Student Success Stories: Marla Lesage (with a Giveaway)

I've been getting emails from illustrators who want to know more about finding publishers for their work, so I'm sharing a rather unique author/illustrator success story. There isn't one way to get published. There are tried and true paths that have worked for a lot of people, but then there are stories like Marla's.

I'm also giving away a copy of her debut picture book, Pirate Year Round, at the end of this post.

Myrna: Thank you for joining us, Marla! What is your background?

Marla: I’m a Registered Nurse, a mother to two, and a military spouse. 

Myrna: That's awesome! What made you want to start writing and illustrating picture books?

Marla: I was reading a lot with my kids and had a lot more free time than I was used to. We’d just moved, I’d finished my Masters in Nursing, and I was unemployed. One day I finished reading a picture book and thought—hey I could do this. I’ve always enjoyed writing and drawing, so I started doing both right away.

Myrna: How long have you been writing? 

Marla: I started writing and illustrating picture books in 2014. I had been writing songs for about a year or so before that. And I used to write poetry back in high school!

Myrna: I wrote poetry in high school too! Have there been any writing or illustrating communities who’ve helped you along your path?

Marla: SCBWI has been my main community, along with groups like Storyteller Academy, KidLit411, and Sub It Club. And I can’t forget to mention communities that develop during online events like Susanna Hill’s contests, RhyPiBoMo*, Nerdy Chicks Write Summer School*, the former 52 Week Illustration Challenge community, and courses from the Society of Visual Storytelling and Mark Mitchell, which both provide a community. Of course, my critique partners/groups deserve special recognition too!

In summary – find your community & make connections! It will help you learn and grow as a writer &/ illustrator.

*No longer offered but Angie Karcher still offers rhyming classes.

Myrna: Have you ever felt frustrated by trying to get a picture book right?

Marla: Not for long—sometimes I might get a bit frustrated after getting a critique that suggests I revise again. But if it makes sense, I dig back into revisions as soon as I’m ready. I’m very stubborn. 

Myrna: When and why did you take Arree Chung’s Making Picture Book Stories and Dummies? (This class has since been split into two classes: Crafting Picture Book Stories and Making Picture Book Dummies.)

Marla: I took Arree’s course back in 2017 after NOT being selected for Writing with the Stars. I’d decided that a mentorship with the right person could really help me level up my writing. I heard about Arree’s course and was already familiar with his work. I decided that if I signed up for the course and a critique group led by Arree, it would be a mentorship of sorts. I really liked that Arree is an author/illustrator like me.

Myrna: How did taking Arree's class change the way you write picture books?

Marla: Before Arree’s course, it took me forever to complete a dummy. It was painful. During the course I changed my approach to making dummies in that I started using doodles and dummies to help sort out my stories. Arree gave us permission to start very rough & small. That was a game changer for me. I’ve always loved working small—I’m very comfortable there! Now I make multiple dummies as a revision and writing tool, rather than just for submission.

Myrna: Could you tell us about your recent book deal?

Marla: A postcard I’d sent out caught the eye of my publisher, Terrilee Bulger at Acorn Press. When she went online to check out my portfolio, she spotted Pirate and two Pirate stories on my website. I hadn’t thought about submitting this particular story because I’d written it for Susanna Hill’s contest. Terrilee contacted me about illustrating a story and expressed interest in the pirate stories. The original offer had been postponed, and she asked if I’d like to publish Pirate instead. We decided to put both stories in one book, along with two others that I hadn’t written yet. I had no dummy but several sample spot illustrations for each story. 

Here's the original Pirate from Marla's portfolio with the updated version on the right.

Myrna: So cute! Do you have any advice that might help our blog readers find satisfaction or joy in writing picture books?

Marla: One of the most magical parts of writing for children is connecting with readers. You don’t need to wait until you’re published to connect. I’m lucky that I have kids at home who enjoy hearing my stories—even those early drafts. I’ve also visited their classrooms and found other ways to connect with readers. If you don’t have kids in your life, find them. Or find adults who are young at heart! Sharing with critique partners can be very satisfying too—especially when they help you get the kinks out of your story and when you get to read amazing not-yet-published stories. 

Pirate and Cat

Myrna: Yep! What’s next for you?

Marla: More books! Nothing under contract yet, but soon I hope! I always have several WIPs on the go.

Myrna: Thank you so much for sharing your story with us! Where can we find you on the Internet?

Marla:  

Book Giveaway Details

I’m giving away a copy of Marla's Pirate Year Round. To enter, let me know in the comments if you've ever entered a writing contest by midnight on August 28. You don’t have to buy anything or be a student. 

Please share this post on social media for extra entries, and paste the link to wherever you shared as a reply to your original comment.

Thank you for reading!

Blog Contributors

Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems. 

Arree Chung is an author/illustrator and the founder of Storyteller Academy. Arree’s Ninja! series has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Kirkus also gave a starred review to Mixed, which recently won the FCGB award. 

Today Arree lives a creative life, making stories for children. Arree spends most of his time making picture books, writing middle grade novels, and sharing his love for art, design, and storytelling with kids and dreamers everywhere.

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16 thoughts on “Student Success Stories: Marla Lesage”

  1. Well done Marla! On the question, yes I have entered writing competitions, but my efforts were so bad I’m too embarrassed to talk about them. 😂

  2. Hi Marla,
    I always enjoy reading about your success. Once again, thanks for the critique you gave me on one of my stories.
    I look forward to reading more stories from you.

    Have a fine summer,

    1. What a fun story of how you got published, Marla. So exciting to see a new pirate story just in time for “Talk like a pirate day.”

      I love Susanna Hill’s writing contests. I won two honorable mentions last year and then 7th place in the Spring Fling Writing Contest put on by Kaitlyn Sanchez and Ciara O’Neal. Vivian Kirkfield really makes it challenging with 50 little words.

      I love how they focus your writing and push you to really think about how to use the best words to get the most impact.

  3. Yes, I entered Halloweenie and another. Also, this past year set aside a pirate related story. Some of my critique group did not feel there was room for more pirate stories, but your proof. If it’s a good story, there is room for it. Plus pirates are awesome metaphor for facing challenges, daring to venture forth! Congratulations!

  4. Marla, I would love to read your book about a girl pirate. My brother and sister-in-law are writing an opera about women pirates – so I suddenly find myself “tuning in” to pirate themes! The only writing contests I have entered were things like “First Pages” at SCBWI conferences.

  5. I’ve never entered a writing contest but may soon. I’d love to get a free copy of her book. I’ve taught multiple elementary school grades for the past five years, am the former president and current member of the Orange County Puppetry Guild and created Naples Walking Tours in Long Beach, California.

  6. Hi. Yes, I have entered writing contests, mainly with SCBWI . I’ve also entered photography contests. My husband and I write together and we actually won a newspaper comedy writing contest. Thanks for doing the blog interview and helping to pass along information to all of us writers out here.

  7. Charlice Culvert

    Yes, I have entered and won the Connecticut Tassy Walden award in author/illustrator category. I agree that until I started to use Arree’s technique of small sketches, producing a dummy was excruciating and time consuming.

    1. Wow, wonderful testimony Marla. Thank you Myrna for sharing this post, it makes the tedious and sometimes ambiguous work of getting published seem possible. I have entered a few writing contests, but have not been successful winningnone yet. I will be taking one of Arree’s courses in tye very near future.

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