Linda Boyden – Illustrator Interview

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Linda and I in Redding, October 20123

Linda and I in Redding, October 2012

Linda Boyden was the second (and since there have been many more) person that I had gotten to know in the online kid lit community who invited me to stay before meeting me. It was in October of 2012 and I had just moved to the USA (at that point without a job/MFA etc) and was headed to Nevada for my 2nd SCBWI mentor retreat. I threw out on FB that as I was in the west anyway, I thought I’d spend a few days in California. Without asking, I immediately received five invitations from people to come and stay, and Linda was one. I had a fabulous visit at her place in Redding and was uber impressed by her habit to rise early and write a poem every day. She is not only a gifted creative in her own right but is a tremendous supporter of others in our community.

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[LB] Being an author/illustrator I start with images in my mind, a hint, if you will, of what I want the book to become, and from those general images the right words reveal themselves.

[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

[LB] I was born and lived my first eighteen years in southeastern Massachusetts, two hometowns, North Attleboro/Plainville (because one kind of flows into the other and I lived in North until I was 8th grade then on to Plainville) and I can fall back into that “Oh, my Gawd, wherah’s the chowda?” accent at the drop of a hat. My father was from Tennessee so I can also do a fairly decent “Hey, y’all!” and “Why, bless your heart!” My father was of Cherokee/Irish ancestries. My mother was French Canadian from the Quebec area; in fact she was second generation American and spoke only French in the home until high school. As an adult I lived in Maryland, many places in Nevada and Montana, on Maui, Hawai’i, and now in way northern California (we are 5 hrs. north of San Francisco). Being of mixed blood ancestries and living in so many places has given me an appreciation of how richly diverse our world is. I try to weave that into my works.

[JM] How did you break into children’s books?

[LB] I broke into children’s books in three ways:

  1. I am persistent to the point of ornery.
  2. As a primary-level teacher for almost 30 years, I must have read thousands of picture books so I knew/loved the genre.
  3. I enter contests.

In 1997 when we moved to Maui, I wasn’t old enough to retire from teaching, but I was free for the first time: our children were adults on their own and there was no financial need for me to work full-time. So I decided to pursue my love of writing. First, I took a writing course at a local community college; I had joined SCBWI and Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers years earlier and after relocating, I added the Maui Writers Guild and the Maui Live Poets Society as well. All these organizations provided such wonderful support and the conferences taught me so much more. I researched markets via the book, “The Children’s Writers Marketplace” (pre-Internet) and started sending out manuscripts. Then came the legions of rejections! I became the poster child for Persistence, plus I entered all contests I qualified for, including Lee and Low Books’ first New Voices Award. Of all the many entrants, my manuscript, “The Blue Roses,” won and became my first picture book in 2002, making me an author.

[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?

[LB] Having had very little training in art, I do what comes natural to me. When I was full-time teaching, I had to cut my own letters and draw my own images for my bulletin boards, which I liked to change frequently. That taught me a love of scissors and papers. For my books, I work in cut paper collage.

[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art and stories?

[LB] I am finishing up the illustrations for book two of “Boy and Poi Poi Puppy” though I didn’t intend for it to be a series and am not sure if it will evolve into one at this point.

Generally, I want to have characters or subjects that most readers would not know about because those are the stories that need to be told. In “The Blue Roses” (Lee and Low Books) I use gardening as a way for kids to understand the tough topic of the natural circle of life and death; in “Powwow’s Coming” I introduce young readers to the Native American tradition of powwows and “Giveaways: An ABC Book of Loanwords from the Americas” celebrates the contribution Native American languages have made to English (both from University of New Mexico Press).

There are zillions of books for kids about dogs, but I chose to write about a poi dog; in Hawai’i the term poi dog has a rich history but also has come to be used for stray dogs. Both books of “Boy and Poi Poi Puppy” deal with abandoned pets, a real issue especially in an island environment. “Roxy Reindeer” is about being little and wanting to help but only getting in the way (these last three titles are from Progressive Rising Phoenix Press).

[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them? (I know you have a new book coming out early next year, so maybe you’d like to share a little from that?)

[LB] I am not sure when “Boy and Poi Poi Puppy, Book 2” will launch, but definitely in 2016.

In this picture Poi Poi Puppy and I are performing at Jeff Kinney’s (of “Diary of A Wimpy Kid” fame) new bookstore, An Unlikely Story, in one of my dual-hometowns, Plainville MA. this past July.


This past August, my fifth picture book launched, sweet little “Roxy Reindeer.” Here we are at the SCBWI LA conference.


In September Roxy won a Mom’s Choice Award so now she sports a cool sticker!


Also, super, red-hot, huge news: in October I signed a contract with Native Realities Press for my very first YA novel, “Twitch”! I’ve been working on versions of it since 2003.

[JM] We all know that there are many ways/routes to developing our craft. What have been key moments/groups/inspiration along your way?

[LB] My memberships in SCBWI, Wordcraft Circle, Redding Writers Forum, and Spoken Word nights at the Traveling Bohemian’s Loft all have inspire and led me to push through rejections and celebrate the good times, too.

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

[LB] I have one small room as my studio. It is full of books, art supplies, computer/printer stuff, yarn and sewing supplies, and storytelling props etc. It is an inspired mess!

Here’s the art area.


[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your house? 

[LB] My husband, John Boyden, is a professional landscape photographer so our walls sport many of his beautiful works.

Here is one of my favorites. He took it as we were traveling through O’Hare Airport in Chigago, IL.


I also have a few of my original illustrations framed. We have one wonderful print by Hazel Mitchell and a portrait by a Hawaiian artist, Madge Tennent.

[JM] What part does poetry play in your life?

[LB] A huge part. Since late 2011, I have striven to write a poem a day; after my first cup of coffee, I write for maybe 15 minutes (longhand in composition journals) and then before a performance time, I revise and type. I don’t know how many new poems I have but definitely over 1,000. The extra added benefit of this 15 minute poem exercise is how it jumpstarts my creative juices so I can segue nicely into whatever writing or illustrating project I have going.

Five Fun Ones to Finish?                                                                                               [JM] What’s your favorite park (state, urban or national) in the world?

[LB] Wherever we live we enjoy hiking in our national parks. Right now, my favorite is Lassen Volcanic National Park with its pristine lakes and creeks and wonderful hiking trails.

[JM] I am putting Lassen on my list! Cats or dogs? 


[LB] I’m terribly allergic to cats, and though we used to raise Scotties, we have chosen to live without pets at this point in time; unless one counts our grandchildren! Here are four of our 12 grandkids.

[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[LB] I did not get a driver’s license until I was 34! While I adored my father, he believed that women shouldn’t have to drive; that was a courtesy men should do for us. Later, in college, anyone who dormed couldn’t have a car; I then taught in Baltimore so I used city transportation; later when I moved to the west, we lived in small towns so I could walk where I needed to go. But when my kids became preteens who needed to be toted to and fro one thing or another, then I got it.

[JM] First paid job after high school?

[LB] I grew up in southeastern Massachusetts where the main sources of employment were factories. I worked one summer at an eyeglass frame factory and at another one that made jewelry boxes; yeah, real fun stuff, but the tedious work refueled my drive to finish college and go teach!

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[LB] Pepsi Max.

To learn more about Linda visit Http:// or friend me on Facebook.

 Linda, thanks so much for sharing with us today. Your personality and pluck shine through your words. You have challenged me to enter more competitions. To your continued success.

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3 Responses to Linda Boyden – Illustrator Interview

  1. Great interview ladies. Loved knowing more about you Linda. Interesting way you illustrate your stories. Don’t know why, but I always had the feeling you lived in Hawaii, or even spent some time in Australia. Maybe because I felt like you weren’t that far away. 🙂

  2. Janet F. says:

    Oh, such a delight to read this and to read this while Joanna is visiting me! None of the three of us made the connection to our friendship birthed online. A love of words, teaching, children’s and YA literary works and a general kinship seems to have forged a bond. I am so glad I have learned more specifics about you, Linda. And I am with Joanna. How I wish I could start my day at 4:30…..what time do you go to bed? I love the Chicago airport terminal photo. That was something when I encountered it the first time. You inspire me to write more.

  3. “An inspired mess” is a great description for a studio! Such a fun interview of Linda. I also love her husband’s photo of O’Hare airport; I may never look at that place the same again. 🙂

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