Catherine Stine's IDEA CITY

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010


I did a presentation last week for 4th and 5th graders. Instead of reading them something of mine that was already published, I decided to read a couple of chapters from a work-in-progress and show them my illustrations that go along with it.

This is a project that I'd put away for months following a random publishing professional's comment that she was looking for middle grade material a la WIMPY KID, and I replied that I had something along those lines but it was fantasy and probably young middle grade. She responded with a tone of disdain. "No one's looking for any younger middle grade than WIMPY KID." After which, I put my project in a closet and didn't do any more pictures for it. Maybe she was right.

But my intuition told me otherwise. I was wondering what she'd think of CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS, and FERGUS CRANE, and the amazing HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, all aimed for a slightly younger middle grade audience than WIMPY KID.

I kept arguing with her in my head. But I wasn't sure enough of myself to get the darn project, which had been my joy, off of the dusty shelf. Until...

Until I did that school visit last week and read my three chapters... and realized that the kids were eating it up and wanting more. And loved the illustrations.
Not only that, but they had inspiring answers to my questions about the project.
I took a poll; "How many want a scary ending?"
A few hands shot up.
"How many want a funny ending?" A few different hands went up.
"How many kids want a funny AND scary answer?"
Every hand shot up and the kids cheered.

It's a no-brainer. Deliver that funny-scary ending (Which I already have!).
So, now I have my sketchpad back out, and my inking pens and the white gouache that renders all of those wiggly, blotchy lines super-sharp. Hey, I even installed Creative Suite 4 (Which I bought last December!) so that I can import the illustrations into Photoshop and make 'em sparkle with wacky backgrounds and airbrush shading. I know, I know, Creative Suite 5 is already out. No problem, I'll upgrade soon.

The moral of the story? Don't let one person sway you off your dream project. Especially if you've gotten great feedback from a lot of other people--and from a set of cheering 4th graders who are whip-smart and full of hilarious suggestions, like "Put some spikes on that rat's leather jacket!"

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