Today we’re talking with SCBWI member and former Angelino, Booki Vivat. Her illustrated middle-grade novel, Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom (HarperCollins Children’s Books), became available on September 27, 2016.
CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT: Welcome! In this debut novel Abbie Wu, the middle child in her family, is about to enter middle school. What was your process as author-illustrator from idea to publication?
BOOKI VIVAT: Frazzled has a pretty unconventional origin story. It didn’t start with a traditional pitch or a query or a manuscript. It started with a doodle—or rather, a whole bunch of them. I kept a planner a few years ago to try and get my life in order, but it ended up becoming more of a creative outlet to channel all my feelings. Doodles literally took over the pages of my life!
Through an unexpected combination of supportive friends, word of mouth, and pure luck, this set of planners landed in the hands of my future editor, Margaret Anastas. As she flipped through the pages, one specific image stood out to her. It was a particularly dramatic drawing of me in a moment of crisis, a doodle that read: I live my life in a constant state of impending doom. That’s when it clicked. She pointed to it and told me, “There’s a story here. That’s our girl.”
CVZ: How did Abbie Wu come about?
BV: In the beginning, I wasn’t entirely sure what this was, so I went back to that original drawing and thought about when I started feeling a sense of pressure and impending doom—middle school. Middle school is when everything shifts. You’re suddenly asked to figure out who you are on top of everything else, and the worst part is that it feels like everyone has it figured out but you. Abbie Wu came out of that very real, very palpable angst and uncertainty.
Figuring out Abbie’s story was another challenge entirely. At first, I focused only on text, but it wasn’t until I tried writing and drawing simultaneously that things began to flow naturally. Sometimes I’d write a scene and figure out what I wanted to draw later, other times I had an image in my head and would write around that. My editor, Margaret, and I had many long, hilarious conversations in the process of creating Frazzled. Sometimes they weren’t even about the book itself, but about the uncertainty of middle school and growing up. Remembering and retelling my own experiences and emotions unlocked a lot of ideas that shaped Abbie and her journey within this book.
CVZ: How did you create these images?
BV: I brainstormed and digitally sketched out all the preliminary art on a tablet. Then I set it with text to get a sense of how I wanted the words and art to interact on each page. The final art was all done with black ink pens and a No. 2 pencil. A lot of things changed between the initial sketches and final images, so I worked very closely with my amazing book designers to tweak everything and make the images and text as fluid as possible.
CVZ: Do you have a favorite image?
BV: It took a long time to get right, but my favorite image is this two-page spread that closely integrates typography and art. It marks a big climactic moment in Abbie’s journey, so I won’t spoil that by including it here. You’ll just have to wait and see it in the final book!
CVZ: On Monday, October 3rd at 7pm, you’ll be at Vroman’s in Pasadena. What’s it like returning to the LA area?
BV: I grew up in Southern California and graduated from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), so it’s exciting to go back and celebrate with my friends and family there. I will also be traveling to a bunch of different cities and sharing Frazzled with as many schools as possible! Hopefully they’ll all want to see more of Abbie Wu because I am currently working on book 2!
Booki Vivat has been doodling somewhat seriously since 2011 and not-so-seriously since childhood. She currently works in publishing and lives in Brooklyn, NY. Twitter: https://twitter.com/thebookiv Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bookibookibooki/
About Christine Van Zandt: Christine is the managing co-editor of SCBWI’s Kite Tales. She is the owner of Write for Success Editing Services. Twitter: @ChristineVZ, @WFS editing. E-mail: Christine@Write-for-Success.com