by Denise Gallagher
I am a graphic designer and illustrator who spent many years working happily as an art director. But in 2009, I hit a creative wall.
I wanted more.
So I decided to pursue my dream of illustrating children’s books.
“I know! I’ll write my own picture book to practice on!” No big deal, right?
I sat down to write and came up with a whopping 1400-hundred word fairy tale titled, “Claire de Loup” that I absolutely fell in love with.
I threw myself into the task of creating some moody, lush, heavily patterned illustrations and a thorough book dummy.
Then I shared it with the world.
It was dark.
It was dense.
It was not ready.
I got some helpful feedback but
was overwhelmed so put it all in a drawer.
I still loved the story, though.
So in 2014, I decided to revisit it. I scrapped all of the original illustrations and started over in a new style.
The story was the same but the illustrations were brighter and more kid-friendly.
With renewed confidence, I packaged up this revised version and brought it with me to an SCBWI conference in Houston.
The illustrations were a hit and I won the portfolio showcase!
But the manuscript review… oof.
Among other things, it was way too long.
How do you cut text when you love every single word that you’ve written?
I can be very stubborn. I know this about myself.
But, kicking and screaming, I did it. I winnowed down the story. I cut out flowery language and descriptive words. I did more showing than telling.
And guess what? I still loved it!
This is it! This will be published! And I truly believed that it would.
I sent it out into the world again, to a much warmer review.
I received kind rejections.
Why did I think I could be a writer anyway?
Didn’t I just want to be an illustrator?
Dejected, I put it in a drawer again.
In 2015, I was awarded a scholarship to a writing course from Mira Reisberg’s Children’s Book Academy. The course helped me to really focus on the writing portion of creating a picture book. During the course, Mira helped me to work diligently on everything from characters, to plot twists and endings. My confidence in writing was bolstered!
Then in 2019 I attended Leslie Helakoski’s workshop, “Structure and Voice. Rhyme and Revision." I needed something to work on so I grabbed a pencil and a notebook and dusted off my old manuscript.
One section of Leslie’s workshop discussed what to do with a manuscript that just seemed to have stalled.
This hit a nerve.
She encouraged us to step back from the story and imagine changing one aspect and rewriting it. That aspect could be voice, character, setting, etc.
Up until this point, my beloved story was about a girl and a wolf in the forest.
You can imagine the comparisons it drew.
Leslie had gotten the wheels turning again. I was once again excited about my book.
The wolf became a tiger. The forest, a jungle — a jungle which teemed with unusual creatures. The story changed just a bit but became deeper in meaning.
Happy with the new manuscript, I started over — for the third time — on the illustrations. Using juicy colors, I created a character that was unique and spunky and who lived in a jungle landscape that was fresh and exciting and full of life.
And I changed the title to “Moonsong.”
I got some great feedback and in 2020 I received a publishing offer during a Twitter pitch event. That was at the very beginning of the pandemic so working on the final art was a happy distraction from the events going on in the world around me.
On October 1, 2021, “Moonsong” became a real book — a book that lives in happy homes and on library shelves around the country.
I had always believed in the story.
From the very beginning.
I just had to learn to be a little less stubborn and a little more patient.
I learned to let go and to embrace change.
It took 12 years, three different illustration attempts and many, many text revisions to finally see my story in its final form.
And I am happy to say that there is a child out there who now looks up at the moon just a little differently — all because of my story.
Denise Gallagher, Biography
Denise Gallagher is a published author and illustrator of children’s picture books. She is also proud to be the Illustrator Coordinator for the Louisiana/Mississippi Region of SCBWI. Her illustration portfolio won first place in portfolio reviews at SCBWI Conferences in both Houston and New Orleans.
Her picture book “Moonsong” which she wrote and illustrated was published by The Little Press in the Fall of 2021.
Her picture book “A Tip Tap Tale,” which she wrote and illustrated, was published in 2017 by UL University Press.
She has also illustrated folk tales from Louisiana and Canada. “Peg Bearskin, A Traditional Newfoundland Folktale” received the Aesop Prize by the Children’s Folklore Section of the American Folklore Society and was on the short list for the Lillian Shepherd Memorial Award for Excellence in Illustration for the 2020 Atlantic Book Awards.
Denise is on the Editorial Board of the University of Louisiana Press and is an Adjunct Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She is part of the Teaching Artist Program in Lafayette, teaching literature and art to students of all ages. She has also been included on many literary panels and speaking events.
Denise has a passion for folklore, folktales, unusual animals and magical realism and is inspired by her lush, green Louisiana home.
We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with awesome Aussie debut author and former student Amanda Lieber who will be focusing on Aussie kidlit.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature STEM, STEAM & SEL obsessed author Kourtney LaFavre sharing delightfully dorky, quirky, and fun info.
4th Mondays will be a mystery for right now.
And 5th Mondays we'll be taking a break