This was my first cover project and I absolutely fell in love with illustrating youth fiction. I love doing children's stuff but, stories for older youth audiences always have nuances of darkness that bring a bit more passion to the illustration. As optimistic as I am, I’m the first to acknowledge the value of having real talk with kids about confusing emotional topics. I don’t believe in “taboo topics,” I think Taboo is just another name for fear and fear isolates people. When we acknowledge the evil, hardship and sadness in this world, we are better equipped to problem solve, persevere and be grateful for the insane amount of miracles that happen every day. This is why I believe media is so important. When used for good, it can reach out and help someone who may feel totally alone and without resources in their community. A good story can bring people together, especially if it resonates with them on a personal level.
When I was struggling with my health, reading stories about others who were going through the same thing made me feel so full of strength, I knew I would be just fine. If they were doing it, I could too. I am so excited to see so many books coming out about kids who overcome fear and find strength in their differences, not use them as an excuse. The premise of this book captured my heart, not only because one of the main characters is a dog, but because all the characters fit into the category of “misfit.” There’s something “wrong” with each of them but, they find comfort and strength in each others shared struggle. Strength enough to be heroes.
I did this cover during a time of terrifying uncertainty in my life. I took the leap to become a full time illustrator and whew! Talk about feeling pretty alone! I’m a pretty social person and was really missing the daily human contact of a day job. I was going through a lot of changes and found myself in need of guidance and support. The kid lit publishing community in New Hampshire is small, needless to say, so I didn’t know where to turn to for feedback and advice. In time, Illustrators and writers started messaging me with questions about the transition, work habits and advice. I’ve been having coffee dates and Skype calls with local artists, teachers and illustrators from around the country about the trials and tribulations of pursing a creative profession. I’ve even been invited to tell my story at colleges, programs and elementary schools where I’ve met inspiring, young, creative minds who taught me things I couldn’t learn from anyone established in the field. The connections happened totally naturally as a byproduct of putting my work out into a community of like minded people. Hearing successes inspired me and aligning with struggles gave me strength to find a solution. I now feel like I am a part of a small but growing group of people I can call on for help, inspiration and feedback. But, it all started with Margaret.
As I was working on this project, I got a message through my website contact form from the writer herself, Margaret Finnigan. I had never spoken to any of the writers of the things I had illustrated for, since the agents and the publishers usually act as the liaisons. I opened it expecting some kind of criticism but, was moved to almost tears as I read such kind words about the the life and expression in the sketches and how I was meant to be an illustrator. We continued communicating throughout the process and she kept me posted on the status of the book after I sent the final illustration. I had a lot of self doubt at the time, but her kind message did more for my confidence as a new illustrator, than I think she will ever know.
I was always surrounded by a positive community, but since becoming a freelancer, I felt like I was now living a secret life. Nobody really knew what I was doing or how the industry worked except the faceless people I communicated with daily, on a professional level. I felt like all the compliments I had gotten prior to freelancing didn’t count. I am a professional now and needed some kind of validation to know I had the right stuff. Getting a genuine, positive affirmation like “you have a bright career ahead of you” from someone established in a creative industry, definitely makes you feel like you’re on the right track. Honesty and authenticity, I’m finding, are priceless in this line of work. Margaret went out of her way, off the record of the forum of project emails, to give me an honest compliment at a time when I needed validation. That email gave me the strength to push through the winter of 70 hour work weeks doing my best work because her gratitude gave me my purpose. The stories we tell with our pictures and words, matter to someone.
You can check out the official cover reveal and read about the book here As well as participate in a sweet giveaway!
We Could Be Heroes is set to release 2/25/20 from Atheneum.