#RisingStarsinKidLit Erica Mae Presley

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To close out this crazy and unprecedented year, I wanted to take some time to highlight my fellow kidlit creators who are working their tails off to birth their beautiful book babies into the world.  These interviews will cast a light on the wonderful work of these pre-published authors and author-illustrators who are destined to be stars!
 

Meet Rising Star
Author-Illustrator Erica Mae Presley!​

Erica Mae Presley is an author and illustrator. She specializes in children’s picture books and loves creating joyful characters and illustrations. Photo Credit © 2020 Erica Mae Presley Art

Photo Credit © 2020 Erica Mae Presley Art

​Erica Mae Presley is an author and illustrator. She specializes in children’s picture books and loves creating joyful characters and illustrations. Although she began her artistic journey at a young age, she recently returned to the pencil and brush re-igniting her love of art to illustrate her children’s books.

From dancing dogs to ethereal angels and grouchy birthday cakes, Erica Mae’s imagination takes flight through various mediums including pencil, watercolor, and pastels. In addition to children’s books, she also writes poetry and novels. 

Erica Mae has two beautiful children that inspire her stories and artwork, and a silly husband who loves to recite lines from her books. She received a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in English from California State University, Fullerton.

From dancing dogs to ethereal angels and grouchy birthday cakes, Erica Mae’s imagination takes flight through various mediums including pencil, watercolor, and pastels.

Erica is currently seeking agent representation.  

Artwork © 2020 Erica Mae Presley Art

 

​​Welcome, Erica! I’m so excited to have you here and chat about all things kidlit and creativity! 

AD: Let’s start with a speed round…

  • Top three favorite children’s books of all time?

            Charlotte’s Webb: I’ll forever remember Charlotte’s greeting, “Salutations.”
            Miss Rumphius: Barbara Cooney’s gorgeous illustrations and lovely story.
            And last but not least, Eric Carle’s, The Very Hungry Caterpillar: I love his use of bright colors
            against white backgrounds. 

  • Coffee, tea (or neither)? Smoothie
  • Where is your safe place? In nature. I love to sit in the grass with my bare feet rooted in the soft blades, or leaning against a sturdy tree letting the natural elements surround me.
  • Dogs, cats, (or neither)? Dogs
  • Early bird or night owl? Early bird. I’m a part of the 5 AM Writer’s Club.
  • Three words to describe what it takes to make it in the kidlit world…

            Patience, perseverance, and creativity.

AD: Nothing like get rooted in nature! I just reread Charlotte’s Web last summer and certain passages about the strength of a spider’s web seemed to be a metaphor for the resiliency of the human  spirit. This is not something I ever would have taken away from the story when I was younger but just love how our perspective on certain topics or books can change as we get older. I’m not sure if that was E.B White’s intention with those particular passages but think great writing often lends itself to multiple interpretations. 

AD: Okay, now down to the serious stuff….
 
Please dish us the dirt on who you are and your journey into the fabulous world of children’s books.
 
EMP: I am a mother of two, beautiful young children and an imaginarian (I’m sure that’s not a word, but it should be. Plus, new words are made practically every day!). For as long as I can remember, I’ve been surrounded by stories. I grew up with stories of fairies under tiny flowers, silly boys with runaway shoes, a sneaky nose-stealer, and other family stories told excitedly by my mom and family members. 
I loved stepping into different worlds and learning about new things, which is probably why I fell in love with books at an early age (and had to wear glasses so early). I wanted to journey with Max to the island where the Wild Things Are, plant flowers with Miss Rumphius, and jump on the boat and adventure with Charlotte Doyle.Soon, I found myself writing stories as well as poetry whenever a school project called for it, and then quickly I wrote all the time filling journals to the brim. I submitted my very first children’s books to a publisher fifteen years ago at 21 in the days where a SASSE was required (that’s snail mail). I received a rejection a few weeks later. Although I knew getting published would be a process, life happened. I got married, had children, and continued writing—creating a large body of work. Two years ago, after reading a children’s book then telling my son a bedtime story about tractors I’d spun that he always repeatedly requested, he asked if my stories would ever be in a book that he could hold like the ones in our bookshelves (we have four bookshelves of varying sizes loaded with children’s books I’ve collected over the years, as well as other books and novels). I realized that I’d kept writing, but had stopped submitting and working towards publication (while also working a professional writing job to pay the bills). In addition to my children and family, writing is one of my greatest loves. I have more than a baker’s dozen of children’s books written, one dummy done, and countless sketches and paintings of characters. In the last couple of years, I’ve participated in numerous contests including #PitMad and #ZombieKidLit, #FallWritingFrenzy, and more. I’m writing non-stop, drawing and illustrating, querying agents, and pursuing my dreams of becoming a published children’s book author/illustrator. 
 
AD: Wow! You sound like one busy Mama!  Your sense of imagination from a young age is quite clear, and I’m glad your son’s comment reminded you to continue to pursue your dreams. Kids can be great inspiration in that way 🙂

AD: Did you always know you wanted to be an author-illustrator? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs?

EMP: Yes. I’ve wanted to be an author-illustrator since I was a little girl. But interestingly enough, I always thought I wasn’t good enough. I have an identical twin sister who was known as the artist in our family. She can do it all—sketch, paint landscapes, create lovely stained glass, etc., but I secretly always wanted to be known as an artist too. Although I had written numerous children’s books, I hadn’t illustrated them. Sure, I had sketches of characters and scenes for reference, but I hadn’t dove deep into the idea of becoming an author/illustrator until a few years ago when I discovered many agents I wanted to submit to were only seeking author/illustrators. I thought, “What Have I Got to Lose? I love drawing, art, and writing. Why not try and see what happens?” I started taking classes and watching YouTube videos a couple years ago and am continuing to take classes to polish my artistic skills. 

​I used to teach English and ESL at both private and local colleges, then when the recession hit (the first one in 2008), along with furloughs, I transitioned to professional writing. It has provided my family a living, but it’s not where I want to be. In fact, I keep a small sketchpad at my desk along with a notebook when imagination strikes. My ten-year anniversary at my company is next summer. My goal is to be signed and awaiting publication before then. Fingers crossed!

AD: My older sister was always known as the artist in the family, too. I took advanced art classes in high school and even won an award in eighth grade for a painting I did of pigs (hehe!), but I never considered myself an artist even though (in addition to writing), it was one of the things I loved to do most. I guess that goes to show the limitations that placing labels on our children can cause. I’m glad both of us decided to pursue our passions despite this! 

AD: What topics or themes do you tend to focus on in your writing/art? Favorite genres you like to write in or favorite art materials/techniques?

​EMP: Topics vary from birthdays to dancing to construction. I’m a huge proponent of positivity, so I focus on friendship, courage, imagination, and relationships. My favorite art materials are watercolor, pencil and ink. I love the delicateness of watercolor, as well as watercolor’s ability to be vibrant and bold. It’s amazing what water can do! I also love pencil and ink—how simple materials can completely enhance a work of art. I also dabble in pastels.
© 2020 Erica Mae Presley Art

© 2020 Erica Mae Presley Art

 
AD: Breaking into the publishing industry is not easy! What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far? What have you done to persevere?

EMP: The biggest challenge is rejection—the BIG, ‘NO.’ Not all agents represent children’s books and many are only seeking author/illustrators. Although I have always loved art and been drawn to painting, I only recently began illustrating my books. I hope by submitting queries along with my dummy books, I’ll receive much better results. 
 
​AD: As creators (and humans), we tend to focus on the flaws of our creations or areas for improvement. This helps us grow and develop, but we need not forget the many things we are doing well. With this in mind, what has been your biggest accomplishment or something you are most proud of thus far on your writing/illustration journey? 
 
EMP: My biggest accomplishment is my illustration journey. I’ve always been a writer, but only recently rekindled my desire to draw, paint, and illustrate. Once I started again, I quickly fell in love with art all over again. Looking back at illustrations completed a year ago to those I’ve recently created, I’m seeing a huge improvement. My family and friends have also noticed and started requesting drawings and paintings of their pets, kids, etc. So, I think I’m on the right track. 🙂

AD: That’s amazing! More proof that art is a skill you can learn not something we are either good or bad at like I hear so many students and adults say all too often!
 
AD: In a similar vein, what do you feel are your strengths as an author/illustrator? What makes your art/writing unique to you?
 
EMP: My strength as an author is that I don’t put limits on my imagination. I let my pen take me where it wants to go.  Also, I’m not afraid to start over. If a story isn’t working, I’ll put it aside, or open a new document or pull out a new paper and start again. Sometimes, the best stories come with time. 
 
As an illustrator, I’m also not afraid to re-create a piece 2 or 3 times until I have the result I’m seeking. Plus, it’s amazing to see an idea completely and drastically transform. 
 
AD: Yes! Just let it flow and edit later 🙂
 
AD: What inspires your work?
 
EMP: I’m inspired by my children and the world around me. I have an 18-month old daughter and 5-year old son who bring life and light into my days. And their imaginations and curiosity are amazing! I love taking a journey with them while we go on a nature hike or just walking around our neighborhood. I’m also a huge observer and love to go to parks with my family and by myself, as well as sit in nature. I once read that Eric Carle stated he wrote and created children’s books for the child inside of him. I feel the same way. And I hope to never lose that child-like wonder. 
© 2020 Erica Mae Presley Art
 
AD: Tell us about your creative process and what you do to keep ideas flowing or what you do when feeling stuck?

EMP: First, I begin with an idea, and then I sketch a picture. The picture could be of a character, a thing (like a dancing shoe), or stylized letters to help activate my imagination. Next, I jot down notes—either one of those large brains with lines streaming everywhere or just ideas on a page. As an example, one of my children book’s ideas stemmed from my son’s 4-year old, chocolate birthday cake. When my son helped me frost his cake and his exuberance for frosting ended up all over him head to toe as well as drooping from the top to the bottom fourth-tier (he had to have four tiers for his fourth birthday), an idea popped into my head. I’m gliding my spatula over the cake while my son’s licking as much frosting as he can get, and suddenly, I notice the cake appears to have eyebrows and a mustache. I quickly grabbed my pencil stuck to my refrigerator’s grocery list and wrote, ‘Birthday Cake,’ then drew circles with a face. There began the story of Birthday Cake. When I’m feeling stuck, I go for a walk or play with my kids. The air revives me and my kids bring an instant smile to my face. 
 
AD: Ideas can be so spontaneous! Sounds like Birthday Cake has evolved into something yummy and full of life 🙂 
© 2020 Erica Mae Presley Art

© 2020 Erica Mae Presley Art

 
AD: What sorts of things have been most integral in your growth as an author-illustrator?

EMP: Knowing that I’m not alone in my journey towards becoming a published author-illustrator has been paramount. I’ve met some wonderful people and connections on Twitter and through Critique Groups, including you! Also, participating in contests and reading up on my craft, studying as many children’s books as I can including what’s on the Best Seller’s Lists, and reading blogs by newly published and seasoned author-illustrators.
 
AD: Awww! Thanks, Erica. I’m so happy we connected, and you are certainly not alone! This can be an isolating job if we let it but as you said, the kidlit community is full of many wonderful, generous, and knowledgeable people. We can’t be afraid to reach out and connect or ask for a helping hand. There is always something new to learn from one another no matter what part of the publishing journey we are on.  
AD: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?

EMP: Never give up on your dream. Keep dreaming and keep creating!
 
AD: Hurrah! 
 
You can find out more about Erica and her work here:
Twitter: @EricaMa77039831
Portfolio: https://www.ericamae.net
She’s also working on refreshing her Instagram so stay tuned!
© 2020 Erica Mae Presley Art

© 2020 Erica Mae Presley Art

 
Erica, thank you so much for sharing a bit about yourself and contributing to the Rising Stars in Kidlit series! Best of luck as you continue to persevere along your kidlit journey! We can’t wait to read your stories and see more of your fun-filled art! Feel free to drop a comment below to support Erica and her work. 

Stay tuned for next week where we get to meet another Rising Star in Kidlit, and be sure to subscribe below so you don’t miss out and follow along on Twitter at #RisingStarsinKidlit.
If you are interested in being featured in the Rising Stars in KidLit series, please complete the following Getting to Know You form to be considered. Thank you!  

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