Wendy Wahman Driven To Draw
Welcome to Creative Conversations. Today I’m talking with Wendy Wahman. Wendy is an award-winning illustrator who frankly admits she’s driven to draw. With a mile long list of clients from A-Z, (New York Times in the Ns) a long illustration career at the Seattle Post-Intellingencer, and a passion for children’s book illustration, we have a lot to talk about. And there’s a book giveaway at the end to boot!
Here’s Wendy captured in the wild:
And here’s Wendy pecking cake at the party for Jennifer K. Mann’s book Two Speckled Eggs with Liz Wong Suzanne Kaufman and earlier Creative Conversationalist, Elizabeth Rose Stanton (in the pink beak) who introduced us. Thanks, ERS!
Janet: Hey Wendy, I’ve been looking forward to this CC all week.
Wendy: Janet, hello! Me too.
Janet: So, what’s on top for you today?
Wendy: On top of the work pile today is finishing some art for a scientist at Fred Hutch, and procrastinating putting together my PowerPoint presentation for the SCBWI Weekend on the Water retreat. I’m leading two workshops there. But that doesn’t help my motivation to prepare, apparently…
Janet: Ha! We should put Procrastinate on the To Do list, Wendy. I would feel accomplished each time I check it off. I also have two PowerPoint presentations I’m supposed to be preparing. One for Write on the Sound. And another for a Children’s Lit Festival next month in Missouri. Both PowerPoints exist from earlier gigs, but they need spiffing up. What did I do instead? I revised a chapter of the book I’m working on, changing it from 3rd person to 1st person.
Wendy: Maybe now the 3rd person is freed up, he or she will go work on your presentations.
Janet: Brilliant, Wendy! I’ll see if I can remove her from the book and put her to work. She’s a lot smarter than I am, and she’s full of “get it done” fire!
Wendy: Can I borrow her after she’s done?
Janet: She might ask for some $ but sure! So, this all brings me to the first question – Do our characters work for us or do we work for them?
Wendy: Hmmm, good question. I’ve yet to feel like I’m in control of my characters. As soon as I think I am, they tap me from behind on one shoulder then dart to the other side as soon as I turn to look. But then, you just keep getting to know them better and better, don’t you? Some days, I feel more like one of them than myself.
Janet: I journal a lot. Sometimes my characters write me letters. Let’s just say they are not love letters. And, yeah, I know a character isn’t really fleshed out yet when he or she isn’t acting up, or doing surprising things that upend the plot point I had in mind. Sheesh! But it’s always a good thing when they are trying to take control.
Wendy: I want to take a workshop where my characters write to me! I love that idea, Janet, please oh, please make that into a class. Most of my characters are animals, but they can all dictate (and whine, holler, nag and needle). They’ve just never written to me yet.
Janet: Prepare yourself — they have a lot to say. I’ve taught this technique for a number of years, others have, too. Fellow author Katherine Grace Bond uses it and teaches it. My first letter from a character happened when I was writing Wenny Has Wings. The book was already in epistolary form, but I was an unpublished author at the time, and I was already starting to dream about its publication. I was dreaming big, then Will wrote me a letter that began — just a minute I have it somewhere, let me dig about (Janet scrambles around in her messy office and finds the goods!)
Letter: “You think I’m here? You won’t let me come out. Shut up about where the book will go, or if it will work. Shut up and let me breathe. Let me live and we’ll see about the rest later. I don’t want people prying into my business — my story– my sister. So promise you’ll keep my story safe. Don’t be scared of this project. I’m not a project. I’m a person. Just tell it.”
Wendy: Wow, Janet. Will really let you have it, didn’t he?
Janet: I was glad he did. I shut up and started listening to Will. He was worth it. How about you? Can you introduce some of your characters here?
Wendy: I’d love to. The book that just came out last week is “Pony in the City.” It stars Otis, a curious little buckskin pony. His stablemates are Whinny, a semi-retired parade pony, (wait, do paraders ever retire?) Mosey, a chicken-herding cow pony, and Derby, a race pony.
The book I’m finishing up now is “Nanny Paws,” inspired by my little white standard poodle, LaRoo, and the kids next door.
Janet: Aside from the lovely LaRoo, where do your characters come from? Images? Dreams? Drawing?
Wendy: Usually drawings, doodles. Sometimes a name. I have a little popcorn girl that popped out from the name, Poppita. Even after a trillion revisions, no one wanted her, mostly because she lives at the circus. I’m waiting for her to move out so she and I can write her story in her new environment.
Janet: I hope she gets a move on and moves soon. Can you show us Poppita?
Wendy: I would LOVE to show you Poppita. Thank you for asking.
Janet: Ah! Love this!
Wendy: Here is Poppita and Butterball. Though in her new story, she won’t be in the circus, nor will she have a poodle. I’ve pretty much exhausted my poodle allotment with Nanny Paws.
Janet: I can’t help noticing Butterball’s popcorn shapes. 😊
If Poppita wrote to you, what would she ask for?
Wendy: “Dear Wendy, Just because I’m a popcorn girl doesn’t mean I need to be in a popcorn setting. Send me to school or to the moon, for crying out loud!”
Janet: Ha! What a crack-up she is!! One of the qualities a character needs in order to be in a book is Spunk. Verve. She’s got that! I’m always looking for the right character to carry my novel from beginning to the end. You mentioned names. That’s a part of it, too. But that energy. Man, that’s key.
Wendy: I can’t imagine writing a novel. Picture book characters seem abbreviated, but they’re anything but. They have full backstories, but their stories are like sprinting, compared to novels. Which, by the way, I read hand over fist. I’m a shamelessly gluttonous reader.
Janet: Yeah, I’ve got seriously overstocked bookshelves over here. So happy to hear of your reading affliction. Deal is, I don’t always find the right thing to satisfy my story hunger — that means I have to sit down and write it myself. I’m driven to write. Are you driven to create stories as well? Or, what gets you going and keeps you going?
Wendy: How much time do we have? Someone asked me recently about motivation. That’s something I don’t suffer from a lack of. I’m pretty driven – and it ain’t always pretty. I can be selfish about my work time. Weekends are the best, fewer interruptions. Back in my 20’s, Saturday night was my favorite night. My friends would be out, and I’d have the night to myself. I knew no one would call or come by, and if they did, I wouldn’t pick up. I had the night to myself to draw and draw. I’m more artist than writer (Bojack Horseman: more man than a horse, more horse than a man?). I still draw all the time, though Saturday night is no longer my precious alone time. The stories make themselves up while I’m drawing.
Janet: I would love to be able to draw my way into story. Jealousy burbling over here.
Wendy: But you write us big pictures, Janet. Whole worlds and people. Novels are like movies we watch as we read.
Janet: I never thought of it that way, that I’m sending pictures through the words. In truth, I have to write the scenes in layers. Sometimes all I get is a smidgen of conversation. I try putting my body and emotions into the scene — feeling my way in blind. The visual descriptions are the hardest part for me because I’m so auditory — I’m hearing the story more than I’m seeing it at first. So, we approach story from very different directions, Wendy. But we arrive at “the end” just the same.
Wendy: Now I’m bubbling over with jealousy! Oh, how many times I’ve wished my story would whisper itself in my ear. Have you tried ekphrastic writing, finding a photo or art and writing from it?
Janet: Yes, but it’s been a long time since I’ve tried it. Thanks for the reminder, Wendy. It’s good to riff on the different ways we approach story and characters. Enjoying (not blushing) at the mutual jealousy here. When I admit I’m jealous of another artist’s approach, it means there is a part of me that wants to stretch and try something new.
Wendy: Speaking of stretching, it’s time for some yoga and back to work, what do you say? I’ve so enjoyed this, Janet. I feel like I have a new friend. I look forward to more conversations and reading your talks with others. Thank you, Janet!
Janet: Yes to yoga now. (My mat is jealously waiting for me downstairs and wondering what gives.) And yes to more conversations with you Wendy. This was a blast!
And now you lucky DreamWalkers, here’s your chance to win a signed copy of one of Wendy Wahman’s books!
To those of you who are new to rafflecopter, you can enter by doing a tweet (The tweet is written for you ahead of time. You just need to click. Also, you need to click “I Tweeted” to confirm the entry). Or, if you are not on Twitter. 1 log in to enter the contest, then 2 make a comment below answering the ? Do you doodle or draw? Good Luck All!