ABOUT TRACY CHRISTINE WEIMAN
I think that I first started thinking seriously about the picture book form in the mid ’80’s; I know that I was inspired to write my own after reading Maurice Sendak’s ideas on the subject. That may have been through reading ‘Caldecott & Co’; it was a long time ago. I never thought that much about the market or what was current – I only wrote books that pleased me, and that seemed and still seems like the right way to go. In the 90’s I felt confident enough to begin sending things to publishers and agents – and though I had begun to write longer pieces, and even pieces without pictures, I never lost my love and respect for the picture book form.Well, that was almost twenty-five years ago, and I have had a lot of fun but no real success in the publishing business. I guess I should have given up long ago, but no one ever actually told me I was no good; in fact quite the opposite – all the feedback I was getting (when I got any at all) was that my stuff was great – but too different, too unique, too clever, too whatever. My own view is less cynical than that. I couldn’t ever persuade myself that there was no room in the world for anything different; in fact I simply can’t understand why anyone would go through all the trouble of writing a book and illustrating it, just so that it would be the same as a hundred other books. If I had wanted to do dull and bland work I didn’t care about, for no other reason than to make a profit – well, selling seed corn or outboard motors would be a lot easier than trying to sell picture books for a living.After five years of trying to sell a series of novels I had written, I lost my London agent. What had seemed a sure thing turned into nothing at all, and I was very angry and depressed. But I happened upon a little book about creativity and business called ‘Dear James’ by the great animator and illustrator R O Blechman.He had a website, and an email address, so I wrote him and thanked him for his work, and for writing the book, which had really helped me. He very kindly wrote back, and I can’t help but quote what he said in his message – I took it as a personal motto:‘I recently came cross a quote from Georges Bizet whose opera, Carmen, closed after one performance. Now it’s a standard in the opera repertoire. He said of opera, “What a wonderful art form. What a rotten business.” The same can be said of so many other art forms (illustration included, at least to a certain extent). But we carry on, as we must.’After trying a bit longer to approach agents in Europe and the U S with my books, I came to realize that the rotten business had gotten rottener since I had started all those years ago. What if I could start my own publishing company? What if I could be my own editor? With Amazon, I could get worldwide distribution, and perhaps 100 people would read my books before I died. It seemed like a good idea, since the alternative was to have no actual readers at all, and only a handful of agents glancing at my work before rejecting me.And so my friend Cayem Rawin and I are starting down a new road, with the Red Admiral Press, and gradually publishing all my old books and hopefully some new ones. I’m not sure if it will be a stepping stone, or an end unto itself, but it’s certainly a lot of fun.We carry on, as we must.
I have been inspired by many illustrators, writers and artists throughout the years; it strikes me that what the industry is convinced ‘won’t sell’ is usually the unique and timeless work that I admire — most of which is incidentally still in print. You can easily buy your child a 60- to 80-year-old book that was illustrated by E. H. Shepard or Edward Ardizzone, but at the same time you will be told that kids won’t sit still for anything that isn’t right up-to-date. Anyone who has children or knows them can easily demonstrate that this simply isn’t true, but the only way to counter this prejudice – and incidentally to join the ranks of the artists you hold dear – is to ignore the pressures to provide work solely for the marketplace and to try to produce art that is too good for anyone to refuse.