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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Faith Pray

Look around! We are surrounded by lights!

~ Faith Pray

Faith Pray is an author-illustrator from the Pacific Northwest who regularly wrangles four wildebeests - twins plus two - and two cats. She is excited about books, rainstorms, kids, and sharing kindness. Several years ago, following a stroke and surgery, Faith struggled to find her writing again. So, she took visual storytelling classes in hopes of finding a back door to stories.

Her illustrator debut picture book, Once Upon A Timely, by Lynn Parrish Sutton published in 2019.

In addition to writing and illustrating picture books, Faith has created a mural for Twisters Gymnastics & Tumbling, in Jefferson County, WA.

© Faith Pray, 2020.

Her debut picture book as author/illustrator, The Starkeeper, releases tomorrow.

Welcome Faith,

ME: Tell us a little about yourself. Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? How did you get started? What is your favorite type of book to write?

FAITH: I try to write every day.

In a perfect world, I try to write before everyone’s awake, and then during the morning hours when my kids are at school.

But, when everyone is home - in the summer, on weekends, or now, doing online school - I take whatever corners of time I can get. My studio is downstairs, underneath the stomp of four kids and two cats and a lot of noise, so I wear my daughter’s koala and panda earmuffs to keep the sound down. No joke! It helps!

I started writing poetry and stories when I was about ten. In high school, I sent picture book stories to editors and received a number of kind rejections back. I didn’t really think I could have a career as a writer though, until years later.

I spent a couple years with humanitarian organizations in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Balkans, worked for a lawyer, did some singer-songwriter gigs, got married, and was on bedrest with twins when I got back into writing because of a dare.

That all sounds like quite an adventure. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

My brother Benjamin dared me to try to write - and finish - a novel. So I did. I wrote an epistolary middle grade novel about the Snow Queen, which was seen by Maria Modugno, then VP/Editorial Director at Harper Collins, who suggested some changes, and that is right about when my twins were born. That little moment ended up being a handful (two handfuls) of life to juggle, and by the time I got around to revising, Maria had moved to a different publishing house and was making picture books. I never really sorted out that Snow Queen novel, but 12 (!!!) years later, Maria became my editor for The Starkeeper. Isn’t that magical?

Wow take about kismet! And don't say "never," the Snow Queen might rise again. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

As a child, I got to watch my dad, Richard Jesse Watson (SCBWI Golden Kite Award winner), become a children’s book illustrator and author. His art amazes me.

​I was also smitten with art by Trina Schart Hyman, Tomie dePaola, and Leo and Diane Dillon. I absolutely devoured books by Joan Aiken, especially The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

My present-day favorites are so many and varied. I am currently loving The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson, The Water Bears by Kim Baker, Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and Ebony Glenn, A Day So Gray by Marie Lamba and Alea Marley. Pretty much every book from Vanessa Brantley Newton glows with love.

What an experience to share that with your dad! By the way, your cover is gorgeous. Where did the idea for The Starkeeper come from?

Thank you!

When my youngest daughter turned three, she asked if I could go to the North Pole and bring home a bear. That girl and Bear have been in my heart, hoping for a story for a long time. But the more I worked on it, the more that story grew into an epic adventure with crayons and school buses, whales and boats, dragons and bats, a cat, an island, a lighthouse, stairs…

My agent, Molly O’Neill at Root Literary is something of a wizard. She can see big and small ideas at the same time and knows just which questions to ask. She said, “You can’t have all the stories at once. What is the ONE story your heart needs to tell - this time?”

And somehow, hearing “this time” helped me relax and realize that I might have more books in me! So, I tried not to cram all my ideas into one story. I said goodbye to the dragon and bats, the island, the lighthouse, the whales, and boats. And Bear. And I ended up with this lost, glowing Thing that needed a place to shine.

But all of those stories and characters are still there. Just waiting their turn. Who knows, maybe Bear is next. What was the most rewarding part of the publishing process for The Starkeeper?

Both the most stressful and the most joyful part of this publishing process was having worked on this story for so many months with my agent, to finally have it ready to send on submission. That was amazingly stressful. But then, absolute joy to get a phone call that we had an offer!

If only we could bottle the joy of that first offer. What is your favorite spread in the book?

© Faith Pray, 2020.

I have a couple of favorite spreads, but one of my favorites is the fountain.

And as a rain lover, I also like the first spread.

Such a touching and beautiful spread. What's something you want your readers to know about or gain from The Starkeeper?

Even in the darkest times, we still have one light left to give, and that light is whatever brave gifts come out of each one of us.

We each have the power to change the world around us, even if it seems like our gift or action might seem insignificant at the time. But if we all give, love, listen to each other, stand with each other, then together, we can light up the darkness.

Such a great sentiment, and not just now as we face so much turmoil. Many illustrators leave treasures (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in The Starkeeper? If so, could you share one or more with us?

I love to find interesting extra stories within picture books. My extra treasure is the kitty, who may or may not be helping the girl figure out the star.

And because sharing our stars or our gifts, as it were, is a connected kind of thing, in the last endpaper, I hid a kitten constellation, and it can be found by connecting the stars. [Find it? Check the end of the interview for the "key."]

© Faith Pray, 2020.

I made a connect-the-stars worksheet for Random House to go along with it.

Thank you! What is your favorite medium to work with? Your least favorite or maybe one you’re itching to try?

I love pencils. I love the softness of them, the way my lines can be flexible and impermanent, open to change. And painting with watercolors especially gives me joy.

I haven’t done much with print making, and I love the textures it produces, so I might like to do something with print making some day!

What is the hardest thing for you about writing and/or illustrating children’s books?

The hardest part of being a children’s book writer and illustrator is that each new story is a blank page. Each new project starts from the beginning, and I kind of have to learn how to be a writer all over again. Which is a good thing, to be a learner, and it’s humbling and full of self-doubt, and a lot of hard work!

I'm sure many writers and illustrators can relate to those feelings. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child or now as a writer.)

I am inspired by nature, my family, sketching, and books. I find my best creating happens when I make time to breathe and play and dream.

It's amazing what happens when we quiet the mind and have fun. As the illustrator of Once Upon A Timely (2019), do you prefer being the illustrator or the author/illustrator of a book? Why?

Ooh, this is a hard question! I like both. It’s a treat to picture someone else’s manuscript with my own spin on it, but I also love working on something from the very seed of the idea because I often write in both words and pictures.

They can't all be easy! *smiling* How many drafts, or revisions, did The Starkeeper take to go from idea to publication? Which had the most revisions, the text, or the illustrations?

Oh my goodness. I think I sent at least 11 drafts of this story back and forth to my agent before we submitted it to editors. Once Random House acquired it, I think we went through another 6 rounds of text drafts.

For the illustrations, I sent a dummy of rough thumbnail sketches to my editor and art director, Sarah Hokanson, then received a beautifully adjusted layout from Sarah, which I used to create more detailed sketches, and once those were approved, I moved on to color them with pencils, watercolor, and colored pencils, and then cleaned up and finished everything digitally.

© Faith Pray, 2020.

Thank you for sharing the process and this image! Now, if you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?

Your words and your art and your voice are a unique gift.

Be a listener! Be a learner! Be brave! Share your gifts with the world!

Amen. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

My next author-illustrated picture book Perfectly Imperfect Mira comes out with Little, Brown in Spring 2022. It’s about a girl who wants to be perfect at something, but everybody else is already better. I’m excited about this book, because Mira makes me look at my own battle with the idea of perfection. Working on her story has been freeing in many ways.

I'm looking forward to seeing this one. What is your favorite animal? Why?

Bear would be extra sad if I didn’t pick him, because he’s been around hoping for a story for a long time! But my cats are pretty fantastic real-life animals. I also love koalas, and baby goats, and bush babies are so hilariously cute. I could probably go on for hours talking about cute animals that I want to draw!

Thank you Faith for stopping by to share about yourself and your delightful picture book.

Thank you so much for inviting me to be here, Maria!

Be sure to stop back on Friday for the Perfect Pictures Book #PPBF post on The Starkeeper.

To find out more about Faith Pray, or get in touch with her:

Join Faith for her virtual book launch party on June 15th. And get your own printable Star Party crown and decorations.

And here's the promised "key" to the kitten constellation. Did you find it?

© Faith Pray, 2020.

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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