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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Behind the Scenes with Deb Lucke, Artist and Children's Book Author

Deb Lucke is a writer and illustrator of children's books that portray bad behavior and horribly embarrassing incidents. Since her own childhood had plenty of both, she is never short of material.

Prior to getting involved in children's books Deb worked with many talented people in advertising from whom she learned how to trap and snare an idea. She also studied filmmaking, which influenced the way she visually tells her stories. She finds camaraderie in a group of children's book illustrators that meets in the Hudson Valley and a group of writers that meets in New York.

She spent her childhood in Cincinnati, Ohio.  After high school, she attended an art school/college in Storrs, Connecticut.  After college, Deb began her design and advertising career in Boston, Massachusetts, and later moved to New York City where she accepted a higher position in advertising.  Later she moved to the Hudson Valley to begin her career writing and illustrating children's books.

Why did you choose this genre?
I worked as an Art Director in advertising for many years.   While I was in this position, I was teamed with a writer. Together we produced concepts for commercials and print ads. Somewhere in during that time-period, I started coveting the writer's job.  Because of this desire to write, I took classes in short story and screenwriting writing; however, the result was writing children's books instead. 
What did you learn from your years in advertising that has helped you as an author?
Working in advertising taught me how to take something a synapse fired off in the back of my brain and turn it into a really good story. It might be a story about why you need this consumer product, but it was a story nonetheless.
Day in and day out, I would be locked in a small office eyeball to eyeball with a writer until one of us would have a moment of inspiration on how to communicate whatever product advantage our product had. Then the other person would say, "Oh that's great!" and describe something that was not what the first person said at all. However, it would be better.
As we worked on a project, we would build off each other until it seemed like we had a really good idea. Then we'd pound it into a script [for a 30 second spot] with a beginning, middle and end that left the impression we wanted it to in the viewers minds and did so a way that was at least as entertaining as what the hugely talented and hilarious team that sat in the office down the hall did.
I learned to trust the creative process. I learned that some ideas come easy, some ideas take years to develop, but some curl up and die. You sit down, do the work, and something comes through.
Can you tell us about your books, and where we might find them?
Seezenesia:  It was published by Clarion Books in 2010.
ISBN #978-0-547-33006-8

A boy sneezes so hard he forgets his own name. Then he sneezes so hard he forgets where he is, who his mom is, and pretty much everything else he had learned that year in school! He sneezes out everything stored in his brain. What is an empty-headed, lost little boy to do?

The Boy Who Wouldn’t Swim: It was published by/Clarion Books/2008
ISBN #978-0-618-91484-5

It was so, so hot that summer that all of Clermont County practically lived at the pool. Everyone in Eric Dooley's family was in the water, including his little sister who was not the least bit afraid even though she, like Eric, did not know how to swim.  Everyone, that is, except Eric. Nothing would entice him in. He sat on the hot concrete and steamed while Jessica got the swim lesson meant for him. Under his thick coating of sun block, he was green with envy. What would his jealousy lead him to do?

The Book of Time Outs: It was published by/Clarion Books/2008
ISBN# 978-1-4169-2829-4

Here are the stories of some of the biggest troublemakers in history. Cleopatra could not stop fighting with her brother. Christopher Columbus told a big fat lie about what he found in the new world. Napoleon took things that were not his–like other people's countries. Sooner or later, they all had to have a time out.

All three books are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Do your books have a teaching objective?  If so, what is it?

In general, I find publishers do not like stories with lessons. That said, "The Book of Time Outs" is all about people getting in trouble and having time outs, so it raises many ethical questions...and that is part of its appeal.
Most of my characters behave badly. Let us face it, well-behaved characters make for a dull story. I am a firm believer than children's books are subject to the same narrative rules as books written for adults. I try to make my characters struggle with the same human condition that adults do, only it takes a sillier form.
Do you think it is important for parents to read to their children at an early age?
Deb at a Book Fair
A good storyteller allows the listener to follow the story, leap ahead, and anticipate the outcome, and then surprises the reader all the same. Leaping ahead, projecting him or herself into the story, and vicariously experiencing a new situation stretch a child's imagination.

Therefore, I would say if you want your kids to be imaginative, read stories to them. Also, give them enough free time for boredom to set in.  Earlier I described my experiences as a child and the influence it had on me.

Is your book illustrated?  If so, would you tell us by whom?
I was an artist first and writer second so I illustrate my own books. Usually, the words and pictures come simultaneously. I start with an idea about a character in a situation.
I write notes and draw doodles around this concept–sometimes over a long period of time. Then I sit down and write. Once the idea is pretty much fleshed out, I start drawing–not illustrating the words but imagining the character in situations, what the character's world looks like, and what's happening inside the character's mind. I usually draw hundreds of sketches. Then I start putting the visuals and words together. The sketches always change the story. So I rewrite, then I redraw, and back and forth until I think I have it right. In my opinion, this makes the pacing much tighter.
Why and when did you begin writing?
I grew up in the mid-west and was bored a lot during childhood. Boredom, it turns out, is a necessary condition to the development of a vivid imagination. It is as if the blank page–it asks to be filled up. So while I kicked aimlessly at the dust in the cornfields, or swung back and forth listlessly on a too small seat suspended by two squeaky chains, I imagined that the events of that afternoon were about to change dramatically. I would launch off my swing and it would turn out that I could fly! On the other hand, the corn would grow five hundred feet tall and I would be lost in the field. I would have to learn to survive on my own–live in a house made of corncobs, wear clothes made of cornhusks, eat creamed corn night and day, and grow rotund.

The stories I invented then all turned out to be pretty silly. However, the feeling of surprising myself when a narrative takes an unexpected turn has stayed with me. That is what keeps me writing today.

My three younger brothers were mostly annoyances to the childhood me, but over the years they have turned into protagonists. Eric's fear of swimming became, The Boy Who Wouldn't Swim. An older version of Kurt was the lifeguard in the same book. Dan's drippy nose is the basis of Sneezenesia. Of course, the truth has been wildly exaggerated and the stories changed dramatically, otherwise they would be boring!

My father says he knew I had talent because I got the legs on right when I drew cows, pigs and horses. Apparently, I was looking closely at the front legs and the back legs of my subjects early on.

I still spend a great deal of time looking at things. I work part-time at a contemporary art museum and I do surreptitious sketches of some of the visitors while they are looking at the art. I do the same thing on trains and subways. In fact, I find Metro North such a great stimulus that I sometimes go for a ride when I am stuck on an idea or need a fresh start on a project even if I do not really need to go anywhere. I live a little over an hour away from New York and there is something about heading there that gets my juices going. 

What projects are you working on now, or plan for the future?
I am currently working on a graphic novel titled, The Lunch Witch. This is the story of a witch who finds herself unemployable because no one really believes in magic anymore. Grunhilda's only skill involves boiling up foul things in her cauldron. Unlikely as it seems, there is a job that needs exactly what she has to offer: lunch lady.

Grunhilda goes to work torturing small children with horrible meals until one of those children, a rather-dull witted one in her opinion, manages to outsmart her. She finds herself being forced to do awful, unspeakable things–things that she did not think she was capable of doing – like being a mentor.

What do you do when you are not writing? 
There is virtually no separation between my work and my life. However, I do believe in what I call feeding the imagination. I go to many art museums, see as many movies as possible, read about five books as week, and meet with my writer's group every two weeks for lunch, intellectually stimulating conversation, and story critiques. As I mentioned before I spend a lot of time looking at things. I also like to go for long walks.
I should be spending more time studying grammar, but I am not.
What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?

I wanted to explore the graphic novel form years ago, but then I read a quote from a successful cartoonist saying you have to be psychotic to spend years doing something that might not sell. Therefore, I waited a while. Now it is five years after that and I have ignored the needs of my budget, family, friends and cardio-vascular system to write my first graphic novel. I got it done this week.  

The next day I watched my significant other devour a radish I grew from a seed.

Check out Deb’s books at:
Here are the links:

and see more of her Art at:

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