Thursday, April 20, 2017

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Rebecca Thornburgh

Tell me about yourself. What got you started in writing?

I've been a children's illustrator for twenty years, and I've illustrated over 135 books. (I've also painted two nine-foot fiberglass polar bears with a gajillion tiny scenes...hello, ibuprofen.) I've had ideas for my own picture books that go back at least ten years, but I only started working on writing and illustrating about three years ago.

How do you schedule your writing time? When do you write?

I combine writing and drawing. I pretty much spend all day at it, except when I'm practicing music. (I sing with four different groups -- three classical and one rock band -- so I usually have a lot of music to learn!) Oh, I'm also a great believer in the creative inspiration of naps!

How and where do you write? Do you prefer a lap top or some other method of getting your words down?

I have two studios. One I call my "acoustic studio" because it's where I work with traditional media -- watercolor, pen and ink, colored pencils, etc. (My finished art is created with traditional media -- watercolor is my fave!)The second is the "electric studio" -- with a computer and a graphics tablet. I work on ideas for text and pictures first with a sketchbook. Next I work digitally to create my thumbnail drawings -- I work on compositions for each spread via a "book map" -- which is a page of very small rectangles (either horizontally or vertically divided depending on whether the book is landscape or portrait in orientation.) I also use the computer to polish my final sketches. I add the text to the sketches to create each page of the book, and then put everything together in InDesign to make a polished picture book dummy.  I'm also totally spoiled because I have a small and extremely adorable outdoor studio called the "playhouse" where I write and illustrate in warm weather. I love working outdoors.

What's your favorite part about writing? Your least favorite part about writing?

I love every part of the process, from coming up with new ideas to playing with alternatives in words and pictures to crafting a polished picturebook dummy. What I don't love (as much) is figuring out what to edit and revise. I often can't tell what's not working, and I'm grateful that I have a number of gifted and candid beta readers who are a huge help in giving me constructive criticism and guidance. Once I know what to revise, then I'm happy to jump back into the process, and I love being at work again.

How did you come up with your book idea? How long did it take you to write your book?

My most recent book was an idea going back to 2003. Over the years I did sketches and snippets of narrative and dialogue in a random assortment of sketchbooks. When I got serious about working on it, it was a bit frustrating trying to find all my ideas were in all those sketchbooks! Anyway, I pulled together a dummy this past January in about three weeks. After fourteen years of mulling, it was pretty easy to put it all together. Some of the sketches are still very rough -- which I kind of like -- but the story is finished.

What types of marketing do you do to promote your writing?

I have a web site and a professional Facebook page which feature my illustrations. I use Twitter off and on, and I write a blog VERY occasionally, but I actually have plans to get more serious about it in the near future, because...

What are you currently working on? Do you have a new book out?

...I'm starting grad school this summer, for an MFA degree in creative writing for children at Hamline University in St. Paul. The program requires a TON of reading and writing, and I'm incredibly excited about it. I plan to write about my grad school experience in my blog.

My most recent book is one I illustrated, called "Take A Walk, Johnny," published by Norwood House Press this past summer. I'm also really proud of a book I recently self-published called "What I Drew in Church" (I sing in the church choir) -- a collection of almost 300 silly drawings, made over eleven-ish years. Bunnies, bees, goblins, fairies, talking mice and walking teacups.

Do you have a project on the back burner? Tell me about it.

I wrote and illustrated a book about a day in the life of Humpty Dumpty. It's now in its tenth revision, after having lots of reviews by writer friends, editors and agents. It's a pretty funny story, and of course it's about a great character, so I really want to rework it (again!) in order to submit to publishers.

What would you tell a beginning writer who wants to publish but doesn't believe he/she has enough talent?

I'm reading a fantastic book right now called "Grit" by Angela Duckworth.  Her very well-respected research concludes that EFFORT is the single most important determining factor in success. So my advice is first to read that book (!) and second to follow its message: never give up -- keep working and working and working. Because it's not about talent. Duckworth demonstrates that effort is what makes the difference. Plus, I really believe that publishing shouldn't be the goal; beginners should be passionate about their creative process. Doing the work is what's important; getting published will follow.

What I'm asked A LOT is "Where do you get your ideas?" And of course there's no perfect answer to that question. But I have a brilliant and very accomplished author/illustrator friend who frequently says "The act of drawing inspires creativity." And I think that statement can be expanded to include writing. If you want to find ideas, sit down and do the work -- if you show up, the ideas will start to show up, too!

Kathryn: I agree. My ideas have come while shopping at the supermarket, in line at the bank, listening to my husband's idea on what book he thinks I should write next, my love for things like eggs and shoes (read my books and you'll get my drift) and so many other things and situations. 

My website is

My blog is called "Marginalia," and the url is

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