Mary’s Monster Timeline

This is a timeline of the milestones, research, writing, illustrating and revising activities that led to the creation of Mary’s Monster.



January, 2006

I read the novel Frankenstein and learned that the author, Mary Shelley, was only 19 years old when she wrote it. I asked myself, how could someone so young write such a powerful book? And what obstacles must she have faced to become an author, since she lived in a time when women weren’t allowed to attend university?


Miranda Seymour’s Biography

January, 2008

I read Miranda Seymour’s biography about Mary Shelley. This is an incredibly valuable historical record of Mary Shelley’s life, but it’s long and I was disappointed that it didn’t bring this amazing young woman to life.

Eventually my questions led to an obsession with Mary Shelley. On long walks in the woods I dreamt of writing my own novel about her, but I doubted my ability to do it. Up till now, I had only written picture books. I feared I could never write such an intense book.


Personal Health Setback

January, 2010

I became very ill with an auto-immune disease which quickly devolved into a crippling condition. I spent the better part of two years in bed and going through a gauntlet of medication treatments including chemotherapy. During this time, I listened to an audio version of Frankenstein again and again, and I began seeing images in my mind of Mary and her creature. My dreams of writing this book became real, though I was too sick to do anything about it.



January, 2012

I achieved small improvements in my health, but it was still a slow recovery with many setbacks. It was frustrating and painful, most of all, because I wasn’t able to create. I promised myself if I ever achieved remission and had the use of my hands, I WOULD WRITE THIS BOOK about Mary Shelley and the creation of Frankenstein!


The Shelley Circle

July, 2012

Beginning to feel better. I searched for and found a copy of Mary Shelley’s two volume journal! I also read work by Percy Bysshe Shelley, the married poet Mary ran away with when she was 16. I also read much of the poetry of Lord Byron and histories of the politics and poetry of the Romantic era – England in the early 1800’s. Also helpful, was a biography on Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley’s mother and a founder of the feminist movement.


First Research Trip to England

September, 2012
First Research Trip to England

I was well enough to travel to England to research Mary’s life. I travelled to London and Oxford. I visited the Percy Bysshe Shelley Memorial at Oxford and the Bodleian Library, where Mary’s journals and the original, hand-written version of Frankenstein are archived.


Began work on this book!

December, 2012
Began work on this book!

Notes, Research, Outlines

January, 2013
Notes, Research, Outlines

I spend the next several months taking detailed notes from Mary’s journals and from letters that I found online (For example, see this site). I read historical biographies on Percy Shelley, William Godwin, and Lord Byron. I studied the scientific events of the time.

I drew hundreds of sketches, and a dozen painted studies, while asking myself over and over HOW to create this book?!

Should it be a straight novel with a few illustrations or a graphic novel? Should the work be realistic or symbolistic? How can I capture the history about how Mary came to write her novel but also the emotional journey of her young and very sorrow-filled life? I also began creating a timeline of Mary’s life.

1797: born
1812: sent to Scotland
1814: ran away with Percy Shelley and gave birth 7 months later, 10 days later her baby dies
1816: left for Geneva, began writing Frankenstein that summer
1818: Frankenstein is published, anonymously. . .


Four Bulletin Boards

March, 2014
Four Bulletin Boards

The 4 X 8’ bulletin board in my studio is no longer enough to hold the ideas and sketches I create. I buy three more and the walls of my studio are papered in a growing storyboard for the book.

I seized on the idea that I want to write this book in free verse with a poem and an illustration on every page. Not a graphic novel, something new, something different. It felt right to me to do something I hadn’t seen before with a book. Mary invented the modern day science fiction novel with Frankenstein. I wanted to do a book that celebrated the fact that she dared to tread on new literary terrain with her book.

Began writing the first poems.


Nine Chapters

April, 2014

I decided to organize the book into nine parts to symbolize the nine months it took Mary to write Frankenstein. The significance of the length of the gestation period for her story—the same as that for an infant—was not lost on her. Mary revealed the importance of this link by making the date of the first narrative letter in the book (from Robert Walton to his sister) to coincide with the date of her own conception (as recorded in her father’s diary). The last narrative letter is written nine months later, bearing the same date as her mother’s funeral, a few days after Mary’s birth.

Mary was pregnant while she wrote Frankenstein and she gave birth shortly after finishing it. She frequently referred to her novel Frankenstein as her “offspring” or “progeny”.

I began outlining each chapter of the book and I also started getting the feel of how I wanted to create the artwork. I was a little overwhelmed by how much detail and research it would require to do such realistic figure work!


Began Down Draft

May, 2014

Most people would call it a first draft, but I prefer down draft. The idea is to get your ideas down quickly without over-thinking or self-editing. I began writing the down draft in earnest during the day. I researched visual reference by night, looking at historical reference, but also searching through thousands of slides and photos I’ve taken over the years during research trips. I was looking for reference of the period clothing, coaches, buildings, etc.


Building in Symbolism

May, 2014

I wanted the book to reflect layers of richness beyond just getting the historical elements correct. In the book, I describe how Mary Shelley stayed in the Villa Diodati in Switzerland when she began writing Frankenstein. The villa was steeped in the legacy that John Milton once stayed with this family. I researched what the villa looks like to get it historically accurate. But I also wanted to capture a sense of the mystic.

I had drawn Rodin’s depiction of Paradise Lost in his Gates of Hell.

I wanted to incorporate visual elements of those sculptures within my own illustrations to reflect the legacy Milton’s work had on Mary and Percy. The poem mentions they lived like “fallen angels” in the villa. But the illustrations deepen the impression on how his writing influenced their lives. As Mary ascends the stairwell on a stormy night, moments before inspiration lands, I depicted the marble statues at the base of the stairs as images from Paradise Lost inspired by the Rodin sculptures.

Later, when her Creature is formed, I return again to these images inspired by Paradise Lost. The figures representing all the lost souls, death, and grief that influenced Mary’s Creature are again inspired by Milton’s Paradise Lost and Rodin’s Gates of Hell.


Developing the Art

June, 2014

Often art comes before words. I usually have a mental image of the story before I find the right words, so I draw what I see in my mind. This book has around two hundred poems. In most cases I saw the image before I found the right words. Then begins the work of weaving the images and words together.

These are some sketch ideas from the chapter which I originally called Ghosts.

I later developed a poem that began,

I am an exiled girl who feels so rejected by her father,
she must create a family from ghosts.


Draft Complete

September, 2014

My first draft was complete with poems and rough sketches in place for the dummy (the dummy shows the words and the art together in a mock-up of the book). This first version had 354 pages. Eventually, by September of 2015, I would have to reduce that to 312 pages.

Normally I would never send a story to my agent on a Saturday night. But this story had become a lifeline to me as I slowly recovered from my illness. It had reawakened my creativity and made me feel whole despite the fact that I was still using a walker to walk and faced painful medical treatments. There was a lot of emotion tied up in this story. I was also terrified that she’d think I was off-the-wall crazy with the story – it was a big departure! I hit the send button, and then crumpled on the stairs, sweating, and shaking, and close to tears. I had tried to write a laid back message with my e-mail, but my awesome, kind agent must have noted the hint of panic in the tone. She opened it right away and read it.

She wrote back in a couple of hours, and she DID like it!!! We planned to meet in a couple of days to discuss it.


Focus on Mary’s Monster

October, 2014

I drove to NY three days later and met my agent for lunch to talk about the book. She was so encouraging, which was the BEST feeling. She also had suggestions of where the text needed improvement. Some of the characters in Mary’s life needed to be better described. The complicated relationship with her step sister, whom she ran away with for one, was still not working. Claire was a tough character for me to write. Mary loved her, but then Claire slept with the man Mary loved. I struggled to convey all of the complex emotions that ensued. But my agent loved the project enough to suggest I put all other projects for the next year and really focus solely on this project. My first revision began!


The Revisions Begin

October, 2014

From October 2014 to January 2015 I revised the manuscript and added more art. I polished poems, worked in more historical detail, and gave depth to all the key characters in Mary’s life.



First Readers

January, 2015

My first reader is always my husband. I trust him to give me a really honest impression of the work. He’s my biggest fan, but also my greatest critic. Once he is happy with a piece, I usually show it to a trusted friend, in this case, it was my agent. After working on the revision, I needed to show it to someone with a fresh eye. These early readers give me valuable insight into what isn’t coming across in the words and art. Sometimes I know something in my head, but it isn’t yet on paper. In this case, I showed the second draft (words and pictures) to a writer friend whom I admire immensely and who was kind enough to provide detailed comments about areas that were still not working.

Began the next revision!


Ready to Show

March, 2015

Showed it again to my agent. This time she felt it was ready to submit to an editor!
We had spent a lot of time discussing who to send it to in months leading up to this point, so we knew exactly who we wanted to send it to – Connie Hsu at Roaring Brook. She is not only brilliant, but I had read an interview where she stated that she was looking for cross genre pieces. I’ve admired the books she edited previously, and I had worked with Roaring Brook in the past. It seemed like a perfect fit for me.

Here’s what the beginning of the book looked like at this stage.


The Next Day

March, 2015

I got the call every writer dreams of! Connie loved it and wanted to take it!! But she noted it would need more revision. Yay…. Gulp!


First Discussions with Editor

April, 2015

I had my first phone call with my editor to talk about the work. It was magical. Even though I knew there was much work ahead, her enthusiasm and astute comments made me feel instantly like it was going to a beautiful partnership.


Detailed Editorial Notes

June, 2015

Received my editor’s notes and spent the next two days lying on the couch with a splitting headache, thinking, I am way over my head.

Things to consider:
Stronger setup
Details, historical facts, background, and context
Bringing Percy Shelley more to life
Show more happier moments (it was a dark book)
Develop the “falling in Love” chapter
When should the Creature emerge – currently, it was too early in the manuscript
The ending

Two days later – I told myself, “I can do this!” Initially I tried to revise existing poems then realized I needed to start from scratch. Tossed out the draft and began again. This meant about half of the sketches for the 160 spreads of art needed to change as well. So I began writing and drawing like mad – again! Felt overwhelmed and elated in equal measure nearly every day!


Revising, Revising, Revising

August, 2015
Revising, Revising, Revising

I met with Connie in person in NY which was thrilling, because her enthusiasm and encouragement was a wellspring for me. Something magical happens when you sit down to talk with her. You feel as if you are suddenly smarter and know you can write, because she instils this faith in you. And she just makes sitting in the room talking about the book and all the work that is ahead, seem like a whole lot of fun.

Endless revising. Revising the poems. Revising the sketches. This stage was difficult, but now my editor, Connie, was at my side. If I got stuck she was always there for me. Usually we’d begin talking on the phone, and I would feel as if my chest was tight and I didn’t know what needed to happen next in the story. Then Connie would start asking me questions about how Mary felt about something, or what did she do in this situation, and then memories would leap to my mind because of all the time I had spent buried in her journals, and by the end of the phone call I was bursting to start writing again. (Thanks Connie!)

As the manuscript got tighter, it was also time to really get the sketches nailed down to go with the poems.

I began painting studies of how I wanted the final art to look. This art would be like nothing I had created before, I needed new ways of working. Explored medium choices – paint?, ink?, digital? all of the above? How do I make digital brushes? All the while gathering more historical reference. My husband and I both posed as characters for photo reference so I could refine and improve the sketches.


A Major Revision

October, 2015

I turned in a major revision. The book really feels like it is taking shape. I think it’s the homestretch and am looking forward to finally getting to painting the art soon!

Here’s what the beginning of the book looked like at this stage.


Models, Props, Clothes

January, 2016
Models, Props, Clothes

Hired models to pose for Mary, and other characters in the story. My husband grew out his hair about so that he could pose as Shelley and the creature. Gathered props and clothes and held photo shoots with the models.

More notes from my editor, and now my art director as well. More revision of art and poems. But it feels more like refining the story rather than the big changes before. It’s getting there!


Art Approval!

April, 2016

Great news – the day I had dreamed of for 4 long years had finally arrived! I had approval to start painting final art. The bad news – I only had 9 months to paint 161 paintings.


Painting Day and Night

July, 2016

Painting day and night. Not much sleep, but always tons of support from my awesome agent, editor, and husband who rooted me on every step of the way.


Copyediting 🙁

September, 2016

Revision notes on poems still trickling in. More work on the text needed while trying to get finished art done on time.


Cover Ideas

October, 2016

The cover is the most complicated piece of art in the book. In one painting you have to show what the book is about, while also grabbing people’s attention. I often do dozens of sketches, trying to find the right image. Here’s an early sketch from 2014.

And here’s an early concept painting from way back in April 2014.

These eventually developed into the artwork I proposed for the cover.

Finally I changed the creature to be more consistent with how he looks in all the interior illustrations. And then we decided to add a little bit of color to Mary.


First Test Prints

November, 2016

I sent in a few pieces of final art so we could begin searching for the right paper for the book. The challenge is that this book requires a lot of dark ink bleeds! How can we get something crisp and beautiful without the book weighing a ton and have the ink not bleed through the paper?

The production team at Roaring Brook starts running test prints on paper samples. We have white papers and cream colored papers. None of us want to use glossy paper.

Unfortunately, I hated the first test proofs. All the darks are getting lost, so we try again. (Little did I know what a lengthy process this would be. . .)


Final Art

December, 2016

A few months before the date I was to turn in art, my editor announced she was pregnant. That’s right! Just like Mary, who delivered a baby girl right after she finished her book, a new life was due right after I was to deliver this one. Kind of exciting! I worked as fast as I could to finish final art because I really wanted to have it in before my editor left on maternity leave. Just before Christmas it was done! Now what do I do? I’d worked on this project for so long and so hard, you’d think I would have been excited, but instead I was really missing the work. And wondering what I would do next. Little did I know how much still lay ahead.


Baby Bea!

January, 2017

My editor and I both feel the force of Mary in our lives by now! Mary gave birth a couple of weeks after finishing Frankenstein and my editor gave birth to her daughter, just after I finished Mary’s Monster. WOW!! Pretty cool. Welcome to the world Beatrix!! (She coincidently has the same name as my parrot – also cool.)


First Pass PDF of Layout and Blurbs

January, 2017

My art director sent me the first pass of art and text together in a large pdf file. I made a few more changes to art where I noticed the text needed more room or needed to be darkened or lightened behind the text.

My editor would be away for a few months, so she asked me to gather blurbs. YIKES! This is where I turned into a tongued-tied, trembling, inarticulate fan girl, asking people I admire immensely if they would be willing to read the book, and if they liked it – blurb it. HUGE thanks to Karen Hesse, Laura Ruby, Gregory Maguire, Julie Berry, Tui Sutherland, and Kristin Cashore!!!!!!


Second Pass, Third Pass, More Test Proofs

February, 2017

I received the second pass design from the art director. I reviewed the digital pass, looking for typos and little details that needed to be changed. Ack! I misspelled the name Wollstonecraft (Mary’s mother’s name) on the grave marker. This was in art, not text, so I had to fix the painting. Soon after that the third pass arrived. Ack again! I misspelled Shelley’s name on her own gravestone. Why didn’t any of us see this in any of the revisions and passes?! My painting brain and spelling brain don’t work well together. I changed that painting and sent it to my patient art director.

The second set of test proofs came in the mail and I still hated them. They look more like newspaper because the blacks are so weak– this is getting frustrating. . .


Back to England!

March, 2017

We travelled back to England to film at the Bodleian library in Oxford. I wanted to capture the research I had done on the previous trip for a video to share with classrooms. Dr. Bruce Barker Benfield was kind enough to allow us to film while examining Mary’s journals, letters and the rough draft of Frankenstein. It is breathtaking to look at the actual documents!

The video below first shows Mary and Percy’s elopement journal, and Dr. Benfield is reading the part where Percy Shelley is waiting in the carriage for Mary to arrive after she has run away from home. Then he reads a famous section from the first draft of Frankenstein.

I also visited my English publisher at the Carmelite House in London.


Advanced Reader Copies Arrive

May, 2017

The galleys arrived! But after taking a hard look at the advanced reader copy, my editor and I felt the text needed redesigning with a new font and new layout. Also, due to the thickness of the book, some of the key elements to the art were falling in the gutter, so I needed to digitally adjust several pieces. Back to work.


Italian Version of Mary’s Monster

May, 2017

After my agent showed Mary’s Monster at the Bologna Book Fair, I received an offer from an Italian publisher along with this wonderful letter:

Hello, I am delighted to meet you!
First of all, let me say how thrilled we all are at Il Castoro to be able to publish your brilliant MARY’S MONSTER in Italian. We now know that the ‘courageous, rebellious, brilliant teenage girl who faced terrible obstacles and searing heartache’ has a biographer and illustrator who shares all her qualities! Moreover, our readers will be delighted to learn that you are an eagle lover, a paleontologist and that you are passionate about Italy.

A Whole New Design

June, 2017

I received three more passes of the new design to decide which font treatment we liked the best. Some art needed to be adjusted again because the new font took up more room in the design and was covering art. This is so much more work than a picture book! Also more test prints arrive – now I was starting to feel worried. We aren’t getting the darks we need to make the art pop. My editor promises though – we are going to get this right. She is really having to go to the mat, working with the production team to get the ink and paper working. Once again, feeling thankful to be working with someone who cares so much about this book!


Mary’s Monster is Announced in Publishers Weekly

July, 2017

Finally. After five years of work, we are ready to announce the book.


Wren & Rook

July, 2017

Back in 2015, Mary’s Monster went to auction with six different publishers in England. We chose Wren & Rook (@wrenandrookbook), which is an imprint of Hachette.

Here’s the cover from Wren & Rook.

And it made a top ten Non Fiction must read list! Here’s what they said:  Part biography, part fantasy, and part feminist allegory, this book is very different to the others listed here, and I couldn’t put it down!


Final Design

September, 2017

I received the final design of the book for last chance proof reading. I read every word. I scrutinized every picture. Are we done? Unfortunately no – we still need to get the test prints working. Meetings with my publisher, art director, editor and production team to discuss how to get the quality we want, but have yet to achieve.

I also received the final pass of book jacket too.


Test Proofs, Mission Accomplished!

October, 2017

At last!!! A beautiful set of test proofs arrived. My editor and I were doing a major happy dance! The paper is perfect, the ink is perfect, the details look beautiful! I spend hours swooning over the proofs, ecstatic and relieved. Whew! That was harder than we thought possible.


To be Continued. . .

January, 2018

Mary’s Monster is released January 2018 on the 200 year anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein!


It’s Launched

February, 2018

We had a book launch party at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts! Such an amazing crowd of supporters. Mackenzie Lee steered the conversation so brilliantly. I loved sharing our mutual passion for Mary Shelley with everyone! It really was the best book launch party I could have imagined! Thanks to Ali Benjamin, Jackie Davies, Molly Burnham, Leslie Connor and Grace Lin. And thanks to Porter Square Books!