Interview with Author/Illustrator Abi Cushman

Abi Cushman

Thanks for joining us, Abi! Your new book ANIMALS GO VROOM is so fun! What is your process like
creating new stories as an author/illustrator? Do you write the story first, or do
you start with an illustration then build a story around it?

Thanks, Cassie! The idea behind ANIMALS GO VROOM! started with this drawing in my
sketchbook.

I got to thinking about animals and vehicles making the same sound. As I was coming up with
more animal/vehicle sound combinations, I realized that I could make a chain-of-events type
story: the roaring truck could drop some tacks on the road which would cause the hiss of the flat
tire of the car behind, etc.

With my debut picture book, SOAKED!, it started out with a concept first. I got stuck in the rain
and thought about how my attitude about the rain changed after getting soaked in a storm, even
though the rain didn’t subside. I wrote down that idea and started drawing images of a very
soggy bear in my sketchbook.

So whether I start the story with a picture or with a concept, either way I make doodles in my
sketchbook to try to flesh out a story. I usually draw and write snippets of text at the same time,
thinking about how the words and pictures will interact. The scenes are usually not in order
when I start. Trying to piece everything together into a story comes later in the process.

What inspired you to write this particular book?

I was reading a ton of board books and novelty books with my son who was a toddler at the
time. He has always loved transportation books as well. So when I came up with the idea for
ANIMALS GO VROOM!, which would have peekaboo windows AND cars and trucks, I knew I
had to try it.

Onomatopoeia plays a big role in your story. What is your favorite onomatopoeic
word in ANIMALS GO VROOM?

I think my favorite one is Squeak, because by that point a lot of kids have figured out the pattern
of the book, but they probably won’t guess what’s making the squeaking sound. I also think it’s
fun because it’s a small, quiet sound unlike most of the sounds in the book.

Was it easy to find an agent you were excited to work with or was it a long
journey?

I started querying in 2015, and I spent about 6 months working with an agent at BookStop
Literary on revisions to my story before she offered representation. That story ended up not
selling and so I made a new picture book dummy, which we extensively revised together, and
that didn’t sell either, though we had some close calls. After that, she decided to leave agenting,
and I was devastated. Two years had passed since I had started writing and illustrating stories,
and I didn’t have a book deal, an agent, or a new story to submit.


But Kendra Marcus, the owner of BookStop Literary, offered to take a look at my new stories
and see if we were a good fit. So I got back to work on some new stories and submitted two to
her. She gave me feedback, and I decided to focus on revising one of them. That story was
SOAKED!, and we ended up selling it to Viking in 2018.


And ever since then, I’ve had a really solid working relationship with Kendra. She knows the
industry so well, so if I’m not sure about an idea, I talk to her about it first. And she really helps
me polish up my stories to get them ready for submission; she’s a very editorial agent. She is
encouraging, but will also be very direct and honest about things she doesn’t think are working.
And that’s what I need.

Tell us about your journey to publication! I am most curious if you pitched the
book with the die-cuts, or did that addition come later in the publishing process?

Yes! The concept for ANIMALS GO VROOM! always had die-cuts. Here are a couple spreads
from my initial mini dummy. This is what I showed to my critique group. You can see the
drawings are REALLY rough, but it’s just enough for them to get the idea of what I’m going for.

After I revised the story and polished up the drawings, Kendra pitched the story to my editor at
Viking, Tracy Gates. I wasn’t sure if she’d be on board with a book with novelty elements
because I didn’t think Viking published many of them (if any). I was thrilled when she said yes.
When I started working on the logistics of the die-cuts with Jim Hoover, the art director at Viking,
he pointed me to THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY by Simms Tabek,
another picture book with die-cut holes, published by Viking.

[Spread from THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY by Simms Tabek.]
It was so helpful to look at this book when I was thinking about the shapes and sizes of the
die-cuts in my book.
[Spreads from ANIMALS GO VROOM!]

Where is your favorite place to write?

I actually write at my desk in my office in front of my computer, but I’m not usually using my
computer. I write by hand in a sketchbook so I can also doodle pictures at the same time.

What advice would you give to aspiring author/illustrators?

Keep writing more stories. Eventually one of them will resonate with the right editor at the right
time. Find a critique group that you trust. It’s so important to learn and grow as a writer and
illustrator with good critiques, but the people in your critique group should also be reading and
analyzing current children’s books. You don’t want to listen to advice from just anyone- they
have to get what you’re trying to do and also have a good understanding of the craft.

Your 2020 book, SOAKED, received lots of praise! What was it like finding out you
were nominated for such honors like the Keystone to Reading Elementary Book
Award, Colorado Children’s Book Award, A Kids’ Indie Next List Top Ten Pick,
etc?

It’s interesting because I actually found out about these honors from my kidlit friends. (I love the
kidlit community! Everyone is so happy to share and celebrate good news with you.) But yeah, I
was so thrilled with the recognition. You work so hard on something and hope it’ll resonate with
people. But I also feel like which books get recognized and which don’t can be sort of random.
And sometimes getting one honor leads to other people actually reading it, which leads to
another honor, and another, and so there’s a momentum there. But it doesn’t mean that the
books that didn’t get any awards or get placed on any lists weren’t also great books.

Can you tell us a hint of what we might see next from you?

I am currently working on an informational picture book that will come out in 2023. I’m really
excited about it. It’s something that I would have wanted to read when I was a kid. After that, I
have another project lined up where I’ll be illustrating someone else’s story. This will be a first for
me since all my books so far have been author-illustrator projects. I’m really looking forward to
it. It’s a fantastic story by an author I admire, and it’ll come out in 2024. I’m hoping both of these
books will be announced soon so I can share more details!

For more information on Abi and her other work (like these adorable wombats) visit https://www.abicushman.com/

One thought on “Interview with Author/Illustrator Abi Cushman

Leave a Reply to Julie Murphy Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s