I am incredibly pleased to present this awesome interview with the author and illustrator of Maple, Lori Nichols. After I requested the interview, and she accepted, I was super eager to read her responses to my questions. She did not disappoint! Lori’s answers are detailed, personal, and interesting, with a sprinkling of humor mixed in. You are going to love this interview!
Q. Can you tell us a little about your process from start to finish when you created Maple?
L.N. The process of creating Maple was organic. To start, I’d have to go back about 45 years. I have always loved trees. We had a beautiful Maple tree in our yard growing up, and I played under it all the time. This is one of my favorite, and earliest, memories from my childhood. I remember the moss on the trunk, digging for worms, big black ants that I’d let crawl on my arms and legs, the knobby feel of the bark. Most importantly though, I remember the canopy of the tree. It truly was magic for me to sit under my tree and look up at the sky between the leaves.
When I had my own daughters, my husband and I planted a tree for each one. They were actually oak tree saplings (my husband’s favorite tree) from the yard where he grew up in West Virginia. We watched our children and their trees grow together. So began the story for what is now Maple. But in a strange way I didn’t set out to write this story. It came organically from a sketch here, a drawing there, and from watching my children play outside.
One day in 2010 my daughter Zoe was eating grapes. She came into my studio and held up the bare grape stem and said “Look Mom, a tree.” The grape stem did look like a tree, so Zoe and I scanned the grape stem into the computer and scanned some Japanese Maple leaves from the tree in our yard and began doing fun things in Photoshop. I then plopped a small pencil drawing of a little girl in with our tree creations and wrote “Maple loved her name.” This was another “growth ring” in Maple’s story.
I showed the drawing to my agent and she encouraged me to work it into a story. This process started in July and took a few months. Then in November we were ready to pitch it, and Nancy Paulsen Books picked it up. Nancy Paulsen, Cecilia Yung and Marikka Tamura directed me over the next year on changes that would help the story. It then took another year for the book to be printed and marketed. The rest is history!
Q. What are the pros and cons when it comes to illustrating your own book?
L.N. Pros: It’s completely driven by my imagination.
Cons: It’s completely driven by my imagination.
Q. What was your experience like working with the editors at Nancy Paulsen Books?
L.N. Nancy Paulsen is lovely and incredibly gentle in her approach with me. She understands and respects the creative process and seems to know just the right amount of direction to give. Not giving me too much or too little direction allows me to still take ownership of the book. I feel incredibly lucky that this was my debut picture book and that I had such a wonderful mentor. I also have a sticky note on my computer that says “Listen to your voice, I trust it.” Cecilia Yung, one of my art directors on Maple, said this to me and I try to take this advice when I start doubting myself.
Q. Can you tell aspiring children’s book authors and illustrators what it’s like to work with a literary agent?
L.N. My literary agent rocks! I think she’s an alien from another planet though, because I have no idea when (if ever) she sleeps. Her name is Joanna Volpe of New Leaf Literary, and we started working together about four years ago when she saw my portfolio at a NY SCBWI conference. She contacted me after the conference asking if I needed representation. Joanna has reminded me of my own voice and vision, and has encouraged me in so many ways. She gives me great feedback on my manuscripts and always provides me with the direction I need to elevate my work to the next level. I came to the picture book business by way of illustration and page design so I felt vulnerable when it came to telling my stories with words. She believed in me. Plus, there’s no question that’s too mundane or insignificant for her. She approaches all my questions with respect and even though she’s extremely busy she’ll get back with me at the drop of a hat. Yep, she’s an alien from another planet.
Q. What authors or illustrators have been inspirations to you?
L.N. OK, this is a question that might take a lot of time to answer. I’ll try to narrow it down. Here is the short list: Tomie dePaola, Roger Duvoisin, Mary Blair, Kevin Henkes, Olof and Lena Landstrom (my all-time favorite illustrator/writer team EVER!), William Steig, Barbara Cooney (love!), Maurice Sendak, Sandra Boynton, David Ezra Stein, and my three girls.
Q. Why do you believe picture books are important?
L.N. I love this question because it’s something I feel very passionate about. As a new mother, I began reading to my daughter when she was very, very young. Days home from the hospital we would snuggle up to one another and I would read to her for as long as she’d let me. She seemed to crave my voice and even though she was too little to focus on the pages, she loved this time (and so did I). It became a long love of reading for her, and then for my other two daughters. But first, it was a safe, warm, soft, happy place to hear their mother’s (or father’s voice). For me it was a beautiful bonding experience. I also think picture books are journeys for children, journeys where a child can explore a world in a safe environment…on the lap of a caregiver.
Q. What exciting projects are you working on right now?
L.N. I’m currently working on some companion books to Maple that I’m really excited about (see next question). Also, I’ve just finished illustrating the wonderfully hilarious book This Orq. (He Cave Boy.) by the talented author David Elliott (Boyds Mills Press, September 2014).
L.N. I have a companion book to Maple titled Maple and Willow Together coming out November 2014. I am also working on a third companion book with a tentative publish date of September 2015.
Q. Where can fans go to learn more about you and your work?
L.N. http://www.lorinichols.com, Lori Nichols on Facebook, Maple on Facebook, lorinicholsbook on Instagram, @lorinicholsbook on Twitter
Q. Any closing thoughts for fans?
L.N. Thanks for taking the time to read this and for loving Maple (and Willow) as much as I do.