New York Times bestselling author and illustrator, Tony DiTerlizzi, has been creating books for over a decade. From his fanciful picture books like Jimmy Zangwow’s Out-of-this-World Moon Pie Adventure, Ted and The Spider & The Fly (a Caldecott Honor book), to chapter books like Kenny and The Dragon and the WondLa trilogy, Tony always imbues his stories with a rich imagination. With Holly Black, he created the middle-grade series, The Spiderwick Chronicles, which has sold millions of copies, been adapted into a feature film, and has been translated in over thirty countries. In 2014, he teamed up with Lucasfilm to retell the original Star Wars trilogy in a picture book featuring artwork by Academy award-winning concept artist, Ralph McQuarrie.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
The most challenging and exciting aspect is the outline and formation of the plot points. This is the stage where the notion of the story begins to take shape and I can see glimpses of what is to come. Glimpses that are viewed by fresh and excited eyes, not the weary eyes that see the final, copyedited manuscript born of that outline.
My outlines can be 10-20 pages in length and focus primarily on the physical active plot over the emotional plot. For me, this is essential, especially in a complicated story like the WondLa books. In those, I have to be aware of many characters, each with their individual goals. I’ve often likened it to one of those crazy mathematical equations that takes an entire chalkboard to solve. But once it is worked out, you’ve got a story road map to follow…or veer from.
Henry: So, you clearly fall on the “plotter” side of the question, plotter or seat of the pantser. I’m the same. I don’t see how a novelist can make the elaborate tapestry of their manuscript work without being a plotter.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Keep reading and keep writing. Also, you have to be brave enough to share your writing with others and be willing to receive their feedback (your parents/spouse/children don’t count). I want my stories to be understood and enjoyed by anyone, so I need “beta-readers” who will tell me when the plot is working or not working, and when my writing is concise or vague.
Before I share my first draft with my trusty beta-readers, I often revert back to the twenty-something Tony who wrote bad-metered, sappy poetry for a potential art school girlfriend. But I shake it off. Though this is something that’s come from deep within me, I have to be willing to receive and consider feedback – whether it is good or bad.
Henry: There was an author named Tony,
Who thought his rhyme sounded phony.
He halted, self-criticized,
Until he then realized,
That such thoughts are just baloney.
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
I listen to music all the time, except when I write. For that, I need silence. Music, even instrumental compositions, distract and divert my imagination stream. So it is long days, day after day, of quiet solitude while I work out the various drafts. And this can take up some serious time – the WondLa books each took about 6 months to write. That’s a lot of quiet time.
Henry: Superman’s fortress of solitude is making a lot more sense now.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
My superpower would be to take fantastic visions swirling about in my imagination and share them with others through words and pictures. And I have been working diligently my entire life to perfect that superpower.
Henry: Indeed you have. Well played, sir. Well played.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
My dream wish would be to have tea (or coffee, or drinks) with Lewis Carrol, Sir James Barrie and L. Frank Baum. I wouldn’t say a word. I’d just watch, listen and take notes.
Henry: Nice choices. For those few who didn’t know, L. Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz, James Barrie wrote Peter Pan, and Lewis Carroll wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. OMG, is WondLa from Wonderland!?
I had the pleasure of meeting Tony at a Los Angeles SCBWI conference.
This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.