Questions for Terri Libenson, author and illustrator of Truly Tyler
What came first in your writing career – the images or the words?
The words came first. I began writing my first book, INVISIBLE EMMIE, in a stream of consciousness way. When images came to mind, I added them later. These days, I still write first, but I tend to add quick. rough illustrations as I go.
How, or maybe why, did you make the (sideways) step into graphic novels?
A cartoonist friend who writes illustrated middle grade novels encouraged me to write my own. I wasn’t sure if I could, but I was curious to try. So, I challenged myself and found that I really loved it. For me, it’s a natural, long-form extension of cartooning.
Where did the inspiration for Tyler come from?
Tyler was an established character from INVISIBLE EMMIE. He was Emmie’s crush. I wanted him to be both nice and popular, as well as someone who could become Emmie’s friend. He was inspired by all the sweet, funny, laid-back boys I’ve known.
How did you make sure that Tyler, as a character was different yet relatable?
It was tough. In my first attempt, Tyler wasn’t as likable. I tried several drafts before he finally became a balance of “cool/popular” and “relatable.” I also consider him charmingly flawed. Character development is always the hardest part for me, but when it comes together, it’s so rewarding.
Why did you pick the character of Tyler from the ‘Emmie’ series to have stories of his own?
First and foremost, I really wanted to write about a boy for a change. I also enjoy taking background characters and fleshing them out. I’ve been meaning to expand on Tyler’s friendship with Emmie, so Tyler seemed like a great choice. I hope to write about another boy in the series down the road.
Do you think that boys voices are underrepresented in middle grade fiction?
In my experience of reading graphic or illustrated novels, I think there’s a pretty good balance. Outside of that, I’m not sure.
You are familiar with making people laugh, do you have a test audience?
I have a small test audience: my husband, a few family members and friends, and my editor. My younger daughter used to help me out, but once she hit high school, she lost interest. I’ve been writing humorous stuff for so long, though, I think I have a pretty good grasp on it. Also, I have the sense of humor of a 12-year-old.
How did you decide which themes to address?
I tend to draw on universal middle school issues, although many details stem from either personal experience or from my daughters’ experiences. For example, in INVISIBLE EMMIE, the “note” incident was based on something similar that happened to me in fifth grade. In JUST JAIME, the character Jaime is excluded from her friend group, much like my daughter’s eighth grade experience (she’s fine now!). With TRULY TYLER, it’s about navigating all those age-old familiar social anxieties as well as figuring out where you belong.
As the author-illustrator how much say do you have in the layout of the book and the stunning colour palette?
I do all the artwork, but my art director expertly handles the layout of the interior and covers. She and my editor select the cover color (with my approval). I do have final say over the layout. I’ve been so fortunate to have such a great team!
Will there be more to come for Tyler or will we be seeing another charter take centre stage next?
There will be two different main characters for the next book, but after that…we’ll see! For future books, it may depend on the story. Sometimes I chose the theme or story first and select the character(s) who best fits that. Other times, I choose the character(s) first and build a story around them. The surprise is the fun of it!