SBBT: The Diverse Talents of Brother/Sister Duo Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Hope you’ve all been enjoying the SBBT interviews this week. Remember, to stop by Chasing Ray’s Master Schedule for this week’s links to author interviews and thoughtful quotes!

I am so pleased to have a couple of surprise guests today…

a brother-sister duo with enormous powers to channel the hearts of girls and create a special graphic novel series…

Here’s to BABYMOUSE!!!

My girls LOVE the BABYMOUSE series. The girls in their school love the BABYMOUSE series. It’s one the first books that girls try to grab during school library time, and sometimes, the kids try to bargain.

I remember when I first discovered the BABYMOUSE series a few years ago, and noticed one of the creators, Jennifer L. Holm, also wrote historical novels. Not just your plain Jane ordinary books, but distinctive books, books made of honored awards and wonderful reviews. Well-loved books like: Penny from Heaven, Our Only May Amelia, the Boston Jane books.
Talk about talent! To go from historical fiction to graphic novel in a blink of an eye! (Actually folks, you know it really took lots of hard work and many years of convincing publishers, right?)
And then to find out that the other half of the BABYMOUSE team, Matthew Holm, has talents above and beyond…we’re talking THIS IS NOT FAIR strengths here, people…professional graphic designer, writer, web developer, former editor of Country Living Magazine. Matt has written about home-building, architecture, and science, not to mention a few books for adults: Beautiful Data: The Stories Behind Elegant Data Solutions, Gray Highway: An American UFO Journey, Suburbageddon. See? This much well-rounded brain power is not fair.

It is with great pleasure that I welcome Jenni Holm and Matt Holm to my blog today. I’m sure you will enjoy reading what they have to say.

HWM: Jenni and Matt – Both of you have had such interesting careers. Why children’s books?
JENNI & MATT: Deep down, we’re really just 12 years old.

HWM: I understand Jenni came up with the idea of Babymouse and contacted Matt. What kinds of things, if any, did you have to “negotiate” to ensure you’d be able to work well together?
JENNI & MATT: We’d actually already worked together on some art for Jenni’s book, MIDDLE SCHOOL IS WORSE THAN MEATLOAF, so we knew how to collaborate. Also, we had shared an apartment in NYC (a studio apartment, no less) for a few months, and if we could survive that, we could survive anything. The biggest hurdle was actually getting a traditional publisher to buy into the idea of a graphic novel for children.

HWM: Babymouse was one of the first graphic novels out there for girls. What changes have you seen in the graphic novel industry? How do you see Babymouse growing for your fans?
JENNI & MATT: When Babymouse first came out, it was shelved next to MAGIC TREE HOUSE and other early reader series. Now there is a whole shelf in bookstores and libraries for graphic novels!

HWM: Do you have plans to write a graphic novel for boys?
JENNI & MATT: YES! Our new graphic novel series, SQUISH, comes out next spring. It’s about an amoeba—yes, an amoeba. And the ink will be GREEN, not pink.

HWM: What tip would you offer to a writer/illustrator interested in creating a graphic novel?
JENNI & MATT: Partner up. It’s an incredibly laborious process—a lot of writing and a lot of art. We’ve found it’s much more manageable because we share the duties. It’s less overwhelming (because it is seriously overwhelming to write and illustrate 96 pages on a regular deadline!)

HWM: Babymouse is in her fifth year! What are you doing to celebrate?
JENNI & MATT: OMG—we didn’t even realize it! This calls for cupcakes!

QUESTIONS FOR JENNI & MATT from Spy Girl & Ninja Girl (with enthusiastic comments from Wonder Girl):

SPY GIRL & NINJA GIRL: Babymouse is pretty in pink. There is one book, Monster Mash, that is orange. Why do you stick to one color?
JENNI & MATT: Many newspaper comic strips are just black and white, and Matt cut his teeth with strip drawing. We wanted some color, but didn’t want to be overwhelmed.

SPY GIRL & NINJA GIRL: How do you come up with the ideas for each book?
JENNI & MATT: We generally mine our childhood traumas.

SPY GIRL & NINJA GIRL: What do you do if you disagree with a story?
JENNI & MATT: Whomever f
eels the strongest about something wins. It happens pretty rarely, actually.

SPY GIRL & NINJA GIRL: We love Babymouse! How many more books will you write about her?
JENNI & MATT: As many as we can! (and thank-you!)

SPY GIRL & NINJA GIRL: Felicia Furrypaws is mean! We like it when she gets put in her place. Did you know someone like her when you were little?
JENNI & MATT: Oh, we think everyone has known someone like Felicia. But, yes, Jenni did have a Felicia person in her childhood.

SPY GIRL & NINJA GIRL: What is Babymouse’s favorite cupcake?
JENNI & MATT: Hmmm… vanilla cake with pink frosting and sprinkles!

SPY GIRL & NINJA GIRL: Thank you very much Ms. Holm and Mr. Holm!


HWM: Your novels are wonderful. I understand you have a new novel, TURTLE IN PARADISE. What can you tell me about the book?

JENNI: It takes place in 1935 in Key West, Florida. It’s about a girl named Turtle who has a single mom who is a housekeeper. Turtle’s mom gets a live-in housekeeper gig, and the new employer doesn’t like kids, so Turtle is shipped off to Florida to live with family she’s never met before. There’s treasure, rumrunners, scorpions, and rowdy boy cousins who run a babysitting service called the Diaper Gang!

HWM: You’ve written wonderful books based on family history. How did your family react to your books?
JENNI: My family is very much into genealogy. My dad, especially, just loved it so much. He was such a history buff and really got me started on the road to writing.

HWM: It’s been said Lloyd Alexander is one of your favorite childhood authors. Will you ever try writing fantasy?
JENNI: Probably not. Although I am blown away by fantasy writers. World-building is intense!

HWM: What is your writing routine?
JENNI: I usually drop off my son at school, then do the dishes, fold some laundry (pretty glamorous stuff, huh?), hang out with my two-year old, Millie, then drop her off at daycare, come home, procrastinate by going to Facebook, answer some emails, and then get down to writing. I usually stop around four because I do the school/daycare pick-up run. No writing happens at night—I’m way too tired after the dinner/bath/bed routine.

HWM: What was the best writing advice anyone ever gave you?
JENNI: Revise. And revise. And revise some more. Oh, and get used to rejection.


HWM: It somehow doesn’t seem fair that you have a stockpile of talents–writer, artist, web developer. I would imagine all of these creative outlets require a large amount of time. How do you balance your time?

MATT: It gets difficult sometimes. There are a lot of projects I want to do. I generally “binge” on one project at a time, working on that to the exclusion of other projects. But I find that’s also how I work best. For me, it takes time to wrap my mind around a project, so I usually need a bunch of hours in a row in order to do it. I’m not very good at working on something for only an hour a day (as many writers do)—I end up spending too much time just “getting in the zone,” as it were.

HWM: Did you ever imagine BABYMOUSE would become so famous? What was the reaction of your friends and family?
MATT: Not really. But then, of course, there’s famous and there’s famous. “Famous in libraries and elementary schools,” is how I would put BABYMOUSE right now. Fortunately, she doesn’t have to worry about showing up on TMZ or anything! I think my friends who have known me since I was young are not surprised that I’m drawing cartoons for a living. As for, say, my Mom, she still wants me to have “something to fall back on after this is all over.” (I’m not sure if she means “the Babymouse series,” or “publishing,” or possibly “Western Civilization.”)

HWM: What projects are you working on now?
MATT: I’m cleaning up some last-minute things on SQUISH: SUPER AMOEBA (the first book in our new series), doing final art for BABYMOUSE: MAD SCIENTIST (#14, which comes out at the same time as Squish, Summer 2011), revising the manuscript for the second Squish book, and revising a chapter-book manuscript (and starting pencil sketches for the illustrations) that I’ve been working on for a few years now with another writing partner.

HWM: What is your writing/illustrating routine?
MATT: It totally depends on what “phase” of each book we’re in. For early thumbnail sketching, I can briefly have the sort of writerly lifestyle that everyone dreams about: taking my little sketchbook out to a sidewalk cafe and doodling for several hours each day, while sipping a cool drink. Unfortunately, that doesn’t last very long. For the other parts—marker sketches and finals—I pretty much lock myself in my office for 6 to 12 hours a day, trying to crank through as many pages as I can at once.

HWM: What was the best publishing advice anyone ever gave you?
MATT: That it takes a long time. And I don’t just mean the process of getting your first book signed (tha
t can take forever)—I mean the actual writing, editing, and production process. Be prepared for years of production time on any one book.


HWM: What is your most memorable fan moment?
JENNI & MATT: Jenni had a whole group of kids show up in Babymouse costumes at a book signing.

HWM: What makes you laugh?
JENNI & MATT: Some of the ideas that kids come up with for what Babymouse should be doing in her next daydream. A recent example: Babymouse as an Animal Musician (i.e., someone who uses live animals—rather than trumpets or violins—as musical instruments), playing a rattlesnake.

HWM: If you were a superhero, what powers would you want and why?
JENNI: the power to fold laundry instantly!
MATT: the ability to clone myself? Then I could work on multiple projects at the same time.

NOTE: BABYMOUSE Cupcake Tycoon is out this fall!
Thank you so much, Jenni and Matt!
Where to find Jenni and Matt:

Here are the rest of today’s SBBT interviews:
Julia Hoban at Chasing Ray
Stacy Kramer at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Nancy Bo Flood at Finding Wonderland
Paolo Bacigalupi at Shaken & Stirred
Sarah Kuhn at Bildungsroman

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