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Friday, August 5, 2011

An Interview with Michelle Munger

The first question that is probably on everyone's mind is why you started Manic Network, can you tell us a little about it?

Manic Network was just something I needed to do. When I first started seriously considering writing and illustrating, I went to a conference in LA to figure things out. I found it very difficult to choose classes because they were either geared toward writing or illustrating but never both. I found it frustrating that I would even be asked to choose one or the other. So I followed the artist path and didn't learn anything. Most of the classes were about how other artists got their start, or dealt with just the illustrating aspect. I was desperate to see how writing and illustrating all fit together as a whole but I could never get a straight answer. It was always, 'oh, the writer will have this done before it comes to you,' or 'well as the writer, you don't have to worry about what the illustrator does.' No one could marry the two for me. I started Manic as a way for others like myself to gain the knowledge that no one else was teaching. I figured that there were enough published writer/illustrators out there that they could share information with the people who were trying to get their start. And I wanted to make waves, even if it's just a few ripples in the publishing community. We are here and we aren't going away, so get used to it. 

How did you get started illustrating children's books?

When I was younger, I never even considered that children's books needed an illustrator. I guess I thought the pictures just magically appeared on the page somehow. But I loved looking at them, and began collecting children's books in my teens. I had hundreds of them, which now my sister shares in her classroom. I began by writing children's books after I had my own kids, but didn't start illustrating them until a few years later when I was trying to create some interactive powerpoints for my kid's schoolwork. I would write stories and of course I needed pictures for them and that's pretty much when I started thinking about it as an actual career. I really enjoyed the creation process. I was a natural in the art department, but the writing took a lot of work. Especially the type of writing that's required of children's books. It's actually a lot harder than it seems. For those who say that anyone can write a children's book, think again. That's the hardest part. 

What mediums do you or have you worked with?

When I was first starting out, I did a lot of my drawings in pencil and started my own portrait business. Then I slowly worked my way into colored pencils which I really enjoyed because of the added color. I've used pastel chalks in the past, but because of my allergies, I really have to stay away from them. I've also used oil pastels, but they are not very practical considering they never dry. Acrylics never worked for me because I couldn't blend before the paint dried, and watercolors were just too difficult to get right. I think my ah-ha moment came when I played around with a few digital art programs and found them to be perfect for what I needed. Now, I don't use anything but digital programs. My favorites are ArtRage and of course photoshop. I've also used Poser, Z-Brush and Bryce. I think I've spent thousands of dollars on art programs alone and I've owned three art tablets. The one I use now is a 12 inch Cintiq, which lets you draw right on the screen. 

How long does it take you to write and illustrate a book?

I've never actually finished a complete book. Unless you count a romance novel I wrote a long time ago. It was about 350,000 words that I finished in 6 months. I've been revising it for nearly 7 years though. I always come to the almost done stage when something trips me up and I have to stop and think about it for awhile. I do have several picture books in the almost done stage, but I left them that way purposefully because I knew that once they found homes, I'd have to change things for the editor. It was just a time saver for me to not finish them. But I once calculated how long it would take based on one of my unfinished picture books, about 28 weeks, considering it took about a week per page. The writing process is different. Sometimes a whole book falls straight out of my head onto the page in about an hour, sometimes it takes a little longer. Usually I can write a book in about a week and then it takes several months to revise and refine until I get it just right. So, I would say a little under a year for one book.

How do you balance writing with everything else you have to do?

Balance? What balance? My life is chaos in motion. I'm the fifth and apparently only member of my household that cleans up after herself, so when I am not cleaning, doing laundry and cooking, I'm homeschooling my three kids. In between that, I'm on my computer either writing, illustrating, working on the layout and design of the NE/NC Texas SCBWI online newsletter, looking up helpful hints for Manic Network, or studying for my next test. Did I mention I was going back to college? And that's only during the weekdays. On the weekends I'm working in a children's hospital poking babies and taking blood pressures. Seriously, I'm a paramedic, that's what I do. 

You mentioned you were going back to college, what are you hoping to accomplish in life?

Really just trying to better myself. As a paramedic there is a limit to what I can make in a hospital setting. If anything ever happened to my diabetic, slightly overweight husband, I would be stuck, not making enough to keep the household running. So that in a nutshell is my reason for going back to college. I'm actually going back for nursing because I need a steady reliable job and since I've been in the medical field for so long, it only seems natural to just move on up the ladder instead of switching from one ladder to the next. That way, I can secure my families income while working towards my dream of becoming a published writer/illustrator. And let's face it, breaking into the children's book industry is becoming more and more difficult, especially with the rise of e-books. It's only common sense to have something else to get me through the lean years.

Do you think e-books are the wave of the future?

I would be silly to think e-books were just a passing fad. With technology growing like it is, and people being more conscious of the environment, it just seems ridiculous to chop down millions of trees to print thousands of books when all you need is a kindle reader, nook, or iPad. I think it is going to be something that the older generations need to get used to because  it's not going away any time soon. These younger generations are going to grow up not really knowing what a book is. So once they get old enough to choose, that's when printing books will go away. We are probably going to be the last generation to print books on paper. Even textbooks nowadays are going digital. Which really helps lighten your backpack. Can you imagine having to carry around twenty pounds of textbooks when all you need is one 6 ounce e-reader? There are just so many things you can do with e-books that you can't do with printed books and I am all for it. Bring it on!

What are your upcoming projects?
I have so many I don't know where to start. I'm working on illustrating a storybook for a friend of mine. His book is already for sale on Amazon, I did the cover for him already, but we were planning to illustrate and then re-release it. I'm also working on an interactive book of my own for the iPad and iPhone, but the software has a high learning curve, so it's going to take some time to figure out. I also have several YA's in the works but they've been on hold until some of the other projects get finished. And I've just submitted to a writer that wants his book ready by Christmas. I should know if he wants me to illustrate his book by Monday. 

What do you think others would want to know about you?
I'm a glutton for punishment. 
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I work hard for what I want and I never back down. 

My websites and blogs can be found here:

And I also have an iPhone app out called Klunk Klock. It's a partner project with my spouse who happens to be a computer geek. He wrote the program while I designed the art. 

I really appreciate all the members of Manic and hope to get to know everyone better in the future. Thanks for reading.


  1. Michelle, it's really great to read about you and a comfort to find so many similarities. Like having dozens of unfinished ideas wafting like yoo-hoo ghosts waiting their turn for physical form. Your description of different art medium - yup. I love your humor and love your pirate and cowboy and the lab with a saddle. I still look at dogs and cats and imagine saddles on them. Would that one wear an english or western saddle?

    Thanks for creating this group. You're an inspiration!

  2. Thanks Wendy, I think if I ever bought one more art medium, my husband would shoot me, but I'm lucky he's so understanding of the process and search for what I could really use. But I do hope those little idea ghosties wait their turn patiently. I would hate to lose one.

    Thanks for following the group and being such a wonderful member of the community, Wendy.

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  4. This was so fun to read, Michelle! I enjoyed learning about your reasons for starting Manic -- your frustration with being unable to find workshops that fused the arts of writing and illustration and your accepting, positive take on e-books!

  5. Just wanted to say that I'm amazed by how much you seem to get done in your life. Mom, educator, nurse, cook.... and writer-illustrator?! How do you do it all? I feel like I'm so much of a perfectionist and obsessive planner that making a supportive site like this is nigh impossible! Thanks for being an admirable example with a stunning work ethic.

  6. Thanks Mark and Michael, sometimes I have so much to do I get stalled because I don't know which to do first, but I try to make the most with my time and keep on doing what I do best - multitask. ;)

  7. Terrific interview!I'm a huge fan of Michelle, the Artist. I especially love the portraits you make.

    Thanks for starting The Manic Network and for all the efforts you've taken. Wishing you the best with college and your projects. :)

  8. What a talent! I love these illustrations. They really come to life.

  9. Thanks Kavitha and Rawknrobyn!

    Update, I got the illustration contract! :)

  10. This is very enjoyable to read. Thank you for sharing it, Michelle. The illustrations are great!