What is it like both writing and illustrating books? That sounds like quite a challenge.
Actually it is not a challenge, because normally when I listen for my next project (and that is how I work primarily, by listening for what seems to be the right idea), the art and the words come pretty closely tied together. I suppose it’s the same as it must be for some fortunate people who are bilingual. They can easily switch between two languages in expressing one idea. So for me, whether picture or word, both work to bring the same idea to fruition so others can share it. And since I consider myself a person who listens for ideas that really belong to us all, I think when I commit the words and art to paper, people like reading and seeing that combination because it is already familiar to them.
Do you have a background in art or writing—or both?
I have written and drawn all my life. It is what I would do for free if I weren’t making a living doing it. And for a considerable period, that is exactly what I did do: work for free!!
What’s a typical work day like for you?
I normally work from about ten–thirty until four o’clock, and I work on projects as I receive them. I hate having deadlines hanging over me, so generally I am like a dog with a bone until I get the work completed—and almost always in advance of its due date. Often I combine art and words from my greeting card line and find ways to expand some of the better ideas into book form.
Describe your ideal non–work day. What would you do, where would you be, and who would be with you?
My non–work day.... Well, I have to say that I do stop by my office almost seven days a week. Work for me is not really work at all. It’s like living a blessing, and I am always slightly—slightly—disappointed when Friday rolls around and always happy when Sunday evening is upon me and only a good night’s sleep separates me from going into work the following day. And I have two wonderful employees who make work even better. I do love to work in my garden, or read while my Newfie Ben munches on something or other beside me. I have three grown children, their significant others, and six grandchildren, too. My mom and sister live near, and my brother is in Washington State. So if it involves my family, my work, my house and friends, or dog Ben, it is pretty much the ideal day.
How many books have you written or illustrated, and which are your favorites? What other types of projects do you work on?
I have written quite a few other books. Two of my favorites are My Heart Purse (Harper Collins) and Merry Christmas With Love (Thomas Nelson.) However, I have to say that the Sticky Notes book is a dream come true. And I would say that even if this were an interview with the folks who did not publish it. My greeting cards are my primary love, and after so many years I still consider each one a little paper child of mine. I never make a card I would not send out myself. There is always such a need in this world to tell someone they matter, and that is why I do what I do.
We all love your “sticky notes.” How did you come up with the ideas for the “If God Used Sticky Notes” books?
I was driving in my car and sitting at a stoplight on a particularly difficult day. As I waited for the light to turn green, a little slip of paper came wafting down from a window two stories above the street, and I thought to myself how wonderful it would be if that note were for me. Maybe God sending me a personal note to help me in my decision making. And then the idea popped into my head.
Where do you find your inspiration for the charming characters you create?
My little characters live in my head. I think that is why it always feels crowded in there! They just come out as a simply distilled version of a little kid or animal—not too fancy, not even necessarily that good. But I think these characters, along with each carefully selected word, marry nicely to convey the thought I strive to communicate.
Your books always have such uplifting, encouraging messages. Are you naturally a “glass half–full” kind of person?
I am an eternal optimist. I think as long as I live in God’s hands there is nothing that can go irreparably wrong. So I stay right there in His palm, and mine is a life that is full of hope and blessing. I could not complain.
Where did you get your optimistic spirit?
I got my optimistic spirit undoubtedly from my father, Bill Givens. He was orphaned at the age of two, and as he lived to be in his eighties would frequently say that the only reason he was still here was that the angels had not yet finished his wings. (He got his wings in 2002.) He was my absolute idol, a man who had more reasons to grieve and be discouraged as a boy than anyone I have ever met, and yet he grew up to be the most joyful, positive, and inspiring man I have ever known. When we were little and ever complained, all he would say was, “I cried because I had no shoes ’til I met a man who had no feet.” Optimism was a way of life in my growing up years. My dad was my template for who I wanted to become.
It sounds like your dad taught you some very important lessons.
Yes, he did. One thing he taught me that has stayed with me forever is regarding believing in yourself. My first day at the Los Angeles Gift Show with my then hand colored cards was a nightmare. I had paid a huge sum of money to have my cards displayed, and I spent much time listening to people’s comments about my cards. I had a card that read:
“I know what I’d like to say to God about you.....O thank you, thank you!!”
Well, a woman came up to me and said she worked for some large store or other and that she had a suggestion for me since I was new to the industry. She said, “Take the word ‘God’ out of your card. It will never sell to the mainstream audience.” I was staying with my mom and dad near Los Angeles for the show, and when my dad came home from work that evening, he found me busily drawing and asked me what I was doing. “I'm changing this card,” I told him. “A woman at the show told me it would never sell, so I am taking God out of it.” He sat down and said, “That is a really, really, really good idea. Because she probably knows better than you what you meant to write and draw. And then tomorrow when you return to the show and someone else tells you they think the little cupcake should be a pie and you should use some other words, you can change it again. And then by the end of the week, you won’t even recognize your own work any longer, now will you?” Then, patting me on the shoulder he said, “Believe in yourself, dearie. Because if you don’t, neither will anyone else.” I kept that card in my line, and for all these years it has been one of the best sellers I have ever had. It still sells and sells— God, cupcake, and all.
What is one thing you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
One day, a woman wrote to tell me that, because of the message my cards conveyed, she thought they were appropriate to send to the folks who survived the Virginia Tech. tragedy. On that day, I believe I accomplished all I could possibly desire.
Reprinted with permission from Harvest House Publishers.