Illustrator Tina Kugler lives in the Los Angeles area with her artist husband, three boys and an enormous hairy dog named Harryhausen.
Tina’s illustration debut is the May 2014 picture book ‘The Change Your Name Store’, written by Leanne Shirtliffe, published by Sky Pony Press.
Her picture book written and illustrated with her husband Carson Kugler, IN MARY’S GARDEN, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, arriving May 2015.
Tina spent ten years drawing storyboards in the animation industry for studios such as Walt Disney, Nickelodeon, and Warner Bros. She also owned an independent children’s bookshop, and worked in the youth department of a public library.
Before we get started, let me just commend you for naming your dog Harryhausen!
For what age audience do you write and illustrate?
Primarily picture book, but I also have an easy reader collection out for submission, as well as a funny graphic novel-ish picture book I am currently revising & polishing. I consider picture books to be for ages three to adult. Well, COOL adults.
Tell us about your latest book.
I illustrated ‘The Change Your Name Store’, coming May 2014. It is my very first book. It’s a wonderful story and great read-aloud picture book, written by the very funny Leanne Shirtliffe in rhythmic rhyme. The main character, Wilma Lee Wu, is unhappy with her name. She visits the Change Your Name Store and tries out new names in search of the perfect one. The overall theme is celebrating your own identity– positive self-image and self-acceptance.
Henry: I think some people need time to grow into their names. Hey, I spotted the Lord of the Rings character names in your artwork!
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
There is nobody as special as YOU. Embrace who you are, without trying to become someone else. Actually, that is my advice to illustrators, too.
Henry: I agree that we should embrace who we are, but I’d still like to embrace Kate Beckingsale as well. Is that wrong?
What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging?
I often find that I have a story to tell, but I don’t have the right words. I struggle with the rich but sparse language that makes a truly great picture book.
Henry: I’ve heard that some people think writing a picture book is easy. But, telling a complete and compelling story in 500 words presents very different challenges from doing so in a novel.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from creating books?
Don’t presume anyone will automatically care about your subject matter, just because you find it interesting. You need to draw them in along the path to your story.
Henry: Hmmm, I guess I’ll have to scrap my dystopian picture book idea for The Very Hungry Caterpillar Games…
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not written or illustrated books?
This is more general, but– taking something special to me, and sharing it with a wider audience. ‘In Mary’s Garden’, the picture book I wrote & illustrated with my husband Carson (HMH Kids, Spring 2015) is about Mary Nohl, a Milwaukee artist who is almost unknown outside of Wisconsin. She built huge sculptures in her yard from cement, stones, and cast-off objects. Her work and her life were absolutely fascinating to us, growing up in Milwaukee. As writers, we were able to expand her life story into a more universal story about creativity and spirit and inspiration, and share it with (hopefully) many, many children all over the country who never would have heard of her.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Don’t give up! I have been trying to get published for 13 years. Also, join SCBWI, it is a fantastic resource.
Henry: SCBWI is terrific. You are right too in that authors need both talent AND perseverance to become traditionally published.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
Yes, this is from telegrams between Mark Twain & his publisher:
Publisher: “NEED 2-PAGE SHORT STORY TWO DAYS.”
Twain’s reply: “NO CAN DO 2 PAGES TWO DAYS. CAN DO 30 PAGES 2 DAYS. NEED 30 DAYS TO DO 2 PAGES.”
Henry: And then there’s Shakespeare’s “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?
Well, I often have the three boys underfoot so I am typically yelling at them to stop fighting with each other while I am trying to write or draw. I wish I had a studio with a door. Or, I am cooking dinner and thumbnailing out notes while I am stirring something. I am usually distracted and surrounded by chaos of some kind or another. Tea or coffee helps. Is chaos a ritual? I can’t work if it’s too quiet. If you have kids, too quiet means trouble.
Henry: It sounds like you’ve learned to thrive in a chaotic environment. Sometimes the plot thickens… and so does the stew when you drop your book notes into the pot while you’re cooking dinner.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I am a horrific procrastinator, so I guess temporarily stopping time would be useful. However, I’m certain I would end up abusing it and something really bad would happen. Or the power to find lost things.
Henry: I think it is very insightful of you to realize the power to stop time would go horribly awry in the hands of a procrastinator. The power to find lost things is quite unique and useful. Well done.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
Shel Silverstein, because he made amazing hilarious books. Bill Peet, who also did wonderful books, and was a storyboard artist for Walt Disney. And Lynda Barry, because she is just the most awesome person in the universe. (Seriously, if you do not own WHAT IT IS, stop reading this and go buy it, I’ll wait here.)
Henry: Wikipedia helpfully elaborates: “Bill Peet was an American children’s book illustrator and a story writer for Disney Studios. He joined Disney in 1937 and worked first on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) near the end of its production. Progressively, his involvement in the Disney studio’s animated feature films and shorts increased, and he remained there until early in the development of The Jungle Book (1967). A row with Disney over the direction of the project led to a permanent personal break. Other feature films that Peet worked on before he left include Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940, The Pastoral Symphony sequence), Dumbo (1941), The Three Caballeros (1944), Song of the South (1946, cartoon sequences), So Dear to My Heart (1948, cartoon sequences), Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), Sleeping Beauty (1959), 101 Dalmatians (1961), and The Sword in the Stone (1963). Peet’s subsequent career was as a writer and illustrator of children’s books.”
“Lynda Barry is an American cartoonist and author. Barry is best known for her weekly comic strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek. She garnered attention with her 1988 illustrated novel The Good Times are Killing Me, about an interracial friendship between two young girls, which was made into a play. Her second illustrated novel Cruddy appeared in 1999. Three years later she published One! Hundred! Demons!, a graphic novel she terms “Autobiofictionalography”. What It Is (2008) is a graphic novel that is part memoir, part collage and part workbook in which Barry instructs her readers in methods to open up their own creativity; it won the comics industry’s 2009 Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work.”
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
Probably the house elves from Harry Potter. Man, could I use a house elf
Henry: A practical choice, although I’m thinking I’d prefer a minion from Despicable Me or a flying monkey from The Wizard of Oz.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing or illustrating?
Hmmm- I am sort of always working, in a way, collecting ideas and thinking about bits of stories and characters all the time. I like to go for walks on a trail nearby. My very favorite thing to do is go out to eat, but with the kids, we don’t get to do that too often. So, yeah, I just realized I am not very exciting.
Henry: Don’t feel badly about not being very exciting. A wise woman once said, “There is nobody as special as YOU. Embrace who you are, without trying to become someone else.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
My husband & I have a running joke, “It wasn’t much, but it was something.
Where can readers find your work?
‘The Change Your Name Store’ will be out May 6th, hopefully at your favorite independent bookshop or local library. (Say, maybe you could request it?) Otherwise, it is currently available for preorder on Amazon.com.
This interview is also posted at the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.