Simply 7 interview with Natalee Creech and Robert Dunn–“When Day is Done”

Today I’m excited to bring you another authorial debut AND an illustrator interview.

Natalle picNatalee Creech is a children’s author who is equally at home in Canada, (where she grew up) in the U.S., (where she studied education) and in South Korea (where she taught for many years). Regardless of where she lives, she is probably sneaking more children’s books into the house, catmuch to the delight of her children and the dismay of her husband. Oreo, the family cat, remains indifferent (see picture).  HA!  You can learn more about her at her website or on Facebook or Twitter.

“When Day is Done” is Natalee’s debut picture book, released just last week!  That means you can already find it on Amazon.  Yeah!  It is a sweet addition to bedtime stories told in rhyme with wonderful illustrations that capture light perfectly.

(Disclaimer: all pictures from the book are copyrighted.  When Day Is Done, written by Natalee Creech, illustrated by Robert Dunn. Published by Beaming Books. All rights reserved.)

Welcome Natalee!

Me: What draws you to writing picture books?

Natalee: Picture books are powerful. I love the interplay of words and text, and the rich language that you can weave into the story. I love that picture books are often shared, (older reader and younger listener) creating memories that last a lifetime. I love the challenge of narrowing down a story to the minimum words necessary – the right words, in the right order. And I hope that something I write touches someone at a time when it is most needed.

CoverMe: There are several picture books that immediately come to mind about bed time (Good Night Moon, etc.). What made you want to write a story about the end of the day?

Natalee: I don’t recall setting out to write a bedtime book specifically, but one day when I was writing (or possibly daydreaming in my writing chair?) the line “We sleep when day is done” popped into my head and I was inspired to build upon that.

Me: Your debut picture book is also a rhyming story with an amazing rhythm that scans beautifully. Was this more of a challenge to revise? Did you find it hard to sell a rhyming story as a beginning writer?

Natalee: I love the challenge of writing and revising poetry. It’s immensely satisfying when you find the perfect word to fit the meter, the meaning, and the overall feel of the poem. One challenge for this book was finding three true rhymes for each stanza that didn’t sound contrived. Another challenge was that it’s a concept book, so it doesn’t have a plot or specific characters, but it still needed to go somewhere and be about something. The poem takes the characters through coming into the house at the end of the day and getting ready for bed, but I strived to make it something beyond a simple account of a bedtime routine by focusing on the poetic elements. For example, here’s a verse I rejected:

Pajamas on, turn off the light,
Please tuck the blankets in just right.
A loving hug, a kiss goodnight
We sleep when day is done.

Here’s what I notice when I look critically at those first three lines: just is a filler word whose only purpose is to make the meter work. The same is true of loving – we can probably assume that hugs are loving. Goodnight, light and right are obvious rhymes. Finally, there’s nothing that poetic about it – no evocative imagery or phrases that are particularly pleasing to read aloud.

Compare it to this verse which made the final cut:

Then tucked in tight, we dream our dreams
While overhead the moonlight beams
At silver stars in silent streams
We sleep when day is done.

As far as selling it, the funny thing is that we weren’t even focusing on submitting WHEN DAY IS DONE when it sold! My agent was actually submitting a manuscript based on a Bible verse. The publisher had asked to see some companion manuscripts I had. When my agent sent those she included WHEN DAY IS DONE to showcase a different side of my writing. About a week later we had an offer! (If readers are wondering, the publisher ultimately passed on the original manuscript.)

spread tucked in tight WDID

Me: Wow!  That’s great insight into your revision process.  Thank you!  The illustrations in this book are wonderful. Did you communicate with the illustrator about his work at all? Were there any illustration surprises for you?

Natalee: I didn’t communicate directly with Robert Dunn since I’ve heard that’s a no-no and I didn’t want to break any rules, particularly as a new author. My editor checked in with me at a couple of different points – when first selecting the illustrator, and when the illustrations were almost final. I was also asked about having a single family or multiple families in the illustrations and I didn’t have a strong opinion either way. I believe this was a question from Robert, but I could be wrong.

I can’t think of any particular surprises with the illustrations. I honestly tried not to picture them so I wouldn’t have a lot of expectations! I love the color palette Robert Dunn chose and am amazed by the way he used light in the illustrations – some pages almost seem to glow.

spread birds WDID

Me: That’s almost like an actor not watching a completed film of their work once it’s wrapped! Wow. Interesting idea. What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story then?

Natalee: This manuscript came together more quickly than others I’ve written. I did revise a lot, which took some time, but not compared to other manuscripts.

Me: Any advice for new picture book writers?

Natalee: To help you write: Read (by which I mean study) a lot of picture books, particularly those recently published. Also read aloud, both your own work and published books. You’ll notice things when reading aloud that you don’t when reading silently.

To learn about the children’s publishing industry: Get involved with online groups, particularly if you are isolated geographically and/or can’t afford to attend conferences often. There are Facebook groups focusing on every aspect of children’s literature and publishing. Also, join Twitter. I wish I had done this sooner. When you follow other authors, writers and librarians you get a constant stream of bite-sized information regarding children’s literature. You also become part of the writing community which means you have others cheering you on and helping you. I found my agent through a Twitter pitch mentioned in one of the Facebook groups to which I belong. If I hadn’t joined those groups I might not be at the point that I am in my writing journey!

Of course, joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) will help you both improve your craft and learn about the publishing industry.

Me: I know you have another book coming out this year. Can you tell us a little bit about it? Do you have any other projects coming soon or that you’re currently working on that you can tell us about?

Nothing COVERNatalee: I’m so excited about this book! Based on Romans 8:38, 39, NOTHING joyfully explores the biblical promise that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Whereas WHEN DAY IS DONE is a calm and quiet book, NOTHING is a whimsical and imaginative book. It publishes April 23 (please disregard the date of April 9 on some sites!) and is available now for preorder. This is the book I wish I had written ten years ago so I could have read it to my children when they were small enough to sit in my lap. If I’m going to read a book again and again, what better words to hear and take to heart than that nothing in this world can separate you from God’s everlasting love?

Thanks so much for having me, Jena!

I’ll leave you with a sneak peek at a couple of Joseph Cowman’s fantastic illustrations!

(Disclaimer: all pictures from the book are copyrighted. From Nothing, written by Natalee Creech, illustrated by Joseph Cowman. Published by WorthyKids, an imprint of Hachette Book Group. All rights reserved.)

spread submarine nothing

spread desert nothing

Wow Natalee!  Those illustrations DO look great!  Thanks for sharing and thank you for stopping by my blog. BUT WAIT, dear readers, there’s more.

pro picRobert Dunn is a Scottish illustrator specialising in editorial, children’s and picture book illustration. He works mixing traditional media with digital elements in his cluttered but cosy home studio in the wilds of South Lanarkshire. He has published illustration work in several picture books and magazines already. You can learn more about him on Facebook or on his page via his illustration agency, Advocate Art.

Welcome Robert!

Me: What was your artistic journey? When did you start drawing and/or painting?

Robert: I’ve illustrated sporadically since the early 2000s but the real world always seemed to take over. Eventually I realised I was spending more time drawing on post-it notes than actually working in the office, so a change seemed inevitable… much to the delight of my bosses.

Me: Can you talk a little bit about your process and how you create your mixed media approach? Do you start with watercolor? Or digitally? 

Robert: My style has evolved over the years to accommodate the demands of a constantly changing industry. I found out the hard way that flexibility is just as important as artistic ability. I start with a base watercolour painting, penciling up as needed. Sky, shadows, tone and highlights are worked in digitally.

 Me: You have illustrated several picture books, as well as work for magazines. What do you enjoy illustrating the most?

Robert: I get bored very easily so I prefer working on books where it’s not just same character in a different pose over 32 pages… although in saying that, picture books allow you to experiment more with light and tone.

Me: Your work in “When Day is Done” is delightful, especially in the use of light. Can you talk a little bit about your vision for the book? 

Robert: Anyone who has done the whole bath/supper/story thing at night with their child knows that it’s one of the most rewarding parts of the day. I have two kids, and there’s always a delightful serenity at that time of night. I basically tried to convey with light and mood what that feels like.

spread hiding WDID

Me: What is one thing that surprised you in illustrating this story?

Robert: Ha! Probably that I managed to twist my brooding palette into something more suitable for the much younger reader.

Me: LOL!  Any advice for new picture book illustrators?

Robert: Draw constantly and find your style. Keep up date with what’s trending, especially palette-wise. Find an agent and be prepared to work very long hours… oh, and hide your post-it notes.

Me: Do you have any other projects that you’re currently working on or that we will be seeing in the near future?

Robert: I normally have five or six projects on the go at once. I’ve been working with the Augustine Institute a lot, Cambridge University Press, Treasuries… lots of work from America. I’m hoping to get one of my own books picked up again but we’ll see.

Thank you Robert for stopping by.  Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet to read “When Day is Done” you must check it out.  It’s definitely a book worth studying.

About jenabenton

I'm an elementary school teacher, writer, illustrator and storyteller.

6 Responses

  1. […] Pop on over to Jena Benton’s blog to catch a “Simply 7” interview with me and illustrator Robert Dunn. Jena is a writer and illustrator (and teacher) who lives in Alaska. Her husband is also a writer and his first picture book Pedro’s Pan just released in February. https://jenabenton.com/2019/02/20/simply-7-interview-with-natalee-creech-and-robert-dunn-when-day-is… […]

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