It’s Author Interview Thursday! If you loved the authors we featured on this blog in August, then you’re in for an absolute treat in September as I have some very special individuals who will be gracing us with their presence and wisdom. To kick us off this month, we have a lady whose passion for life is vividly expressed in her artwork and books. She has a studio in Virginia where her captivating artwork are brought to life. I was particularly looking forward to meeting her as I’m fascinated by the fact that she writes and illustrates her own books. Please join me in welcoming Kathy Beynette.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you ended up being a children’s book author?
I always wanted to be a writer. When I was a little girl, I wore special shoes. They were special because I had a little trouble walking straight and the shoes would help fix my feet. There was one problem. I thought they were UGLY shoes! I hated them. The day we bought them I cried on the way home from the shoe store. I went straight to my room and wrote an angry poem about the shoe store and its employees who had sold us the ugly shoes. Without telling anyone, I sent the poem to the store so they would learn exactly what I thought about them. A few days later, my parents got a phone call from a lawyer who very seriously told them that they could be in trouble if my poem was ever made public. I was only ten years old. I learned that I could get a big response by writing about my feelings. Then, in the sixth grade, as girls started to fall in “love,” they would commission me to write steamy romantic poems starring them with the boys they admired. I think I got about twenty-five cents for each poem! These childhood experiences showed me the power—and fun—of writing. I was hooked. I eventually studied literature and creative writing in college.
What can a reader expect when they pick up a Kathy Beynette book?
Expect to smile!
I get the idea and mull it over for a while. I keep it private for a bit. Then, if it still feels like a great idea, I work on my first draft. When and IF I get something down that I love, I think about the artwork. Does it want to be a drawing or a painting? Or, as in the case of my new book, “When I Am Not Myself,” it may want to be both drawings and paintings. I make a “dummy” book and show it to my publisher. If she likes it and agrees to publish it, she offers me a contract. She may suggest changes. We work together until we are both happy with the book. At that point, I disappear from the process while the publisher assigns the project to an editor and designer. As they come up with the final version of the book, they ask me to take a look at it and we brainstorm about the design and details. Then, I start watching my mailbox for a copy of the book!
What marketing methods are you using to promote your book?
My publisher has sales reps that place the book in all the best places like independent bookstores and museum shops all over the world! I speak about the book at elementary schools and libraries and book festivals and fairs. I sign books at bookstores and in my studio. My publicist is talking about my books with all kinds of folks.
My style is narrative. The subject matter is sometimes quite obvious and sometimes more abstract. It is often described as whimsical and fun. Young artists inspire me — kids drawing for the pure pleasure of creating. I like to look at Basquiat and Dubuffet and Paul Klee. Artists who work hard to create something original inspire me. Also, musical artists inspire me. When I see a concert by Patti Griffin, for example, and hear her original lyrics and watch her perform, I am proud to be a creative person like her! Her talent motivates me to go home and create something special, too!
Most writers are familiar with the concept of writer’s block. Is there something similar in an artist’s world and what do you do to overcome both?
Sometimes, at the completion of a big project, I feel a little dazed. The best thing to do, is to change things up and work with a different medium. I have used those occasions to make little sculptures or work with graphite. It changes the tempo and gets me ready for my next big project. In no time at all, I am ready to paint and draw again.
Most children’s book writers employ the services of an illustrator. However, you write and illustrate. What comes first to you – the story or the images?
I think of a concept first and the concept encompasses both images and story. They grow organically together. That, I believe, is the magic of being the author and illustrator.
Good question. I would camp out at the library looking at illustrated books. If I couldn’t find the perfect illustrator — or convince the perfect one to work with me — I would consider this a big opportunity to discover new talent. I would find a high school student with crazy good drawing skills — or a younger child whose artwork makes me happy. I’d look at Pinterest to find artists I have never heard of. I would consider photographers, too, and sculptors, and chefs — anything unconventional. You want your book to stand out, right? Well, go look for a stand out illustrator who thinks that working with you would be a dream come true! My illustrator would have to share some of my core values, especially about respecting animal rights. No crazy politics either. I wouldn’t want to be associated with someone I couldn’t respect. Pretty picky about that. . .
What’s the weirdest thing a young child has said about one of your paintings?
Recently, I received a letter from a young girl who implored me to never stop drawing. She said she would “go crazy” if I stopped!
Ha! I once worked in a bookstore. Each employee had to present a book report on a children’s book to get everyone familiar with that department of the store. I chose Shrek for my report. So you probably think I’m going to choose Shrek. But, wait! My ring tone on my mobile is “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” from Toy Story. So, you chose two favorites. If I have to pick, I am going with Toy Story because of fond memories seeing the movie with a special kid. Many times. He was afraid of the “scary monkey” and always acted like he was ready to go when that part was coming. We would reach the lobby and then he would decide to return to the theater.
What is a typical day for Kathy Beynette?
Get up, take a little run/walk in my neighborhood. Go to my studio around ten, stopping for a Mocha Light Frappuccino to take with me. I work almost nonstop until five or six, listening to music a lot the time. I listen to music to drown out conversations in neighboring studios. I am listening to opera lately. My husband works at night, so I often have dinner with another artist. I love to get feedback, share ideas and experiences, commiserate about the difficulty of making a living as an artist, celebrate the successes. I am lucky to be part of a wonderful network of creative friends and colleagues. I spend time with my family and stay up pretty late reading or enjoying a movie. I also like to visit thrift stores trying to pop some tags!
In March/April 2014, my new book “When I Am Not Myself” will be published. I have a new calendar for 2014 that is available now; one for 2015 is being published right now and will be ready next summer. I just learned about a new birthday card that will be published using my painting “Spring Chickens!” I love my publisher, Pomegranate, and look forward to new projects with them. I will be working hard creating new paintings. As we do this interview, I am getting ready to leave for a week of vacation, taking a sketch book and hoping to come up with my next idea for a book. You can expect that I will work really, really hard in the next twelve months because that is the ONLY way to do it!! Really, there is no other way.
Where can fans and readers of your books and paintings discover more about you and connect with you?
Well, come to the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Virginia! That’s where I have a studio and I am very happy to share my work and meet all kinds of people — and their dogs!! I keep dog treats in my studio! Follow me on Facebook and learn what I am doing and where I am going. You can write to me at the Factory — 105 North Union Street, Alexandria, VA 22314.
Besides the usual (but true) “don’t give up” advice, I would say to make work that is super fresh. If you are also an illustrator like me, enter shows and get your art seen by as many people as possible. You never know who will eventually wander into your studio or your booth at an art fair. Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and you will get lots of information. Read blogs like this one and others devoted to children’s literature and blogs about writing. Don’t think that “it” will happen in conventional ways; look for the back door into the process. BE NICE! And do whatever you do to conjure up some good luck.
Thanks Kathy for sharing with us from the well of your experiences and knowledge. I am confident that readers of this interview will be inspired and encouraged. You can also discover more of Kathy’s work and connect with her by visiting and LIKING her Facebook page at the link below.
You can also see Kathy’s books, calendars, puzzles etc at her Amazon store