Paint Me a Monster has just been released in softcover! To commemorate the event, we have a Goodreads Giveaway going on right now (see the bottom of the post), and we interviewed Ms. Baskin about the writing of Paint Me a Monster and about being an author. Check it out!
Scarlet Voyage: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Janie Baskin: Mrs. Burkham, my third grade teacher, had a class project—to make an anthology about the seasons. Each student needed to submit at least one poem; I submitted a dozen! I loved poetry and Mother Goose nursery rhymes, and this was my chance to create my own. After that, writing and drawing were some of my favorite playmates, though I didn’t formally write stories until high school. Each letter I wrote home from summer camp (and I wrote every day) or a thank you note for a gift, turned out to be a little story.
Writing eventually took a back seat to illustrating and making art until my first illustrated book was published. Because I was interested in writing picture books, it seemed a natural progression to learn to write so I could both write and illustrate.
SV: How did you begin your writing career?
JB: As I mentioned, I was a fine artist and illustrator who loved to write. Both fields require similar characteristics to succeed: imagination, curiosity, attention to detail, and the willingness to work hard and be patient. After publishing as an illustrator, the challenge to become a skilled writer and author became the next rung to reach. I involved myself in a number of writing organizations, including a community writing program called Off Campus Writer’s Workshop ( OCWW) and an independent critique group. The workshop introduced us to published authors who shared their expertise, and encouraged participants to write and submit their work for critique. Joining The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators offered an array of opportunities to learn more about writing and the book world. At one of the OCWW meetings I heard that Vermont College offered an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. It was the only school in the country that offered such a specific degree. I sent in samples of my writing, got accepted and worked like crazy cakes to learn as much as my brain could hold.
SV: What inspired you to write Paint Me A Monster?
JB: Good question. What I had learned about writing is that you just have to write- you have to start somewhere even if that start later takes a turn in a totally different direction. My advisor told me to “write what you know, dig deep and don’t be afraid to get messy.” I knew how fun and how hard it sometimes was to grow up in my family. I knew about life with a sister and brother, and I knew about going to an all girls’ school where completing homework assignments was like scaling Mt. Everest.
These kernels and my advisor’s push to “ keep digging deeper” inspired “Paint Me A Monster.”
SV: What is the one message you want readers to take away from Paint Me A Monster?
JB: It’s my hope that readers will turn the last page of Paint Me A Monster” with more compassion and understanding than they had when they turned the first page. If I could give my readers anything it would be the message that “you are not alone”, that life isn’t about “doing it yourself “. It’s a collaborative effort; and because it is, what we think may be unworthy, or unable to change, can transform if we’re not afraid to ask for help.
SV: How did you go about researching and planning for writing Paint Me A Monster?
JB: Much of the book is based on reality and then fictionalized so the need for research was limited. When I came to something that needed to be researched, for example, what it is a high school counselor does, and how he might do it, I’d make a note that this information needed refining. This allowed me to continue writing without worrying about details. It’s easy to procrastinate during the writing process and not always so easy to return to the emotional and mental place a scene may require.
For smaller items like the kind of car that might have been driven in a specific year, research would have been immediate.
Sources for research included: reading the books my protagonist and her peers might have read, consulting with Chambers of Commerce for a variety of cities, speaking with professionals in health related fields, consulting books about issues such as eating disorders, and child abuse, reviewing my teaching and child development text books, and of course from thinking a lot about personal experiences and sometimes reenacting them.
SV: Where there any particular obstacles you encountered while writing this book?
JB: There were no particular writing obstacles; however, getting the time line accurate was a challenge. I did think about what effect the story might have on family members. I was concerned that people who know my family might erroneously assign truth to parts of the story.
SV: What is your typical day of writing like?
JB: Before I describe my routine, it’s important to say that much writing is done while I amble about. Perhaps I am taking a walk, driving, or reading for pleasure. I call this purposeful ambling. It’s the time ideas are generated, re-worked, and produce other ideas.
I have two basic work scenarios. In the first, I wake up early, workout, return home, clean up (sometimes), eat something and write for about three hours. Then I break for lunch, look at e-mail, make calls that can’t wait, then go back to writing for three more hours.
The second scenario occurs when a brainstorm happens while I’m sleeping. I get up, write it down, and because I am so excited, often go into my studio and flesh out the concept. I write until there is no more to say at the time. Then I get up and start the day.
SV: What is your favorite YA book?
JB: The Once and Future King by T.H. White. I first read this book when I was a freshman in high school and can still visualize Merlin, Wart (Arthur), Guenivere and the other unique characters in their full glory. This couldn’t happen if the writing and tale had not been so enchanting. The idea of growing younger and turning into a fish or bird in order to learn a lesson still astounds me. I still wish I could have Arthur’s experiences and a Merlin-like mentor.