It’s almost summer! Get ready to take a dip!

A dip in the debut waters, that is! I’ve been following Kaz Windness for years now and I have long admired her quirky artwork. So when she emailed me about her first picture book, you know I had to jump right in!

Kaz, you know I love to talk about picture book ideas—where did this one come from?

The idea for SWIM, JIM! came from the news.

A man in Key Largo, Florida saw a crocodile crossing a canal floating on top of a pool noodle and snapped a picture.

I saw the photo and drew a picture of my version of that crocodile. When I showed the drawing to my agent, he said there was a story there and encouraged me to write the book.

I failed swimming lessons as a child and know what it’s like to be afraid of the water. In fact, I still need floaties in the pool, so Jim and I have a lot in common. It took me a couple of weeks to work out the story and a few more to draw the dummy book, and then we were out on submission!

OMG! I love getting ideas from “weird news”!

Since I’m just an author, I’ve always been curious if when an author-illustrator comes up with ideas for stories, do you limit yourself by what you think you can illustrate?

I limit myself by what I want to illustrate, not by what I think I can illustrate. I don’t mind a challenge and will figure out a way to draw something if it’s part of my brief. I am definitely a character-driven artist and storyteller, so if you give me a good character, I am happy to provide that character with whatever they need. Usually, my environments are more implied more than highly rendered, but I have a lot of tools in my toolbox to get around complicated illustrations.

And those tools include pool tubes! (Say that 10 times fast!)

Now Kaz, a little croc told me you had a traumatic swimming experience as a child…?

My swimming teachers threw me off the high dive when I was 4. My mom pulled me from swim lessons that same day. On reflection, those swimming teachers were probably mid-teens, but it did wreck me for swimming. I like the water, but I don’t swim.

I have a traumatic swim story, too! I took lessons at the local YMCA and at the end of the class, we had to paddle across the length of the pool with a kick board. For some reason, 3-year-old me thought I didn’t need no stinkin’ kick board, so I pushed it away. I can still see it skipping across the water. Then I don’t remember anything until I was grabbing my mother’s leg by the side of the pool.

OK, so are you therefore Jim in this book?

Yes! SWIM JIM is autobiographical! As are all my books in some way. Even “If UR Stabby” is all about my edgy introvert side that just wants to be left alone with my dog and listen to podcasts and write children’s books. Not all unicorns are rainbows and kittens, you know!

Next year, I have a new book called BITSY BAT, SCHOOL STAR, created by the same team and imprint that brought you SWIM JIM! Bitsy talks about my experiences of trying to fit in as an autistic kid. Bitsy Bat finds herself at a school for nocturnal animals and as hard as she tries to do things like everyone else, she can’t be anyone except her true self.

You have quite a few books coming out in the next few years! What advice do you have for PB creators hoping to do the same?

Be ready! My picture book break was a long time coming (20 years!), but once you have a relationship with an editor, they’ll ask you what else you’re working on and even recommend you to other editors. Having some WIPs on hand is a big plus. I keep a Google document called “Random Book Ideas” and sometimes the random ideas become books. I also strongly recommend having a critique group. My work is a million times better because I receive regular feedback. My critique mates are also friends that understand the bumpy journey that is publishing. We lift each other up through the lows, celebrate the highs, and buy each other tacos and art supplies just because.

SWIM, JIM! was on submission for a year and received 50 rejections before going into the auction, so the whole “don’t give up” advice is something I stand by. Being tenacious pays off in publishing, and if you can enjoy the journey in the meantime, all the better.

We had our SWIM, JIM! launch party at The Wandering Jellyfish on Saturday, and seeing the way kids responded with laughter, sympathy, and curiosity—and even dressed up like the character? It made all those years of hard work worth it!

Kaz, so your debut picture book IS autobiographical! It’s all about your publishing journey! You just kept getting back in that water! 

Thank you so much for sharing SWIM, JIM! with us!

Blog readers, Kaz is giving away a whole kit and caboodle of swim noodle swag! Just enter via this Rafflecopter!

Kazgratulations, again Kaz! (I know, I’m corny.)

Kaz Windness is an autistic author-illustrator specializing in inclusive stories featuring cute and quirky animals for younger children and spooky and edgy humor for older kids and teens.

Kaz studied children’s book illustration at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design (RMCAD) where she was a valedictorian graduate in 2002. Kaz volunteered as the SCBWI Rocky Mountain Chapter Illustrator Coordinator from 2009-2021 and continues to mentor and advocate for illustrators. She is passionate about helping artists succeed and believes education is key. She is a professor of illustration and curriculum author at RMCAD (2013-present).

Kaz is obsessed with squishy-faced dogs, waffles, thrifting, and all things spooky and witchy-woo-woo. She loves working in watercolor, gouache, acrylic, collage, and pencil, but mostly Photoshop. There’s not much she won’t turn into an art supply. 

Kaz lives in Colorado with her English teacher husband, two children, and a bunny-obsessed Boston Terrier named Remy. Visit her at