Spicy Spicy Hot Behind the Scene

Summer has never been my favorite season, but I’m super stoked that I can finally share a glimpse of behind-the-scenes from my debut author/illustrator book with you.

As you probably have seen from my social media, here is the cover reveal of Spicy Spicy Hot! It will be published by Little Brown for Young Readers in April 2023.

A glimpse of the story

Lintang is determined to embrace the spice of sambal in order to connect with her Indonesian grandmother and heritage.

How it began…

In April 2020, during the beginning of the pandemic and the first lockdown, and amidst our relocation, I created the very first draft dummy of Spicy Spicy Hot! (SSH!). It was born as a distraction and coping mechanism from all the anxiety and stress that had clumped together.

The idea for the story came from my previous obsession with spicy foods and culinary shows (though I’m over it now). I followed the advice of writing about something I was familiar with, and that’s how it all began.

Then I emailed it to Christy (my agent); I mentioned I didn’t plan to submit these to the publishers since I didn’t think they would accept any submissions during the pandemic. To my surprise, Christy got back and said SSH might have a chance to succeed!”

OK, my agent liked it, now what?

I worked closely with Christy to refine my first rough dummy. It took over a dozen revisions until we felt it was ready. Before I wrote these stories, some editors had contacted Christy, expressing interest in my work. The first editor to receive my dummy was Sam Gentry from Little Brown for Young Readers, to whom Christy submitted it in May. Initially, Sam didn’t present SSH in the acquisition meeting, as the dummy needed further refinement. This is a common process, as the editor must advocate for the author’s story to the team during the meeting. After another round of intense editing, SSH was finally given the green light to be brought into the acquisition meeting in September 2020.

The nerve-wracking acquisition meeting

I’m incredibly grateful for Christy’s remarkable patience throughout the process. I’m sure I must have driven her crazy during that time. After what felt like an eternity of nerve-wracking waiting, an email from Christy finally appeared in my inbox in October, and it simply said: “WE DID IT!”

 It just began…

After all the euphoria of getting the green light, the ‘real’ endeavor began. Sam and I collaborated on editing the manuscript once again. For the artwork, I teamed up with art director Saho Fuji and designer Angelie Yap. I was determined to explore the traditional medium (almost) entirely for the first time, but little did I know the challenges that awaited me with that decision.

First, I made digital sketches, which I then printed and traced using a light pad. Next, I painted them with a combination of gouache and colored pencils before scanning them back into Photoshop.

Before embarking on the entire process, I naively imagined that writing and illustrating my story would be smooth sailing, with no sweat involved. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. It turned out to be the most intense and challenging creative journey I’ve ever experienced, especially since I was juggling multiple projects at the time. The pressure and demands of the process eventually led to burnout, which was exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. To make matters worse, my carpal tunnel syndrome also resurfaced, further complicating the entire endeavor.

On the bright side, I felt a tad more upbeat after I wrapped up the project in November 2021. Ultimately, it felt so rewarding, and I felt grateful for the experience.

It’s not done yet…

The process was far from over yet. When the proofs arrived, Angelie and I meticulously checked and exchanged feedback back and forth. We went through four rounds of proofs before moving on to the next steps. Then came the F&G’s (Folded and Gathered) and the development of publicity plans, among other tasks.

On a slightly unrelated note, every time I see this particular photo, I can’t help but feel emotional. In that picture, my former assistant, Aiki, was diligently conducting quality control on the F&G the day before she passed away. Aiki had played a massive role in keeping me company and supporting me during the previous years, especially during my difficult times. I couldn’t have asked for a better companion.

Last but not least…

Since the book is not released yet, I can’t reveal much of the interiors. However, Spicy Spicy Hot! is now available for pre-order at various book retailers. I eagerly await the time when I can share more about this book. Thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy newsletter. I am sincerely grateful to everyone who has supported me on this incredible book-making journey.

Currently, I am working on illustrating one picture book and one early reader chapter book and writing/illustrating another.