Meet Rising Star
Author-Illustrator Rebekah Lowell!
AD: Let’s start with a speed round…
- Top three favorite children’s books of all time? Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, Ferdinand by Robert Lawson, illustrated by Munro Leaf, Miss Suzy by Miriam Young, illustrated by Arnold Lobel
- Coffee, tea (or neither)? Both—hot or iced.
- Where is your safe place? Outside in nature.
- Dogs, cats, (or neither)? Both! I love all animals. Birds, squirrels, deer, chipmunks, the lot of them. If I was a fairy in the Tinkerbell series, I would be Fawn.
- Early bird or night owl? As a young child I was an early bird. In high school I was both. Now I’m a night owl who wants to be an early bird, but I love what I do and work way too late at night. One of my goals for this year is to create a better schedule for myself because as an adult, I cannot be both night owl and early bird. I will need to choose.
- Three words to describe what it takes to make it in the kidlit world… Resiliency, Determination, and Willingness to revise.
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.
RL: When I was a senior at The Rhode Island School of Design, I took a class called “Picture and Word.” It was taught by Judy-Sue Goodwin-Sturges and Rebecca Bond. I fell in love with the art form that is the picture book; how words danced with images but didn’t repeat them. I fell in love with writing all over again. I used to write so much as a child, then as an adult, I journaled and took poetry classes while I was at RISD. My creative heart soaked it all in. I always knew I would be an artist, but during that class, I knew I wanted to write and illustrate for children.
Just before graduation however, my plans came to a halt as I found myself trapped in an abusive relationship. Professors saw it. Peers saw it, but I didn’t know how to get out of it. It was too much to understand, let alone break free of. I started doubting myself and the abuse took an even stronger hold on my life. Before I knew it, I lost myself completely. Ten years later, I finally escaped. After becoming settled in a safe place, I went back to school at Hollins University and pursued my dream of writing and illustrating for children by earning my dual MFA in Children’s Literature and Illustration. I read A LOT. I learned A LOT. I created A LOT.
Wrote and illustrated my novel in verse. (More on this HERE)
Wrote and illustrated picture books and pulled a portfolio of work together.
I brought my portfolio and projects to Big Sur Cape Cod in the fall of 2017 and workshopped them.
In 2018 I brought my illustration portfolio and a picture book dummy to NESCBWI and met with Wendi Gu of Janklow & Nesbit Associates. She offered rep, so I let other agents I had submitted to know
, and I ended up receiving other offers that week as well, but ultimately accepted Wendi’s offer. (More on signing with Wendi HERE)
At the end of 2020, my first agent and I parted ways, and by January of 2021 I signed with Paige Terlip of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. This was a full circle celebration for me because back in 2014 I met Andrea Brown herself at Hollins and had loved and admired ABLA ever since. I’m so grateful to be at this amazing agency.
Just before signing with Paige, I tweeted an illustration that caught the attention of editor Frances Gilbert of Doubleday Books for Young Readers and she asked if I had a picture book that went with it. I had, but it was nonfiction, and she had previously declined (because she doesn’t pub a lot of nonfiction), so I told her I would come up with something for her, and I did, and I sent her a picture of the poem I wrote in my notebook. She asked me to type it up and send it to her, so I did.
After signing with Paige, we sold that picture book, now called CATCHING FLIGHT, and it will publish with Doubleday Books for Young Readers in March of 2023. Text revisions are done, interior art is done, and at the time of this post, I’m working on the cover art!
What’s next: Other picture books and another novel on sub. Other picture books and a third novel in the works.
AD: Wow! You’ve had quite the journey, Rebekah. It seems like at the heart of it all was finding the strength to never give up and follow your dreams. I’m so glad you persevered and now others will have the opportunity to learn from your writing and art and be inspired to follow their own dreams. It also seems that art and writing have always been a passion of yours. Is that the case? Did you always know you wanted to be an author-illustrator? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs?
RL: I had considered psychology, art therapy, horticulture, and botany. As a very young child I thought I wanted to be an apothecary or a singer. But all of this was always in addition to being an artist. I always wanted to be an artist. I could draw before I could walk, which I know happens for others too, but I drew A LOT. I painted in oils when I was seven. I sold my first paintings before I was 10 and won my first show ribbon at 14. I’ve always painted and always will.
AD: That’s impressive that you sold your first work so young!! 🙂 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?
RL: Nature, always. Resiliency, determination, hope. Nature as healer. Middle grade novels in verse. Picture books, also in verse. I guess I’m a poet. I’m a painter and a poet.
For picture books, I love working in water-based traditional media like watercolor, gouache, acrylagouache, colored pencils, gel pens, and more. For middle grade, the interior work usually needs to be in grayscale, so there are limitations on materials, but I embrace this. I love using graphite dust and Blackwing pencils on vellum for a rich, layered feeling (a technique I learned from Brian Lies) but I also love painting with black ink.
AD: I took a workshop with Brian Lies at one of the NESCBWI conferences, and we practiced the graphite dust technique. It was so much fun. I LOVE how the interiors of THE ROAD TO AFTER turned out. That was a perfect style and material for the story. Themes of nature tend to show up in my work as well. It’s always been a constant and there is so much we can learn from it. I love how nature is so evident in all the work you do, from illustrations, to fine art, to surface patterns, you can tell that it’s a meaningful part of your life and work.
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?
RL: A few things: Keeping hope alive when I was told (by an abusive person) that I would never be published. Over the course of receiving many rejections, I learned how to be thankful for them. Even though a “no” can be disappointing, and it can feel like the sky will never part when you’ve been submitting for years, you wouldn’t want to partner with an editor or agent who isn’t right for you
r work. Consider feedback, if any, provided with a decline, but only apply it if it resonates with you. I learned to appreciate rejection because I once heard somewhere that “Rejection points you in the right direction.” I fully believe it.
I have also celebrated the milestones, big and small. I have fun. I stash chocolate in my studio and will find any excuse to bring my daughters out for ice cream. (Not that I need one, but I do love celebrating all the things.)
AD: I love that saying. It’s so true! Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in all the rejections and 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?
RL: Not giving up. Going after it even when I was at my lowest, just having left and still not sure of my footing. Having the belief that one day being published would happen, while I was at my darkest time not even permitted to leave the house. I just kept thinking toward the day, hoping, only the tiniest hope, that it would happen. I read the few books we had to my daughters, over and over, imagining that one day they would be able to hold one made by their mom. Now they can.
AD: YES! How special! I remember I heard someone once say, the only way you won’t succeed is if you give up. You never gave up and remained hopeful. We have to look for the bright spots in order to keep us forging ahead. In a similar vein, what do you feel are your strengths as an author/illustrator? What makes your art/writing unique to you?
RL: I think I have a story to tell and it’s going to be told over a string of books. Each one, though different will relate to the other to tell a smaller part of a greater whole. The narrative will be all of my projects combined. One book will speak of nature as healer and how to start over (THE ROAD TO AFTER), another book will talk about freedom on the wings of birds (CATCHING FLIGHT), the next are to be determined, but I love the idea that each project will be a different facet of the same stone.
AD: What inspires your work?
RL: Nature and our human connection to nature; how we interact with the wild spaces around us and what we do to serve the natural world and how it serves us back.
AD: Tell us about your creative process and what you do to keep ideas flowing or what you do when feeling stuck?
RL: My creative process isn’t much of a literal process. This might be rather disappointing, but I don’t have the opportunity to plan out the perfect workday because I’m also a homeschooling mom, housekeeper, part-time children’s librarian, volunteer bird-rescuer, and because my life is different each day, I don’t have a set routine. I find pockets of time where I can work, and I often bring work to appointments, waiting rooms, and trips. This often leaves me feeling like I work all the time and I’m left wondering what it would be like to have business hours. I struggle with work/life balance. I don’t believe in “inspiration striking” but I am always thinking, and sometimes ideas do come at the oddest times, and I always have a notebook to jot down in. I also use shower notes, and can’t stand doing nothing, so I’m always prepared. For better or for worse, I’m always working on something. I do, however, enjoy winding down by gardening, raising butterflies, taking hot baths, and long walks. It’s my nature to keep busy, but I’m also trying to do better with down time for mental and physical health. It’s a goal, but a work-in-progress like anything. To keep ideas flowing: that is not an issue for me. The issue would be how to make them stop.
What do I do when I feel stuck? I go outside and look around, look up, look down. I find wonder.
AD: Thank you for your honesty. Work/life balance is such a challenge! It’s refreshing to hear that sometimes you just have to fit things in where you can and find pockets of time that work for you. I think most of us can relate to that and feel better knowing we’re not alone in that struggle. A work-in-progress, for sure! Speaking of works-in-progress, what sorts of things have been most integral in your growth as an author-illustrator?
- my daughters
- Mary Jane Begin (we worked together at both RISD and Hollins)
- Hollins University and all my professors and peers there
- Brian Lies during the NESCBWI 4×4 Mentorship Program
- my prior agent Wendi Gu
- my current agent Paige Terlip of ABLA
- walks outside
- critique groups
- Immersion with Bonnie Christine
- Flourish with Bonnie Christine
- the Mastermind group I’m in (WONDER with Sarah Rafferty)
- raising monarchs
- small rewards
- making lists in notebooks
- my editor for THE ROAD TO AFTER, Nancy Paulsen, and my art director, Marikka Tamura
- my editor for CATCHING FLIGHT, Frances Gilbert, and my art director, Nicole de las Heras
RL: Find a group of peers, or just a few, who you can share pages and artwork with, but also share joys and sorrows with. There is a way to be
professional, but there is also a way to care about one another throughout this process because it’s not easy. When you have a community who can be there for each other, the journey is better. AD: Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
My website: www.rebekahlowell.com
@RebekahLowell on all the socials
Rebekah, thank you so much for joining us for this special Spotlight feature on Rising Stars in KidLit! Congrats again on THE ROAD TO AFTER. We look forward to your debut picture book, CATCHING FLIGHT, too! It sure has been fun and inspirational watching you rise AND shine! Thank you for telling your story and for your honesty and vulnerability. So many wonderful nuggets of wisdom for all to learn from.
For all the art lovers out there, join Rebekah’s newsletter to receive a free art supplies guide! Sign up HERE! And don’t miss out on the opportunity to read the opening pages of her book HERE! Feel free to drop a comment below to support Rebekah and her work. Be sure to subscribe to the Rising Stars series so you don’t miss out on the next Rising Stars in Kidlit feature and follow along on Twitter at #RisingStarsinKidlit!
Win a signed copy of THE ROAD TO AFTER plus book swag!!
TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY:
A random winner will be selected to receive a signed copy of THE ROAD TO AFTER plus some fun book swag!
The deadline for this contest is Wednesday, June 8th at 9AM EST. The winner will be contacted on Wednesday, June 8th and announced on Twitter.