I dream of illustrators. I drift in reveries of soft-focus pastels. I wonder about the mysteries of charcoal drawings in grays and blacks. I hardly dare to hope for cut paper. Will my illustrator prefer realism? Or will my illustrator be funny and cartoonish? Will they understand the real me?
When I tell people I write picture books, I get one of two questions right out of the gate. It’s either, “Are you published yet?” or “Do you illustrate your own work?” My answer, as of today, is easy. No and no. It feels a lot like when your well-intentioned grandmother asks if you are seeing anyone special. “Thanks, Gramma, but no. Not yet.” Emphasis on the yet.
When I explain how the process works, people are surprised and confused. “I’m the writer. I write the text. Other people design the book,” I say. They usually splutter a bit about creative control. What happens if the publisher chooses an illustrator I don’t like? What if I’m unhappy? Good questions.
Of course, I’ve wrestled with the same questions. Could I embrace a literary arranged marriage? Could I trust a stranger with my precious book baby? I think about the people who want to be involved in the creation of a book. Editors. Art directors. The whole book-birthing team. Mostly, I think about illustrators. Eager to usher something of themselves into the world. Waiting for their chance at happiness. Maybe even a match made in heaven. Just like me.
I find the prospect of co-creation exhilarating. The thought that my work could bring professional joy to an illustrator keeps my brain buzzing and my fingers tapping. I strive to write visually, to invite the artistic impulse. I leave room in my text for an unknown illustrator’s individuality. I’m thrilled when friends receive their first art samples. They proudly show them around like ultrasounds. “Look!” they say, “look!” Through the hard work of illustration, the dreamed-of and long-awaited book baby becomes real. It has personality. Humor. Wit. Tenderness.
As a writer, I have a clear choice. I can keep my words to myself, tucked lovingly into a folder or a drawer. Or I can take the plunge, entrust them to others, and give them the chance become something I can’t fully imagine. Something better. Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match…