August 29, 2017

Let's Talk Illustrators #38: Rebecca Green

Sometimes you come across an illustrator and you just know in your gut that this person is going to be around for a while, illustrating your future favorite picture books. That's how I feel about Rebecca Green. Her body of work is impressive, and her illustrations in her debut picture book How to Make Friends With a Ghost are full of humor, surprises, and, of course, ghosts! I was lucky enough to get a chance to chat with Becca (as she likes to be called!) about her process, and I'm excited to share our conversation with you!

About the book:
What do you do when you meet a ghost? One: Provide the ghost with some of its favorite snacks, like mud tarts and earwax truffles. Two: Tell your ghost bedtime stories (ghosts love to be read to). Three: Make sure no one mistakes your ghost for whipped cream or a marshmallow when you aren't looking If you follow these few simple steps and the rest of the essential tips in How to Make Friends with a Ghost, you'll see how a ghost friend will lovingly grow up and grow old with you.

Peek underneath the dust jacket here.
Watch the official book trailer here.

Let's talk Rebecca Green!

LTPB: Thanks so much for stopping by, Rebecca! I love love love this book!!

RG: Thank you so much for the interview! I'm really flattered you're sharing How To Make Friends With A Ghost, and I'm grateful to be in the list alongside some of my favorite illustrators. 

LTPB: What was the inspiration for this story?

RG: In one word: Autumn. Two years ago in September, the idea came to me as I was walking my dog and hoping for cooler days. I was feeling particularly unmotivated (having just finished a large book project) and had been commissioned to create a small illustration about October for a client. I considered illustrating a girl having cider with an animal – but that seemed boring! I thought, perhaps it can be a ghost she's having cider with and she'd read the ghost a book. And she'd probably make the ghost food. This of course begged the questions: do ghosts even drink cider? What books do they like? What would you feed them? There needs to be a guide, I thought, about ghost care to answer all of these questions! I sat down at my kitchen table and after about 8 hours, a guide was born. 

LTPB: Tell me about how this book evolved. Did you always envision it as a longer picture book with “chapters”? Did you always know how the book would end (I won’t completely spoil the ending!)? How many visual evolutions did the little girl and the ghost go through?

RG: Though the book has gone through many evolutions, the skeleton remained intact. The original version, entitled "What To Do When A Ghost Finds You," was 28 pages, and had a beginning poem, three 'chapters', and an end poem. As I never envisioned it getting published — and because I wanted to keep it simple — I didn't feel compelled to have a punch at the end, but more of a lighthearted guide on ghost care. My husband, an English teacher, is my best sounding board. He really helped me flesh out the last part of the book. He encouraged having an ending that made the reader feel something bigger about life. I'm really glad the book has both dimensions; lightheartedness but also a sense of nostalgic melancholy in the end. 

I finished the first version, posted it on my website and printed 125 copies to sell. In my mind, the book was finished. I had no plans to officially submit it to publishers, but then I got a phone call. It was Tara Walker, the lovely editor from Tundra. She'd seen it on my website and wanted to publish it! I was ecstatic. They pushed to expand the book and create more content, which I was thrilled about. It allowed me to add things like dancing to Spooky Jams and giving your ghost a bubble bath in cauldron. The new version of the book transformed and blossomed into life but retained the essence of the original. It was retitled How To Make Friends With A Ghost. Bellis (the girl — you only learn her name from her name tag on one illustration!) and the ghost remained quite consistent, but I added color which helped the characters and the book transform. 

One of the hardest parts of the process was organizing the sections and figuring out timing and placement for the pages. Since it was my first picture book, it was so cool to see the editorial process unfold. Definitely a lot more work than I could have imagined, with every tiny detail and word dissected. I loved every minute of it, though, and am grateful for such a thorough and thoughtful team of collaborators. There was care in every facet of the book, from the jacket, to the book case, the end papers, and the stock — everything was considered. 

LTPB: What medium do you use for your illustrations and why?

RG: For this book, I used colored pencil and a little bit of gouache. I love the mark making I get with colored pencils and the colors can remain consistent, especially when working with such a limited palette. Within the medium itself, you can find variation depending on the brand, whether or not the pencil is oil or water based, and how hard the lead is. I love mixing all of these together. 

LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?

RG: Currently, I'm in different stages of books for other authors, and I just finished a mural in the children's section of Parnassus Books, here in Nashville. I am trying to make time to write more. I have a couple of picture book ideas floating in my head, and a longer, more involved story about a character named Henri (pictured below). Working on a longer book is quite overwhelming, but I'm trying not to overly critique such a vulnerable process and instead just enjoy telling a story. My ideas always seem to bloom in Autumn, so I'm going to do my best this Fall to harness any that come my way. 

LTPB: The last question I’m asking all illustrators who participate in the series is, if you could have one illustrator (alive or dead) illustrate your picture book biography, who would it be and why? 

RG: Maira Kalman definitely. Her illustrations and words are so moving and carry such weight under bright and playful surfaces. She has an incredible way of lightheartedly portraying the heaviness of life. Whenever I'm feeling uninspired, I read or look at her work and feel instantly moved.

A million thanks to Rebecca for taking time to answers some questions about her spooky, scary, super fun book! How to Make Friends With a Ghost publishes NEXT WEEK from Tundra Books!

Special thanks to Rebecca and Tundra Books for use of these images (author photo courtesy of Cocco Photo).

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