Mary’s Monster Timeline
This is a timeline of the milestones, research, writing, illustrating and revising activities that led to the creation of Mary’s Monster.
I read the novel Frankenstein and learned that the author, Mary Shelley, was only 19 years old when she wrote it. I asked myself, how could someone so young write such a powerful book? And what obstacles must she have faced to become an author, since she lived in a time when women weren’t allowed to attend university?
Miranda Seymour’s BiographyJanuary, 2008
I read Miranda Seymour’s biography about Mary Shelley. This is an incredibly valuable historical record of Mary Shelley’s life, but it’s long and rather a dull read. I was disappointed that it didn’t bring this amazing young woman to life.
Eventually my questions led to an obsession with Mary Shelley. On long walks in the woods I dreamt of writing my own novel about her, but I doubted my ability to do it. Up till now, I had only written picture books. I feared I could never write such an intense book.
Personal Health SetbackJanuary, 2010
I became very ill with an auto-immune disease which quickly devolved into a crippling condition. I spent the better part of two years in bed and going through chemotherapy to achieve remission. During this time, I listened to an audio version of Frankenstein again and again, and I began seeing images in my mind of Mary and her creature. My dreams of writing this book became real, though I was too sick to do anything about it.
I achieved small improvements in my health, but it was still a slow recovery with many setbacks. It was frustrating and painful, most of all, because I wasn’t able to create. I promised myself if I ever achieved remission and had the use of my hands, I WOULD WRITE THIS BOOK about Mary Shelley and the creation of Frankenstein!
The Shelley CircleJuly, 2012
Feeling better. I searched for and found a copy of Mary Shelley’s two volume journal! I also read work by Percy Bysshe Shelley, the married poet Mary ran away with when she was 16. I also read much of the poetry of Lord Byron and histories of the politics and poetry of the Romantic era – England in the early 1800’s. Also helpful, was a biography on Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley’s mother and a founder of the feminist movement.
First Research Trip to EnglandSeptember, 2012
I was well enough to travel to England to research Mary’s life. I travelled to London and Oxford. I visited the Percy Bysshe Shelley Memorial at Oxford and the Bodleian Library, where Mary’s journals and the original, hand-written version of Frankenstein are archived.
Began work on this book!December, 2012
Notes, Research, OutlinesApril, 2013
I began taking detailed notes from Mary’s journals and from letters that I found online (For example, see this site). I read historical biographies on Percy Shelley, William Godwin, and Lord Byron. I studied the scientific events of the time.
I drew hundreds of sketches, and a dozen painted studies, while asking myself over and over HOW to create this book?!
Should it be a straight novel with a few illustrations or a graphic novel? Should the work be realistic or symbolistic? How can I capture the history about how Mary came to write her novel but also the emotional journey of her young and very sorrow-filled life? I also began creating a timeline of Mary’s life.
1812: sent to Scotland
1814: ran away with Percy Shelley and gave birth 7 months later, 10 days later her baby dies
1816: left for Geneva, began writing Frankenstein that summer
1818: Frankenstein is published, anonymously. . .
Four Bulletin BoardsMarch, 2014
The 4 X 8’ bulletin board in my studio is no longer enough to hold the ideas and sketches I create. I buy three more and the walls of my studio are papered in a growing storyboard for the book.
I seized on the idea that I want to write this book in free verse with a poem and an illustration on every page. Not a graphic novel, something new, something different, something that works to capture the emotions Mary must have felt, and nods to the fact that she herself created a whole new genre, that of science fiction when she wrote her book.
Began writing a few poems.
Nine ChaptersApril, 2014
I decided to organize the book into nine parts to symbolize the nine months it took Mary to write Frankenstein. The significance of the length of the gestation period for her story—the same as that for an infant—was not lost on her. Mary revealed the importance of this link by making the date of the first narrative letter in the book (from Robert Walton to his sister) coincide with the date of her own conception (as recorded in her father’s diary). The last narrative letter is written nine months later, bearing the same date as her mother’s funeral, a few days after Mary’s birth.
Mary was pregnant while she wrote Frankenstein and she gave birth shortly after finishing it. She frequently referred to her novel Frankenstein as her “offspring” or “progeny”.
I began outlining each chapter of the book and I also started getting the feel of how I wanted to create the artwork. I was a little overwhelmed by how much detail and research it would require to do such realistic figure work!
Began Down DraftMay, 2014
Most people would call it a first draft, but I prefer down draft. The idea is to get your ideas down quickly without over-thinking or self-editing. I began writing the down draft in earnest during the day. I researched visual reference by night, looking at historical reference, but also searching through thousands of slides and photos I’ve taken over the years during research trips. I was looking for inspiration for future illustrations as well as concrete reference of the period clothing, coaches, building, etc.
Developing the ArtJune, 2014
Often art came before words. I usually have a mental image of the story before I find the right words, so I draw what I see. Then begins the work of weaving the images and words together.
These are some sketch ideas from the chapter which I originally called Ghosts.
I later developed a poem that began,
I am an exiled girl who feels so rejected by her father,
she must create a family from ghosts.
Draft CompleteSeptember, 2014
My first draft was complete with more than half the rough sketches in place for the dummy (the dummy shows the words and the art together). This first version had 354 pages. Eventually, by September of 2015, I would have to reduce that to 312 pages.
I sent it in an e-mail to my agent the evening I finished. Normally I would expect to wait, she’s extremely busy after all, but after all this time working on it, I was paralyze to do anything till I heard from her. I crumpled on the stairs in tears, worrying she might not like it.
But she wrote back in a couple of hours, and she DID like it!!! We planned to meet in a couple of days to discuss it.
Focus on Mary’s MonsterOctober, 2014
I met with my agent in person to talk about the book. She was so encouraging, which was wonderful. She also had suggestions of where the text needed improvement. It was something so different than anything I had done before, she wanted me to solidify those areas before we submitted it. She advised I put aside all other projects for the next year and really focus solely on this project. The revision begins!
The Revisions BeginOctober, 2014
From October 2014 to January 2015 I revised the manuscript and added more art. I polished poems, worked in more historical detail, and gave depth to all the key characters in Mary’s life.
Basically pulling my hair out!
First ReadersJanuary, 2015
My first reader is always my husband. I trust him to give me a really honest impression of the work. He’s my biggest fan, but also my greatest critic. Once he is happy with a piece, I usually show it to a trusted friend, in this case, it was my agent. After working on the revision, I needed to show it to someone with a fresh eye. These early readers give me valuable insight into what isn’t coming across in the words and art. Sometimes I know something in my head, but it isn’t yet on paper. In this case, I showed the second draft (words and pictures) to a writer friend whom I admire immensely and who was kind enough to provide detailed comments about ares that were still not working.
Began the next revision. Write it again!
Ready to ShowMarch, 2015
Showed it again to my agent. This time she felt it was ready to show to an editor!
After a lot of discussion about who to send it to, we both agreed Connie Hsu at Roaring Brook was the perfect editor for this project. She is not only brilliant, but I had read an interview where she stated that she was looking for cross genre pieces. I’ve admired the books she edited previously, and I had worked with Roaring Brook in the past. It seemed like a perfect fit for me.
Here’s what the beginning of the book looked like at this stage.
The Next DayMarch, 2015
I got the call every writer dreams of! Connie loved it and wanted to take it!! But she noted it would need more revision. Yay…. Gulp!
First Discussions with EditorApril, 2015
I had my first phone call with my editor to talk about the work. It was magical. Even though I knew there was much work ahead, her enthusiasm and astute comments made me feel instantly like it was going to a beautiful partnership.
Detailed Editorial NotesJune, 2015
Received my editor’s notes and spent the next two days lying on the couch with a splitting headache, thinking, I am way over my head.
Things to consider:
Details, historical facts, background, and context
Bringing Percy Shelley more to life
Sho more happier moments
Develop the “falling in Love” chapter
The Monster Emerging – when, (It was currently too soon in the manuscript)
Two days later – I told myself, “I can do this!” Initially I tried to revise existing poems then realized I needed to start from scratch. Tossed out the draft and began again. This meant about half of the sketches for the 160 spreads of art needed to change as well. So I began writing and drawing like mad – again! Felt overwhelmed and elated in equal measure nearly every day!
Revising, Revising, RevisingAugust, 2015
Endless revising. Revising the poems. Revising the sketches.
But as the manuscript got tighter, it was also time to really get the sketches nailed down to go with the poems.
I began painting studies of how I wanted the final art to look. This art would be like nothing I had created before, I needed new ways of working. Explored medium choices – paint?, ink?, digital? all of the above? How do I make digital brushes? All the while gathering more historical reference. My husband and I both posed as characters for photo reference so I could refine and improve the sketches.
A Major RevisionOctober, 2015
I turned in a major revision.
Here’s what the beginning of the book looked like at this stage.
Models, Props, ClothesJanuary, 2016
Hired models to pose for Mary, and other characters in the story. My husband kindly grew out his hair about so that he could pose as Shelley and the creature. Gathered props and clothes and held photo shoots with the models.
More notes from my editor, and now my art director as well. More revision of art and poems.
Art Approval!April, 2016
Great news – the day I had dreamed of for 4 long years had finally arrived! I had approval to start painting final art. The bad news – I only had 9 months to paint 161 paintings.
Painting Day and NightJuly, 2016
Painting day and night. Not much sleep, but always tons of support from my awesome agent, editor, and husband who rooted me on every step of the way.
Copyediting 🙁September, 2016
Revision notes on poems still trickling in. More work on the text needed while trying to get finished art done on time.
Cover IdeasOctober, 2016
The cover is the most complicated piece of art in the book. IN one painting you have to show what the book is about, while also grabbing people’s attention. I often do dozens of sketches, trying to find the right image. Here’s an early sketch from 2014.
And here’s an early painting concept piece from way back in April 2014.
These eventually developed into the artwork I proposed for the cover.
Finally I changed the creature to be more consistent with how he looks in all the interior illustrations. And then we decided to add a little bit of color to Mary.
First Test PrintsNovember, 2016
I sent in a few pieces of final art so we could begin searching for the right paper for the book. The challenge is that this book requires a lot of dark ink during printing! How can we get something crisp and beautiful without the book weighing a ton and have the ink not bleed through the paper?
The production team at Roaring Brook starts running test prints on the actual paper samples that the printers would use to produce the book. We have white papers and cream colored papers. None of us want to use glossy paper.
Unfortunately, I hated the first test proofs. All the darks are getting lost, so we try again. (Little did I know what a lengthy process this would be. . .)
Final ArtDecember, 2016
Turned in the final art. Tried to figure out what life was like before the painting blitz.
Baby Bea!January, 2017
Mary gave birth to a baby girl just after she finished working on Frankenstein and my editor had a baby girl just after I finish the last of the final art! WOW!! Pretty cool. Welcome to the world!!
First Pass PDF of LayoutJanuary, 2017
My art director sent me the first pass of art and text together in a large pdf file. I made a few more changes to art where I noticed the text needed more room or needed to be darkened or lightened behind the text.
Second Pass, Third Pass, More Test ProofsFebruary, 2017
I received the second pass design from the art director. I reviewed the digital pass, looking for typos and little details that needed to be changed. Ack! I misspelled the name Wollstonecraft on the grave marker. Had to change that art! Soon after that the third pass arrived. Ack again! I misspelled Shelley’s name on her gravestone. I know! My painting brain and spelling brain don’t work well together. I changed that painting and sent it to my patient art director.
The second set of test proofs came in the mail and I still hated them – this is getting frustrating. . .
Back to England!March, 2017
We travelled back to England to film at the Bodleian library in Oxford. I wanted to capture the research I had done on the previous trip for a video to share with classrooms. Dr. Bruce Barker Benfield was kind enough to allow us to film while examining Mary’s journals, letters and the rough draft of Frankenstein. It is breathtaking to look at the actual documents!
The video below first shows Mary and Percy’s elopement journal, and Dr. Benfield is reading the part where Percy Shelley is waiting in the carriage for Mary to arrive after she has run away from home. Then he reads a famous section from the first draft of Frankenstein.
I also visited my English publisher at the Carmelite House in London.
Advanced Reader Copies ArriveMay, 2017
The galleys arrived! But after taking a hard look at the advanced reader copy, my editor and I felt the text needed redesigning with a new font and new layout. Also, due to the thickness of the book, some of the key elements to the art were falling in the gutter, so I needed to digitally adjust several pieces. Back to work.
Italian Version of Mary’s MonsterMay, 2017
After my agent showed Mary’s Monster at the Bologna Book Fair, I received an offer from an Italian publisher along with this wonderful letter:
First of all, let me say how thrilled we all are at Il Castoro to be able to publish your brilliant MARY’S MONSTER in Italian. We now know that the ‘courageous, rebellious, brilliant teenage girl who faced terrible obstacles and searing heartache’ has a biographer and illustrator who shares all her qualities! Moreover, our readers will be delighted to learn that you are an eagle lover, a paleontologist and that you are passionate about Italy.
A Whole New DesignJune, 2017
I received three more passes of the new design to decide which font treatment we liked the best. Some art needed to be adjusted again because the new font took up more room in the design and was covering art.
Mary’s Monster is Announced in Publishers WeeklyJuly, 2017
Finally. After five years of work, we are ready to announce the book.
Wren & RookJuly, 2017
Back in 2015, Mary’s Monster went to auction with six different publishers in England. We chose Wren & Rook (@wrenandrookbook), which is an imprint of Hachette. On twitter they say they are Creators of children’s non-fiction for creative & curious readers, from beautiful picture books to empowering titles for teens. An @HachetteKids imprint.
Here’s the cover from Wren & Rook.
Final DesignSeptember, 2017
I received the final design of the book for last chance proof reading. I read every word. I scrutinized every picture. Are we done? Unfortunately no – we still need to get the test prints working. Meetings with my publisher, art director, editor and production team to discuss how to get the quality we want, but have yet to achieve.
I also received the final pass of book jacket too.
Test Proofs, Mission Accomplished!October, 2017
At last!!! A beautiful set of test proofs arrived. My editor and I were doing the happy dance! The paper is perfect, the ink is perfect, the details look beautiful! I spend hours swooning over the proofs, ecstatic and relieved. Whew! That was harder than we thought possible.
To be Continued. . .January, 2018
To be released January 30th on the 200 year anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein!