Monday, January 30, 2012

Meet Hazel Mitchell and Hidden New Jersey

Today, I'm interviewing illustrator and writer Hazel Mitchell, also known as “The Wacky Brit.” I first met Hazel when we were both mentees in the 2010-2011 Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program. Hazel—like the sweet, energetic, whimsical art she creates—is delightful and a treat to know, so I wanted you to get to know her, too!

Hazel has illustrated over twelve children’s books, including the All-Star Cheerleaders chapter book series by Anastasia Suen (Hazel signed my copy at the SCBWI LA conference last August!), How to Talk to an Autistic Kid by Daniel Stefanski (which is a Books for a Better Life 2012 finalist), Why Am I Here? by Matthew Kelly, and Sabu & Me by Maura Lane, which was awarded Creative Child Magazine’s Picture Book of the Year in 2010. Hidden New Jersey, Hazel’s newest book, written by Linda J. Barth and published by Charlesbridge, is filled with interesting and surprising facts about all aspects of America’s third state—history, culture, nature, sports, industry, and much more.

First, Hazel, when and how did you earn the nickname “The Wacky Brit"?

Ha! Good question. A fellow illustrator in the next town coined the phrase and it stuck. (I nicknamed him the Crazy Cat Man, but we won't give away his real name.)  I guess I am quite lively and British, so it works!

Yes, you are! So, how did you come to illustrate Hidden New Jersey? 

The developer for the book, from Mackinac Island Press (an imprint of Charlesbridge) had produced two other books in this series (about Michigan and Ohio) and was looking for an illustrator for New Jersey. She saw some of my work on my Facebook fan page and contacted me. We took it from there!

That’s a great story and a good lesson for putting your best work on display. Now, tell me about your process of illustrating a book. For example, when you’re working on a book, what does your typical day look like?

I am pretty disciplined. Maybe that's one thing serving in the Royal Navy did for me. The deadline for this book was pretty short, 3-4 months. As it was the first time I had illustrated a book like this (nonfiction) and in a montage style, it took me a little while to get my head around it. The previous two books in the series were also montaged, but the style was very different from mine.

I usually start work about 7:30/8 am, when my hubby leaves for work. My studio is in my house, so I just wander in with a cup of Yorkshire tea and sit down at my computer. I check email (and Facebook) and get into the day. If I am already in the midst of a project, it's pretty easy to get started, because you have deadlines! I often make a schedule on a weekly/monthly basis of what I need to achieve daily. Of course, this can change, but it keeps me on track.

The first thing I do is read the manuscript thoroughly and make notes. In this case I sent written notes back to the developer, outlining what I wanted to do after reading the author's manuscript.  After chatting about it, I moved on to rough sketches (quite large in this case, because of the amount of detail). I also had to think about what hidden items would be on each page for the child to find and where they might be hidden. Other things to consider were the gutters (middle of the page), as we wanted the children to be able to identify everything. After approval of the sketches, I began drawing in earnest, in graphite. I worked about 150% larger on the spreads. All the drawing is done at once. Again, these went for approval after I scanned them at high res[olution]. Then I moved onto the colouring, my fav part, and I use Adobe® Photoshop® a lot for this, as it is fast and easy to make changes. I also had to design the cover to be in keeping with the other books in the series, back page image, and title pages.

The hardest part for me is the initial sketching and working out of ideas. It's fun, but challenging, especially in a book like this. You are thinking about it a lot, even when not working, so you can get a little irritable. My hubby knows I need to be left alone when this process is happening! After that it is mainly technique. My favorite part is colouring.

[I love the way British people spell. By the way, here are photos of Hazel’s studio. Don’t you love the overstuffed chair by the window?]

There’s so much activity and detail in every spread of Hidden New Jersey. I spent a long time looking at each one. How did you choose what to include, what resources did you use, and how long did it take you to create each spread?

Each page, which concentrates on a different area of New Jersey, had been carefully researched by the author, Linda Barth (who is a New Jersey native) and New Jersey historian. So I knew what had to be included! Putting it together in an interesting way was the hard part. I spent lots of time looking at reference photos and making sketches. Unfortunately I didn't have time to go to New Jersey and visit all the places. My hubby was raised in New Jersey, though, so he helped a lot. In the old days I would have been in the library, working my way through piles of books. The internet has certainly changed the way we work! You also have to be careful not to use copyrighted references and to ask permission from the owners. For the most part, I took many different pieces of reference and drew my own impression. Each spread in entirety took about 5-6 days.

Great info! [Here's what Hazel can see outside her studio window.]

I learned so many fun and interesting things about New Jersey by reading this book, such as that Samuel Morse did not invent the telegraph and General Washington’s troops were inoculated against smallpox in New Jersey. Without giving away much of the book, what were some of the most interesting or surprising things you learned about New Jersey as you worked on the book?

You’re right—there are so many odd pieces of information. It certainly changed MY view of the state! I was amazed at the diversity. For example, the greatest concentration of American Holly is on the coast.  And that the world's largest free-flying flag is in New Jersey. The surprises are endless! I hope children (and adults) enjoy finding out that there is so much more to New Jersey than just THOSE housewives.

Me, too, and I know they will. You’re also a writer. Tell me about what you write. Do you illustrate your text in the same manuscript?

I am writing, although I am not published in traditional print as a writer as yet. (I have retold The Ugly Duckling, which is available online at I have several picture book dummies that I am working on writing and illustrating. I also have a YA illustrated novel in the works and a MG novel. What I don't seem to have enough of is time!

We never have enough of that. Illustrating an art-rich book like Hidden New Jersey on a schedule must demand an incredible amount of energy and creativity from you. What do you do to refresh and refill your creative well?

I was pretty exhausted when I finished, also because I had other projects overlapping the beginning and end of this book. Taking time out is my worst thing. When I am working on a project I can sometimes work long hours 7 days a week. I do love to swim and walk my dog. I listen to BBC Radio 4 all day when I am working, and this is always full of great plays, comedy, and books, and it takes my mind somewhere else. (I can only listen when illustrating, not when writing!) When I come to the end of a project, then I read a lot, and I love to go to museums and bookshops.

What about “Hidden Hazel Mitchell”: Do you have any secrets or mysteries that you’d like to reveal? What don’t people know about you from your official biography?

Hmmm … I play the tin whistle for fun. I once painted a portrait of Princess Anne that the Royal Navy presented to her. When I was a teenager I wanted to be a veterinary surgeon. I broke my ankle parachuting. My favorite TV show is Father Ted.

Yes! I knew there was more to Hazel than meets the eye. A couple more questions: First, what is the most important thing you've learned in your career?


I agree that’s so important. And finally, what advice can you give readers who want to illustrate books?

Learn your craft, study those who have gone before you, work hard, and find your inner child. Oh, and join the SCBWI.

Great advice. Thanks so much, Hazel! I know that kids and their grownups will love Hidden New Jersey, and I wish you much success!

Thanks Marilyn! Loved being interviewed by you!

A copy of Hidden New Jersey, signed by Hazel, will be sent to one lucky reader! Leave a comment, and a winner will be drawn at random.

If you’d like to know even more about Hazel Mitchell, and see her books and art (you can even purchase her prints!), visit her website, find her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter (@TheWackyBrit).

Hidden New Jersey is available on February 1, 2012, at your local independent bookstore (if not, ask your bookseller to order it), Barnes & Noble, and And watch the Hidden New Jersey book trailer.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

How We Write

Often when I write, my mind goes hunting like a squirrel for its winter stash. It looks in drawers and closets, on high shelves and in dark corners. It roots in the basement, and comes back with images and sounds and smells I'd long forgotten.

“What about this?” it asks, dropping the memory on my desk.

“Hmm,” I say, turning it over in my palm. I haven’t seen this one for a while. Not for a long, long time. Not since I was six and lay in my twin bed in the room I shared with my sister on Highland Street. It’s the pattern on the ceiling that looks like rows and rows of dishes stacked in an eternal drainer.

“Yes, this will work fine. It’s perfect,” I say, and weave it into the story.

Then that mind of mine rummages up in the attic, and comes back with the glassy look on the boy who sat next to me in first grade, just before he threw up all over his desk. Flow and splatter, and for the rest of that year I avoided touching the leg of my desk, fearing a stray dried-up drop.

“Just right,” I say, and slip it in.

While I work, my mind wanders off again and comes back with something else, one it found at the bottom of my old jewelry box, the musical one that plays “Some Enchanted Evening.” Watching the boy I secretly loved all through high school combing his fingers through his crush’s endless, straight, black hair as they slow danced.

“Remember this one?” it asks me. “Can you use this one?”

“This…I can’t use this one now,” I say weakly, dreamily. “Not yet,” because I’m at that dance again and trying to keep my voice from breaking. “But one day I will.”

My mind understands the wisdom of hoarding these bits of life, even if I'm unaware of them in the moment. "Nothing is wasted" is true. In story, everything finds its place. Every small, quiet thing has its time.

How do you write? What surprising things happen in your creative process?

Copyright © 2012 by Marilyn C. Hilton

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How to How-To: Part 7 - Editing

After you have finished writing your article or book, you’ll need to edit it before submitting it to the editor or publisher. Always send in your cleanest copy. That way, you increase your chances of being invited to send another piece. And, it marks you as a strong writer and a professional.

Editing is done in several passes. If you look for certain things in each pass, your chances of catching all the problems will be greater than if you try to look for every problem in one pass. Do at least three edits: the first for layout and mechanics; the second for organization and flow; and the third for miscellaneous pieces of the manuscript.

The following checklists show you what to look for in each editing pass.

  • Use the Chicago Manual of Style, or the style guide recommended by the publisher or client. If you’re editing a manuscript for a periodical, use the Associated Press Stylebook. Christian publishers also use A Christian Writer’s Manual of Style. Other organizations or genres might also have specialty style guides, so check around. Always use the most recent edition.
  • Set the manuscript aside for a few days, to create emotional and mental distance from it. Your editor (that would be you) will be able to look at the copy with a more objective eye after a few days’ vacation.
  • Choose how you want to edit—online or from printed copy. If you choose online and you use Microsoft Word as your word processing program, consider editing with the Track Changes tool. You can make your editorial changes and then decide later if you want to keep each one or revert to the original version.
  • If you mark on hard copy, learn proofreaders’ marks.
  • Become familiar with common misspellings and commonly misused words (for example, ensure and insure; affect and effect; lie and lay).

First pass: Layout and mechanics
  • Make sure the components of a book manuscript are in the correct order, usually:
1. Title page
2. Copyright page
3. Epigraph
4. Dedication page
5. Acknowledgements page
6. Table of contents (TOC)
7. Foreword
8. Preface
9. Introduction
10. Chapters
11. Appendixes
12. Glossary
13. Bibliography
14. Endnotes
15. Index
  • Make sure the page format is correct—first-line tabs are indented correctly, and the top, bottom, and side margins are correct. Check that line spacing is correct.
  • Check that headers and footers are correct on each page, each page has a page number, and all pages are included.
  • Check that page breaks and section breaks are properly placed, with no widows or orphans.
  • Use your software program’s search-and-replace feature to replace two spaces with one; change two hyphens (--) to one em dash (—), and three dots with an ellipsis, according to your style guide.
  • Change straight quotation marks to “curly” ones (except when straight are called for), and make sure all quotation marks point in the proper direction.
  • Turn on hidden characters and look for any strange formatting characters that snuck in (for example, extraneous tabs, line breaks, or page breaks), and correct them.

Second pass: Organization and flow
  • Read through the manuscript for overall flow, organization, structure, and style. Does it make sense? Is everything in logical order? Does the content follow the outline and TOC?
  • Perform spelling and grammar checks, but don’t rely solely on your software program’s tools.
  • Make sure names and other proper nouns are spelled correctly and properly capitalized and punctuated.
  • Check that chapter titles and section headings descriptive, so that readers will grasp the content as they scan.
  • Make sure headings use a consistent format and are capitalized correctly.
  • Read for texture and rhythm in sentences. Break up long sentences and combine shorter ones. Break up long paragraphs to improve readability.
  • Make sure sentences contain proper punctuation.
  • Change passive sentence construction to active.
  • Change negative phrasing to positive wherever possible. Instead of telling readers what not to do, tell them what to do.
  • Remove all unnecessary words. Remove redundancy by combining sentences with similar meaning. Replace complicated words with simple ones, and remove jargon.
  • Make sure each open parenthesis has a corresponding close parenthesis, and vice versa. Check also for brackets and double quotation marks.
  • Make sure the serial comma is used correctly according to your style guide.
  • Use correct rules for numbers and digits, according to the style guide.
  • Remove exclamation points, except where absolutely necessary.
  • Make sure that items in tables and bulleted lists are all consistent, that the grammar has parallel construction, and is properly punctuated.
  • Make sure steps are in proper order. “Keystroke” (test) steps to make sure they’re correct.
  • Make sure cross-references point to the correct place.
  • Change Latin abbreviations to words. For example, use “in other words” instead of “i.e.”
  • To keep the text gender neutral, change singular forms of pronouns to plural wherever possible. Use male and female names in examples.
  • Think internationally and inclusively. If you’re writing to an international audience, use international examples. Avoid examples about baseball, hot dogs, holidays celebrated during particular seasons (half the world celebrates the new year in summer), and so on. Use names from different languages and countries. Consider including metric measurements.
Third pass: Miscellaneous pieces
  • TOC: check that each heading that should be in the TOC is there, and that page numbers are correct,
  • Illustrations: check that illustrations are in the correct place and that they are aligned correctly. Make sure that the correct caption and callouts apply to the illustration and they’re spelled and punctuated correctly.
  • Sidebars: check that sidebar text is aligned correctly. Also make sure the text is spelled and punctuated correctly.
  • Footnotes and endnotes: make sure that one appears for each marker in the text, and that they’re spelled, formatted, and punctuated correctly. Footnotes appear at the bottom of the page, and endnotes appear at the end of the book or article.
  • Bibliography: check that bibliographical notes are spelled and formatted correctly and that they’re in alphabetical order.
  • Make sure all referenced sources are correct and valid. Make sure URLs (Web site addresses) are correct.
  • Index: make sure that all entries are in correct alphabetical order, and that page numbers, font, spelling, and punctuation are correct.
Making It work for you
Use the steps above to edit something you’ve been working on.

Happy editing!

Copyright © 2012 by Marilyn C. Hilton

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

How to How-To: Part 6 - Creating a Leakproof Index

Most writers run for the hills when it’s time to create the index. Many view the index as either a convoluted mystery to which they don’t have a clue or an odious task that must be done before the book can go to print. The result is often a poorly constructed index, done at the last minute, which omits many necessary entries, is inconsistent in depth and style, contains book-specific terms that readers aren’t familiar with (and therefore can’t tell whether they should pay attention to), or contains only enough entries to call itself an index.

If readers can’t find what they’re looking for in the index, the book isn’t going to help them as it should. Here's how to create a leak-proof index.

The process
Creating the leak-proof index is easy—and, yes, enjoyable—when you have a process.

Note: The following information assumes you know how to use indexing software, such as the tools provided in many common word-processing applications. Other indexing applications work outside the book file. (You can also create an index “the old-fashioned way,” but who would want to do that? If the pagination changes, all the page numbers in the index have to be rechecked.) If you don’t know the mechanics of using your indexing software, learn them. Read the user’s guide, study the online Help topics, or take a training class.

Build the master list
1. If you’re indexing a book that someone else wrote, read the book to understand its contents, running concepts, and underlying themes. If you wrote the book, make a list of these things about the book.

2. Using this information, create a “high-level” list of concepts. An index is like a database—or a filing cabinet filled with folders. The index is the cabinet, and each folder in the drawers is a category of information. Inside each folder are the details about that category. Your high-level concepts are the file folders. They will become your master list of first-level entries in your index.

  • Make one entry for each concept—don’t think of a hundred different ways to say the same thing—yet. For example, “Stew beef” is fine for now—not “Stew beef” and “Beef, for stew.” Save that for later.
  • Include nouns and verbs in the high-level list. Choose a style for nouns (singular or plural? I prefer plural—”Sauces” sounds more like a category than “Sauce”). Choose a style for verbs. (I prefer the gerund form of verbs—”Frying” can include more information than the imperative form “Fry.”) Don’t include commonly used verbs, such as “adding,” “stirring,” or “changing.” Instead, add these verbs as details or second-level entries (see “Create sub-entries,” below), which is how most readers will search for these “soft” terms, anyway.
  • After you begin indexing, you will add to and delete from this list, but this gives you an idea of the main points you need to include.

Create sub-entries
1. Now, look at your master list, and under each item, make a list of the details you know about each first-level entry. These details will become your second-level (or sub-) entries. For example, under “Frying,” write everything you know that the book contains about frying, such as fish, potatoes, oil temperature, safety precautions, vegetables, turkey, chicken, pan frying, deep frying, and so on.

2. Decide how many levels of index entries you want the index to include. The standard maximum is three levels. There are benefits and drawbacks of two-level and three-level indexes. Two-level indexes are easier to keep readers oriented—the deeper they go, the harder is it for readers to remember what the category they’re searching. A drawback of two levels is that the indexer must be very precise with wording the second-level entries. A benefit of three levels is that they make the pages easier to scan, and a drawback is that readers can lose their bearings from page-to-page and might find a third-level entry that’s the same as another sub-entry for an entirely different category.

3. If your index will have three levels of sub-entries, repeat the previous step for each second-level entry.

Tag entries and generate the basic index
1. With your list in hand, open the book file and start indexing from front to back.
  • As you index, you will add to and delete from the list. That’s fine—the list is only a guide.
  • Index the foreword, preface, and introduction sections, and the text in all chapters and appendixes. Include tables, charts, and illustrations. Do not index the copyright, dedication, contents, cover, glossary, notes, and bibliography pages.
2. Generate (run) the index, and see what you have. Pretty neat, huh? Plan to do lots of editing. Note additions, deletions, and changes. Keep the style consistent throughout the index. Go back into the index and make those changes. Then run the index again. Continue doing this until you have a solid index.
3. Using the entries you have, think of other ways readers will look up the term. This is their “point of entry” into your index.
4. Do the same for second- (and third-) level entries.
5. Generate the index again. Then, make sure that similar first-level entries have the same or similar sub-entries. For example, make sure beef, chicken, and pork all have entries for baking, roasting, barbecuing, and so on, as applicable.

Fine-tune the index
1. Add cross-references. These are the "See and See also" entries. For example, to make sure readers who look for “Gala apples” see all the information about apples.
2. Make another list of terms that readers might search for that aren’t included in this book. For example, if your book uses the term “fry pan” but not “griddle pan,” add “griddle pan” to the index, and include a "See" cross-reference. You can construct the entries in either of these ways:
  • Direct readers to the entry for the books term
  • Tell readers the term this book uses, and include the page number for the entry
3. Generate the index again, edit it until it’s perfect, and then celebrate. You just created a leak-proof book index!

Making it work for you
Now that you have the basics, you can fine-tune your indexing skills by reading books and taking classes on the subject. There are several organizations for professional indexers and those interested in the profession, including the American Society of Indexers (

Happy indexing!

Copyright © 2012 by Marilyn C. Hilton