I'm happy to interview my #EPIC18 friend Jen Betton! Epic Eighteen is a group of debut picture book writers and illustrators with books published in 2018. Jen has two 2018 titles - HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG, that she wrote and illustrated, and TWILIGHT CHANT, written by Holly Thompson and illustrated by Jen. Happy book birthday to both! Here are Jen's thoughts about stories . . . creativity . . . and connection:
STORIES – Discuss what inspires your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.
My ideas come from a lot of different places, sometimes from a phrase heard on the radio, or from something I see at the park. HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG came from thinking about animals who might want something that is inherently difficult for them to achieve – I love when the conflict is inherent in the character.
My illustrative ideas usually come from drawing – I might get an image that pops in my head right away, but that is like a first draft. Then I sit down and draw tiny little “thumbnail” sketches of a bunch of different approaches to that picture. I can think with my pencil, so to speak, and come up with a bunch of new approaches I wouldn’t have without drawing.
CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?
I think of writing and illustrating as verbal and visual problem solving! I really enjoy the thrill of a new idea, but also the crunch of figuring out all the puzzle pieces of how it will work together. One of my favorite stages is storyboarding – that is where the book really comes together, but there are so many moving pieces! Composition, page turns, text layout…. And I often go back and change the manuscript once I’ve seen how the images are working, which then might lead to another image change… so it goes round and round. Every moving piece affects the others, and hopefully as you cut and edit and polish, it gets better and better!
CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?
I have a small audience at home in my kids! I also enjoy doing story times at bookstores. It is such a thrill to see kids enjoying and connecting with your work.
I’ve been part of SCBWI for a while, and have met some of my very good friends that way. We video chat and critique each other, and provide encouragement and motivation! I also go to conferences periodically, and am active online. Having a community is so important, whether it’s in person or not. It’s so easy to get discouraged or distracted, and my friends help keep me energized and focused.
Jen Betton loves to draw and make up stories with her pictures. In Kindergarten she got into trouble for drawing gifts on a picture of Santa, and she has been illustrating ever since. She wrote and illustrated HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG, published with Penguin-Putnam, and she illustrated TWILIGHT CHANT, written by Holly Thompson, published with Clarion. She has a BA in English, and a BFA and MFA in Illustration. She lives in Dallas with her family. You can see more of her work at www.jenbetton.com.
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