANT to be a part of that world. I want to be among the creators of children’s books!
So, that’s my answer. That, in a nutshell, is how I came to be … here!