Author Janie Dempsey Watts had never used an illustrator for one of her books before. She'd never needed one.
The covers of her novels, "Moon Over Taylor's Ridge" and "Return to Taylor's Crossing," used photographs she had made of the places that inspired the plots. A photo of her and her older son graced her collection of short stories, "Mothers, Sons, Beloveds and Other Strangers."
But her children's book, released last May, required the skills of a professional artist.
Enter Lyn Martin, a Chattanooga artist whose works have appeared in more than 35 children's books and magazines, including the venerable Highlights for Children.
The results of their collaboration can be seen in "Pap Pap Goes to Paris, and So Does Ricky!," a story inspired by Watts' grandson's desire to accompany his grandparents on a trip to France.
The children's book, suitable for ages 3-7, was announced last week as a winner of a Georgia Independent Author of the Year Award, newly launched by the Southern Pen Bookshop in Monroe, Georgia, to recognize the state's independent and self-published authors (Watts lives in Ringgold). Awards were presented to a winner and runner-up in five categories: Children's Book, Historical Fiction, Romance, Inspirational/Memoir and Specialty Photography.
"I've won other awards for grown-up writing," Watts says, "but this is different. ... I started crying when they called me up there."
The trip to Paris actually took place, though real-life grandson Randy didn't go. Watts explains that the then-3 1/2-year-old, now 5, was infatuated by an Eiffel Tower snow globe she had in her office and wanted to travel with his grandparents to see the monument up close. Watts' husband, Stephen Spataro, evidently had the boy on his mind as they began their trip.
"When we got on the plane, he said, 'Pap Pap goes to Paris,' and I said, 'That's my next book!,'" Watts recalls.
His phrasing simply struck a chord, she says, and she knew she wanted to target a story to children Randy's age and up. During the trip, she gathered inspiration for the book by trying to imagine Paris from a child's perspective. Within its 32 pages are simple lessons about the City of Light, doled out in Ricky's and Pap Pap's encounters with everything from croissants to cobblestones.
"Ricky learns a lot of lessons," Watts says of her young protagonist. "One of the other big points is the importance of good manners. He learns how to say 'please' and 'thank you' in French right away. That's one of the lessons: Wherever you are, you must learn to say 'please' and 'thank you.'"
A glossary of French terms and pronunciation guide are included in the back of the book. The book's cover depicts Ricky gazing at the snow globe. Like the character's name change, it is intentionally not an exact likeness of Randy, but it's close enough that Randy recognized himself when he saw it.
Martin, who was introduced to Watts through a mutual Facebook friend, says she met Randy and also worked from Watts' family photographs and her snapshots of Paris to complete the illustrations.
"It helps a lot to actually meet the person," Martin says. When [a photograph] is translated into a drawing, there are things you can really miss. It's better to draw from life or at least know them to get a good likeness."
Martin says Watts mentioned a couple of plot points she hoped Martin could create visually.
"The rest she pretty much left up to me," Martin says. "I blocked out a storyboard, a layout, of the pages and just started sketching in."
She produced all the work digitally, using Clip Studio Paint software.
"In some ways, it's really good," she says of digital production. "It's easy to go in and change things. ... But I miss painting."
A self-described wordsmith, Watts says the big lesson for her was conveying the message in as few words as possible.
"The [word] limit was supposed to be 1,500, and I started out with 2,000 and had to pare back, pare back, pare back."
She learned she could eliminate some sentences, such as a description of the wind blowing their hair at the top of the Eiffel Tower, when she saw the illustration could tell that part of the story.
"There were things I thought I wanted, then I realized the picture would carry it," she says.
Contact Lisa Denton at email@example.com or 423-757-6281.
At a glance
Janie Dempsey Watts
* Grew up in the Chattanooga area, but moved to California after high school graduation.
* She holds journalism degrees from the University of California, Berekley, and the University of Southern California.
* In addition to two novels, she has written five screenplays and has been published in newspapers and magazines, including Christian Science Monitor, Guideposts and the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series.
* Website: www.janiewatts.com
* Attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga before transferring to Ringling College of Art and Design, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine art.
* Got her start in fashion illustration, but has mostly worked in children’s literature, including for such high-profile clients as Highlights for Children magazine and Golden Books.
* Her book “Animal Adventure Mazes” was published by Sterling Publishing.
* Website: www.lynmartinillustration.com