Terry Fan received his formal art training at Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto, Canada. His work is a blend of traditional and contemporary techniques, using ink or graphite mixed with digital. He spends his days (and nights) creating magical paintings, portraits, and prints. Born in Illinois, he now lives in Toronto.
For what age audience do you write?
Our books are listed for “young readers”, but I’d like to think that any age group could enjoy our books.
Henry: Please note: when Terry uses first-person plural, he is not employing the “royal we”. He collaborates with his brother Eric.
Tell us about your latest book.
Our latest book is entitled THE DARKEST DARK, in collaboration with Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield and co-writer Kate Fillion. It’s a very cool story inspired by real-life events that happened during his childhood. In picture book form, it recounts what how he overcomes his childhood fear of the dark and goes on to become an astronaut.
Henry: Teaching kids to reach for the stars. Literally and literarily. Well played, sir.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
That everyone started from somewhere, and that it took conquering his fears to accomplish all the incredible things that he has. Hopefully it will inspire children to face their own fears, knowing that even future astronauts can be afraid of the dark. I’ll quote a lovely passage (written by Chris Hadfield for the epilogue of the book) that encapsulates what the whole book is about: “The dark is for dreams —- and morning is for making them come true.”
Henry: Speaking of quotes about the dark, I always liked “Character is who you are in the dark.” Bonus points for anyone who can name the movie in which that was uttered.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
To be honest I find all of it challenging, it’s difficult to pick one aspect. However when it comes specifically to picture books, there often has to be a strict economy of words because it’s such a compressed format, so that’s definitely challenging. Our books often have spare dialogue, which some might think would make things easier, but it’s really the opposite. A lot has to be said with very little text and it has to marry with the illustrations seamlessly.
Henry: It IS all hard to write picture books! I agree the tight word count is a big challenge. As a non-illustrating author, I think another challenge (that you talented author-illustrators don’t face) is ensuring every aspect of a spread is conveyed without resorting to copious art notes.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
That it always takes so much more care, thought and time than most people realize, even for something as seemingly straightforward as a picture book. Countless revisions are pretty much par for the course, at least in my experience.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer/illustrator?
I never would have met our wonderful agent Kirsten Hall, published a picture book, met all the fantastic people associated with the books I’ve worked on, flown in a plane with Chris Hadfield… the list goes on and on.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Just never give up. I didn’t start making a living off art until my mid-forties. Since joining her agency (Catbird Agency, based in NYC) I’ve finished two picture books with Eric and we have four more projects in the pipeline. That should give some hope to all those late-bloomers out there.
Henry: I was also a late-blooming kidlit author. It’s not when you start; you just have to start!
Do you have any favorite quotes?
I have a bunch of them, but here are a couple of my favorites:
“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” ~ Crowfoot
“The tree wants to be still, but the wind keeps blowing” ~ old Chinese proverb.
Henry: Nice. My wife uses a variant of the latter. “You want to lie on the couch, but I need you to take out the trash.”
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write/illustrate?
I have similar rituals for both. Nothing too strange, usually just drinking wine, listening to music and sometimes chomping on a Nicorette. Creating art can be a lonely business, so a few distractions are often helpful.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Super healing powers, because life is too fragile.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
Mark Twain, Charles M. Schulz and Maurice Sendak. They’ve all had a huge influence on me, and I’ve always felt a certain kinship with the way they approached things. Charles and Maurice might be a bit glum from what I’ve heard, but Mark would no doubt get them laughing. I’d also have to add Sir Arthur Conan Doyle because I’m a huge Holmes fan. Maybe there would even be a séance after dinner.
Henry: I can see Sendak’s influence in your art for THE NIGHT GARDENER. I have a relevant Twain quote: “Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.”
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
That’s a tough one! I’d have to say Gollum, from THE HOBBIT. He’s just such an awesome, well-realized character with a fascinating back-story.
Henry: Great choice. He’s a classic example of “there but for the grace of God, go I.” Many readers don’t notice that without Gollum, the One Ring would never have been destroyed.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing/illustrating?
It feels like I’m always writing/illustrating, but I confess when not working I’m usually not up to much. I try to spend as much time as I can with family. Other than that, watching Netflix on my iPad or trying to catch up on my reading is about all I can manage. Although I do try to get out at least once a day. I live near a beach and there’s a boardwalk that runs along it, so when I get the chance, I go for brisk walks. I also enjoy cooking a lot and by extension, eating a lot.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
That Crowfoot quote.
Henry: We are all fireflies in the night.
Where can readers find your work?
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indigo Books, most independent book stores.
Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Terry. You can see more of his beautiful artwork at http://www.krop.com/terryfan/