Six Questions with Kristin Wauson
Since she learned to hold a pencil, Kristin Wauson has been making pictures and stories. She grew up in the Texas Hill Country, inspired by fairy tales, C.S. Lewis, music, horses and classic Disney animation. A graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, and former graphic designer, Kristin came to kidlit after rediscovering picture books via her two sons. When she's not perfecting her craft, you'll find her cooking, or possibly upside down, doing yoga. Kristin is the author/illustrator of Mr. Thatcher’s House (Sleeping Bear Press, 2022) and is represented by Adria Goetz of P.S. Literary Agency To learn more about Kristin and her work, visit her website.
1. When did you first realize you wanted to write for young readers?
I realized I wanted to draw for young readers long before I knew I wanted to write for them. I’ve been labeled an artist all my life, and even though I've always enjoyed writing, the title of “writer” has been harder for me to own. As a kid, I carried around a folder of my writing WIPs. I wrote a newsletter for horse enthusiasts (with two paid subscribers who didn’t know I was 12!). In college I wanted to be a copywriter for advertising.
But when I came to children’s books, I was strictly an illustrator. As I started to develop my artistic voice, I became aware that there were some things I really wasn’t interested in drawing. I began writing because I wanted to have control over the stories my illustrations would tell.
2. Do you work on multiple projects at the same time?
I do work on multiple projects at the same time, but not actually at the same time, because I have a particularly hard time switching gears. I don’t even like to write and draw on the same days. I’ve learned from experience that in order to really be productive, I need to have several hours to work on just ONE thing.
But, with that being said, one of the smartest pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten is “don’t wait.” Publishing moves really slowly and there can be a lot of time where you’re in limbo with a project. The waiting can legitimately make you crazy. I think it’s really important to have something else that is in some stage of development that you can work on while you’re waiting.
3. What three things bring you joy?
My family, books (especially if they have beautiful art), and good food — I love to cook new recipes!
4. What was the most challenging thing you faced while writing/researching Mr. Thatcher's House?
Mr. Thatcher’s House has 37 different characters and takes place in a very complicated house. Maintaining consistency and believability was probably my biggest challenge.
The house starts out small and grows into this bigger structure over time. Even though it's fantasy, it had to feel like the same house throughout, and the interior had to “match” the exterior. I actually had to redraw the original house on the first spread after realizing the slope of the roof didn’t match the ceilings on later pages.
I also used a lot of reference and models. Mr. Thatcher's living room has a spiral staircase that wraps around a tree trunk. My carpenter husband made me a model so I could understand the perspective of the stair treads. To keep the placement of the fairytale houses in Mr. Thatcher's neighborhood consistent, I made a map and art director, Felicia Macheske built a miniature version out of boxes to double check it.
5. What was the process or timeline for this book, from idea to publishing?
I wrote down the idea for this book in January 2018 during Tara Lazar’s Storystorm. I drafted the manuscript that same day and spent the next year revising and working on a dummy. I shared it with critique partners and had it critiqued at SCBWI conferences.
Then in 2019, I participated in #PBPitch and connected with my agent, Adria Goetz. We worked on the dummy that year and got it ready for submission. But a few months after it went out, COVID had begun to spread and things were shutting down. Furloughs were happening and acquisitions meetings were being canceled. For about a year, nothing really happened and we started to think it just wasn’t meant to be, but in early 2022 things started to turn around and we finally got the offer we had been waiting for.
6. Where did you get the idea for Mr. Thatcher's House?
During a discussion about the magic that can come from combining your passions, a friend suggested that I find a connection between children’s book illustration and our family's construction business. I didn’t give it much thought beyond our conversation, but later in the day it occurred to me how many classic children's stories have a house with a problem.
Those pigs who have a wolf blowing their houses down; Hansel and Gretel are literally eating that poor witch out of house and home; and the bears who have uninvited houseguests breaking their furniture and eating their breakfast!
With so many storybook characters in need of a sturdy place to live, maybe I could invent a character to fill that need. Mr. Thatcher soon began to take shape in my imagination — and my sketchbook -- based on my father-in-law who has been remodeling his own house for the last 23 years. Like my father-in-law, Mr. Thatcher can’t stop working until his house is perfect.