Simply 7 with Rebecca Evans–IF YOU EVER MEET A SKELETON

Today I get to share another dear friend’s picture book.  She is typically an illustrator, but this time she switched hats and this is her authorial debut.

I first met Rebecca Evans at an SCBWI summer conference in LA back in 2017 (I think?).  Time blurs.  We’ve been friends ever since.

Rebecca Evans is an author/illustrator living in Maryland. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Visual Art from Messiah College with a concentration in Drawing and Illustration in 2000, and completed coursework from the Tyler School of Art. She worked for nine years as an artist and designer before returning to her first love: children’s book illustration and writing. Her experience includes illustrating and authoring more than twenty two children’s books, teaching art at the local Art Center, and publishing artwork with magazines and multiple publishing houses. She regularly speaks at elementary schools and shares her love of literature and art with children. She is also Co-Regional Advisor for the MD/DE/WV SCBWI. She lives in Maryland and enjoys spending time with her husband and four young children, and working from her home studio. You can view her work at her website.  She is also represented by Essie White, Storm Literary Agency.

IF YOU EVER MEET A SKELETON is her first book as author only.  It’s a fun Halloween-ish story that has some gross humor thrown into a rollicking rhyme (from rotting brains to stinky shoes).  She also managed to sneak in some science facts about skeletons.  The illustrations are the icing on the cake (and funnily enough, they remind me a tiny bit of Rebecca’s own illustration style).  The illustrations incorporate a chase sequence that has a few laughs of their own.  This would be a great Halloween read in any classroom or at bed time.  You won’t want to miss this one.

Welcome Rebecca!

Me: You have illustrated at least 16 picture books now, but this book is your author-only debut.  What is it then that draws you to writing picture books?

Screen Shot 2021-10-10 at 3.42.24 PMRebecca: Like most artists I guess I love to be creative across the board. I enjoy trying my hand at new things and learning new ways to apply my creativity. I think it’s natural for a lot of illustrators once they’ve illustrated a handful of books to want to try their hand at writing as well. It’s always fun to feel like you’ve adapted, or grown, or mastered a new skill. I’ll admit though, in the beginning I didn’t think I’d ever become a writer. 🙂

I remember telling my first agent that “I wasn’t really a writer” but I’d dabbled a little. She disagreed and asked to see more of my writing. It took me years to believe I was both an author and an illustrator. Sometimes I still must work to convince myself that I am an author, especially on days when the writing doesn’t come as easily (and there are definitely days when it feels like pulling teeth!). But I think what it boils down to is that I finally discovered I have a story to tell, and not just one story, but a whole ream of them hidden deep inside. I just had to find the confidence to put myself out there and try, and try again…and fail…and try again!

Me: What is it like being on the other side of the picture book team as just a writer this time?

Rebecca: It was hard, harder than I thought it would be! When I originally submitted the book to Page Street Kids I submitted it as an entire dummy book, with 32 pages of sketches and a few finished pieces. When they made an offer for the story, Kristen Nobles (the Art Director at Page Street at the time) explained that she had a different vision for the book, one that was quirkier and just a tiny bit scary. That made sense to me, since I don’t think anyone would describe my illustration style as quirky or scary, and I could envision the story lending itself to that style.

But of course, that meant I had to let go of my vision for the illustrations and the story beyond the words that I had originally created. Page Street included me in their process of choosing an illustrator, which I was very thankful for.  They asked my opinion even though they could have made the choice without me, and I was excited when they picked Katrin Dreiling. Her portfolio was so quirky and fun with just a touch of spicy scary.

I think what was hardest, was not imposing my own illustration ideas on the new illustrator. I had my own ideas about what story the illustrations should tell, but I knew Katrin would have different ideas and I had to let her find her own story and style. She came up with a fabulous new concept and I am so glad she was a part of my team, and I kept my nose out of her art!

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Me: Wow!  What a journey!  I love how fun this story is and yet you’ve managed to sneak in some educational info about skeletons.  Was that always your plan?  How many revisions did this story undergo?

Rebecca: Ha, ha! You wouldn’t even recognize the story if you read my first draft of this book! Yes, it was always about skeletons, and why you shouldn’t be scared of them, but originally it wasn’t a rhyming story, it wasn’t a Halloween story, and it involved a bear, superman, chocolate cake and tickle torture. It was more about silliness and scaring little sisters than anything else. Sounds a little different…right?

That’s because it went through at least thirty different iterations before I landed on a storyline and showed it to my agent. Then my fabulous agent, Essie White, suggested at least six more changes. And then Page Street purchased it and we went through about five more major revisions to the storyline. And I can’t even tell you how many trees I killed printing out the rhyming couplets and annotating the stresses and rests to make sure all the beats matched!

Sometimes when I start writing a story, I’m not even sure where I’m going with it!  That is until it’s all down in black and white and I can sit down and ask myself…what is this story even about? Why would anyone want to read it? The more I worked on the story, the more I tailored it toward a conversation I’d had with my young son when he had become scared of a skeleton he saw in a museum. And the more I turned in that direction the clearer the story became.

Me: I love that.  Katrin Dreiling’s illustrations are perfect for this story.  She even cleverly included a bit of plot with characters in them and a chase sequence that weren’t in the text.  Was that all on her own?  Or did you include any art notes?

Rebecca: This is going to sound funny to say, but I don’t actually know! Originally the story had zero art notes, since I’d submitted a dummy book along with the manuscript. But after hiring a different illustrator Page Street Kids asked me to write up a full set of art notes for the story, annotations with what I envisioned happening on every page. I did as they asked but I still, to this day, don’t know if they ever shared it with Katrin.

If I had to guess I’d say they didn’t, because her art didn’t follow my art notes at all, she came up with her own fabulous ideas and I love the different twists and turns the story took due to that. So Katrin, if you’re reading this, and you saw my original set of art notes, thanks for ignoring them and using your own imagination!

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Me: Were there any illustration surprises for you?  What was your favorite illustration?

Rebecca: It was all a surprise. 🙂 Honestly, I had no idea what to expect when the first round of sketches came back. But I loved the little ninja, pirate, and witch, and the goofy skeleton with the mis-matched teeth!

My favorite illustration is the second to last page where they are all in the tree house having a great time and the mom is standing there with spilled drinks and hair the size of a hot air balloon, and a look on her face like “What just happened?” It makes me laugh every time. And as a fellow illustrator, I just love the patterns and beautiful shades of grey on the wooden walls of the treehouse.

Me: Any advice for other new picture book writers and/or illustrators?

Screen Shot 2021-10-10 at 3.17.34 PMRebecca: Don’t be afraid to fail! Because you will, multiple times. It took me years of writing before I felt I had a story good enough to share. And even now I get plenty of rejections and go back to the drawing board with stories on a weekly basis. Learning is a never-ending process, and there’s always something new to try or some different skill to master.

I’ve talked to so many author/illustrators who feel like imposters calling themselves an author at all (yours truly included), even after they’ve published multiple books. I don’t know why we put ourselves down like that, I wish I could have more confidence when putting my writing out there. But the best advice is, don’t give up. It may take years, but you can do it if you keep trying.

Me: That is SUCH great advice.  Do you have any other book projects on the horizon?  What comes next for you?

Rebecca: Oooh yes! I have another book that was released this September 28th with Charlesbridge press called “Baby’s Opposites”, written by Nancy Raines Day. I’m the illustrator for this particular book and I had so much fun drawing this story that I can’t wait to share it. The text is very simple, only two to four opposite words per page, but the story is really highlighted in the drawings as a young mixed race family travels through a day in the park together with their little dog and has adventures along the way.

AND I’m SUPER excited for my debut author/illustrator book “Alone Like Me” with Anne Schwartz Books that will be released March 1, 2022! In this heartfelt picture book, a young girl moves from a small village to a big city in China, where she longs to find a friend…and ultimately meets someone very much like her. It’s definitely a story you don’t want to miss!

Wow!  These sound fantastic.  I can’t wait to read both of those.  Thank you for stopping by my blog Rebecca.

Dear readers, if you haven’t yet had a chance to read this book, I highly recommend tracking down a copy.  If you love Halloween and/or skeletons and have a sense of humor, you’re going to love this book.  It’s a funny take on “not too scary” monster stories kids love to read.

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