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True Story Blog


CAT EYES by Laura Lee (Ripple Grove Press, 2018)

Three years ago, illustrator Laura Lee was inspired by what she saw on one her neighborhood walks and wrote her #firstpicturebook about a girl who has a unique superpower. This month her creation leaps onto bookshelves! "A visually captivating read” (Kirkus Reviews), CAT EYES “is a very special picture book story for children ages 5 to 7 and will prove to be an immediately and enduringly popular addition to family, preschool, elementary school, and community library collections for young readers” (Midwest Book Review).

Q. Was CAT EYES the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Yes, I was working on a few at the time concurrently as the book progressed, but it’s the first ‘finished’ one that I made with illustrations. 

Q. What inspired CAT EYES?
A. It was a walk down my neighborhood street.  Gum Street.  It’s this little hidden residential street by the side of the highway and near the train tracks.  A bit vagabond.  There was this abandoned cherry orchard that I used to walk by on that street, where a several vagabond cats lived… a nice lady in the community looked after them.  So on one of my many walks down Gum Street, my husband pointed out that I had Cat Eyes, because I always am able to see them when no one else can or before anyone can.  So I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to write a story about a girl who has this special superpower?  CAT EYES was born.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I always loved cat eye glasses, and Miki, the girl in the story has a distinctive pair of red ones.  A friend of mine from Turkey used to have red ones that inspired me.  And Miki has that special superpower.  So she literally has cat eyes and figuratively has cat eyes. 

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I write on the computer. 

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. (Spoiler) The scene where Miki reunites with the special cat.  It was part of the first draft, but I changed the setting entirely. 

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. Originally I had picked Greta, because I liked the way it sounded.  But the main character is Asian so Ripple Grove wanted to go with an asian-sounding name, and we settled on Miki.  Miki was the name of my one and only cat.  My Miki got her name from the single name, Miki, given to several dozens of cats that lived on a farm in Slovenia.  My friend’s grandmother would call out ‘Miki!,’ and they would come running from all directions for food. 

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. I think at some point I had a first-person version but third person made more sense to me because Miki travels through landscapes imagining all these cat characters.  You get less inside Miki’s head but focus more on what she sees through the illustrations. 

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing CAT EYES? 
A. It’s hard to remember how it started, it was three years ago!  I think I wrote the actual story in about a day, then revised it over and over.  The story arc, which has evolved has essentially stayed true to that first draft.  I do remember going pretty quickly into visualizing the story in thumbnails.   

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I think I held the images of the locations in my head from places I’ve spent time in my life— my favorite local park in San Mateo, a street I lived on in the West Village in NY, but otherwise words came first. 

Q. Did CAT EYES receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Oh yes!  Many, many, many.  Well, I first sent out to agents, and got some positive feedback which was great but no one liked both the story and the illustration style.  I sent out about 70.  Then I sent out to publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts, and was lucky to find a publisher directly who loved the project.  I think I sent out about 50 of those!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on CAT EYES.
A. I couldn’t believe that someone believed in me!  It was so amazing.  I was ready to put the project on the shelf, and get back to my day job.  When Ripple Grove contacted me I was so excited but also nervous because I didn’t know where it would lead.  I’m so happy they found me!

Q. How long did CAT EYES take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. One year. 

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. All the changes made were well-considered so no— working with Rob and Amanda at Ripple Grove was easy because they are such amazing creative collaborators.  As a creative professional it’s a rare thing to have that kind of collaboration.

Q. Did you create any book swag for CAT EYES? If so, what kind?
A. Not yet— except for a little trailer.  Maybe I will!  I think it would be fun to make prints of Miki’s red glasses.  I’ve considered making a 3d book.  Cat Eyes headbands with ears could be cool too.  I notice a lot of kids wear those these days!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Do it!  Get a lot of feedback, try things out.  Be open to evolving everything. 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Hm.  I don’t do Twitter, but I share occasionally on Instagram.  It’s actually an amazing creative community, to get support and explore different artist styles.  I’m going to learn more about social media marketing in the future— I think everyone has to do their own social media marketing these days to gain support.  Which is good but also a lot of work!

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have several projects in the works! I'm working on three picture book manuscripts, one is about mommy days, another is about saying farewell to a house and hello to a new one, and the third is about a sneeze. Yup, a sneeze.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
IG:  https://www.instagram.com/worldoflauralee/
Web: www.worldoflauralee.com

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