As I'm updating this website and section, I thought: why don't I answer my own questions! Let's bring this section to the 2020s! I tried to be as honest as possible. You might think I'm a little too honest, but I firmly believe that honesty is important. We book veterans aren't helping anyone by glossing over the not-so-good parts.

What drove/inspired you to get started?

I went to art school - Rhode Island School of Design- tand got a BA in illustration. Right after college, I went to the Allumni and Career Services office, hoping that they'd help me land some sort of job. The guy told me to go back to school and major in graphic design. Hahahaha - WHAT? I was already in a lot of debt. I was desperate to pay my rent/bills, so I got a job delivering pizzas. My boss was absolutely crazy. He was drug addict (yes, you read that right!) and lived in the back of the restaurant, in a coffin-sized box, to hide his habitation from the IRS...but that's a story for another time.

During downtime at work, I mailed out picture book story ideas and also postcards with my art on them, to magazines and publishers. After almost a year went by, some of my friends said that they were planning to move to NYC. Honestly, this is the only reason I left Rhode Island. My family was there, I had an awesome apartment, and I made pretty good money thanks to the ten dollar tips I'd receive on a six dollar pizzas!

In one letter to an editor, I asked her to please use my parents' address after September, because I was moving to NYC (didn't know where yet). She wrote an encouraging rejection back (yes, rejections can be good, especially if they're personalized!). She said that when I land in NYC, I should give her a call. Well, I did move to NYC. I lived out of my friend's closet! I plopped a mattress down in her closet and that was my "bedroom." After a few months. I couldn't take it anymore. I needed my own place. So I lived in a bizarre storefront with a drain in the middle of the liviingroom and a shared heating bill with a bakery and my neighbor, who was an actor on As The World Turns. My mother remarked, "There's barbed wire along the roof!" She was horrified at my living conditions.

While habituating in this storefront, I drank several glasses of wine one afternoon, and got the guts to call this editor from Viking. Luckily, I just got an answering machine! The next time I called, I was completely sober. She said, "I don't remember you but if I asked you to call then I must have meant it. Would you like to come in and discuss your projects?" So that's how I got my start! This editor helped me shape my stories a lot.

Do you have any specialized training?

Like I mentioned, I'm an illustrator by training. I also took creative writing classes at RISD taught by Brown University professors. They definitely helped me with writing and also kicked my butt as far as my neumerous spelling and grammatical errors!

Has this been something you've always wanted to do?

When I was a kid I was convinced I' the next Chris Van Allsburg. My neighbor and I had a competition - who could get published first. I guess I won!

Before you got the all important contract how did your friends and family react to your goals? Were they supportive?

My parents were always very encouraging. They knew I could do it. But even after I had several books under my belt, I had an aunt who  continuously said, "Sorry it's not working out for you." I thought--huh? But it is! Isn't it?

Now that you have a book (s) in print, do you get different reactions from friends and family?

Oh, yes. But now I'm the one who thinks I need a career change. Others seem to think I'm more successful than I think I am. I've been at this since right after college, published almost 20 books, and my career has sort of plateaued. That might sound negative but since I designed this Q&A to help new authors, I think it's worth mentioning. When many author/illustrators start out, they're the new kids on the block - the new shiny object. But that fades.

How did you land that very first book deal?

As I'd mentioned above, I moved to NYC and met with an editor from Viking. I remember her asking, "How old are you?" I was twenty-two at the time but definitely looked younger. Once I said I went to RISD, she seemed more comfortable with my skill level.

Along with that, I hit the streets. I went up and down Manhattan, dropping my portfolio and stories off at publishers. Unfortunately, you can't do that anymore. Times have changed big time! Publishing companies used to have desks with individual receptionists for each department - adult, kids, and so on. The first thing to go were the receptionists. Then, publishers did away with the portfolio circulation option. Not only that, but now most do not accept uncolicceted manuscripts. That's a big change and not a good one. This makes it much harder and more annoying. Now you must get an agent first and go through the whole rigamarole of submitting art and text and going back and forth with dozens of potential agents. Editors now use agents as first readers because they don't have the time to dedicate to "slush piles."

Did you have any misconceptions in the beginning about the whole book process?

I thought publishers would promote their authors more. In fact, other than a few big names, they promote their authors very little.

How would you describe your work? What's the most important thing you'd like others to get out of it?

I try to make my art fun and engaging. I do the "trademark" big eyes, hoping that my style is easily recognizable. Since I write nonfiction, I want learning to be fun and engaging. I want the reader to trust my research and know that I got it right.

Do you have an agent? No If you don't have an agent, would you consider getting one?

I did not have an agent for the first four books published. Then, I got an agent specifically to sell a YA sci-fi novel I wrote. My first agent never sold the novel or even attempted to, as far as I know. She did sell my picture books moving forward and helped me get a second reliable publisher. I dropped her after some years because I knew I could sell the picture books on my own (I'd done it before!) and I always had a chip on my shoulder about the YA novel thing. I felt deceived.

I went back to selling picture books on my own. After some time, I realized that I really wanted to publish a graphic novel. So, I once again tried out the agent thing. Unfortunately, the whole relationship was a repeat of the last one. She sold my picture books and never tried selling any graphic novel ideas. Even while I had her as an agent, I pitched GN ideas to editors myself.  I thought, why on earth am I doing this? Isn't this my agent's job? So, I'm back by myself - going it alone!

Describe your relationship with your editor(s) (art director if applicable).

I used to work with several editors at one time, which is the most financially feasible way to go. Unfortunately, I stopped working with the one at Random House. For a while, our relationship was more than just editor/author - we seemed more like friends... and I suppose that isn't a good thing. We came to blows over my last book with them. I was really sick at the time with an autoimmune disease. I was having incidents that appeared to be transient ischemic attacks. It got so bad that I couldn't remember the research I'd done on my book or even the alphabet or my last name! The day I was supposed to turn in the final art, I had another stroke-like episode. I went to the ER and was hospitalized. When I got home, my editor was pissed. Where was I? Where was the art? don't think she understood the gravity of my situation. Did she think I was exaggerating? I'll never know.  After that point, she rejected anything I subbed to her and no longer said, "Let's meet and figure out the next project." I got the hint. I will admit that my health got so bad that I became severely depressed -- even suicidal. One physician during that time told me I had central nervous system vasculitis, which can be a death sentence. He later undiagnosed me but the damage was done. My mental health took a nose dive. Any drive to push my career forward went to zero. I didn't even care about making the next book or updating my website. So perhaps I came across as unintersted and not worth working with.

Thankfully, my editor and art director at Simon & Schuster are really understanding. In addition, I'm actually a lot better - my autoimmune disease seems to be in a sort of remission. Wow, I didn't think I'd confess all of that but perhaps it'll help someone out there.

How do you most often communicate with your publisher--e-mail, phone, or snail mail?

This question makes me laugh. Submissions used to be done via snail mail. I now submit every book project as a PDF. I even get the proofs as a PDF. It's not until the color correcting process happens that I'll get a printed proof in the mail. The rest of my communication is done via email but my editor likes phone calls once in a while. Before Covid, I'd go into the office and we'd talk things over. Sadly, that' hasn't happened since. My art director even moved to another state! I'm sad about all of that. I think in-person meetings are important. Also, the free lunches were a bonus!

What books do you have in the works now?

I'm working on a book about the guy to first thru-hike the Appalachian trail. During Covid lockdowns, I yearned for an escape. I was tired of being indoors and needed to de-stress. I found that escape by hiking in the mountains. I thought, wouldn't it be great if I could paint a bunch of trees and write off my hikes? So, I stumbled upon the story of Earl Schaffer. He similarly needed to hike off his dark thoughts as he'd just gotten out of the army, stationed in the Pacific, during WW2.

Is there anything you'd do differently with your new projects?

I can't even look at my older books. The art looks so simple! My first book didn't even contain backgrounds or details - every page had flat colors. I hope to keep evolving and learning. For my last book, Action! How Movies Began, my art got super realistic. I missed painting that way as I did in college and even high school. I figured a way to combine cartoons and realism and I think it worked. For the hiking/tree book, I'd like to get a little more painterly. We shall see!

.Do you do any author events? If so, please describe what they generally consist of.

I'm going to get real. I don't think doing bookstore events is worth a new author's time. I worked at the flagship Barnes & Noble store for thirteen years. I saw many, many author events. Unless you're Steven King, just stay home. An audience of a new author will mainly contain friends and family, which he or she will have to beg to come, How many books will they be willing to come out and show that same level of enthusiam? How many years in a row are you up for constant reminders like, Please come to my event!

This is what I recommend: DO SCHOOL VISITS. They are so worthwhile. You have a built-in audience and they'll buy your books and the school pays! A bookstore doesn't. Do a few for free and get a feel for how to interact with kids. After a while, you can start charging a small fee - maybe a coulple of hundred bucks. Once you feel really confident in doing hour-long events, then charge real money. As much as I was super shy and hated public speaking, I can now say it's worth it.

How important do you think author appearances are for you and your book(s)?

Like I said, I don't think they're that important. Perhaps do a few appearances at key bookstores - bookstores that you know have reach.

What's the best thing about publishing a book?

Getting paid to let your creativity shine.

What's the worst?

The endless stress of deadlines, fact checking, back and forth with tons of text changes, worrying about reviews, worrying about sales, low pay, etc.

Any last words of encouragement for beginners?

Think about if this is something you really want to do longterm. It isn't easy. Much like an Olympian who trains for years and years, you have to want it and you have to keep evolving and sticking your neck out there or you'll be one of those authors who does a few books and disappears. That may sound harsh, but a good dose of harsh is sometimes needed.