Thursday, July 12, 2012

Let's Ask - Question 11

This week's Let's Ask question 
was for the lovely Carter Higgins!

Me- What advice would you give to an aspiring picture book writer/illustrator who wants to turn their hobby into a career?

CH- First, HI! Fun to be here today, Jen, thanks for having me!

   I love this first question because at first glance it seems irrelevant to anyone who is unpublished. Which I am! But then I started to think about the differences between a hobby and a career...and I think the traits that bind and slice the two are ambition and discipline.

Sure, I have goals in my hobbies (like the elusive pirouette!) and I work hard and focus on making those goals happen. But the ambition and discipline in driving a career includes necessity. If I can't perfect that darn pirouette, fine. I'll work on a better arabesque instead. When it comes to cultivating my career as a picture book writer, I absolutely just have to do it. It's a part of me, deep inside, completely attached to every cell in my body and each beat of my heart.

So while hobbies and careers are fluid in their 'job description,' turning your hobby into your career takes stone cold desire. If you can't separate that hobby from who you are, if they are so stuck together that you just can't NOT do it? Welcome to your new career. The clichéd advice that's jumbled around in all of that is to just do it. Here's a story for you of what that might look like...

Me- Have you had any personal experiences that you now know should have been avoided or have you had any important revelations on your journey that you could share?

CH- It was the winter of 2002 (or maybe 2003?!), and I was a school library media specialist. My roommate and I were snowed in, and so we wrote. Any subject, any style, just whatever came to mind. We had never done anything like this before, so it still strikes me as the beginning of some serious kismet. Of course, since I was a librarian, I knew everything about writing picture books. Right?


I had some good instincts and ideas, but I had no idea what I was doing. I thought it was the greatest creation of all time. It was so amazing that I never even tried to write another manuscript. That over-800-word-entirely-written-in-limericks (seriously) manuscript sat on my computer collecting digital dust until last summer. I found out about SCBWI and just weeks before the summer conference in LA signed up for a roundtable manuscript consultation. That was the greatest decision ever made on a whimsy. The agent wrote smily faces on it and called it 'unique' and 'fresh,' even though the story was a clearly a dud.

The positive feedback was exhilarating though, which was a comforting realization that I was doing all the right things to learn about this industry, and also taking the time to get serious about my craft. This is where I took a long forgotten hobby and began shaping it into a career. In the year since, I've completely rewritten this little piece of history, and when I'm ready to begin submitting, this is not-so-secretly the one I love the most.

So the revelation here is twofold. You have to spend time on your craft in order for it to be fruitful. I'm not sure what I expected an eight year drought to produce. And also, there will still be some duds along the way. Ask me about the story I wrote from the perspective of a shoebox banjo. Huh? Exactly.

Me- Also, why is the book, The Stinky Cheese Man such an inspiration to you?

CH- This question makes my toenails smile.

I got this book sometime in the fuzzy years between high school and college, and carried a copy with me each time I made a move in those years. It's college, and temporary is the name of the game, so that was a lot of STINKY CHEESE MAN packing and unpacking.

I don't have strikes of lightning to prove it, but I really think that this book carved both of my main careers. The book drove me to be a librarian, to read rowdy stories with little ones, and to marvel at the intricacies of the book, its characters and its innards. And then later, with a more developed sense of design, I started to notice how the design of this book helps tell its stories. There's the page with the text getting smaller and smaller and smaller until you can't even read it. There's the title page that's upside down and my brain instantly perks up: why the heck is it upside down but that's hilarious and I don't even care why but I'll strain my neck anyway.

This book is just everything I love about stories and words and graphic design.

And it took 10 months, but I finally have both Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith's autographs. Such a treasure.

Carter Higgins is a motion graphics designer and a former elementary school librarian. When she is not creating graphics for TV, writing picture books, or making book trailers, Carter teaches design courses in color, layout, and composition, as well as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and After Effects. All of these interests combine in her blog at, or you can find her on Twitter at

Thanks for your visit!


  1. Thank you Jennifer and Carter for the great post!

  2. Who thinks Carter is super cool? I DO! Love learning mitre about you Carter! I am so impressed by your ballarenerisms, but nothing screams awesome more than your carting around STINKY CHEESE MAN for years. :) Fabulous post! Thanks Jennifer and Carter!

  3. Great post, loved hearing more about you Carter. I have never read the Stinky Cheese Man, I will have to rectify that immediately. Thanks for the interview Jennifer.


  4. FUN to be here! ballerina-isms are not impressive in the least:) Don't you have a story about elephant ballerinas?!'s more like that!

  5. I cannot believe that Carter and I are not best friends yet... Who do I have to pay to get Carter to hang out with me? I mean, COME ON!

    Fabulous post, my fabulous ladies! Loved learning about you, Carter, and all your super-cool Stinky Cheese Man awesomeness... I'll be returning to this for encouragement!

  6. Besties, Bethany! I love elephants and live in California!!

    1. WHAAAAAT??? Oh my... ME TOO!!

      *Gets in car, searches for Carter*

  7. *SQUEEEEEEE!* I LOVE CARTER! Yep! I said love! And I miss talking with her and sharing stories. *sigh* She is absolutely brilliant and I love this interview. Made my day!

  8. You know, Carter, I, too, loved The Stinky Cheese Man and still have my copy on my bookshelf. I bought it when I was an elementary teacher and loved the parody & typography. Thanks, Jennifer, for this fun interview!

  9. Miss Leigh Covington, you are a riot. Miss you, too! Let's fix that:)

    Tina...YES! The typography was so eye-catching to me, long before I knew the ins and outs of it for real!

  10. Woot, this was such fun. Man I missed bumping into to at SCBWILA last year! I hope you haven't abandoned that first story? Anyone who can anthropomorphize a shoebox banjo is wild! :)

  11. This may seem weird but after reading this I had a flashback-- LA SCBWI conf last summer-- I was in the lobby downstairs and somehow started chatting with a young woman who was slightly hyperventilating over an autograph from Jon Scieszka in a copy of The Stinky Cheese Man. If it was indeed you, Carter, you told me that this book meant so much to you and was the reason you were a graphic designer! Could it be that we met last summer in LA?!

    1. HA! I think you under-exaggerated here...that was no slight hyperventilation...that was major! Such a fun discovery! We are old friends!

  12. Carter great post! I am SOOO jealous that you have a signed copy of The Stinky Cheese Man..loved hearing about your journey as a writer. And Jennifer LOVE the look of your blog! You ladies ROCK!!

    1. Thank you Cheryl- you're too sweet!!

  13. Love the story, love the post. Someday I so hope to have Mo Willems sign my Pigeon book! I will not look as cute as Carter does in her photo with Jon Scieszka but that's OK!

    - Cathy

  14. I love The Stinky Cheese Man, also! A signed copy! Wow! By Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith! Double, triple, quadruple WOW!
    Fun interview! I really enjoyed it. And I love your website, Carter. I have read many a good book due to Design Of The Picture Book.

  15. Hey Elizabeth - I think Carter is super cool - and she found a face-making friend in Scieszka! Carter, your voice in this post isn't just a plain riot, it's a roller-coaster ri-uh-de! Love how that one paragraph lifted me up to the roundtable, sped down with smiley faces and ended abruptly with 'dud'. Perfect!
    Thanks for the 'free ticket' Jen!

  16. Excellent interview! Thanks for hosting, Jen. :)


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