This May has been super busy. Two of our kiddos have birthdays, I'm currently working on 2 different book series for the first time, and we have the typical End of the School Year flurry of activity when every day seems to be a spirit day and all my kids forget their lunches at home.
Also, May has brought something extra exciting... the conversion of our Tuff Shed into a Writing Studio. I could not be more thrilled at the end result, but first, let's take a trip into the past...
As you can see, we used this shed for storage. And it was honestly a great space for that. When you have 4 kids it's great to have a place to store all their off-season clothes, plus I have like a bajillion storage bins for seasonal decor, so....
The thing is, my old writing space was in our master bedroom. And while it worked... it also didn't work. It continued to grow. I had 4 bulletin boards, 2 poster-sized art (cover over Dragonboy and the map of Haven), plus an abundance of books, notebooks, dragon plushies... really, my office was starting to take over our bedroom. And so we looked to a more creative solution... our Tuff Shed.
We hired a general contractor and then watched in wonder as he transformed our little 12x10 shed into the writing nest of my dreams.
First, there was the insulation, drywall, and electrical installation. Also, the old windows were not insulated so we had to get new ones.
Prepping the Bare Bones
Walls and Flooring!
Next, came the "mud" on the walls (um... it might be called something else, lol) and the fun part: choosing paint colors, flooring, and a new door. In case anyone's interested:
For the interior, I chose BEHR Laguna Blue and BEHR Swiss Coffee.
For the exterior, I chose BEHR English Channel.
Around this time, things really started taking shape. This little shed started looking like an actual office!
Time to Move in!
At the end of 3 weeks, the exterior was painted and the shed conversion was finished! The next phase was building bookshelves and choosing a portable AC/heater combo so I won't melt in the studio during the summer!
Also, I picked out some fun birch tree decals for one of the walls. This process took two hours to install by myself , but it was worth it! This wall is one of my favorite things in my studio. I loved how it turned out—it feels like I'm in a magical forest. And when you write fantasy books, what more could you ask for? :)
Making it Home
After three weeks of watching the shed transformation, now it was time for the fun part! Most of the things/furniture came from my house. It's still not completely finished (I have a few things to hang on the walls) but overall, it feels SO COZY. I'm having so much fun filling the space with all the magic and whimsy I want.
I am so thankful to have such a beautiful space to create stories. I'm hoping the sheer cuteness of it will translate into more productivity! That's how it works, right...? :)
I LOVE an audiobook! They became a bit of an obsession for me once the pandemic started. Though I generally try to read a book a week, I discovered that with audiobooks I can read 2-3 books a week. There's just something special about hearing the characters come to life that is so soothing. Oral storytelling is the oldest storytelling tradition, after all. It stirs something in the soul.
Which is why I am THRILLED to announce that Listening Library will be doing the audiobook edition of Heroes of Havensong: Dragonboy.
Behind the scenes, I've been talking with my audiobook's producer, senior editor, and narrator, and I think you are all seriously going to blown away by the quality of this recording. Speaking of narrators, I am THRILLED to introduce Mark Sanderlin, the voice of Heroes of Havensong! He's so talented, with the ability to do so many voices. You can learn more about his work here.
Listening Library will be doing the audiobook, and it is available for pre-order NOW:
I will post updates (and hopefully samples!) as I have them.
It's HERE! The GORGEOUSLY STUNNING cover!
Honestly, I've had this beauty on my computer for months and months, but I've had to wait until TODAY to share it with the world (publishing rules are that an author waits until the book is available for preorder before the cover is revealed).
My official cover reveal was with the awesome Mixed up Files blog, and it includes an interview with me and the extraordinarily talented illustrator, Ilse Gort. You can check out the reveal and full interviews here, but I wanted to share the first question:
Q: Tell us about the characters we see in this beautiful cover art.
A: Yay, I’m so happy to introduce you to them! My story has four main characters, each with their own POV chapters, and I’m so thrilled they all made it onto the cover.
Blue is a stable boy who is later transformed into a dragon in order to save the world. The book begins with his story, which is where the title, Dragonboy, comes from. He’s a young, teenage dragon who hasn’t yet lost his feathers (I mean, how cute is that?)! He’s very sweet, shy, and has a bit of a struggle adjusting to his new life as a dragon.
River is a (very reluctant!) dragon rider, who happens to be super afraid of heights. Her lifelong dream was to become the Lead Harvester (magic gardener) for her village, but that was all ruined when she was accidentally chosen as Blue’s rider. River is incredibly clever, confident, and tends to take things a bit too seriously.
Wren is kind, curious, and… a little clumsy sometimes. She’s a magic human who is supposed to be bound to her Magic companion (note the little purple cloud of light on the cover), but she forgets the words to the binding spell, and her Magic runs away! Naturally, this gets her into all kinds of trouble, including traveling to the Mainland–enemy territory–to find it. It’s probably worth noting that Wren’s Magic is a character all its own. It has a spunky personality and causes all kinds of trouble–but it’s also super adorable.
Shenli is a Mainlander (a direct enemy of Wren’s people) who is taught to hate all things magic and dragons. He’s 50% charming, 50% cranky, and his family seems to be saddled with never-ending bad luck. He is a soldier boy with many secrets, and he’d do anything to save his mother and little sisters–including partnering with Wren in order to prevent a war. The question is–where do his true loyalties lie?
Sveta working on the final draft of The Land of Haven map
I have SO appreciated all the love Sveta Dorosheva's been getting this past week as I've given little hints of the map. As many of you have noted, her work is out of this world gorgeous. You can check out some other maps Sveta's created here.
And I have a surprise for you all!
Sveta was kind enough to answer some interview questions! I thought you'd appreciate a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a brilliant illustrator.
So pull up a chair, cozy up, and enjoy the interview. 😊 (And don't worry, I haven't forgotten about the grand finale of this blog post! I've saved it for last!)
Interview with Sveta Dorosheva
MR: Hi, Sveta! Thank you for taking the time to chat. I'm a big fan of your work, and I'd love to hear about your career as a map illustrator--can you share how you got started and what has your journey been like?
SD: I never specialized on maps in particular. I have been working as a commercial illustrator for about a decade now. And since my graphics are mostly narrative, I did a lot of art for books, including my own. A couple of years ago my agency sent me an enquiry for a fantasy book map (it was "King of Scars" by Leigh Bardugo), and frankly, I took it for regular reasons of a freelance artist (big publisher + okay budget + the subject matter sounds like something I could do well).
I later learned just WHO and WHAT I was illustrating. And it's a good thing that I didn't know at the moment - responsibility for "creating something great" always makes the work worse! Anyway, the map turned out lovely, and after that map commissions just kept coming. Which, frankly, was a shock - I never knew maps were popular in books!
MR: I know your illustrations span many different kinds of projects (including your own published books!). What do you find is unique to map illustration? What are the particular joys and challenges?
SD: I am a big fan of antique maps and spend weeks in online museums and libraries to study them (and a couple of days in the Vatican map corridor:). From our standpoint in time, all antique maps are fantasy - fabulous beasts, unknown lands, creatures and monsters... They tried to convey the feel of a different world. That's something I try to do in my maps too. Creating the mood of a different world is the fun part. The challenging part is the actual map construction - what's where, composition, fitting it all on a spread, attending to the right placement, relation, proportion, distance, keeping things out of the book's gutter, etc.
Also, this is a point when I need to try and get into the author's head and SEE the major locations. What are they like? Even if they are fantastic, they still have some type of epoch and culture references, mood, character, scenery, etc. That's why I asked you so many questions:) Thank you for taking the time to answer them all! Most of the things I learn about the world I am mapping out don't make it to the map for clarity and lack of space, but they are indispensable for me - if I am clear about the world, the relevant mood weaves itself into every detail, decor and overall style.
MR: Can you share about your experience working on the map of Haven?
SD: I like it when the author has a draft, well thought through, which you had and which I found very helpful (you could show it, by the way, if you want to - to illustrate the process). That saves me the excruciating part of actually orienting in space - my guilty secret is that I am awful with actual maps, they lose me in a new city in no time at all!
After we went through all the questions about the world, all I had to do was render it in a style and manner, particular to this invented world. I often use the frame to hint at what's inside the book (key characters and objects, magical creatures, and overall genre). First I usually do a detailed pencil draft for everyone to agree on and make the necessary changes, and then go on to the final artwork. I draw by hand. This particular map was done with a usual black pen 0.5 on bleedproof paper for comics:). The drawing is always larger than it will be in the book - in this case, A3.
MR: Can you tell us about some other projects are you working on right now?
SD: You'll be shocked, but I have two more book maps in the works. 😊 And a book cover (it's a mystery novel).
MR: Lastly, how can authors or agents contact you if they're interested in working with you?
SD: My agents are at www.illustrationx.com/contact or email@example.com, or you can contact me directly if you just have a question or would like to talk - firstname.lastname@example.org
MR: Thank you so much, Sveta!
Everyone, you can find Sveta online on her website, Instagram, and Etsy.
Also, I highly recommend her gorgeously illustrated book, The Land of Stone Flowers: A Fairy Guide to Mythical Human Beings , which is absolutely as whimsical and adorable as you'd imagine.
Wren is a magic human from the island of Meraki.
Her people are natural enemies with the Mainlanders. Her father is the Dragon Master who works with the island dragons on the southern tip of the island.
Wren's mom, who has since passed away, used to call Wren "Dolphin." As a fun detail, can you spot the pod of dolphins swimming near her home?
Shenli is from a small village in the Coastal District in the Mainland. His village is known for their fishing skills, and if you look closely, you'll see evidence of that on the map. :)
Early on in the book, Shenli is forced to serving as a steward for Chancellor Cudek, and spends much of his time working in the castle.