Valerie Bowman looks to the great Oscar Wilde for inspiration in The Accidental Countess, a Regency romance filled with Wilde-style antics. In this guest post, Bowman discusses her love of the historical romance genre and the art of adaptation.
There is nothing I like better than a romp, a farce. As an English literature major in college, the comedies I read captured my imagination with a far-tighter grip than a tragedy ever could. My medium, however, is the historical romance novel. It’s a genre I adore and am extremely proud to write. I think I fell in love with it when I first read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s These Happy Golden Years. That’s a romance novel, don’t you know?
When I was coming up with my Playful Brides series, I knew I wanted to include my love of romp plays in the stories. Oscar Wilde was always on my short list. He’s a great master of the romp, after all. The Importance of Being Earnest has long been one of my favorite stories ever told and, while it is a bit outlandish, its absurdity is exactly what makes it so entertaining. What could be more fun than inventing a person who does not exist to get out of unwanted social obligations? The moment I read the word “Bunburyist” I was hooked.
The challenge, however, was making that sort of tomfoolery work in a historical romance novel. The Accidental Countess is my attempt! Penelope Monroe has invented a fictitious friend, Patience Bunbury, to avoid seeing her fiancé newly returned from Waterloo. When Captain Julian Swift mistakenly believes Penelope’s cousin, Cassandra, is the elusive Patience, Cassandra may just have the opportunity she’s always dreamed of: spending time with the man she’s loved from afar for the last seven years.
I managed to sneak in a couple of scenes from The Importance of Being Earnest, including the infamous muffin scene and a few of the quotes as well. My favorite line: “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.”
There’s plenty of angst as well as comedy, and I hope some tender moments as well, for as Wilde says, “The very essence of romance is uncertainty.”
Now what’s not to love about that?
In honor of National Reading Group Month, we asked best-selling author Chris Bohjalian to share a story from his many book club visits. What we got was certainly unexpected—and a heartfelt tribute to the indomitable spirit of readers!
By Chris Bohjalian
It was 13 years ago this autumn that I vomited in front of a lovely reading group from Illinois. When I’m with a book club, I hold nothing back.
It was a Friday afternoon and I was on my third plane of the day, this one a Dash 8 turboprop from Denver to Steamboat Springs. The next day I was joining Jacquelyn Mitchard, Andre Dubus III and Sena Jeter Naslund for the Bud Werner Memorial Library’s annual Literary Sojourn, an all-day celebration of what words and reading and books can mean to the soul. It’s a terrific event and lots of book clubs make a pilgrimage there—including, that year, one from Illinois that was on the Dash 8 turboprop with me.
Now, I really don’t mind the Dash 8. But that day I had been traveling since about six in the morning in Vermont, where I live, and there was the usual Rocky Mountain clear air turbulence. I was on my third flight of the day. The book group on the airplane recognized me instantly as one of the authors they were coming to hear, despite the fact that soon after takeoff my skin was airsickness green. And so we chatted and I sipped a Diet Coke and set the air vent above me on “wind tunnel.” Surreptitiously I kept reaching into the seat pocket, trying to find an airsickness bag amidst the magazines and Sky Mall catalogues. Somehow I had two of each, but no airsickness bag.
The group was, like most groups, all women. We talked about books as we flew to Steamboat Springs, and the unforgettable brilliance of the first sentence of Sena’s new book, Ahab’s Wife: “Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last.” We discussed the heart that fills all of Jacquelyn’s work. And we shared the page-turning dread we had all experienced as we read Andre’s House of Sand and Fog.
At some point I reached into the pocket of the seat beside me for an airsickness bag. There wasn’t one there, either.
Looking back, I really thought I was going to make it to Steamboat Springs with my dignity intact. I fly a lot and it’s rare for me to feel like I’m going to lose my lunch. I was sure I could remain in this book group’s eyes an author they found charming and open, the sort who didn’t vomit on Dash 8 turboprops. This is called hubris—and, in hindsight, naïvete.
It was on our initial descent that we hit the bump that finally did me in. Now, I did feel it coming. And so without an airsickness bag handy, I showed an instinctive skill with origami I hadn’t known existed somewhere deep inside me: I ripped a few pages from one of the catalogs in my seat pocket, twirled them into a snow cone, and folded the bottom into a seal. Yup, somewhere around 15,000 feet in the air, I created a snow cone of vomit.
"I was sure I could remain an author they found charming and open, the sort who didn’t vomit on Dash 8 turboprops. This is called hubris—and, in hindsight, naïvete."
Now, here is why I am sharing this story with you. The woman in the book group beside me actually offered to hold my handmade Sky Mall biohazard so I could wipe my mouth and rinse with the last of my Diet Coke. So did the woman behind me. That’s support. That’s kindness. That’s the sort of heroism that is way above any reader’s pay grade.
But people in book groups are like that. I’ve been talking to book groups via speakerphone (and now Skype) since January 1999. I began because one of my events on The Law of Similars book tour was snowed out, and a reading group that was planning to attend contacted me with questions. (A lot of questions, actually.) And so we chatted via speakerphone. These days, I Skype with three to six groups a week. Some weeks I have done as many as 12.
I do it for a lot of reasons. I do it as a way of thanking these readers for their faith in my work. I do it because it helps me understand what makes my novels succeed aesthetically—and, yes, what makes them fail. (Most book group readers share with me exactly what they think of a story.) I do it because it is one small way I can help the novel—a largely solitary pleasure—remain relevant in an increasingly social age.
And, yes, I do it because once upon a time a book club member offered to hold my snow cone of vomit on a Dash 8.
Chris Bohjalian’s most recent novel, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, was published this summer. If you would like him to join your book group via Skype or speakerphone, simply visit his Reading Group Center.
author photo by Aaron Spagnolo
Elizabeth Hoyt's latest romance in her Maiden Lane series, Darling Beast, is out today. In this guest post, Hoyt writes about her love of myths, second chances and the unexpected inspiration behind the novel.
Myths and fairy tales have always fascinated me, perhaps because they’re a pre-Freud peek into how the human brain works—what frightens us, what awes us and what we desire deep in our hearts. Fairy tales and myths are storytelling at its most basic. There is no room for character development. Dialogue, setting and description are all usually very sketchy. What remains are stories in which the fat has been removed; underneath are bare, beautiful bones in which it’s easy to trace motif, themes and morality.
I like to include an accompanying fairy tale in each of my books as a sort of foil to the main story. My latest book, Darling Beast, is no exception. The hero of Darling Beast, Apollo Greaves, Viscount Kilbourne is on the run from the law after escaping Bedlam. He’s a big, rather physically intimidating man, and he’s lost his voice after being viciously beaten by the guards in Bedlam. Apollo is in hiding in an isolated, ruined pleasure garden where he’s supervising the restoration of the grounds. Living in the back of the burned-out theater in the gardens is Lily Stump, a successful actress and playwright who’s a bit down on her luck. As far as Lily knows, she has the gardens to herself. . . that is until her 7-year-old son, Indio, comes home one day and informs her that he’s seen a ‘monster’ in the gardens.
Now you might think that the obvious fairy tale for this story would be Beauty and the Beast—and in a way you’re right—but I chose a much older myth to highlight the story—The Minotaur. If you know your Greek myths, you’ll remember that the Minotaur was half man, half bull, born out of the unnatural union of a spell-bound queen and a magical bull. The Minotaur was a monster in the true sense of the word—in the original myth he lived at the center of a labyrinth and he ate human sacrifices. He provokes some of our most basic fears: deformity, unnatural sexual urges, cannibalism and being eaten by a big scary monster.
But what of the Minotaur? What does he think about a fate he never asked for? After all, he didn’t choose to be born a monster. Is he a cannibal by choice or because no one ever sends in anything else to eat but nubile youths and girls? In the original myth, the Minotaur has no voice. He’s simply a thing to be feared. He has the head—and tongue—of a bull and, like Apollo, he’s physically unable to speak. And isn’t speech the thing that makes us human and sets us apart from the animals?
Here’s the thing. I believe that often monsters—both in real life and in myth—are simply ourselves in a form we cannot recognize. We get caught up in that bull-head thing, in primitive fear and faulty first impressions, and fail to look beneath the outer horror.
Fortunately for Apollo, Lily is a kind woman—a woman willing to allow her opinions to change when she gets to know more about him. And isn’t that all each of us needs? Kindness and the willingness to give people—even monsters—a second chance.
Miranda James is the pseudonym for Dean James, a seventh-generation Mississippian who now lives in Texas and is the author of the best-selling Cat in the Stacks mysteries.
James' new Southern Ladies series introduces the "sassy mouths and big hearts" of two ladies we won't soon forget. And as James shares in a guest post, these women aren't as fictional as you might expect.
Every small Southern town has them—those indomitable women who run all kinds of organizations, from garden and bridge clubs to charitable agencies. Often they come from the town’s oldest families, generation after generation of club women who oil the wheels of the social engine. These were exactly the women I needed when I was working on Out of Circulation, the fourth book in my Cat in the Stacks series.
The story revolved around fund-raising efforts for the local public library—in this case, the fictional Athena (Mississippi) Public Library. I needed strong characters for the Friends of the Library Board of Directors, and I counted on disagreements among the members. Has there ever been a committee when members didn’t butt heads over even the most minute of details? Perfect starting point for conflict in a murder mystery, I thought.
In the spring of 2011 I attended the first-ever Daddy’s Girls Weekend, an event put together by my friend and fellow writer, Carolyn Haines, author of the Sarah Booth Delaney series. There I met two sisters, An’gel Ducote Molpus and Dickce Ducote Little, who inspired me to create their fictional counterparts, Miss An’gel and Miss Dickce Ducote.
The fictional sisters are several decades older, unmarried and childless, yet their characters owe much to their real-life inspirations. The Ducote sisters are the true grandes dames of Athena society—intelligent, hard-working and intolerant of pretention and snobbery. The conflict between them and the character of Vera Cassity was an essential element of the story, and I had great fun with the scenes involving these characters.
Not long after I finished Out of Circulation, I was working on ideas for a second series, one that would feature two older women characters. After discussion with my agent and my editor, we settled on making the Ducote sisters the main characters. I loved them, my editor loved them, and evidently so did my readers. Thus was the new series born.
The first book in the Southern Ladies mysteries, Bless Her Dead Little Heart, is officially out on October 7. The Ducote sisters are on their own as amateur detectives, because Charlie Harris and his family are in France on vacation. They do have the assistance of Diesel, the Maine Coon cat, who makes a cameo appearance in the book. An old sorority sister, Rosabelle Sultan, turns up on the sisters’ doorstep one August afternoon and claims that someone in her family is trying to murder her. Miss An’gel and Miss Dickce know that Rosabelle loves being the center of attention, but this sounds a bit over-the-top even for this self-absorbed socialite. When Rosabelle’s family members follow her to Athena, however, the sisters quickly discover that one of them does have murder in mind.
I had great fun writing this book, letting the sisters have their way. I hope readers will have fun, too, getting to know Miss An’gel and Miss Dickce.
Thanks, Miranda/Dean! Readers, Bless Her Dead Little Heart is out now!
Author photo credit Kathryn Krause.
Occasionally our interviewers give us a peek behind the scenes of their chats with authors. Here, longtime BookPage contributor Alden Mudge talks about some of Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley's more unusual writing habits, revelealed during their discussion of her latest book, Some Luck.
Out of curiosity, I often ask writers to describe their workspaces. I blogged about this once before for BookPage, when, to my surprise, I discovered that several young writers I interviewed in close succession told me that they write in public at their favorite coffee shops.
Jane Smiley’s description of her workspace interested me in a different way. Yes, she has a dedicated writing space, a room of her own, if you will. She mentioned a window looking out on the hillside behind her home in Carmel Valley and stacks of books sharing floorspace with “a lot of dog beds.” Nothing about a desk, a notebook, a computer, a favorite picture on the wall. Instead, what seemed to matter most was that her writing room had doors that connected to other parts of the house. “So I can jump up and run and see what’s going on at any time.”
Smiley once said she has “a basically sunny personality." That was my experience of her. She laughed often throughout our conversation and seemed very much at ease with herself. For her, writing seems to be as natural as a sunrise.
Not that writing doesn’t present its challenges, even after all these years and more than 20 books. Smiley said she “was tearing my hair for years” over her novel Private Life. And for Some Luck, the captivating first novel in her The Last Hundred Years trilogy, the difficulty was deciding what to leave out.
“What I had do was cut, cut, cut. . . . This was an effect of having to do the research. I would learn something and then I would sort of yack about it a little too much. So I would come back and cut the section so that it was just about what was happening rather than about what I was thinking about as I was writing it. That was a good lesson for me, this idea that part of your writing process is talking to yourself about what you’re writing and then eventually having to cut it so that you just have the narrative.”
I was still curious about her workspace. So I asked her whether it was also her library, the place where she did most of her reading.
“Oh no!” Smiley said. “I usually read in the hot tub.” She laughed. “It’s a California tradition, you know.”
Marriage is hard enough, but you're adding a whole new level of trouble when you and your spouse share the same hopes, dreams—and career avenues. David Bajo, author of the new medical thriller Mercy 6 and husband to novelist Elise Blackwell, knows all about that. But it's not like he's keeping score or anything.
You have no idea how hard it is to pretend you are the second best writer in the house. I should have married a doctor. That way I could have spent my late mornings indulging in biscotti and cigarettes while composing brilliant novels in the inner sanctum of my study. I could have taken long afternoon walks to clear my mind’s canvas. But no, 25 years ago I made that great MFA workshop mistake and married another writer.
For the first eight years, we lived in a Victorian farmhouse and grew rare subtropical fruits to supplement our income. We gardened, using the Seed Savers Exchange to grow endangered vegetables and grains. She somehow translated this into an idea for a novel. Right? Who wouldn’t want to read about people who desperately try to save seeds. I said “we” gardened. But I was the one slipping pollen filters fashioned from pantyhose over heirloom okra flowers—while she took notes and corresponded with other seed savers. I was the one who made like a bee every afternoon at four when the cherimoya blossoms began to morph from female to male, using a paint brush to swipe and insert pollen—while she composed elegant sentences (that I would help her revise once my fingers stopped cramping).
Okay, so she published her novel first, a well-received and timeless piece of work about starving Russian scientists who saved seeds. It’s built up a nice following over the years. The Decemberists wrote a song about it. I’m not even in the acknowledgments. Look, I would have published first if I hadn’t been so busy trying to control the sex lives of cherimoyas and okras. And once you fall one novel behind, it’s almost impossible to catch up.
When event organizers find out about us—and factor in the cost of one accommodation instead of two—they think it’s cute. Married novelists. I bet we can make them squirm and fight and dish during the Q&A. We got invited to a festival in Ireland. I’m pretty sure it was my book that first caught their eye, but once they got a look at her dark hair and pale beauty, they put her photo on the flyer and her name first. I understand. Marketing is a shallow pool.
Speaking of shallow pools, we did a panel in Los Angeles. We sat on opposite ends. I think we were fighting over some bookfest swag, you know, like who gets the Pynchon coffee mug and who gets the Philip K. Dick glow sticks. The audience had no idea we were together, but as the Q&A progressed, they started to smell the scintillating ozone of domestic tension, the battle for literary number one. It became a game and the ignored panelists in between us were pissed. I fielded one question, she fielded the next. Why do you keep pointing at her? Why does she say your name like that? Which one of you two got the biggest advance? Who got the most foreign deals? Did any cool bands record a song about your novel? I let her win because I knew that would look best and sell the most stock.
Mercy 6 keeps me one novel behind. The first time she knew anything about it was when I read from the first draft during a reading series held in a bar. “I didn’t know you were writing a medical thriller,” she said to me, ready to take the stage after I had wowed the room. “Can you fetch me another Jameson’s? The show’s about to start.”
Thanks, David! Readers, Mercy 6 is out now!
In Janet Chapman's Spellbound Falls series, time-traveling Scottish Highlanders (you read that right) keep popping up in a small Maine town. Luckily for the women of Spellbound Falls, they're a handsome bunch. The Highlander Next Door, the latest novel in the series, focuses on Birch, a no-nonsense woman who harbors no desire for a man in her life. Watching her mother's four divorces and running a women's shelter has made her swear off men for life. The case for males is not helped by her gruff, stubborn neighbor, Niall MacKeage. But that Scottish brogue is quite charming, and as Birch discovers, Niall is not at all like other men.
In this blog post, Chapman discusses how her foray into time travel began—and how much fun she's had on the journey.
When my agent set out to sell my first book, Charming the Highlander, I asked her to please tell the editors she submitted it to that this time-travel gig was a one-time thing, as I really wrote contemporary romance and didn’t want them to expect more magical stories from me. (If only I’d been listening at the time, I would have heard the Universe laughing its ethereal head off.) But in my mind even that book was a contemporary, because besides the prologue, the entire story took place in 21st-century Maine.
I think readers believe authors are deliberate creators—which may be true for many—but for me, the characters are in control. They suddenly show up in a book and start demanding a book of their own, and no matter how outrageous their stories are, I am compelled to tell them.
Good Lord, I actually rearranged my wild and beautiful state of Maine! Well, it was really Maximilian Oceanus who moved those mountains and turned a large freshwater lake into an inland sea, but I wasn’t about to argue with the powerful magic-maker. And anyway, the Bottomless Sea gave me an even more amazing venue for my stories.
Wait. There. Do you hear that? The Universe is still laughing.
And so we come to Niall MacKeage, a 12th-century highlander who was brought forward in time as one of six suitors for Maximilian’s sister, Carolina. Niall wasn’t really interested in marrying Carolina; he just wanted to see if the fantastical tales his long-lost, time-traveling father had told him were true. And becoming Spellbound Falls’ chief of police gave the displaced warrior a good excuse to stay, for not only did Niall embrace modern technology, he also found himself attracted to 21st-century women—and to Birch Callahan in particular, the pint-sized spitfire hired to run the town’s new women’s shelter.
I often feel like nothing more than a stenographer furiously taking notes.
Oh, yeah; instead of leaving me alone, the magic seems to be ramping up. But I suppose that’s what I get for letting my fictional characters run the show. Yes, I know they’re not really real, but I simply don’t have the heart to tell them. And besides, they keep providing me with all sorts of wonderful—albeit outrageous—stories.
I silently chuckle when people say they’re amazed by my imagination, because what they don’t know is that instead of being a deliberate creator, I am merely. . . heck, I often feel like nothing more than a stenographer furiously taking notes. Oh, sometimes my characters let me make suggestions, and sometimes they even use them. But for the most part I graciously do their bidding, since they in turn graciously allow my name to appear on the cover of their books.
So with that being said, I invite you to come join me in Spellbound Falls by way of The Highlander Next Door, and let’s see if I can’t persuade you that the magic truly is real. Okay, the mountain-moving part might be a bit of a stretch. But all that other stuff in my stories? Well, I can’t imagine anything more real than the magical power of love.
Today's guest post comes from writer Shelly King, whose first novel, The Moment of Everything, goes on sale next week. It's set in a used bookstore, where former Silicone Valley employee Maggie has found part-time work after the failure of the tech startup she was working for. When Maggie finds a lovers' conversation written in the margins of a used copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover, she embarks on a quest to discover who they were—and what happened to their romance.
In a guest post, King—who moved to California from the South and once worked for a Silicon Valley startup herself—explains the mystery of found objects and shares some of her favorite found objects in literature.
I was 15 the first time I found a letter in a used book. I was in Montana visiting family and had wandered into a used bookstore. There I found Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters. I hadn’t read Hemingway yet, but I knew he was an important writer and that he’d spent a lot of time in Africa. I opened the front flap and saw it was covered in writing. It was the letter from a father to a young boy.
The details are fuzzy, but I remember the father was traveling in Africa. I thought it was nice that he was sending his son a book about another man who had been to Africa. He missed his son. He signed the letter “Papa.” I fell in love with this letter. But I didn’t buy the book. I didn’t have much money, so I left it behind. But that letter stayed with me. I thought of it for days, wishing that I’d bought that book, not for the letters of Hemingway, but for that letter written in the book. I finally told my mother about it, and she took me back to the bookstore. But the book was gone.
About 15 years after I first found that letter from the father in Africa, I was in Seattle at another used bookstore where I saw a copy of Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters. I smiled thinking of that other copy I found years ago in Montana. I opened up the front flap, and there it was—the handwritten letter from a father traveling in Africa to his son. Only this time I was more familiar with Hemingway, whom I now knew was also known as Papa. And this time, I noticed the letter was dated decades before this book was published. When I looked closer, I realized the letter wasn’t written in the book. It was a reproduction of a Hemingway letter that decorated the inside flap.
Even though the letter was not what I thought it was, I’m grateful for my misunderstanding. It started a lifelong search for treasures of the past in old books. Over the years, I’ve found drawings, letters, postcards, ticket stubs, restaurant receipts, photographs, recipes, and inscriptions. The people who owned these books before left a bit of their lives in them. I love not just the story the author intended but also the story of the book itself.
My favorite novels (and one play!) that have someone discovering something in a book:
Sabrina Jeffries' latest book in her Duke's Men series, How the Scoundrel Seduces, catches the heroine, Lady Zoe, in the midst of a bit of an identity crisis. Raised as the only child and heir to her family's Yorkshire Estate, Zoe is shocked to learn that she might actually be the daughter of an unknown Romany woman. Desperate to discover the truth and avoid the marriage her father is intent on arranging, she hires Tristan Bonnaud to help her track down her supposed mother. In this guest post, Sabrina Jeffries writes about the inspiration behind How the Scoundrel Seduces.
A few years ago, I realized that all my novels have at least one character pretending to be something he or she is not. Apparently, issues of identity are a big deal for me.
It shouldn’t surprise me—I grew up in Thailand as part of an American Protestant missionary community plunked down in the midst of an Asian, predominantly Buddhist community. Meanwhile, my high school was filled with kids who were military brats or diplomat’s kids or children of parents who worked for foreign companies with offices in Bangkok. None of us knew quite where we belonged or who we were. How could we?
That’s probably why my books often have masquerading heroines, spy heroes, or just plain men and women who aren’t what they seem as they struggle to figure out how much of their façade is real. Because I can relate. When you grow up in a mix of cultures and communities, you learn to blend in anywhere, and it makes it hard to figure out who you really are.
At first glance, the heroine for How the Scoundrel Seduces, Lady Zoe Keane, should be very secure in who she is. She has been raised with the expectation of taking up her father’s mantle. She’s that rare thing in the English peerage—a peeress in her own right, a woman who can inherit land and a title from her father (or mother, if her mother was the previous title holder). That should make her feel comfortable with her identity, right?
Except that it doesn’t. Bad enough that her situation has already made her different from all the other ladies, who are peeresses by reason of being daughters or wives to a peer. But Zoe’s father, who was an army major before he inherited the title, has raised her to be his heir. So she acts a bit like a man and not like the other ladies, who are waiting around for a husband.
I got to have her question some of the same things I questioned growing up. Which culture is mine? What do I believe? Who am I?
Plus, she doesn’t resemble her parents—she’s olive-skinned and exotic-looking. And her aunt has just revealed to Zoe that she may secretly be the child of gypsies (the Romany). That would mean Zoe couldn’t inherit a thing if anyone found out, since England didn’t have a legal construct for adoption during the Regency.
So Zoe is truly confused about who she is . . . or who she should become. And I had great fun with that. It’s always more interesting when a heroine (or hero) is in a period of flux. It gives the author a chance to capture the character emerging from the cocoon, unfolding her wings and learning to fly.
In Zoe’s case, she has to figure out what she wants. Marriage to her father’s cousin and second heir, to solidify her claim to the estate? Independence, even if it means losing her inheritance? Love with a man who might keep her from getting what she’s been bred to have?
By throwing in the possibility of Zoe being from another culture entirely (Romany), I got to have her question some of the same things I questioned growing up. Which culture is mine? What do I believe? Who am I? After all, it’s hard to figure out what you want when you don’t know who you are.
Which brings us back to why I create characters who are trying to work out their true identities. Because with every one, I get a little closer to figuring out my own. And what more can a writer ask for?
(Author Photo by Jessi Blakely for Tamara Lackey photography)
BookPage contributor Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators on her children's literature blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Her book, Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, written with Betsy Bird and the late Peter D. Sieruta, is out now. This lively and well-researched book sheds light on some of the common misconceptions about children's literature, shares behind-the-scenes anecdotes and thoughtfully explores the changes and realities of the industry. (Read our review.)
To celebrate her book's release, we asked Danielson (known as "Jules" to her Seven Imp fans) to select 10 of her favorite new picture book illustrators.
Next to the coffee bean, a good picture book is my favorite thing. To be asked to weigh in on my 10 favorite new illustrators is both a little bit thrilling, as well as very challenging. And that’s because I think there are a lot of talented up-and-coming illustrators in children’s literature today. I may or may not have gnashed my teeth for weeks, fine-tuning this list. (Case in point: I can’t help but cheat and zippy-quick add two bonus illustrators to my list. Just humor me. I love my picture books.) But I like how my list turned out, and if these illustrators are entirely new to you, I highly recommend you check out their work.
I don’t think this list would be worth its salt without the inclusion of Aaron Becker. His debut picture book, Journey, is a 2014 Caldecott Honor Book. This fall’s epic Quest will be a sequel, and fans will eventually be treated to a third picture book in what Becker calls the Journey trilogy.
Check out my Breakfast interview with Becker, and keep an eye out for a Meet the Illustrator interview in the September issue of BookPage.
Robinson is one of my favorite illustrators, and I’m not alone: He is the 2014 Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award winner, and Patricia Hruby Powell’s vibrant Josephine, which he illustrated, is a 2014 Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Winner. It’s also, thus far, one of my very favorite picture books of all of 2014.
Keep your eye on Ms. Wheeler. Her debut picture book, last year’s Miss Maple’s Seeds, was a tender story of friendship. And her illustrations for this year’s The Grudge Keeper, an original fable of sorts written by Mara Rockcliff, are just as inviting.
Wheeler shares some sketches here.
Campbell not only illustrated the reigning Newbery winner, Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, but he’s also received both the 2013 and 2014 Ezra Jack Keats Award New Illustrator Honor (for, respectively, Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters, which he also wrote, and Ame Dyckman’s Tea Party Rules). His illustrations for The Mermaid and the Shoe are some of the most beautiful you’ll see this year.
View some of his illustrations here.
Originally from Mexico City, Dominguez has three picture books on shelves and Knit Together coming early next year. The delightful Maria Had a Little Llama with a text in both Spanish and English is a 2014 Pura Belpré Award Illustrator Honor Book.
Angela shares some sketches here.
The Brothers Hilts
Brothers Ben and Sean managed to make the night-time palette of Karina Wolf’s The Insomniacs warm and inviting. For that, they received the Society of Illustrators’ 2012 Founders Award, an award given to new talent. I can’t wait to see what’s next on their plate.
Check out my Breakfast interview with the Brothers Hilts.
Theodore Taylor III
The recipient of the 2014 John Steptoe Award for New Talent, Taylor’s been working for years in graphic design, web design, photography and more, but it was last year’s illustrations for Laban Carrick Hill’s When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop that proved he’s also one to watch in picture book illustration.
View some of Taylor's work here.
Idle’s been illustrating books for more than a couple of years, but it’s been in just the last year that she’s gained copious recognition for her work. A 2014 Caldecott Honor (for the utterly charming Flora and the Flamingo) will do that. Flora fans will be in for a treat, come September, with Flora and the Penguin.
Check out my Breakfast interview with Idle.
Greg didn’t waste any time showing readers what he’s capable of when his debut picture book, last year’s very funny The Watermelon Seed, up and won the 2014 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished beginning reader book. This year’s Number One Sam is a winner, too.
Check out my Breakfast interview with Pizzoli.
Tonatiuh’s work, more prominent in the past couple of years, has been recognized by the Tomás Rivera Mexican American children's book award, as well as multiple Pura Belpré Award committees. Last year’s Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale was awarded 2014 Pura Belpré Award Honors in the categories of both Author and Illustrator.
View some of Tonatiuh's sketches here.
BONUS (because I can’t help it)
Hop outside of the States with me for a moment, will you?
Iranian artist Hoda Hadadi illustrated last year’s Deep in the Sahara, written by Kelly Cunnane. She’s not new to illustration, but she’s new to Americans. Schwartz & Wade, who published Cunnane’s book, tells me that Hadadi has nothing else lined up for publication in the U.S.—at least not in the immediate future and not as far as they know—but I hope that changes soon. View some of Hadadi's work here.
Finally, hailing from Iceland (but currently living in Sweden) is author-illustrator Birgitta Sif. Her debut, Oliver (2012), is the picture book I’d point to that most accurately gets what it is to be an introvert. And Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance, coming at the end of August, pretty much nails shyness. And Sif executes it all with style and warmth.
Alright. I’m making myself stop now.
Readers, what new illustrators would you add to this list?