TGIF everyone. Laura and Susan here tag teaming our incredible Illustrator Coordinator’s new book. She’s so amazing it takes two! Congratulations and a major woo-HOO to Susan, for today’s release of FINE LIFE FOR A COUNTRY MOUSE!
Susan has illustrated several award-winning books for children and serves as the Illustrator-Coordinator for our region. She was educated at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. Susan grew up in Maryland the eldest of five children, although she insists she was not bossy. Her large extended family is very close. When she isn’t drawing, Susan likes to sculpt at the beach, make pies (especially apple) and sock toys. She loves animals and was always fascinated by the pet mice that belonged to her two sons. She and her artist husband live in Baltimore with their dog. You can learn more about her from a previous ATEB interview and by visiting her website at susandetwiler.com.
Time to hand the reins over to our master interviewer, Laura “Oprah” Bowers. Don’t expect tears or stunning confessions, just a great read. Take it away Laura!
Free cars for everybody! Just kidding. I’m so excited about this book after being able to see some of its preliminary drawings in your adorable writing studio. You also mentioned this story the last time you joined us for some coffee & conversation. Can you explain your path to publication for this story?
With one word: perseverance. I made the first version of the mouse book dummy in 2003, and started submitting it. The dummy went through four different versions; I submitted it 22 times over a decade and received 13 rejection letters – and one VERY EXCITING email of acceptance.
Back then, your title was FINE LIFE FOR A MOUSE. What else has changed with the story?
When you saw the preliminary sketches in my dummy, it was essentially the same story and pictures as this book; there were only small changes. Besides the tweak to the title and a few words in the text, one illustration was deleted and one added by Editor Bonnie Bader and Art Director Giuseppe Castellano. I am grateful to them for making it a better picture book.
What was your inspiration for this story?
It is a retelling of my favorite fable by Aesop, The City Mouse and the Country Mouse. This story has been told countless times (and, ironically, published in the past by Penguin) but it will be brand new to many little children. Another departure from previous tellings is that my story stays close to Aesop’s moral, which clearly has the country mouse as protagonist – although I am an unabashed city girl!
Humble Tillie Mouse is visited by her boorish city cousin Oliver, who is difficult to please.
She agrees to accompany him back to the city, and sees his luxurious lifestyle is also fraught with danger. Tillie returns home with a renewed appreciation for her simple life. I wanted to highlight the emotional aspects of the story, and think that children will relate to a tiny creature in a big, scary world.
While you have illustrated many picture books, this is your first adventure as both the author and illustrator. How has the process been different? Has it been harder in some ways or easier?
Making pictures is my passion, and I am always fully invested in any project I take on, especially the books. But this picture book is my baby! As I completed the watercolor illustrations in the fall and winter last year, my zeal reached new heights. Writing is more of a challenge for me than illustration; the original manuscript I wrote in 2003 had a word count over 3500, but as you know, picture books have far fewer words these days, and the final manuscript I submitted for Fine Life For A Country Mouse has only 533. The words and the illustrations changed and evolved over a decade as I learned about the craft through SCBWI. So, I would say the process for this book was harder, but more rewarding, and I hope it is only the first.
If we were to take a peek through your studio window during one of your writing/drawing sessions—which we certainly wouldn’t do since that’s illegal—what would we see?
Well, gosh, that’s why I keep the blinds drawn! Seriously, you might see me painting in my pajamas – one of the benefits to having my studio in the backyard is that I can work in the middle of the night if I feel like it or have a tight deadline. My workspace is equipped with all that I need: art supplies, drafting table, projector, clippings file, computer, printer, and a radio and small TV so I don’t miss anything. There are new families in my neighborhood, and I love to bring the children in to see my studio and whatever I am working on.
How do you describe your style and has it changed throughout your career?
I have always been a Garth Williams fan – you know, the illustrator of Charlotte’s Web and the Little House books, among others – and I suppose I tried to emulate his style. But lately I am experimenting with different media and a looser style, and have become a bit more comfortable with digital media, which is an amazing tool.
What is your favorite writing or drawing how-to book, technique, or website that has helped you improve your craft or provided inspiration?
WRITING WITH PICTURES by Uri Shulevitz is considered the Bible of picture book creation by many, and I agree. I also learned from Ann Whitford Paul’s WRITING PICTURE BOOKS.
My shelves groan under the weight of my picture book collection, and I can’t say enough about how much the SCBWI has educated me. I come home from each of the many conferences I’ve attended completely pumped and full of new information. I am looking forward to our upcoming conference and very happy that my new book will be for sale there!
You just made my day! I’ll be first in line!
And I will be right behind you, Laura! Thanks so much, Susan for stopping by. I am in love with your illustrations and can’t wait to read your book. Looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks!
Happy writing and illustrating, friends!