Author Interview with Corinna Luyken: The Road to Writing...and Illustrating!

Today it is my pleasure to introduce the amazingly talented children's book writer and illustrator, Corinna Luyken who is here to talk about her road to writing...and illustrating!
Welcome Corinna!

I first came across Corinna's picture book The Book of Mistakes while browsing the children's picture book section for inspiration and books to purchase (because you can never have too many books, right?). The moment I set eyes on The Book of Mistakes, I knew I had to have it! It wasn't just the beautiful, seemingly simplistic yet incredibly detailed illustrations that made me connect with the book, but also the heartfelt and important message of the story. I have struggled throughout my career as a writer and artist to embrace my mistakes, so I connected with this idea straight away. To me, this is an incredibly important addition to literature for children, not only because it lets them know it's okay to make mistakes, but also because it shows them that mistakes do not have to be the end of something good; instead they may very well be the beginning of something great.
* Readers pay attention, there will be a question at the end, and if you post the correct answer you could win a copy of The Book of Mistakes!
Q: Can you describe your earliest memory of wanting to be a writer/illustrator?    

I don’t have one strong memory, but I’ve always loved to draw, read, and write.  And I always figured that I would keep doing those things, no matter what. That said, there is this picture I drew when I was 5.

In it, you can see a heart shaped necklace and a treasure chest hidden at the bottom of a pond. What you can’t see are the people, lying in the bottom of the boats, holding flowers up as a disguise. I drew a lot as a kid, but this was one of the only pieces that my mom had framed.  She even hung it up above her desk.  I remember being surprised at first, and then intrigued by how part of what she loved was what wasn’t there, what was hidden from view.    

Years later, I’m still fascinated by this— how a drawing and a story can work together, to make something greater than either one alone.    

What an imagination! You obviously had the talent to be a picture book writer and illustrator from the start. Kudos to your mom for recognizing it😀  

Q: What was the title of the first book you had ever written/illustrated and what was it about?

Sore Feet is the story of a rivalry between a small shoe shop and a large discount shoe store. It begins on a day when the north and the east winds have come to town, to shop for shoes. It was the first fully illustrated book dummy I made (as an adult), and the source of a few nice rejection letters!

Absolutely beautiful illustration!  

Q: Where is that book now?   

I revisited that story a few years ago, and made a new dummy for it, which is now sitting in the back of my closet with a bunch of other early book dummies.

I hope we'll get to see it in print someday! 

Q: Which authors/illustrators most inspired you in your writing/illustrating journey?

Lisbeth Zwerger, Isabelle Arsenault, Carl Sandburg, The Petershams, Julie Fogliano, Mac Barnett, George Saunders, Lane Smith, Kate DiCamillo, Cynthia Rylant, Suzy Lee, Mary Oliver, Uri Shulevitz, Carson Ellis, Erin Stead, Jon Klassen, Marc Simont, Shel Silverstein, Kyo MacLear, Maurice Sendak, Roald Dahl, Arnold Lobel, Ruth Krauss, Margaret Wise Brown, Kelly DiPuccio, Marla Frazee, Adam Rex, Ellen Raskin, Edward Gorey, Nikki McClure, Laurel Snyder, Sara O-Leary, Zaccharia Ohora, Jon Agee, Rebecca Stead, Jon Scieszka, Tomi Ungerer … and SO many more!      

You and I have the exact same taste in picture books!

Q: What are some of the most useful writers/illustration craft books/blogs you have read? 

One of the most inspiring and useful discussions of the writing craft that I’ve come across is this (7 minute) video interview with George Saunders:     

Every writer should watch this video. Revision as an act of love? Yes! It makes so much sense! Why else would we torture ourselves for so many years just to get it right?
I’m currently reading Anni Albers’ Selected Writings on Design, as well as Ben Shahn’s The Shape of Content, and they are both fantastic. I’ve also been inspired by:  Writing With Pictures by Uri Shulevitz; Dear Genius by Ursula Nordstrom; If You Want To Write by Brenda Ueland; Framed Ink by Marcos Mateu-Mestre; The Visual Story by Bruce Block (meant for Film but still useful for illustrators); The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp; Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance  by Angela Duckworth; Outliers, The Story of Success  by Malcolm Gladwell; The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery by Sarah Lewis; Catching The Big Fish by David Lynch; and Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull

Hmmmm...I only have about half of those books on my shelves. I guess it's time for a trip to the bookstore!   

As for blogs, I’m a huge fan of Julie Danielson’s SEVEN IMPOSSIBLE THINGS BEFORE BREAKFAST and Carter Higgins’ DESIGN OF THE PICTURE BOOK  

Both are incredible resources for illustrators. And I love the conversations between picture book makers over at NUMBER FIVE BUS PRESENTS:   

The PICTUREBOOK MAKERS blog is also wonderful, with a focus on international artists:   

Such great books and blogs! Thanks for sharing!  

Q: What do you consider the hardest/best part of writing/illustrating?
Often, the hardest part is sitting down to start.  I wrote/drew most of The Book of Mistakes between the hours of 9pm and 3am, and I’m not a night owl!  But I was the mother of a toddler, and that was the only time that I could reliably work.  It surprised me at first, but even on the days when I really didn’t want to work, once I sat down and started, within ten minutes I would be in a groove.  And after that, I was happy to keep going for hours.  The hardest part was always getting up out of a cozy bed (where I had just been reading to my daughter, and perhaps even fallen asleep), walking over to my drawing table, and sitting down to work.  Everything after that is the best!  

Now, that is determination! I've tried writing in the middle of the night with no success, but if I can get myself out of bed by 5am, I get some great work done. There is something to be said about creating different worlds while the world you are in is fast asleep 😊   

Q: How many books did you write/illustrate before you were published?

I had made eight other (illustrated) picture book dummies before I came up with the idea for The Book of Mistakes. 

Q: How did you find your agent/publisher?  

I found my agent, Steven Malk, by researching who represented the illustrators and writers that I love.  Through the SCBWI, I was fortunate to hear him speak a few times and also to meet him in person.  But the most important step in “finding” my agent was the years I spent working on my craft.  I knew from hearing Steve speak that he was someone I’d love to work with.  But it took years to hone my skill and voice as an illustrator, and more years to come up with a story that was strong enough to spark his interest.   After that, there was an entire year of revising before The Book of Mistakes was ready to send out on submission.  But then, once the story was ready, we found a wonderful home for it (at Dial, with editor Namrata Tripathi and art director Lily Malcom) pretty quickly.  After that, there was another year of fine-tuning the text, making final art, and figuring out the cover.    

Q: Tell us a little bit about your writing/illustrating process?

 The Book of Mistakes took two years (and fourteen book dummies) to make. The very first dummy, which I sent along with a query to my (now) agent, Steven Malk, was half the size the book is now. In that version, the story ended with a girl holding cupcakes and a pitcher of lemonade, on her way to a party in a pink-petaled tree.

Steve loved the beginning but thought the ending needed work. It took me an entire year to find a more interesting and satisfying ending. That year was both difficult and necessary.  During that time, the book doubled in size, and I also learned a lot about my process as an illustrator-writer. I learned how to trust the work, how to listen, how to find my way through and out of the dark.

You can learn even more about that process in these interviews:
THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOKS Facebook Live Draw and Interview:     

ALL THE WONDERS audio interview with Matthew Winner:     

And these blog posts:     




Q: What is your favorite/least favorite part of the publication process? 

My favorite part is hearing that a book I’ve made has touched the heart of another person.  My least favorite part is probably all the waiting.  I’ve heard this called the hurry up and wait industry, and it’s often true!   

Q: What is your favorite method of procrastination? 

Design Sponge.   

Oh no. There goes all of my free time.     

Q: What are you working on now? 

I’m working on my next picture book with Dial right now.  It’s a meditation on/celebration of the heart and feelings. I’ll also be illustrating a middlegrade novel with Candlewick, called Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi, which is due out spring 2019.     

Exciting! I can't wait to see what you create next!
Thank you so much for sharing your road to writing and illustrating with us, Corinna!
You can learn more about Corinna by visiting her websites:
Follow her on Twitter:
Buy her books!
And now, dear readers, for your bonus question:
What was Corinna's inspiration for The Book of Mistakes?
(hint: you can find the answer on her website 😉)


  1. Yes, yes, YES! Fell in love with Corinna's work in exactly the same way. Can't wait to see what she'll publish next. I reviewed The Book of Mistakes back in May for Perfect Picture Book Friday if anyone wnts the link

    SO glad you've spread the word about this fantastic book! Thanks. Fans will probably also love Steve Light's "Swap!"

    And incidentally, from the desire to show others the "possibility in the mistake" especially to Corinna's daughter.

    1. Thanks for reading, Joanne! I loved your post on Corinna's work as well!

      I'll do a hat pick for the book in two weeks (depending on how many answers we receive) and then I'll post the winner here and will be in touch to get shipping info.

  2. And the winner is...Joanne! Thanks for reading!

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