Hi Math is Everywhere Readers,
I’m so excited for this timely interview because we just had our first rain of the season and now we get to chat with wonderful author-illustrator Abi Cushman about her adorable book SOAKED! She also has some cool insight on how being a web designer helps with picture books and transitioning from freelancing to her own work.
Kaitlyn: Hi, Abi, thanks so much for joining us!
Abi: Thank you, Kaitlyn! I’m such a fan of your blog. I’m so thrilled to be on.
Kaitlyn: Really? Oh, you’re so awesome, thank you! First I have to know: SOAKED! is absolutely hilarious, where did this humor come from?
Abi: Well first of all, I wrote the first draft of SOAKED! pretty late at night, and I think that helped with some of the kookiness. I was thinking, “Wow. This is WEIRD,” when I was writing down the opening lines. But I figured I might as well go for it. I had a good sense of Bear’s voice and so it was a lot of fun brainstorming ridiculous reasons why he was sad about the rain and why he couldn’t escape from it. I also wanted to play around with inserting moments of absurdity throughout the story. A lot of picture books I find funny do this, such as A HUNGRY LION OR A DWINDLING ASSORTMENT OF ANIMALS by Lucy Ruth Cummins or CLICK CLACK MOO COWS THAT TYPE by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin. For example, the fact that in CLICK CLACK MOO, the cows demand not just blankets, but electric blankets, is just so random. Do people besides my mother actually use electric blankets these days??
Kaitlyn: OMG I love all of this! Nighttime delirium can totally add to the fun quirkiness of manuscripts, and I agree, offbeat humor like they have those awesome comps (and your book) is so fun! So, now I need to know: how did you decide on the characters?
Abi: I knew Bear would be the narrator because he’s the one I kept drawing in my sketchbook when I was developing the story. So I wanted the other characters to also be woodland creatures. In the opening lines, I started with a badger and a bunny, which both start with the letter b, and I wanted to break up that alliteration with something unexpected. And what I landed on for something unexpected was a hula-hooping moose.
Kaitlyn: Those sketches are so great, and that’s so smart about the type of animal; you definitely don’t want too much alliteration. Okay, now we HAVE dive deeper here. Where did the idea of a hula-hooping moose come from?? (So hilarious!)
Abi: Initially, Moose was a dancing moose, but I changed him to a hula-hooping moose because then he would always have a hula-hoop as a prop. It worked better visually (and also for the story arc). And I think going up in specificity from just dancing to hula-hooping made it even more absurd.
Kaitlyn: Yes! It’s the perfect amount of absurd and most definitely so awesome for the story line. Let’s jump to the other side of the business, how did you find your agent, and how did you know she was the one?
Abi: I queried Kendra at BookStop Literary Agency because she had mentioned on her website that she was drawn to humorous stories. I ended up signing with a junior agent there, and we worked together for about a year editing my stories until she decided to leave the business. Kendra offered to take me on afterwards, and it was around that time that I had written SOAKED!. So we worked on that together and sold it a few months later to Viking in a two-book deal! Shortly after that, we worked together on another book called ANIMALS GO VROOM!, and that ended up being the second one accepted by Viking! I like Kendra because she has a ton of experience and offers great insight about how to polish up a story, what ideas might be most marketable, and which editors might connect with them.
Kaitlyn: That’s such an amazing story, and I’m so glad you landed with the perfect agent for you and your stories! Who was your editor at Viking, and what was it like working with him or her?
Abi: My editor at Viking is Tracy Gates, who is AMAZING! I worked closely with her and Jim Hoover, the art director at Viking, on both SOAKED! and ANIMALS GO VROOM! (which will come out July 2021). And what was great about working with both of them is that they really understood what my vision was for these two books, and they helped me achieve a much better version of both of them.
Kaitlyn: That sounds like a dream team! I’m so glad Kendra connected you with Tracy and Jim! Tell us more about being an author-illustrator, how did you come to this career and how does your work in web design connect?
Abi: I always wanted to be an illustrator, but it took me a long time (years) to find my illustration voice. So I became a web designer after I graduated from college so I’d have a job that paid the bills but was still interesting to me. Web design gave me a great creative outlet because in addition to making websites for clients, I was able to make websites for myself about topics I was passionate about. And I also wrote articles for those sites, so it was really satisfying for me to have these projects to work on. These days, the fact that I know how to make websites is useful because I was perfectly comfortable making my own author-illustrator site and maintaining it. I know a lot of authors and illustrators see making and maintaining a website as a really daunting task. And for me, it wasn’t a source of stress at all.
Kaitlyn: That’s so awesome! I know I was a bit nervous about a website at first too, but with the encouragement of many people, I just dove in, and it really wasn’t that scary. How did you transition to being an author-illustrator from a freelance web designer, and what are the major similarities/differences?
Abi: I left my job at a design/marketing firm in 2006 to make the full leap into freelance life. And it was so exhilarating and liberating. But that said, I did have to learn things the hard way about running my own business. I knew nothing about taxes and accounting, and all that. When I got my first check, and it was addressed to my business name, I realized I couldn’t deposit it into my bank account. Because in order to have a bank account under your business name, you need to get a trade name certificate from town hall. It was just little things like this that basically no one tells you in school. Quarterly taxes? What’s that? The fact that you’re paying SIGNIFICANTLY more taxes than you would if you were employed by someone else? Totally new information to me. And then there was the huge problem of trying to find affordable but comprehensive insurance as a female freelancer. (Spoiler alert: It definitely did not exist in 2006.) But now, I have most of that all figured out. So when I got my first book deal and started the author/illustrator part of my career, I didn’t have to worry about the business stuff. I’m well accustomed to the ebb and flow of freelance income. I know how to pay taxes properly. And actually, I still am making websites for people in addition to making books, but not at the volume I was before.
Book making and web design are similar in that both provide the opportunity to flex all your creative muscles. In both scenarios, I’m creating something from nothing. I get to problem solve, whether it’s figuring out how to add more tension to a narrative arc or it’s figuring out how to make something work with code. They’re both really fun!
What I love about being an author-illustrator is that I get to think up the project myself. I have all this creative freedom to choose what I want to make when I make books. You don’t always have those choices when doing web design for other people. You can always turn projects down if you don’t like them (and if you don’t need the money), but even for the jobs you like, the focus there is creating something that the client wants and is happy with. Which often is something I also like… but that’s not the main goal.
Kaitlyn: Wow, that’s such amazing insight, and I’m so glad you got it all figured out! And can’t wait to hear what you’re working on next, can you share with us what you’re working on now?
Abi: I JUST finished final art for ANIMALS GO VROOM!, which has die-cuts! It challenges the reader to guess what goes roar, hiss, or screech- they think it’s an animal, but turn the page, and the sound ends up coming from the vehicle the animal is driving. I’m really excited about it. Since I just finished that, I’m now taking the time to think up ideas for new books! It’s a nice change of pace because finishing final art can be a bit stressful.
Kaitlyn: OMG that sounds AMAZING! We have a book that’s a similar style, where you think it’s one thing and you lift the flap and aha! it’s something else. We LOVE those types of books in my house! Do you have any advice for illustrators or author-illustrators?
Abi: My advice would be to read a ton of current picture books and really analyze how the story is told through the pictures and words. And then just keep trying and keep writing new stories. You WILL break through if you keep putting in the work. Really.
Kaitlyn: So so true! You MUST know the current market, and it does take a while but the more immersed you are, the more likely you’ll find your story. Finally, if you could meet your favorite author, illustrator, or mathematician would you chat by a fireside or go on an adventure?
Abi: Definitely yes to adventure! We can fend off dragons, discover secret underground cities, and foil robot platypus revenge plots, all while chatting about which brand of pen has superior ink flow. Or we could chat about math I guess. Like what our favorite triangle is. Mine is the isosceles triangle because it’s fun to say isosceles.
Kaitlyn: Abi, you are a person after my own heart! I want to go on that adventure with you, and I super hope that robot platypus story gets written! 😉 Isosceles is for sure one of the coolest things to say, too, and being so symmetrical makes it highly desirable. I remember a class from college where we learned that scientists found people we find to be the most attractive (ie models) have almost perfect symmetry. Thank you so much for sharing and for joining us today to talk about your wonderfully fun book and your interesting career!
Abi: Thank you, Kaitlyn, for the fun interview and for all you do for the kidlit community! You are awesome.
Kaitlyn: Aw, Abi, you’re way too sweet!
Book info for SOAKED!
A Hula-Hooping moose, a badger with a bumblebee umbrella, a bunny in a cashmere sweater, and a very wet bear star in this unpredictable and laugh-out-loud picture book in which having fun gets the best of a grumpy bear.
It looks like a wet and dreary day for Bear and his trio of friends. How could he possibly have fun when he is soaked? But Badger, Bunny, and Moose don’t seem to mind. In fact, Moose can still hula hoop! And it looks like so much fun. Might Bear like to try?
Here is a story that shows that fun is not dependent on sunshine and blue skies. In fact, it might be more fun to be soaked!
More Information: https://abicushman.com/books/soaked
Free SOAKED! Activity Guide and Craft: https://www.abicushman.com/fun-stuff/
Signed Copy: https://banksquarebooks.com/soaked (Kaitlyn highly recommends this–we love our signed copy!)
Abi Cushman is the author-illustrator of Soaked! (Viking, 2020) and Animals Go Vroom! (Viking, 2021). She has also worked as a web designer for over 15 years, creating websites for libraries, towns, and local businesses. She runs two popular websites of her own: My House Rabbit (https://myhouserabbit.com), a pet rabbit care resource, and Animal Fact Guide (https://animalfactguide.com), which was named a Great Website for Kids by the American Library Association. In her spare time, Abi enjoys running, playing tennis, and eating nachos. (Yes, at the same time.) She lives on the Connecticut shoreline with her husband and two kids.
Kaitlyn’s Review of SOAKED!
This book is so fun! It has THE BEST quirky humor, and is fun for kids and adults alike. Beyond that it also shows kids how they can turn their grumpy times into fun. And the art is so gripping, from light up hula hoops to hilarious hidden details, this book will provide hours of fun for everyone!
Want to win a signed copy of SOAKED! from Abi Cushman? (Contiguous U.S. only)
You can enter in the follow ways (each earns you another entry into the random drawing)
- Comment on this post
- Share in the comments below that you added SOAKED! to your Goodreads “Want to Read” list and/or your Amazon Wishlist
- Share in the comments that you signed up for Abi’s email list by going to her website and adding your info to the space that says “Join my Email List”
- Share in the comments that you did a purchase request for SOAKED! at your library
- Quote retweet my tweet about this blog post on Twitter and tag three friends.
Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez
PS. If you haven’t checked out our Week 1 Analysis for the Fall Writing Frenzy winning entries, check it out now and join the conversation! I’ll post another next Wednesday, but you can visit and comment on any week’s analysis anytime! It’s so fun learning with you all!