Finding Creativity

Exploring Inspiration with Lindsay Leslie

Hi, Word Wonderers! Are your kids driving you bananas as we stay safe and stay home? Have they uttered the dreaded, whiney B-word? (Bored–ugh.) Send them outside with this gorgeous new picture book by Lindsay Leslie, DUSK EXPLORERS, out this past Tuesday. It’s an exciting adventure down memory lane for me and a lyrical manual on exploring and discovering how the familiar streets and yards change as night approaches. I’m eager to talk to Lindsay on how this story came to be and how she finds creativity in memories and the world around her. 

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Candice: Thanks for being here, Lindsay! Tell us about the inspiration for your story.

Lindsay: We’ve all heard folks in the children’s literature world say steer clear of rhyme unless you can do it really well. So, in 2016, I watched Julie Hedlund’s Verse Curse session as part of The Picture Book Summit to see what all the fuss was about. What I took away from the session was a fierce love of free verse–the lyricism and rhythm–rather than the rhyme. I’m not exactly sure what Julie said that sparked my idea for DUSK EXPLORERS during that session, but I think it was to drum up a memory from childhood that would translate to today. The first thought that leapt into my mind was the invigorating and freeing moments I had with my sister and neighborhood friends playing after dinner in the summertime. We played all the games, shared all the secrets, laughed all the laughs until the street lights blinked on and the sun disappeared. Another reason for my writing this story was I desperately want these moments for the children of today, for my children. I want them to have the unbridled freedom of roaming the neighborhood streets, so they can build their autonomy and self-confidence, and enjoy all that’s available to them just outside their front door.

Candice: Admirable goals and your story definitely accomplishes all that. I prefer the lyricism and rhythm of free-verse, too. My critique partners help me come to my senses when I get a random wild hair to write in rhyme. 😉 What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Lindsay: My favorite part is always the beginning and all the possibilities of a new story. Nothing thrills me more than having a cool concept pop into my mind and writing that first draft. I like to let my mind go and just drum up whatever it wants. Then the hard part begins. I think I’m terrible at editing on my own. I get pretty stymied. I work really well with the direction of CPs and my editors, so I know this is an area of improvement for me… to wrangle myself during the editing process.

Dusk Explorer Spread

Candice: Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? Do they cross into your writing?

Lindsay: Loads! I’m crocheting right now. I love to free draw with my kiddos. I love strength training and cycling. I used to ride a lot before I had children, and now I’m enjoying long rides with them. I also love to bake pies, as I used to own a pie company back in the day. You would think I would have written a story inspired by those times, but nope. The right idea hasn’t come to me yet. I’m waiting, though. I think all creative outlets and hobbies inform one another in some way. I just couldn’t tell you how. I think that work is being done in my subconscious.

Candice: A pie company?! How fun! Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?

Lindsay: Truly listen and observe. I don’t think there is any one way to find creativity, but there are lots of ways to increase your chances of your mind being open to the function of thinking creatively. I think listening and observing do just that for me, and then I start asking the “what if” questions. Also, I’m really digging writing workshops right now. I need to take more. I’ve always been a coachable person, so taking a workshop kind of fills that bucket. It gives me a coach for the moment and I can get out of my own way.

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Candice: One of the positive effects of the coronavirus are a plethora of digital workshops and I’m definitely taking advantage of those. Creativity usually seems to lead to more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?

Lindsay: Oh, I have many! I have about four picture books I’m currently writing right now. I also have a middle grade I’m trying to edit. (See above about being a terrible self-editor, because that’s where I am right now with it.) I actually wrote a picture book based on my MG WIP. How’s that for procrastinating on editing? I also have awesome news I wish I could share, but I can’t yet. Soon, I hope!

Can’t wait to hear more! Thanks for answering my questions, Lindsay. And congrats on DUSK EXPLORERS’ release!

Want this gorgeous book in your neighborhood? Be sure to request it from your local library or independent bookstore, they do so much for our communities and need our support during this pandemic! You can also find it at www.bookshop.org which also supports local indie bookshops (you can pick your own local indie if they’re an affiliate. If not, it goes into a pot to be divided among indie book stores.)

Lindsay Leslie Headshot

A diary keeper, a journalism major, a public relations executive, now a children’s author—Lindsay Leslie has always operated in a world of written words. She likes to bring her unique outlook on life, quirky humor, and play with words to the page in picture books. Lindsay is the author of THIS BOOK IS SPINELESSNOVA THE STAR EATER, and DUSK EXPLORERS (Page Street Kids). She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, two sons, two fur-beasts, a guinea pig, and a tortoise.

Ellen Rooney, who also illustrated Her Fearless Run, loves illustrating and designing nature-related work. She has her BFA from the University of Victoria. A painter, printmaker, and collage artist, she resides in British Columbia, Canada, with her husband.

Call to creativity: sift through your childhood memories for exciting things kids today can do as they’re staying home. Comment with your brainstorms for a chance to win a non-rhyming picture book manuscript critique from me!

Finding Creativity

Finding Inspiration in Nature

Hi, Wonderers! Thanks for being here as we focus on finding creativity, this time from illustrator Lisa Johnston Hancock. Lisa and I met when our kiddos became friends in preschool–they’re both big into bugs and being creative. Her picture book, YELLOW-SPECKLED BLACKBIRD, written by Dylan Pritchett, released February 18th with MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing.

Candice: Welcome to the Wonder of Words (and today Wonder Of Pictures!), Lisa. You know I adore your nature-infused paintings. Where did you get the inspiration for how you wanted to visually tell the story of the Yellow-Speckled Blackbird? LJH 3.14 pic1

Lisa: I get inspiration from many different sources. I like to visit parks, zoos, beaches or anywhere to see actual birds in action. My children are also great sources of inspiration for poses. They love watching me work and get really excited when I ask them to model for me. I keep a folder of reference photos for birds, children and environment that I use as inspiration. I knew that the bird was going to be a Starling and the story would take place in an urban environment to illustrate how we see nature all around us.

We don’t have to be out in “nature” to appreciate the natural world.

I worked on these illustrations almost 2 years ago and at that time, I was working strictly in watercolor and beginning to explore digital media. The majority of this book was created traditionally with a little bit of digital for editing.

Candice: What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Lisa: My favorite part of the creative process is working through color schemes. I find color to be the most challenging part of illustrating a picture book and I like the challenge. The color palette can visually express the mood or tone of a story so it’s important to get it right. I will try out several different color palettes before I settle on one.

Candice: Color palettes do make such a difference! I don’t think I really understood that until I started studying picture books. Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? How do they cross into your artwork?

Lisa: I love birds, insects, animals, trees and plant life. Basically, exploring nature whenever I have the chance. We recently moved to California and hummingbirds are EVERYWHERE! We have several species that hang around all year because the climate is so mild. Any extra time that I have is spent with my two children. I would say that yes, they definitely cross over into my artwork. LJH 3.14 pic2

Candice: I enjoy seeing all your California creatures come alive on your social media. Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?

Lisa: I would say that if you are struggling, go for a walk or pencil in a coffee date with a fellow creative. What I like most about this area is that the people are so friendly. I think it’s because the weather is so nice. The traffic is not great, as you may have heard. Be that as it may, I have found that other illustrators are ready and willing to meet up for a coffee and drawing session or to talk of creative things. It is incredibly inspirational to have an artist community. It doesn’t even have to be local. With social media, you can reach out to other creatives just to say hi, or ask what brush they used. As creatives we tend to be introverts and I’m somewhere in the middle. I try to put myself out there and I recommend that you do the same.

Candice: I agree, social media has definitely helped me as an extroverted introvert. It’s tough to put yourself out there but the payback is so worth it. The critique group behind this shared blog is my case in point! Creativity usually seems to lead to more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?

Lisa: I recently finished illustrations for “Sophie’s New Song” that will be self-published by author and psychologist, Michelle Whitfield, in April. I’m also working on some promotional material for her.

My goal for 2020 is to complete a dummy for a picture book that I wrote, as well as a few finished illustrations that I can share with publishers. In October, I attended a workshop at the Highlights Foundation and received some really helpful, constructive feedback. I will be working on that this summer and possibly attending the SCBWI conference in L.A. I mean, I’m so close now.

Candice: That’s right! No excuse not to go. I cannot wait for your picture book to be submission ready. Having seen a mock-up dummy I know how amazing it is. Thanks so much for being here today!

Y’all be sure to check out Lisa’s artwork on her website and social media links. You can request YELLOW-SPECKLED BLACKBIRD at your local indie bookstore or online at Bookshop.org which also helps support independent booksellers.

LJH march14Lisa Johnston Hancock is an award-winning studio artist, picture book illustrator, and art educator. She enjoys creating work that focuses on environmental education, encouraging a lifelong positive attitude toward the natural world. Lisa recently moved with her husband and two children from sunny Southern Alabama to sunny Southern California.

www.lisajohnstonhancock.com
www.instagram.com/lisajohnstonhancock
www.twitter.com/LisaJHancockArt
www.facebook.com/LisaJohnstonHancockArt

For this month’s Call to Creativity, go for a walk. Observe the nature around you. Comment with an observation that inspires you and a random comment will win a picture book critique!

About, Book Reviews, Finding Creativity

David Harrison: Fifty Years, One Hundred Books

2020 is David Harrison’s 50th year of writing for children. In that time, he has penned more than 100 books, including 21 poetry collections. His books have won numerous awards, have been translated and anthologized. He is Drury University’s poet laureate. David Harrison Elementary School in Missouri is named for him. He has spoken at conferences, workshops, and visited hundreds of schools.

After Dark, David’s 97th book and 20th collection of poetry was released earlier this month. Three more are scheduled for publication later this year, and one for 2021.

His first book – a picture book, The Boy with a Drum – was published October 1, 1969. His second, Little Turtle’s Big Adventure, was read on the air by Captain Kangaroo. His third, “The Book of Giant Stories,” won a Christopher Award.
Many of David’s books combine nature, science, poetry and humor. Both science and poetry require observation and the ability to describe what is observed. As a biologist and a poet, David has developed a lifelong habit of watching wildlife – and writing about it.
After Dark was inspired by sitting on the patio, listening and watching night life by the lake – as well as family camping trips from when he was a child. The 21 poems featured here are chock full of interesting scientific facts.

His last book, And the Bullfrogs Sing (Holiday House, 2019), is a free verse poem about the life cycle of frogs, accentuated by the chorus Rumm, Rumm, Rumm” and other bullfrog noises.David’s love of nature began when he was a youngster, camping with his parents (who also instilled in him a love of reading) and playing in his backyard. He studied biology in college and has two science degrees. Before he began to write, he worked as a pharmacologist and parasitologist. But it was a creative writing class he took while a science major at Drury in the 1960s, and a professor who encouraged him to write, that launched his writing career.
David’s ideas for poems and stories “appear everywhere in everyday life.” For example, one afternoon when David found insects under his welcome mat, he wrote this:

Bugs moved under
my welcome mat.
If bugs can’t read,
explain that.
I’ve always said
that bugs are pests,
but bugs who read
are welcome guests.
(From BUGS: POEMS ABOUT CREEPING THINGS, Front Street, Incorporated, 2007.)


About poetry, David says:
“Poetry ranges from doggerel to sublime. At its worst, it should be shot on sight. At its best, it protects our language and reminds both writer and reader that every word has meaning and only the right one will do for the purpose at hand.”
When writing poetry collections, David tries to find the cadence and sound that fits the subject. He looks for ways to make each poem stand alone, but still fit the collection. He avoids common, over-used meter and rhyme schemes like a-b-c-b. He says, “I want my menu to feature a variety of offerings so readers don’t grow weary of the same-old-same-old.” He may combine various poetic forms with free verse poems in the same collection. Often, a poem will show him what form to use – “it just sort of develops, and I roll with it,” he says.

His advice to aspiring authors is “Dare to be different.” He explains: “By that I mean know the market but don’t worship it. If you read a book you like, enjoy it and move on. No point following someone else’s idea. Listen to your own voice, your own experiences, your own beliefs and feelings and passions.”