The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Molly Ruttan Plus Giveaway
Molly Ruttan grew up making art and music in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
She went on to earn a BFA in graphic design from the Cooper Union School of Art, while drumming in an art-punk band. Currently, Molly lives, works and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles, where she and her husband raised three talented children. The family has recently grown with the joyful addition of a granddaughter.
Molly loves exploring all different kinds of fine art and illustration mediums, including making her own animated book trailers. She still plays the drums, sings in a community choir and has recently started taking viola lessons. Her life is full of art, music, family, friends and all kinds of pets and urban animals—even wild parrots!
Her author/illustrator debut, The Stray, (2020 Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House) was listed as a 2021 ALA CORE Golden Duck Notable Picture Book. And she's the illustrator of I Am A Thief! by Abigail Rayner, (2019 North South Books) which earned a starred Kirkus review and won a 2021 Northern Lights Book Award for humor; and Violet and the Crumbs: A Gluten-Free Adventure by Abigail Rayner (North South Books, 2022), which has been endorsed by the Celiac Disease Foundation. Something Wild has also received a starred Kirkus review. Molly has two additional books forthcoming.
Her newest picture book, Something Wild, releases on February 28th.
Welcome back Molly!
Hi Maria! Before I begin, I want to take a moment to thank you for having me back on your blog. It’s always such a pleasure to be here.
What was your inspiration for Something Wild? How much does Hannah’s stage fright come from your own experience as a musician?
Yes, absolutely! I have always suffered from stage fright, not only as a performing musician but any time I’ve had to get up in front of people. One of my earliest memories is freezing up during a class play in kindergarten—I was so scared I couldn’t speak. One of the other kids had to say my lines!
Ironically, I went on in my life to become a performer, but not because I loved the stage—it was because I loved the music. But it was difficult. As the drummer in an art-punk band in the 80s, I used to get so nervous before a show I would be physically sick. Eventually, I discovered that focusing on my love for music along with being practiced and prepared allowed me to rely on my abilities. I began to experience a sense of freedom on stage, which has helped me manage the fear. This revelation is what inspired the book.
Playing drums in my art-punk band Sally Dick & Jane, in the 80s. Photo by JPRKenny.
Thanks for sharing your experience and this fun photo! What is the most fun or unusual place where you’ve written or illustrated a manuscript?
A few years ago my agent sent me a prospective manuscript and asked if I would like to do a sample illustration for it. At the time, I was on a two-week camping trip with my husband, riding pillion on our motorcycle. We spent many hours on the road as we toured the Sierra Nevada. Even though I only needed to produce one illustration, I became inspired and worked out the whole book in my head while clinging to my husband’s back as we rode. I’m not saying it was a magnum opus by any stretch, but by the time we got home I had it all figured out, and I knew what scene I wanted to illustrate. [My husband Gabe and I stopping to enjoy the view during our two-week motorcycle camping trip through the Sierra Nevada in 2017.]
What a trip that must have been and such an amazing picture. How long did it take from the first draft (or dummy) to publication for Something Wild? Was this similar to your other books?
Pieces from the original “Violin Sequence” I created for a class assignment.
The roots of Something Wild go back to a class I took in 2014, with Marla Frazee. When she gave us the task to create a sequence, I painted a short narrative about a girl who was afraid to perform, but when she took the stage and remembered how much she loved to play, the stage transformed into something wild and beautiful. It felt like the beginning of a book at the time, so I worked on it, trying to figure out what came next. I couldn’t solve it, so I put it aside. It wasn’t until 2018 that I had a brainstorm and realized that the sequence wasn’t the beginning of a book at all—it was the ending of a book!
In 2019, I took my book dummy to Nancy Paulsen, who was my editor for my book The Stray, (Nancy Paulsen Books). Publication was originally planned to be Spring 2022, but it was pushed back a year for various reasons, including the pandemic. Every book I’ve made so far has had a slightly different timeline, but The Stay, which I also author/illustrated, had a similar timeline to Something Wild. The books I created for NorthSouth I didn’t write, so the timeline was different for me.
Interesting, how some books seem to have a mind of their own. Is there something you want your readers to know about Something Wild?
I like to incorporate layers of meaning into the illustrations I create for a book, when I can. One of the ways I did this for Something Wild was in the layout of the book. Something Wild is an emotional journey, and I wanted the pages to reflect this. In the first part of the book, the spot illustrations have hard edges around them, symbolizing Hannah’s trapped-in feeling of being afraid. This continues in the book until the recital. After Hannah has her wild experience, the spot illustration showing her being celebrated by her family has a border that has begun to break apart, symbolizing Hannah’s feeling of freedom overpowering her fear. Then the last page shows Hannah’s glow of happiness and empowerment filling and going past the edge of the page.
Interior spread from Something Wild, written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan.
Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House ©2023.
I love getting the "behind the scenes" scoop on illustrations. Do you have a favorite spread in Something Wild? Or one you are most proud of?
One of my favorite spreads is near the beginning of the book, when birds sweep into Hannah’s room and make off with her recital clothes. A very similar version of this was one of the first spreads I drew, and it was a touchstone for me, for the rest of the book. When I took it to color, I loved how the orange and yellow swoosh came out, seeming to glow, so I tried to keep this as an indication in the rest of the book to show that Hannah’s imagination was in action.
Early sketch & Interior spread from Something Wild, written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan.
Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House ©2023.
You did such a great job capturing Hannah's imagination and I love how whimsical the final birds look. Many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Something Wild? Could you share one or more with us?
In the book, Hannah wishes that something wild would happen to prevent her from performing in the recital—to no avail. She then has to take the stage and face the enormous audience. I wanted this scene in the book to show all the people of the audience, in detail, because getting up in front of people is a huge component of stage fright for me. So I went to work drawing every face. In the process, I accidentally drew one or two that looked a little bit like my (grown up) kids. This inspired me to change them so that they were my kids, including my daughter who was pregnant at the time! I then went on to include the family from my book The Stray, as well as Violet from my book Violet and the Crumbs, and Eliza with her mom from my book I Am A Thief!. I also included Hannah’s family, of course. In hindsight, I wish I had made every one of the people in the audience someone I know!
Early sketch from Something Wild, written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan. Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House ©2023.
That is so cool. It was fun looking and I did find some of them. What was the most rewarding part of the publishing process for Something Wild?
Bringing Something Wild into the world has been so meaningful for me; it feels like every step of the way has been rewarding in some way. But I think the most rewarding moment came the other day, when I received my author copies. My daughter immediately grabbed a book and sat down with her 16-month old daughter, and read it to her. Just seeing the two of them sitting there, reading my book together, brought tears to my eyes. But then after my daughter finished reading, my granddaughter said the most cherished word any book creator could ever hear a child say—"AGAIN!”
It doesn’t get any more rewarding than that.
Aww! Such a special moment! Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Right now I’m finishing the final art for my next book, The Yowlers, written by Stacy Lynn Carroll, (Nancy Paulsen Books). It’s a story about a grumpy family who slowly find themselves transformed, under the influence of their happy and considerate neighbors. It’s fun because along with their attitudes, the transformation is visual—but that’s the only spoiler I’m giving! It’s slated for release in Fall 2024. I also have another book that I’ve started working on, but I’m not at liberty to say anything about that one yet.
Interesting. We'll have to keep our eyes out for these books. What kind of marketing and promotion have you or your publisher done for this book? Do you have any marketing suggestions or ideas?
Many bookstores have opened up and are doing live events again, so I have been able to schedule local Story-times. I am SO looking forward to reading my book at these events and interacting with the kids. (I haven’t done this since my first book, which came out in 2019!) I’ve also set up an excellent blog tour that runs for several months.
Because this book is about a performance, I have arranged to have The Silverlake Conservatory of Music host my book launch, and it will hopefully include a couple of student performances (still working on that…) I am an active member of the Conservatory; I’ve sung in the adult choir for over 15 years, and I am currently also taking viola lessons there. They are a stellar organization. https://silverlakeconservatory.org/.
I’m also planning crafts for the kids at my launch. The crafts will tie-in to the music theme—we will be making mini-banjos and egg shakers! (I found the crafts on an excellent website: The Craft Train. Check it out! https://www.thecrafttrain.com/).
Meanwhile, I have made tote bags, sticker sheets, round stickers, bookmarks and postcards to give as swag. I plan to make coloring sheets and activity sheets as well, like my sister and I have done for all my previous books, (https://www.mollyruttan.com/activities). In addition, I made a book trailer that debuted on Penguin Kids’ Facebook page and twitter feed, on February 18. (https://www.facebook.com/penguinkidsbooks; @penguinkids)
My advice is that if you decide to create swag, start early, because things can get very busy close to the launch date. My publicist at Penguin created a wonderful Press Release, which was very helpful to have, to send out to prospective bookstores and bloggers. And on that note—say yes to anything your publicist offers, and coordinate your efforts. Ask if they have a budget for the book’s promotion; sometimes they can give you a small stipend for your book launch party, for example.
My book Something Wild, along with swag that I created— a sticker sheet, round stickers;
a tote bag, a postcard and a bookmark. ©2023.
Great advice and I love your swag. I wish I lived closer; that sounds like such an amazing book launch. Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing/ illustrating or not?
The best artistic advice I have ever gotten has to do with finding your voice as an illustrator. Many people think that because the method they are using to make their art is easy, it means their art isn’t valuable, or valid. The thing to remember is that not everyone finds your methods easy! If it’s easy for you, then it usually means you are on the right track.
Thanks so much, Molly for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you again.
It was a pleasure as always, Maria! Thanks so much for having me!
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Something Wild.
To find out more about Molly Ruttan, or contact her:
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmS4WTZgoc_jRhhRC3DV-Cg Other: To buy her books and for her other links, go to: https://linktr.ee/mollyruttan
Something Wild Giveaway
Awesome news! Molly is offering one lucky reader a copy of Something WIld.
- Simply comment below (or on the Friday #PPBF post - or both) to be entered in the random drawing on March 3rd.
Be sure to say where (if) you shared the post (Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram), and I'll add additional entries for you.
- *Sorry US Residents only.*
And check out Molly's Storytime opportunities in Southern California: