Today, I have the HuGe pleasure of welcoming talented author/illustrator Alexandra Thompson. I’m already such a fan of her work, so I couldn’t be happier to celebrate the imminent release of her first picture book, A Family for Louie, releasing from G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers. 

Welcome, Alexandra!

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Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

Your debut picture book, A Family For Louie, is out June 9th. The cover is so charming! Tell us what this story’s about. 

Meet Louie. He’s a dog of very fine taste. He knows every chef in town, and each day he wanders the city, visiting his favorite restaurants. It’s a good life, except… Louie is all on his own. What Louie wants more than anything is a family.

But try as he might, Louie can’t seem to find a family that’s right for him. At the beach, he meets a little boy and his mother… but they’re eating green jello salad and sardine sandwiches (Louie’s least favorite foods!). At his favorite sushi restaurant, Louie spies a father and daughter with an open seat at their table… but their cat chases him away. At the park, he meets a nice family having a yummy barbecue, but when they invite him to play frisbee… Louie just can’t keep up. Where-oh-where will Louie find a just-right family of his very own?

Instantly endearing. So how did the idea of A Family For Louie come to you? Do you remember your lightbulb moment? 

When an art director was reviewing my portfolio at an SCBWI conference, she was really drawn to my illustration of a little bulldog eating a steak in a restaurant. She commented that he was a little foodie and asked what his name was. I didn’t have one at the time, but the name Louie popped into my head. His story started to form in my mind from that moment onward.

Love it! What can you tell us about your journey to publication? How long have you been pursuing this dream?

I have always wanted to illustrate children’s books, but it was something that I put on the back burner for years. In 2016 I took an online course (Make Art that Sells – Illustrating Children’s Books) to get the inside scoop on making picture books – I knew nothing about the business or where to start if I wanted to break into the industry. That course helped me build up a portfolio and during one of the instructional videos, I doodled Louie for the first time. He looked a lot different then!

After the course I joined SCBWI and went to their 2017 summer conference in LA.

I decided to go all in and splurged for the portfolio review – I just wanted someone that was in the industry to tell me if I was on the right track and what I needed to improve. I was super fortunate to have Lucy Ruth Cummins as my reviewer and she gave me some invaluable feedback. 

I ended up receiving the mentorship award at the conference, along with 5 other amazing artists. As part of the mentorship, we had our portfolios reviewed by 6 industry professionals, including my future art director, Cecilia Yung. This was huge! I left the conference with so many new friends, my head bursting with ideas and inspiration – not to sound sappy, but joining SCBWI was truly life-changing for me. I felt like I found my people!

One of the big takeaways from my critiques was that I had stories in my portfolio – develop them! So I did. Louie felt like he had the most direction, so I worked to get that dummy ready to send out to agents. My mentorship group turned into my critique group and was really critical in getting feedback and keeping me accountable for my book goals. 

During this time I was researching and compiling a list of about 5 agents that I felt would be a good fit for me. Right when I finished the dummy and just before I was about to start querying, I got an email from Hannah Mann at Writers House. The crazy thing? She was number one on my list of agents to query! I ended up signing with her and within a few months we sold Louie. It was nuts. 

Wow! So you were basically “discovered” before even querying? Magical! But also well-deserved. From what age did you consider yourself a writer &/or illustrator? What spurred you to pursue this path professionally? 

I have always considered myself an illustrator. Drawing has always been my number one passion. Although I used to write stories all the time growing up (which I was reminded of after rediscovering my old diaries), I never thought about being a writer until I won the mentorship at the 2017 SCBWI LA conference. I got a lot of feedback that there were stories in my illustrations and I should develop them.

Before picture books, I used to work in-house doing prints and graphics for children’s apparel. I actually went to school for Fashion Design. I ended up leaving and going full-time freelance, and I still do that kind of work on the side – although less and less as my schedule fills up with book work.

What do you like to write about/illustrate, in general? What are your preferred media and techniques?

I love animals, cozy scenes, nature. Anything magical and maybe a little spooky, but not scary.

Louie was done digitally and the next book I’m working on will be digital as well. I’ve been experimenting with mixed media in my spare time. I’m not confident enough to do a book that way yet, but I’d like to at some point!

What does a typical day in your life look like?

My schedule has been all over the place lately, but generally I get up around 730am, exercise, breakfast, and then head into the studio to work on whatever is on my plate until 1230. I’ll have lunch, work for another couple of hours and try to get out for a walk around 330pm. I usually finish up around 530. A lot of times I end up back in the studio after dinner and work until 830. 

What feeds your creativity as an artist? Or helps you out of that “funk”? (Hobbies? A certain routine? Comfort food/drink?)

Getting outside! Walking, hiking, wake surfing when it’s warm enough. I think it’s so important to get your body moving – not only for your physical health, but for your mental wellbeing. I also love to read, see a movie, go to museums – especially natural history museums! Of course, getting out has been limited with the pandemic. Virtual hangouts with friends and family and baking have been getting me through these strange times.

What tips would you offer to other creatives?

Set goals and break them down – set due dates. And draw..all the time. If you practice, you will improve. Lastly, find your creative community – whether that’s in real life or online. It’s so vital to have community, especially when you work in a field where you are often alone.

Your dream of publishing your very first picture book is about to come true! What’s next? What do you still hope to accomplish?

Woohoo! I still can’t believe it 😀 I’m currently working as an illustrator on a picture book, but I can’t share details on that yet! 

Louie was a 2-book deal, so I have another author/illustrator book that’s in the works.

I just want to keep doing this. I learned so much from making Louie, so I hope to continue improving my artwork and storytelling. 

Any promotional events we can look forward to meeting you at?

Covid-19 has, of course, turned the world on its head. Instead of an in-person book launch, I’ll be doing a virtual book launch. I’ll be going live on my Instagram channel on June 9th at 3pm EST! I’ll be reading A Family for Louie, followed by a Q&A. I hope to see you there!    

You can also browse through my work on my website,

www.alexandraco.com

and follow me on Instagram to see my day-to-day and arty things.

https://www.instagram.com/alexandraco_illustration/

Also, the mentees have a blog with great information for anyone interested in illustrating books for children!

http://kidlitartists.blogspot.com/

Wonderful! Thank you so much for spending time with us, Alexandra. Here’s wishing you plenty of success. I know little Louie will win many hearts!

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So many author events and book launches have been cancelled due to the current pandemic. Help Alexandra Thompson today by ordering her new book at any of the links below. (IndieBound helps you order directly from your local independent bookstore, which could surely use the support as well!) 

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