Dan Santat has published over 50 books for children (three of which he has authored). He worked in the video game industry, had his own Disney cartoon show (The Replacements), and turned down a job from Google. He recently won the prestigious Caldecott Award.
For what age audience do you write/illustrate?
My writing is varies from pre-school all the way up to middle grade (and possibly a future YA). I, so far, have written mostly picture books and graphic novels.
Tell us about your latest book.
THE ADVENTURES OF BEEKLE; THE UNIMAGINARY FRIEND is a story about an imaginary friend who hasn’t been imagined yet and goes on a journey to find his child.
Henry: Something tells me that book will do well…
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I hope kids realize that there is always someone out there for them and sometimes it’s just a matter of going out and meeting that person.
Henry: For example, I introduced myself to Dan at a SCBWI conference.
What aspect of writing (or illustrating) do you find most challenging?
The pacing of a story is challenging, especially in picture books. When you have a finite number of pages you have to be very economical about your narration. When you find yourself needing more room to flesh out a character, sometimes it will take away from an impactful moment that needs space to build up to that scene. It’s a constant juggle.
Henry: So true. Picture books are a dramatically different art form than novels.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer/illustrator?
You can write things you love and are proud of, but your range of audience can be short. It’s all subjective, and in the end you do it for yourself.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer/illustrator?
Seeing someone dress up as one of your characters is an amazing feeling. To know that you made that big of an impact on a person is phenomenal.
Henry: And, in some cases, may require a restraining order…
What advice would you give to aspiring authors/illustrators?
Be EXTREMELY critical of your own work. Don’t blame others for not understanding what you’re trying to do or not wanting to give you work. A lot of folks seem to hit a wall and think it’s as good as they can be. You need to look past that and always strive to be better because regardless of any level you are in your career you always can improve.
Henry: The continuous improvement mindset (Kaizen) is fundamental to Toyota’s success as a car manufacturing. And you’ve applied it to KitLit. Well played, sir.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
“A ship is safest in the harbor, but that is not what ships were built for.” – John Shedd
Henry: Nice. I like the related: “A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.”
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write/illustrate?
Strange? I know my lips pout when I’m extremely focused on my work (I noticed that my father would do that too), but that’s pretty much it.
Henry: Hmmm, Santat tries to look sexy while working…
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I wish I could fly so I wouldn’t have to go through TSA screenings anymore. I’d save a mint on airfare, too. I would probably travel more as a result. Avoid flight delays, etc.
Henry: Flying would be awesome, although if you stop to analyze it, there are some downsides to that superpower. For details, see my mock interview with Edna Mode (from The Incredibles).
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
David Sedaris, Tina Fey, and Ernest Hemingway. I feel like that would be a concoction for a really interesting evening of discussion and I could just sit back and listen.
Henry: Nice, although Hemingway would empty your liquor cabinet.
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
A Chinese Dragon – they seem to be the smart lucky ones. The other type of dragons, the Europeans ones, are apparently jerks.
Henry: Dragon lovers should check out HIS MAJESTY’S DRAGON by Naomi Novik.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing/illustrating?
I’ll play a video game or cook. I’ve really grown fond of cooking lately.
Henry: I’m really fond of eating. You complete me.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
He was overworked.
Henry: Mission accomplished.
This interview also appears on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner
Me with Dan Santat at the 2014 Los Angeles SCBWI Conference.