Susan Eaddy July 15

Author Illustrator Susan Eaddy

This month, I have the special treat of bringing you Susan Eaddy, a featured author who is both a dear friend AND the illustrator of one of my own books! So forgive the lengthier-than-usual introduction.

I first met Susan at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair three years ago, where she carried a few of her clay creations with her. I was fascinated by the detail and the downright gorgeousness of her work. I knew right then I wanted to work with her on a book one day.

So it was my great fortune that Susan agreed to illustrate MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN, because it is her stunning clay sculpted illustrations that make the book so special. I had a little bit of input into the illustrations, but truthfully, I just wanted to step aside and let Susan work her magic. And she did.

Polar Bear spread

Interior spread from MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN.

Susan’s new book releasing this month, Poppy’s Best Paper, was one she planned to both write and illustrate. However, it turns out the universe had different plans, and Susan found herself on the opposite of the table –a writer handing over her carefully formed words to a different illustrator.

I asked her some questions about how it felt to let go of the idea of illustrating the book herself and the experience of being the “author-only” on a book. Not surprisingly, she went far above and beyond expectations with her post. Susan shares a lovely and inspiring account of the creative process, the importance of keeping an open mind and heart, trusting your instincts, and persevering.

Susan has agreed to critique one lucky 12 x 12 member’s manuscript. So start writing and revising your July drafts now. Please welcome Susan!

Poppy’s Best Paper– Synopsis

When Poppy’s teacher asks everyone to write a paper, she is sure hers will be the best. Trouble is, she has tall ambitions, but is short on effort, and her jealousy takes over when her best friend’s paper is chosen instead. Poppy discovers that she has to get out of her own way if her big dreams are going to come true.

You are known as an illustrator, primarily for your books illustrated in clay. Did you ever consider illustrating Poppy’s Best Paper yourself?

Did I ???!! Ummmm yes… for about 5 years I tried and tried and TRIED!

I initially wrote this book in a college class I was taking with Robert J. Blake. (Akiak, Swift & many more…) Our assignment was to write and create a dummy for our own manuscript over the course of a semester. Yay for a deadline! I am so much MORE productive with them.  This story originated in my own elementary school class. It was my proudest moment when my favorite teacher read my composition aloud to the class.

Story first, sketches next; Poppy began life as a raccoon.

Poppy 1

 

Poppy 2

Then the clay.

Poppy 3

When I finished the class I started submitting my dummy and EVERYWHERE I was told, “You know, I like the story, but the clay is just not working for me.”

I took that to mean that I was not doing it WELL enough, so I kept at it, revision after revision. Poppy went from blue to Tan…

Poppy 4

…then to some other transformations.

Poppy 5

 

Poppy 6

Once again, Poppy went back out there for submission. I also took her to the Rutgers One-on-One Mentorship program where I was paired with the amazing Peter Catalanotto.

Peter told me… “YIKES! What is this??? This medium is just NOT working! Can’t you try it in something else… like watercolor???” (actually he was much more tactful)

So I did .

I brushed off my brushes and rehydrated my watercolor tubes and started over. For 6 months.

Poppy 7

Poppy 8

Poppy 9I tried Gouache too.

Poppy 10

Poppy 11 Poppy 12Peter was so supportive and encouraged me to show him my progress… which I did. When he gently critiqued my watercolors, my bubble burst.

I began to DREAD going up to my studio to work on watercolor. I MISSED the clay and I asked myself,  “Why am I struggling in a medium that I don’t LOVE??”

So ONCE again. I decided I just wasn’t doing the clay well enough.

New style! Baked and painted clay this time. Deep forest setting. Once again I began submitting.

Poppy 13Poppy 14

This style was not popular either. Ugh.

By the time I submitted to Karen Grencik at Red Fox, in 2012, I was losing hope. Karen replied right away, with regret that this manuscript was not for her. I thanked her for her quick reply and quietly mourned. SIX hours later, I got another email from Karen saying… ( to paraphrase)

“I don’t want to offend you, but both Abi Samoun and I like your story and wondered if you would be willing to let another illustrator take a crack at it. Her name is Rosalinde Bonnet and here is her website.” I looked, I was blown away and I was UN hesitating. “Yes please!!! Take it! I can’t do another thing with this!!”

Six months later, Charlesbridge picked it up and now July 7th 2015 is Poppy’s Book birthday!

Poppy 15

How does it feel to have ANOTHER illustrator take over your manuscript instead of YOU?

Again, I am UN hesitating. It feels GREAT! It may be that if I had not tried every single thing I knew to do with this artwork that I may have felt differently. But I had tried, for YEARS and could not make it work. There comes a time in every stubborn person’s life that you must listen to what the Universe is saying to you, and I was more than ready to let this go. I was so lucky that both Karen and Abi had the vision to pair this manuscript with just the right person. Rosalinde totally GETS Poppy & has expanded and enhanced her quirky personality in ways I never imagined. I am thrilled and extremely grateful.

Poppy’s Best Paper is partially about writer angst in its many forms, procrastination, distraction, big dreams. In what ways does her story reflect your own writing process?

Well. Sigh. Like Poppy, I struggle with getting ahead of myself and letting distractions feed my procrastination. I have 2 primary motivators… Optimism and Panic. Both have a sunny side and a shadow side. The Optimism feeds my dreams, and keeps the hope alive which is completely essential for a late bloomer like me. But the shadow side of Optimism is thinking you can do it ALL and overcommitting.

And although Panic can keep you up at night, the sunny side is that it tethers my Optimism & keeps me realistic.  I never want to let someone else or myself down by missing deadlines, which I find to be an essential motivator.  It forces me to keep butt in chair  (or on my treadmill desk) and I have devised all sorts of ways to trick myself into resisting distractions by staying in one place long enough to accomplish something.

Do you still dream to both write AND illustrate your own book?

Yes. This IS still a dream of mine. I JUST have to create the perfect manuscript for the clay. Simple, right?

For me, dreams fuel ideas, and are absolutely necessary to sustain the hope and perseverance it takes to be a writer. Especially if you are a late bloomer like me, and that perseverance takes many years. While it took Poppy a few times to get it right… it took ME a hundred times longer and I think that WITHOUT the big dreams I couldn’t have sustained the effort. Again, for me, dreams translate into creativity, the drive to harness those ideas, and hope.

 

Susan Eaddy works in her attic studio writing picture books and playing with clay. She was an Art Director for fifteen years, and won international 3D illustration awards and a Grammy nomination. Her clay illustrated trade books include, My Love for You is the Sun by Julie Hedlund and Papa Fish’s Lullaby by Patricia Hubbell. She is the author of Poppy’s Best Paper coming from Charlesbridge in July 2015. She loves to travel and has used the opportunity to do school visits anywhere in the world from Taiwan to Brazil to Alabama to Hong Kong!

Poppys Best Paper Book Cover

This Post Has 150 Comments

  1. Brilliant article. It’s so understanding about the struggle to get something 100% and to do the endless drafts and submissions and the length of time it takes. It also shows how hard it is to admit that something isn’t working right.
    It also gives us all hope that you just have to keep plugging away and that it doesn’t happen the first time round.

  2. Oh Susan, you are such an inspiration, truly! And I love love love this story. (And I didn’t know you had a treadmill desk. ) You’re such a ray of sunshine. I’m so glad you were spotlighted.

    1. thank you Meridth! the treadmill desk is just one of the devices I use to fool myself into writing. it’s kind of hard to get off the treadmill once you’ve started, so I write for long stretches and the rhythm helps the words flow.

  3. It is just amazing that Susan kept trying and the result was so positive, although it wasn’t the ending she envisioned. Susan puts so much creativity into her work. She is a unique talent. I look forward to her new book.

  4. Susan, you are such a true inspiration. You know I love your clay work. I was surprised when you said a different illustrator was going to illustrate your manuscript, but of course, you’re humble and gracious enough to let go of the illustration side when your style wasn’t right for the story. Not many illustrators are that wonderful at the writing side that their work would get acquired just for the writing. I’m so proud of you.

  5. Susan, WOW. Thanks so much for sharing that journey! What an amazing story and an inspiration. And the book looks ADORABLE! Can’t wait to get my hands on it!

  6. Thank you for sharing your journey. I love how you got out of the way of your story. It is funny that right now the trend is for author/illustrator work and even with all your artisitic talent, it was your story that needed to be illustrated by someone else. Congratulations on Poppy’s bookday.

  7. This business takes bravery, and your post is a superb example. Thanks for sharing it. Look forward to reading POPPY!

  8. I LOVE hearing the stories behind stories, and this one was exceptional. Talk about perseverance! Once you see the delightful finished product, you can’t imagine it any other way. Thanks, Susan, for sharing this with us!

  9. Thank you so much for sharing your story and congratulations on the birthday of Poppy’s Best Paper! I also write and illustrate but have been feeling like I might not be the best illustrator for some of my stories, so hearing your journey definitely hits home.

  10. What a great lesson in how these things come together. I loved this. Thank you and I love the end result too and how brave you were in sharing the steps in between. So helpful.

    1. hi Johnell! When I do school visits, I always show the kids the many mistakes i made along the way in creating a book or illustration. Kids often tell me that this makes them feel relieved, that they don’t have to start off perfect. Mistakes and “not getting it right” helps me learn what DOES work, or at least knowing I’ve tried everything in my power…

  11. How interesting that your character turned out so differently than what you imagined-yet still worked.

  12. What a great and interesting post! The book looks so cute. I never thought about how the illustrations can create such unique and different “looks” to a book. Your post illustrated that perfectly. Also, may I ask what a treadmill desk is? Thanks for sharing your story!

    1. Oooohhh my treadmill desk! I lOVE it. They sell them… but mine is a total jerry- rig. i have a very basic treadmill, with a shelf attached to the arms ( heavy duty velcro). I have my keyboard, mouse and wacom tablet there. i have my iMac on a tall cabinet in front of the treadmill at my eye level. I adjust the speed to a steady slow walk and I walk while I do email or write. It doesn’t do much for my already abysmal typing skills, but hey, my friends already know I am a terrible typist and there is always spell-check!

      1. Thanks for the explanation! I think that would take more coordination than I have, but it is certainly a wonderful example of multi-tasking!

  13. I love to hear about process…and perseverance. Thank you for this post. I think your clay art is amazing.

  14. What an adorable post! Thank you, Susan. Your journey reads like a fairy tale to me and gives me more hope than you know. I’ve watched the years slip by on a character as I struggle to let him tell his own story, and I was beginning to wonder if that passage of time meant I should just give up and move on to the next story. But after reading Poppy’s tale, I know I don’t have to give up. Thanks again!

  15. Susan,

    Thank you for sharing Poppy’s journey with us. I loved the detailed process you went through. This is so reassuring and inspirational to read! I can’t wait to get this book. Karen and Abi are wonderful, too!!!

  16. Susan, What perseverance, and what insight to admit that something – a something you have spent a lifetime revising – just isn’t working. Congratulations on Poppy’s upcoming book birthday & thank you for sharing your journey.

  17. Susan,
    I admired your illustrations of Julie’s book. They are GOLD and with the words, you both created a treasure. Thanks for showing me how patient I must be to achieve in the children’s book publishing world.- Pam

  18. Susan, this article was very helpful to me. I loved the clay and the raccoon m.c. It has taken me a long time and distractions are plenty at my writing desk. I have many stories to tell but none that are not revised 20 or more times. And then there is submitting fear. Good luck with your new book.

  19. Thanks for sharing your experience, Susan. It’s so interesting to see the process you went through. I guess you got out of your own way, just as you stated Poppy had to do to see her dreams come true. YAY!

  20. Susan,
    Thank you for sharing your process and journey. You’ve inspired me to keep at it, try different approaches with my stories, and let go more. You’ve also inspired me to look for a treadmill desk! I’m looking forward to reading POPPY!

  21. Susan, I am so impressed by your persistence and your willingness to try different approaches to illustration. So many positives to be learned from your experience! You stuck with your manuscript, you were open to change, and it doesn’t seem like you let the roadblocks get in your way. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

  22. What a fascinating read! Kudos to you, Susan, for your persistence and (later) willingness to let go a bit, but I would also toss kudos toward Karen and Abi for spotting what WAS working among what wasn’t and helping bring Poppy to the world. Will definitely look for this one when it comes out. Poppy seems delightful.

  23. Thank you for sharing your journey. You are an inspiration to those of us who keep following our dreams to write and illustrate. I love Poppy and look forward to reading her story 🙂 Your clay work is fabulous!

  24. This post is absolutely fascinating. Your perseverance and commitment is inspirational. I loved looking at the various styles you used in the illustrations. And, I’m excited to see this book when it comes out in a few days. It looks beautiful, and the story sounds fun! I LOVE the trailer, too. Thank you for sharing your story!

  25. Thanks Susan you have shown me the magic that can happen when you don’t hold onto something to tight. What a lovely book and valuable content

  26. What an inspiration about perseverance and the need to try everything, listen listen listen to inputs, and step away when necessary. Thank you Susan!

  27. Thank you for sharing all the stages of the process. I learned a lot from reading and thinking about your post. You are so persistent and patient, I’m sure one day you will realize your dream and all the ones after that one too!

  28. Thank you so much for sharing this story. I hope the way you were able to take criticism repeatedly and persevere inspires me to do the same. I can’t wait to read Poppy’s story!

  29. Looking forward to reading your book. I think it’s interesting that the story synopsis mentions Poppy’s lack of effort and your post is all about your tremendous effort. I liked Poppy as a raccoon, but she’s cute as a rabbit, too. Your clay work is beautiful!

  30. This book looks beautiful. I’m glad you were able to find the right people to help you get this story out into the world 🙂

  31. It always amazes me, Susan, how our stories are always reflections of ourselves. Thanks so much for sharing this incredible journey with us. Here’s to late bloomers!!! XO Sarah

  32. Terrific post, Susan! Thank you for sharing your journey with us. It’s very helpful to see the process you went through with Poppy and to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel… if you just keep plugging away.

    I’m not an illustrator but am going through something very similar with my middle grade
    novel, The Misadventures of Ned. I strongly believe in the story and it’s some of my very best writing. Agents have said that they loved the story and I have a wonderful voice but… that kids today do not want to read about a donkey 17th Century Scotland… so I’ll bide my time and continue submitting. Ned never gave up and neither will I.

  33. I love that Susan tried and tried to illustrate it but had the most liberating moment when she decided to let someone else illustrate it. You never know the journey a book will take you on! Kudos.

  34. Susan, thank you for your candor. We can all use a way to temper our optimism and “parental” blindness when it comes our MS. Your clay illustrations are innovative and amazing. I look forward to reading Poppy when she comes out.

  35. Wonderful article! I struggle too with my medium and my writing and finding the right connection of them both. Congratulations on your book birthday today! Can’t wait to see the full book!

    1. Hi Akiko! yes, you and I share a similar dilemma, mine with clay, you with your wonderful, unique Cakellustration! (check her website for the COOLEST magical work) I think for both of us finding the right manuscript and the right editor is key.

  36. Thanks for posting! I love hearing other authors, illustrators, and author-illustrators discuss their ups and downs in this business. I look forward to reading Poppy’s Best Paper and wish you the best on all your successes!

  37. Wow. What an inspirational post. I admire your perseverance and the ability to let go when you did. Also love your clay illustrations on Julie’s book. Gorgeous!

  38. What a journey! I’m sure that you will soon have a book that you wrote and illustrated. Best of luck with Poppy. Can’t wait to hear more exciting news about you in the future. Your clay figures are exquisite.

  39. What an inspiring story of perseverance and the wisdom to be open to new ideas. Thanks for sharing your journey!

  40. Wow! You’re process for trying to get the illustrations done for Poppy is incredible! You will get your own book and illustrate it, that’s for sure! It’s just a matter of when 🙂 Thanks for sharing Poppy’s journey!

  41. Thank you for sharing your story filled with flexibility, perspective shifts, incredible art, and moments that inspire change. I really enjoyed hearing all about Poppy’s journey.

  42. Thank you for sharing your journey of heart, disappointment, perseverance and ultimate success with us! I am inspired beyond words. I love your clay work…and look forward to reading about Poppy’s adventure as well! xoxo

  43. Poppy is my hero!
    This ‘epic journey’ makes me feel less anxious about my own lumpy progress toward success. I am still working toward publishing my Dooley the cat picture book story from 9 years back! I’ve dummied it up and had it read to a pre-school class (who liked it but ‘needed more’), then fully illustrated it and had it printed up at great expense to give away–tried doing the illustrations as a coloring book . . .
    This month I sent a further revised version to an agent (once again). I think the theme or concept is much improved as it has evolved. Now I need a miracle: to hear back from that agent who says she likes “a strong main character…”

  44. I love seeing your process through so many media iterations. Talk about perseverance. Learning about your journey of letting go to let another artist interpret your manuscript is inspiring. Thank you!

  45. I am so excited to see your new book. I was curious as to why you didn’t illustrate it. Thanks for being transparent with your struggles and showing us the process. It was eye-opening.

  46. Susan, your perseverance is inspiring, and the magic you mold with clay is breathtaking!
    The classroom crisis faced by Poppy teleported me back in time to my own just-barely-out-of-reach aspirations as a young student. Congratulations on the July 7 release!!! I’ll be looking for POPPY’s BEST PAPER at my local indie bookstore.

  47. Thanks so much for sharing your process. Seeing other peoples sketches, first tries, and thought processes is so helpful!

  48. This post was a real treat. It would have been fascinating enough to hear about the clay illustrations, then the other media. To read how much it took to keep this rolling until it rolled in just so – that’s a true boost. Thanks again.

  49. Thanks for sharing your journey. This is a great reminder that sometimes letting go of your vision can still end in victory. The book looks fabulous! Congratulations!!

  50. I actually loved the dimensional illustrations. The watercolors were nice , too, but the the original drew me in.

    I also like the idea of your treadmill desk. I stand when I type, so not to give into the sit-down syndrome. 🙂

  51. I Love, Love, LOVE this idea for a book! I am immediately seeing several of my former students characterised in this story! Such talent for writing. Such talent as an illustrator! More, more MORE!

  52. Just love your clay creations, Susan! Thanks for being honest as you shared your journey to publication. What a cute story to reveal to kids what it takes to be a GOOD writer. . .ignore distractions.?

  53. I loved looking at your process and hearing how the setbacks and frustrations are such an important part of the process. Your work is beautiful!

  54. Your story gives me hope. It seems like it’s taking forever this book publishing thing. I have a PB on contract at Beach Lane for a long time, and I don’t think the illustrator has been hired yet. I’m fine with doing my 27 revisions on something over a span of 15 years, but that’s different. I can’t wait to have my first book in my hands. But first I can’t wait to see who the illustrator is!

  55. Thank you for sharing your story, Susan! I am especially encouraged since I am an author-illustrator hopeful myself. I have already thought a lot about working as hard as I can on my art, but holding on to it loosely as well in case the best match to my stories ends up being the artwork of another ilustrator. Reading your words was such confirmation for me!

  56. Thank you so much! It’s very interesting for someone who only works with text to see the revision process in another medium. And also to learn that we ALL have to be open to feedback of all sorts.

  57. Thank you for sharing your journey – I actually bought Poppy at Barnes and Noble a few weeks back, it was so exciting knowing the story behind the story!

  58. Thank you for sharing your journey. It goes to show that you can never give up and you never know where the road will lead. Thank you for helping nudge those of us who were stalling.

  59. Just sayin’…I love your post…I love your honesty…I love your clay illustrations!!! What a special lady you are, Susan. I had missed this post…thank goodness Julie requires us to comment on it for 12×12. If not, I would have missed something of great value. 🙂

  60. How interesting to see the process, wow! Thank you so much for sharing. I have to confess to a preference for Poppy as a raccoon 🙂 But the book looks lovely, congratulations!

  61. I love the 3-D effect of the clay. Your journey shows the dedication it takes to succeed in this field. The illustrations you made took many hours.Each revision took more time.

  62. I love that story of how Poppy came to be! It is a good reminder for us to keep our minds open to various opportunities for publication. Thanks for featuring the lovely Susan, Julie!

  63. So interesting and insightful! When I think I have revised a story too many times, I will remember Susan’s stick-to-itness! And in the end, because she believed in her story so much, it did eventually get published. Bravo!

  64. A real story of working for your dream! You are so talented, and the end product is beautiful! Thanks for the inspiration.

  65. what an inspiration! I get tons of ideas while running…maybe I should start bringing my notebook down to my treadmill and walking while I write! then i can indulge in my two favorite activities. Thanks for sharing your story with us!

  66. Wow! Love your tenacity. Congrats on your story and best wishes for finding the right story to write and illustrate. 🙂

  67. Hi, Susan! I also have a new book with Charlesbridge (Feb. 15, 2015) — you’re in good hands! As a PB author, I’m always fascinated with how illustrators work — and in awe! Thank you for sharing your story — it was so interesting to see all the different illustration techniques. I did like your clay characters. They look like cut-out sugar cookies — which is probably why I’m craving cookies right now!

  68. Susan, you have given me the confidence to quit wanting to do all the illustrations. I can always picture my characters perfectly, but as I have extreme time constraints at the moment, I have decided to just send the stories out and see if someone else has a better vision than my own. It was a liberating moment when I made the decision.

    Thank you so much.

    Cheers,
    Shari

  69. Thank you, Susan, for sharing your very special story with us. Thoroughly enjoyed it and learned so much’

  70. Wow! What a story! And I thought writers had it tough. Sometimes you get so close to something that you just can’t see the forest for the trees, as they say. Glad this has a happy ending!

  71. What an inspiring tale of dedication, commitment and artistic flexibility! I loved seeing Susan’s work process (and progress) — I’m an illustrator now writing (and hoping, hoping, hoping) that my illustrated stories will find an interested publisher someday. Love your work, Susan, but so happy for you that Poppy found an illustrator you love, and now you have a book you love! Congratulations!

  72. Thanks for sharing your wonderful story! As a writer (with no artistic talent), it’s eye-opening to see there is a parallel universe where illustrators go through a similar, seemingly unending process of revision to make a picture book magical. The making of “Poppy’s Best Paper” could be called “Poppy’s Persistent Perseverance Pays Off”.

  73. Thanks you Susan for sharing your story. It’s definitely inspiring! And certainly teaches about perserverence in this industry. I’m so happy for you that Poppy has finally reached bookshelves. Poppy seems like a strong character. Maybe there are more Poppy books to come? Let’s hope so!

  74. Susan, this is a wonderful story or patience, frustration, commitment, perseverance, and belief in your story and characters. It must have been a breath of fresh air to see your characters through another artist’s eyes. The gifts come in many different packages.

  75. Wowsy, Susan! Thank you for allowing this peek into the making of Poppy’s Best Paper. Your journey as both author and illustrator demonstrates that publishing is such a collaborative process. I hope you know that by putting YOUR thoughts out there – the ups and the downs, you are encouraging others to ride out the bumps.

    Optimism and Panic – I’d say both are motivators for me as well – I’m an optimistic person by nature, it’s the panic after procrastination that always pushes me over the edge! Speaking of procrastination, I have tons of moving boxes to unpack, in my new abode. Again, thank you for sharing and congratulations on your successes!

  76. Hi, Susan. I was in the wonderful dummy workshop that you and Mary organized. I loved reading about how you stuck in there, kept trying, and kept your dream alive. Your thoughts about motivation, distraction, and big dreams all resonated with me. I look forward to seeing that future book that you have written AND illustrated. Meanwhile, for my own projects, I will try to start listening to what the universe is trying to tell me. Thanks for sharing your struggles.

  77. Tha you Susan,
    What a wonderfully inspiring story of perseverance. I love your quote, ” I have 2 primary motivators… Optimism and Panic.” That is so true I may just have to borrow that.

  78. I have a gazillion dreams, but I am not very good at drawing, so, as much as I’d love to someday be able to illustrate my own books, I’m afraid I will have to rely on the illustrating expertise of someone else.

  79. Great post! I often wish I could illustrate as well as write but even then not all books are made to be done by the same person. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  80. Thank you so much for this incredible post. I learned so much from reading about your journey. I especially appreciate your sharing all of the illustration work you did that led up to the final piece. Even your story has a different illustrator, your work gained new life because you used it to teach all of us about this part of the journey. Thank you so much for that!

  81. Thank you very much for sharing. Your illustrations are beautiful. At SCWBI conference today – ” illustration is the second voice of the PB”. It’s so true.

  82. I must have this book! Thank you for sharing your journey and for not giving up. You are truly talented!

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