Today I have a special Simply 7 to share with you where I interview both the author AND illustrator of a recently released picture book, featuring DOUGHNUTS! Carrie Finison writes picture books with humor and heart, including DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS (2020) and the forthcoming books DON’T HUG DOUG (2021) and HURRY, LITTLE TORTOISE (2022). She lives in the Boston area with her family. You can learn more about her at her website or on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
“Dozens of Doughnuts” is another funny book (yay!) about a bear who wants to eat doughnuts before settling in for hibernation. Hijinks ensue, however, when one friend after another stops by to help share those very same doughnuts! There are things that happen as you expect, but there are also a few surprise twists that make this a thoroughly enjoyable read. And I can just imagine savoring this book with kiddos and a side of doughnuts! Maybe even making some from scratch. Yum!
Me: You have been an editor, a content writer, and a producer of educational software products. What is it then that drew you to writing picture books?
Carrie: It’s true, I’ve worn a lot of different hats in my work! But when I look back, many of them involve writing, books, or creating media for kids. In fact, my very first job was shelving books at the public library! More recently, much of my paid work was writing content for educational software on a work-for-hire basis, such as reading passages for online reading programs. After my son was born in 2005, and we began reading picture books together, I started to think that maybe I could branch out from the work-for-hire writing assignments I was doing and try my own creative projects. I started on a micro level – writing short poems and stories for children’s magazines like Babybug and Ladybug, and then grew up into picture books.
Picture book writing holds a lot of appeal for me because I’m a visual thinker and I love imagining the scenes that will go with the words I’m writing.
Me: Your story of a bear wanting to eat doughnuts before hibernation is both funny and touching. And it’s in rhyme! What inspired this story?
Carrie: The title came to me as I was playing around with words (as I frequently do). A member of one of my critique groups had a story called Double the Dinosaurs. One day I woke up and thought, “Double the Doughnuts.” I have a house full of doughnut-lovers, so it’s no surprise that word popped into my head. Double the Doughnuts sounded like it could be a fun story! But as I played with the idea, it seemed too similar to the one my friend was working on. Then I swapped out the word “Double” for “Dozens” – which is still alliterative and makes sense because doughnuts come in a dozen. Dozens of Doughnuts was a title I knew I had to write!
As for the story itself, I’m not 100% sure where that came from. I do remember an illustration in a picture book I read many years ago at my grandmother’s house. I’m not even sure what the book was, but it showed a pig baking a pie, and leaving the pie out on the windowsill to cool while some other animals outside snuck up – presumably to steal the pie. That pie looked delicious, and the image always stuck in my head, so that may be where the idea for the storyline came from. In the first draft of DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS, the bear left the fresh doughnuts outside to cool and they were stolen by other animals. Later, that storyline evolved into what it is today — friends coming over and asking for a share.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Carrie: Before the editor, Stephanie Pitts, made the offer to buy the story, she asked if I would be willing to cut some text, and sent an edited version to explain her idea – which involved cutting close to half the words! I thought I knew how to write short for the picture book market, but she showed me how much more I could rely on the illustrations to show the action in the story. And she was exactly right!
Me: What does your writing process look like?
Carrie: I usually do a lot of writing all at once. When I get into the groove, especially writing in rhyme, I get as much done as I can. Then I step back, send it out to my critique groups, and gather feedback. Meanwhile, I work on another story. So I usually have two stories going at the same time.
At some point in the process, I always make a little paper book dummy where I break up the words onto pages and sometimes even draw little stick figures of what I envision the illustrations might look like. I’d never submit this, but it helps me plan out the pacing of the book and especially the page turns.
I often find that I have to put a story away for a long time – anywhere from 2-6 months, so I can come back to it with fresh eyes.
Me: The illustrations by Brianne Farley are wonderful. I loved the textures and variety of doughnuts! Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Carrie: I had seen some animals in Brianne’s portfolio, so I knew they’d be adorable. When I saw the character sketches for LouAnn, I fell in love with her little pink apron! I also adore her little house. I had envisioned the characters, but not the setting – would it be a rustic cave? A hollowed out tree? I didn’t imagine a little stone cottage, but it’s exactly right for LouAnn.
Me: Any advice for other picture book writers?
Carrie: Read, read, read! Read as many picture books as you can, and preferably out loud. Even better if you can read to children! Then, read like a writer – really study the plot, character development, language, page turns, etc. to see what was successful.
Also, write, write write! I see too many beginning writers get stuck on making one story perfect instead of moving on and trying something new. You’ll learn more with each story you write. Not all of them will be successful, but you’ll become a better writer.
Me: I see that you have two other books coming out in the next couple of years. Can you tell us more about those?
Carrie: I do! I feel very lucky to have more books in the works. DON’T HUG DOUG comes out in January, 2021, from Putnam. It’s about a boy who says “no, thanks!” to hugs, and is meant to (humorously) spark conversations about consent and bodily autonomy with children. Daniel Wiseman is the illustrator and his child characters are colorful and full of fun. He recently illustrated THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PURPLE PEOPLE by Kristen Bell and Benjamin Hart, so I’m pretty sure that means I know Kristen Bell. Right?
After that, HURRY, LITTLE TORTOISE will hit the shelves in 2022 from Random House. It’s about a little tortoise who has grand illusions of herself as speedy. She tries her hardest to get to school on time, but keeps getting passed by her classmates. There’s a funny twist at the end that I hope will bring a smile to readers faces. Erin Balzer is illustrating the story. I recently saw some illustrations she did for Jory John’s upcoming book, SOMETHING’S WRONG, and she has humorous animals down pat! So I’m excited to see what she does with it.
Thank you so much, Jena, for having me on your blog. I really enjoyed this interview!
You’re welcome Carrie. Thank you again for visiting!
But wait, dear readers, there’s more! Wait until you meet the fabulous illustrator!
Brianne Farley is an author and illustrator of picture books. Her debut, Ike’s Incredible Ink, was awarded the Marion Vannett Ridgway Book Award Honor for debut authors and was selected for the Society of Illustrators Original Art Show. She also illustrates the picture book series Charlotte the Scientist is Squished by Camille Andros, which was a Portland Best Book, a Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Award, and was on the LITA Notable List. She now lives in Michigan where she spends her time in the woods, in Lake Michigan, or in her studio drawing and writing. You can learn more about her at her website, or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.
Me: What was your artistic journey? When did you start creating art work?
Brianne: I loved art when I was a tiny baby, which I think is true for most people, but I had dreams of being a picture book author/illustrator by the time I was in fifth grade. Somewhere between then and college I decided I didn’t want a career in art, but kept taking art classes. In college, after college, night classes, a week-long intensive, as often as I could. My parents gently suggested I might actually be interested in a career in art. I enrolled in the MFA in Illustration program through the Savannah College of Art and Design, and wrote and illustrated my first book while I was in school. It was an incredible privilege to be able to dedicate the time, energy, and money toward developing my portfolio. It’s not something everyone has access to, and it’s an incredibly difficult field to break into without those resources.
Me: You have had several books published as either an illustrator of others’ work or an author-illustrator now. You’ve even won some awards. How did you get into the work of illustrating picture books? Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to illustrating this book?
Brianne: After grad school, I moved to New York and worked as an administrative assistant at Random House Books for Young Readers. I learned so much about picture books there, just from being around other people who wanted to think about them and discuss them in detail with me. My first book happened to sell around that time too, to Liz Bicknell at Candlewick Press. I had been living in New York just a couple months. Peter Brown used to host a monthly meeting of children’s book authors and illustrator in Brooklyn, so when my book sold I started going to those meetings and once again, learned so much just from being around other people in the industry who wanted to talk about picture books in detail with me. I also met the most wonderful forever friends there. Not the focus of this blog, but worth noting. It isn’t necessary to live in New York or work in publishing to make picture books, but it is so very helpful to find a peer group of other writers or illustrators whose opinion you trust. Maybe that’s online, maybe it’s at a retreat or the local library, but it’s worth searching out.
I am also forever inspired by young writing students. I taught writing and comic book and printmaking classes at 826CHI before grad school, and illustrated kids’ stories for 826NYC once I moved there. If you want to stay loose and weird in your creative work, work with kids outside of school. You will be humbled and inspired on a daily basis. You will never be as creative and loose and weird as a kid who is told they can write about anything.
The manuscript for Dozens of Doughnuts was sent to me by the wonderful Stephanie Pitts at Putnam. I am so grateful that she pitched me for this book. I don’t always love rhyming books, but I love this book. I love that the rhyme serves a very clear purpose: to frustrate the reader and make them laugh. The rhyme is interrupted over and over by the doorbell ringing and it’s wonderful to read out loud. (I’ve just realized my next book, No Buddy Like a Book, by Allan Wolf, is also a rhyming book and it is also wonderful for completely different reasons.)
Me: What does your illustration process look like? HOW did you create such amazing textures in each page of this story? Is it a blend of traditional media and digital?
Brianne: Thank you! That’s so nice. Carrie’s writing was the first inspiration. She set up a lovely chorus and verse, chorus and verse structure, so the art reflects that rhythm by returning to the same compositions again and again. I also wanted to emphasize the building tension she created. More and more animals keep showing up to LouAnn’s door! So the “camera” zooms in closer and closer and the pages get more and more crowded as pages are turned.
Every book starts with a million thumbnails, which are tiny tiny scribbles to get the layout and rhythm of the book down. I physically cut out these little drawings and move them around and tape them down. They are sometimes illegible to anyone but me.
This is also the time for character sketches. Are these animals wearing clothes? No? Some clothes? What kind of house does a bear live in? Is it a den? A house in the suburbs? If a book has animal characters, I look at tons of photos and videos and make realistic drawings of those animals. Then I draw them over and over, each time letting go of some realism until I land on these little egg-shaped creatures. The personality Carrie described goes into the character development, along with any strange backstory that develops in my head. Early on it became clear to me that the woodchuck and raccoon are best friends. They are next to each other throughout the book for that reason. Thumbnails and character sketches turn into rough sketches, which turn into tight sketches, which turn into final art, with lots of back and forth with the editor and art director in between.
This is the first book I made without much help from my computer. Working on the computer lets me make changes really easily, which turned me into an insane perfectionist. Working off the computer allowed me to focus on the whole image at once, make changes spontaneously, and work with any little mistakes I made. Or crumple the painting into a ball and throw it at a wall. Either way. The paintings were made using watery gouache, colored pencil, and charcoal on watercolor paper. There were some corrections made in Photoshop, too.
Me: I loved the variety of characters you put in this book. As far as I can tell they weren’t described in the text. Were there art notes? How did you know what animals to make each character? What inspired them?
Brianne: Yes! Carrie had minimal art notes (which I prefer!) but she did tell me which animals she imagined for each character. Each creature she picked has a very distinct tail, which gives the reader a visual clue about who might be at LouAnn’s door. Carrie, was that on purpose??
Me: I loved that. You can play a guessing game with readers based on those tails! “Who do you think is at the door?” before you turn the page to find out. What is one thing that surprised you in illustrating “Dozens of Doughnuts”?
Brianne: I was surprised by how much I enjoyed illustrating traditionally! My back and my eyeballs thanked me.
Me: Any advice for other picture book illustrators?
Brianne: Hm, just the advice above I suppose. And read read read, but anyone will tell you that.
Me: I also absolutely loved the end papers you created. Did you have to do a lot of doughnut research to get all the details right on the many varieties? Did you eat a lot of them?
Brianne: Ha!! There can never be enough in-person doughnut research, if you ask me.
LOL! I think most of us would agree with that. Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance to read this book yet, track down a copy today and give it a read. It’s well worth the giggles AND the doughnuts!