All images copyright Carol Baicker-McKee, 2008
Next to the moment when you hold the first published copy of your book in your hand, there's nothing quite like the moment when the proofs arrive. Seeing the words and the completed art together, getting to turn the pages and have the experience of "book" is magical every time. It really is like the cliche - akin to examining your newborn's tiny fingernails and smelling its delicious newness.
Anyhow, here are a few images from Mimi, the first book I wrote and illustrated. It's due out June 24th from Bloomsbury. I feel jumping up and down proud of it, so much so that I had to stick some of the pictures up now even though my scanner still won't work, and I have to settle for posting crappy photos of un-color-corrected proofs.
Mimi is her own "person," but there's no denying her character sprouted from my memories of my daughter Sara when she was that age. Sara's now 16 - so grown up these days that she even assisted with the artwork! For instance, she made the little flowers that dot the "i's" on the cover, helped me paint backgrounds (she's a much better painter than I am - any place you see brushstrokes: my fault), strung the beads for Mom's necklaces, made the spider plant on Mimi's dresser, and did other odds and ends for me. It was lots of fun to work together - and good for our relationship during the sometimes (okay, often) squabbly menopausal mom/hormonal teen daughter years.
The story and illustrations are peppered with details from Sara's toddler days, from her fashion sense to the arched window in her bedroom. Other details are from my other kids (my son Kyle had a pet roly poly, and Eric was glued to his stuffed Ted-Ted), and even from chance kid encounters (Mimi's jammies-and-tutu outfit was prompted by a little girl I saw similarly attired at the grocery store). At conferences, it seems like editors and agents are always saying they don't want to hear how your story or art is based on your own kids, etc., etc. - but don't let that fool you into thinking you should ignore the material from your own relationships and experiences while you're creating your work. Those personal bits and pieces are what let writers and illustrators create characters and a story world that are simultaneously quirky and universal - that feel authentic, because they are. It's just that it's important to stay flexible and not get too attached to any one "real" thing - often the story will need you to change or leave out something that feels so special to you, and you just have to be tough and do it. "Kill your darlings" as some author, I forget who, said.
I can't look at the proofs without being reminded of all the things I struggled with in making the illustrations. Some things I figured out more-or-less successfully - like how to get the perspective right for the wagon - and others the designer, Daniel Roode, has painstakingly corrected for me. For example: the bubbles. (Sorry Daniel!) I had a terrible time deciding how to make them. Having learned the hard way from the illustrations for Merry Christmas, Cheeps by Julie Stiegemeyer that it's a bad idea to incorporate shiny things in my 3-D artwork - the reflections are a huge headache for the photographer and the designer too - I knew to avoid all the things like marbles, hollow glass balls, iridescent beads, etc. that sorely tempted me, but I didn't think through the implications of using solid balls made from Sculpey Ultralight clay and positioning them at different heights off the background with bits of foam core. I thought they'd have depth and the sense of floating in the air, but instead all they had was really dark, bizarre-looking shadows! I can't imagine what a headache it must have been to photoshop all those shadows away - especially since the page after the one shown above is almost all bubbles. But they look fantastic now - just like they're floating. Next time I'll glue something like that down.
I'm also incredibly grateful to my editor, Melanie Cecka, who truly deserves the adjective "brilliant." She can edit an already spare text down to the nub - leaving only the best bits to shine in their simplicity. The other day I looked over my first draft of this story (well, the one I submitted), and I couldn't believe how rambly and unfocused it felt. I'm so glad that Melanie was able to see the core of it, and to gently coax me to pare away until I found it too.
I'd love to hear reactions to Mimi - I feel like a first time mama wanting everyone to admire her beautiful baby (that probably really looks like an extra-wrinkly Yoda). And if you have any great ideas for making 3-D bubbles that photograph well, I'd love to hear about it, in case I'm struck by temporary insanity and decide to put them in another book.