|Anita Pazner and Troy Cummings|
at the WWMW conference 2013
At the last WWMW conference a bunch of us MI illustrator ladies became friends with Troy Cummings. We all swooned over him not only for his abilities as an illustrator and writer, but for his genuinely nice and unassuming demeanor. This year Troy will be back at the conference as a presenter and I am honored to interview him for The Mitten blog.
With 15 published books since the last WWMW conference your career as an author/illustrator really took off. Tell us about it.
At the time of our last midwest conference, I had just started on THE NOTEBOOK OF DOOM, my early-reader chapter book series about a town full of monsters. In the years since, I've been lucky enough to be able to work on the more books in that series, plus a few picture books, including LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD, 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN INDIANA, and MIGHTY TRUCK.
What do you think were the most important milestones to get to this point?
3RD GRADE: I won a prize in the grade school art show w/ my drawing of a giant moon-rabbit eating a bunch of astronauts. (Awesome, I know.) I think this was the first time I felt like a real, live illustrator.
5TH GRADE: I wrote a story about people turning into robots, which won an essay contest. I was invited to Indianapolis (the state capital!) to read this story to a group of my peers. This was the first time I felt like a real writer.
(Nothing much happened for the next 21 years. I blame video games.)
2004: I made my first attempt at selling a manuscript (a waaaay-too-long picture book about monsters. Like, a million words.) I submitted it blindly to a bunch of publishers, sort of at random. They all said "NOPE," but a few of the nopes were constructive.
2008: I signed on with an agent, and sold my first book, THE EENSY WEENSY SPIDER FREAKS OUT. I know some people do great without an agent, but this was a huge career-changing moment for me.
SUBSEQUENTLY: I don't know if there were specific "milestones" for me after signing on with an agent. It was all just gradual stuff. I'd try to write and draw every day, and would slowly get better, and have more manuscripts to submit, and more work would start trickling in.
What were your biggest setbacks and how did you get over them?
My biggest setback was getting a stack of rejection letters from my first manuscript. I was sure that _somebody_ would publish that book, and was crushed when that didn't happen. I got over it by sticking that manuscript in a drawer and trying again. The second (and 3rd and 4th and 99th ) set of rejections were easier to handle.
Who supported you, pushed you, helped you?
My kids! They read my stories and give me notes. They're pretty good at pointing out which jokes are going to bomb, or which illustrations need more work. "Dad? On page 23, that supposed to be a dog or a dinosaur?" (ANSWER: It's a hamster. Go to bed.)
Do you have a work routine? If not, how do you manage to have such a big output?
I work all day while the kids are in school, and then usually sneak in a few hours after everyone's in bed. I also sometimes take little retreats where I'll lock myself in a cabin over a long weekend and try to come home with a finished book dummy.
How do you get your ideas?
From reading, from keeping tabs on other illustrators, and from playing games with my kids. And keeping a notebook -- doodling around always leads to something.
What do you deem most important to succeed in todays tough market?
I think the most important thing is to just keep writing and drawing every day...the more you write, the better you get, and the more proposals you have out there bouncing around. (Which increases your chance of having the right story hit the right desk.)
Your best piece of advice for the aspiring author/illustrator?
Create something every day. EVERY DAY! Try to build your schedule around your writing/illustrating: Sleep, meals, day job, exercise, friends, family, classes — you gotta do those things, but try to protect your bubbles of work time so that you’re making art every day. Even if you’re only able to write 100 words or draw one squirrel.
What do you do to relax and recharge your batteries?
I don’t understand the question.
I'm working on books 11-13 of the NOTEBOOK OF DOOM, which should bring us to the end of the series. I'm also illustrating more MIGHTY TRUCK books (by Chris Barton), and I'm hoping to do more picture books after that.
Thank you, Troy, see you at the WWMW conference!
Thank you, Michiganders! See you there.
You can learn more about Troy Cummings at www.troycummings.net
or follow him on twitter @troycummings.