I recently had the great pleasure to work on a fantastic book called Anything but Pink by Jennifer Benthin. Jennifer agreed to answer a few of my nosey questions about the process she went through before deciding that I might be a good fit as the illustrator.
What inspired you to write your story?
The initial inspiration for Anything but Pink hit when I was 22 years old, circa 1995. At that time, I was in college trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and this story about a pink princess came to my mind. I wrote the title The Pink Princess with glitter crayons and ended up writing the beginning of a journey that included the infancy of the cloud escalator. I left it incomplete but held onto it.
Then fast forward to 2007, I took an online class, How to Write a Children’s Book and decided to take the idea of The Pink Princess and finish the story. A great deal of the original inspiration during that time related to now being a mother and I wanted to tell a story to my daughter about embracing her own uniqueness.
In 2011, I had an opportunity to publish it through an interactive storytelling app, but unfortunately, the company shut down before it was fully produced. I ended up putting The Pink Princess back up on the shelf until 2020 when I was writing my second novel Slingshot. It was at that time that I thought that I should pick the story back up. I worked with an editor, changed the title to Anything but Pink and found the perfect illustrator named Andy Catling to bring the story to life. It has been a 28-year inspirational journey in creating Anything but Pink.
How do you hope that your story will influence or inspire others?
Honestly, my first hope is that it will teach children at a young age about the difference between opinion and fact as well as embracing the unique qualities within them. Then secondly, I hope that Anything but Pink becomes a favorite bedtime story.
How would you describe the journey of creating a book from beginning to end?
This journey was different because it spanned decades so the story itself had a long time to marinate. My normal timeline in creating a book generally spans between 1 ½ to 3 years. This one was different from the beginning. It had something special that I couldn’t ever shake. The spark was compelling enough that I continued to return to the story. In my younger days, I used to think that the burning idea I had in my head had to get out as soon as possible. I now think that this particular story was meant to be published during this time period. I remember when I decided to revisit the story during the pandemic. I met with a story editor and got it into tip-top shape. I was looking for an illustrator. I went through several portfolios and when I came across Andy’s work. I was convinced that this was the right illustrator for the story. When I reached out, Andy’s calendar was full for an entire year. Up to that point, I had waited 27 years so I figured what was one more year? When Andy sent me the initial sketch of Zinnia I knew that it had been worth the wait.
I think one of my favorite parts of the creative process of working with Andy was putting together the storyboards. It was super fun to draw a terrible version and match it with images from the internet. Then to have Andy send back an even better illustration was incredibly rewarding.
The other part I found surprising was when Andy created an additional character that added so much to the story. It was a little golden yellow bird named Max. I instantly became obsessed with this messenger bird. That was an added treat that enhanced the story for me even more.
I think the part that I struggled with the most was the font. The original font had a great whimsical quality and meshed so well with the story. After doing tests with various ages of readers, it was on the cusp of being challenging to read. I really loved the font, but I kept reminding myself that the most important person is the child who has just learned to read and that font needed to be on point. I landed on the right one after a few tries, but it was a nail-biter for sure. Who would’ve thought?
Honestly, now the most rewarding part is when people send me pics of their children holding the book in their hands and hearing that it is a top request on repeat at bedtime.
Find Anything but Pink on Amazon.