With Mother-Daughter team, Author Shelley Kinder and Illustrator Kathi Green Nixon
Shelley lives in Indiana with her Rhode Island born kids and husband. When Shelley is not writing or cleaning up after little people, she’s probably thinking about writing (or about how she should be cleaning). Shelley has known from a young age that she wanted to write picture books, but she insisted on going to college for unrelated things. She vows not to get sidetracked again. Not So Scary Jerry is her first picture book (published by Clear Fork Publishing, 2017), and earned a positive Kirkus review. The Masterpiece is her second book (also published by Clear Fork Publishing, 2018), and has earned positive reviews from Booklist, Foreword Reviews, and Midwest Book Review.
Kathi Green Nixon has been doodling and drawing since she was a little girl, thanks to her dad who passed on his love of art and all things creative. After working as a graphic designer for 32 years, she now returns to her drawing and painting roots. Having lived in Indiana all of her life, Kathi enjoys spending time with her family and beloved (and high maintenance) dog, Layla. In the evenings, Kathi enjoys watching the sun set over her neighbor’s buffalo farm. The Masterpiece is Kathi’s first picture book.
1. How long have you been working on writing/illustrating picture books?
Shelley: I’ve been writing stories for kids for about five years and had my first manuscript accepted for publication in 2016, published in 2017 (Not So Scary Jerry).
Kathi: The Masterpiece was the first book I had ever illustrated. I retired as a graphic designer in early 2017 and began working on the illustrations for The Masterpiece a few months later.
2. Did one of you draw the other into the picture book business? Or were you independently drawn to it?
Shelley: I had been writing for a while and had one published book when my mom and I decided that she would illustrate my second book, which became OUR book! It was very exciting!
3. How did your collaboration come about?
Shelley: I had written The Masterpiece for a writing contest (Vivian Kirkfield’s 50 Precious Words Contest) in 2016. Months later, I began thinking more about the story and how awesome it would be if my mom would do the illustrations, in a silhouette style. Come to find out, she was having the same thoughts. So, when I approached her with the idea, she was totally on board! It was a God thing.
4. Did anything surprise you about the process?
Shelley: I think my biggest surprise was how the story evolved after we started working together. I would study her illustrations, and they would inspire me to make little changes here and there. I like the final story a lot better than the original fifty-word story. It ended up being seventy-three words.
Kathi: It took a lot more time and thought than what I had anticipated. Shelley and I decided to tell a secondary story with just the illustrations so they had to be much more detailed and planned out. But it gave the story so much more depth. I’m so glad we did that.
5. How much work had you done on the collaboration prior to submitting it to your publisher?
Shelley: The only thing we did before submitting the story to Spork (Clear Fork Publishing) was talk about the style of the art. Since this would be my second book with Spork, we had a working relationship, so I just e-mailed them and asked if they might be interested in the story. I attached a painting my mom had done of a sunset sky to give them an idea of my mom’s artistic style. There was instant interest, and my mom got to sign her first contract as an illustrator.
6. Are you hoping to collaborate on other picture books in the future?
Shelley: We don’t have any current plans to do so, but we’re not ruling it out either. My mom is focusing on other things in her life right now, which does include some art, as well as caring for her 100-year-old dad who recently moved in with her.
7. What advice would you give to others interested in collaborating on a picture book?
Shelley: If you plan to work with a larger publisher, I’ve heard it’s harder to get published when you submit your story with illustrations that are not your own. In fact, I think some publishers even specify on their website that they don’t allow that. Those who wish to collaborate may have better luck with a smaller publisher, but I’m sure there are exceptions. Another option would be to create the book and then query agents with the project. If both the art and the writing is high quality, I’m betting there is an agent who is willing to take a risk on you. I don’t rule anything out. There are exceptions to everything. And worse case scenario, if you can’t get a publisher or agent interested in the project, there is always self-publishing. There are plenty of people who love this route and have had great success, as well.
Thank you, Shelley and Kathi for participating in my first Collaboration Interview!
Thank you, Rachel, for having us!