The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Danielle Dufayet
Danielle Dufayet was born in Yonkers, New York and now lives in sunny San Jose, California, where she writes children’s books and paints.
She also teaches English and Public Speaking (Self-Empowerment) to grades K-12. Danielle read her first picture book, Little Raccoon and the Thing in the Pool, when she was 18 whereupon she was blown away by its simplicity, timelessness and transformative power. That’s when she knew it was her calling. Thirty five years and a Master’s Degree later, she finally made her dream come true.
She’s the author of Waiting Together, illustrated by Srimalie Bassani (2021), Fantastic You, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin (2019), You Are Your Strong, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin (2019).
For more information about Danielle, see our earlier interview (here).
Her newest picture book, Benford Draws a Blank, released on January 1st.
Welcome back Danielle. What was the inspiration for Benford Draws a Blank?
I am also a fine art artist and during covid I didn’t feel very inspired to paint (or write, for that matter). After a long hiatus, I felt like I wanted to get back into it. I remember looking at my big white, blank canvas. I felt an overwhelming sense of anxiety – like maybe I forgot how to paint! Not knowing what to paint, I stared at that blank canvas for days, even weeks. It was always in the back of my mind until one day I just jumped in. Eventually, I got back into the flow. I thought it would make a great picture book. I wanted the canvas to have a mind of its own! That’s when I was inspired to write a humorous and fictional picture book about the creative block and how to overcome it.
Such a great idea for a story. That big, white, shiny, blank page can be so overwhelming, for kids and adults. What is the most fun or unusual place where you’ve written a manuscript?
It depends what I’m working on and how far along I am. It may be a busy coffee shop or in my office, or out in nature amongst the trees. If I’m just starting on a new idea, I usually need lots of peace and quiet to get in touch with my thoughts and feelings. If the manuscript is farther along, I can work on it almost anywhere.
So, how long did it take from the first draft to publication for Benford Draws a Blank? Was this similar to your other books?
Writing Benford Draws a Blank took me about 2 and ½ years. I was pretty clear on my takeaway and character and story arc, so it was pretty fast in the world of writing picture books. My first two books, You Are Your Strong and Fantastic You were even quicker in comparison. They were based on my life experience and sort of tumbled out of me. They sold fairly fast to the same publisher, Magination Press. My third book, Waiting Together took about 3-4 years with so many revisions. Then, I had to put it away for about 5 years because other, more well-known authors, had books coming out with the theme of waiting (even though mine was so different). But my agent told me to put it away for a while and that’s what I did.
It's interesting how varied the course of a book can be. What was the most rewarding part of the publishing process for Benford Draws a Blank?
Capstone Publishing is a great Publishing company. They let me have a lot of say when it came to the illustrations. I think the most rewarding part of the publishing process was feeling like we were all a team with the same goal. It truly felt like a collaboration from the heart!
That's definitely an awesome experience! What's something you want your readers to know about Benford Draws a Blank?
Both my parents were professional artists. I especially admired my mother, Suzanne Sable’s, work. She could create stunning work in any genre! For years, I wanted to paint, but I compared myself to my mother. This stifled me. I felt I would never be as good as her. Then one day, when I was feeling kind of blue, I started painting. Much to my surprise, my paintings were colorful and uplifting!
© Danielle Dufayet
It was then I realized art is just an expression of who you are, and I am naturally a happy and positive person; and much to my surprise, I liked what I painted. All that time I wasted, wanting to be perfect, afraid of making mistakes, afraid of not being good enough. Art brings me so much joy. I’ve been painting ever since. My mother had incredible discipline and that rubbed off on me. That’s why I dedicated this book to her.
It is so hard not to compare ourselves to family or friends. I love your art (I chose this one as an example) and I am glad you've continued to paint. Did anything surprise or amaze you when you first got to see Katia Klein’s illustrations?
I loved her simple style -it’s very child-friendly and very colorful so I knew we were a good match. There were a few spreads, however, where I had to emphasize the art being a certain way that reflected my vision. Luckily, we went back and forth quite a bit until everyone was happy. Negotiating the illustrations requires a lot of diplomacy and give and take. But, in the end, everyone has to feel good.
What is your favorite spread?
Text © Danielle Dufayet, 2023. Image © Katia Klein, 2023.
One of my favorite spreads is when Benford is asking his dog, Van Gogh, what he should paint. Van Gogh is posing, hoping to be Benford's inspiration, but Benford doesn’t notice. This spread is the first of many where Van Gogh is trying so hard to be his master’s subject matter. All throughout the story, the reader can see Van Gogh’s antics. Poor Van Gogh, he tries so hard! But, in the end, Van Gogh is celebrated and that’s what makes Benford's painting “just right."
You and Katia did such a great job with Van Gogh's antics (and the cat's, too) throughout the book. What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing Benford Draws a Blank?
I think the hardest part of writing a picture book is distilling it into the most essential words, while keeping it lyrical and interesting. The most challenging (and most fun) part of writing Benford Draws a Blank was making it as funny as possible with the illustrations. I loved that the illustrator added little beady eyes to the canvas! The ending had to be a certain way too. The illustrator and I went back and forth many times until it was just right. She did a terrific job considering she had to come up with an abstract painting that included Benford's cat…then dog.
Sounds like it was a challenge for both of you. What kind of marketing and promotion have you or your publisher done for this book?
Capstone provided me with an activity sheet to loosen up and quiet the inner critic. I will post that on Facebook. I’m hoping Capstone will fly me to some book signing events like Magination Press did, before Covid. Other than that, the usual podcast interviews, book giveaways, etc.
Aw, the days before Covid. I hope you get to do some fun book signing events. Do you have any marketing suggestions or ideas?
I’d like to get my book into the hands of Oprah Winfrey. Lol. I think the best thing you can do is get it out there through social media, libraries, bookstores, etc.
Wouldn't that be amazing! Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I’m working on a manuscript that I’m a little bit stuck on. What else is new? My agent, Karen Grencik, shopped it around and it didn’t sell, but I really believe in it, so I want to get back and revise it. I’m just not sure what approach to use. It was a fictional story with lots of puns, (which I really liked) then I wrote it as a concept book (didn’t like so much). I need to get back to it!
Best of luck with it! Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing/ illustrating or not ?
Well, it’s a quote and I love it.
“It’s never too late to be what you might have been,” by George Eliot.
I suppose I could have started earlier with my art career, but I lacked the confidence. Little by little, my confidence has grown, and I can now say I am an award-winning fine art artist. I show my paintings in various fine art galleries. It’s never too late to do what you really want to do whether it’s writing, painting, dancing, music, etc. Just start and stick with it!
That's a great quote! Congratulations on your art and your books! Thank you, Danielle, for stopping by to share with us your newest picture book.
Thank you so much, Maria, for the opportunity and thank you for all the love and encouragement (and promotion for authors ) that you do with your wonderful blog.
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Benford Draws a Blank.
To find out more about Danielle Dufayet, discover more about her art, or contact her:
Art Website: https://www.danielledufayet.com
Danielle Dufayet Art Shop: https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/danielle-dufayet/shop