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Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books


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Interview with picture book author/illustrator Benson Shum

Benson Shum enjoys creating and telling stories through animation and illustration. He has worked in the animation industry for seventeen years with various studios including, Sony Pictures Imageworks, DHX Media, Rainmaker, Atomic Cartoons, Bardel Entertainment and Sesame Workshop. Benson is also an Animator at the Walt Disney Feature Animation Studios, where he was a part of such films as Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia and Moana. His inspiration comes from his love of children’s book illustrations, and observation of the little things in life. I met Benson at the 2017 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

For what age audience do you write?
I like to write picture books for young readers.  No specific genres. If I find something inspiring, I’ll try to write something about that!

Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book is HOLLY’S DAY AT THE POOL with Disney-Hyperion.  It’s about a little Hippo called Holly, and how she overcomes her fear of the water.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I hope the readers take away that we all can be brave even when we are scared.  We can find the courage within.

Henry: Ah, my LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH has the same theme.

What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging?
What I find most challenging when writing or illustrating is when I can’t quite find the story-telling pose for the character, or find the right words to describe a situation. But when you do find it, it’s really satisfying.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer/illustrator?
That’s a hard one. The most powerful lesson I’ve learned from this book is actually after the book was done and seeing how the kids reacted.  Whether through your illustrations or words, to see how a child reacts or attaches themselves to the characters you create is pretty amazing.

Henry: Yup, that’s the money shot.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors or illustrators?
I would say try to create a story with one drawing. If you can, then you are half way there.  A drawing can say a thousand words.

Henry: I’m only an author. Thanks for nothing, Benson! 🙂

Do you have any favorite quotes?
I heard this quote from my teacher a long time again.  He said KISS – Keep it simple stupid.  I try to apply to my work whether when I’m animating at Disney or writing and illustrating.  I think it’s a great idea! Haha. Simplicity is key.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
If I could have one superpower, it would be to fly!  so I can travel the world! Haha

Henry: Free airfare, and very green!

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
I would love to sit down with JK Rowling, Quentin Blake and Mary Blair.  I probably wouldn’t say anything, as I’ll be super nervous, haha, but would love to hear their story and process.

Henry: Wow, some unusual choices. Wikipedia helpfully offers:

“Sir Quentin Saxby Blake, CBE, FCSD, FRSL, RDI is an English cartoonist, illustrator and children’s writer. He may be known best for illustrating books written by Roald Dahl. For his lasting contribution as a children’s illustrator he won the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2002, the highest recognition available to creators of children’s books. From 1999 to 2001 he was the inaugural British Children’s Laureate. He is a patron of the Association of Illustrators.

Mary Blair, born Mary Robinson, was an American artist who was prominent in producing art and animation for The Walt Disney Company, drawing concept art for such films as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Song of the South and Cinderella. Blair also created character designs for enduring attractions such as Disneyland’s It’s a Small World, the fiesta scene in El Rio del Tiempo in the Mexico pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase, and an enormous mosaic inside Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Several of her illustrated children’s books from the 1950s remain in print, such as I Can Fly by Ruth Krauss. Blair was inducted into the prestigious group of Disney Legends in 1991.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
Mermaids would be one my favorite creatures.  The idea of a person and a fish, is pretty incredible.  There is a whole other world in the ocean that we don’t know about and I find that fascinating!

Henry: Mermaids aren’t real!? Thanks for nothing, Benson! 🙂

What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I like to paint, sketch, hang out with friends and watch mindless TV!

Where can readers find your work?
At my website, http://www.bensonshum.com, or on Instagram/Twitter: @bshum79

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Benson.


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Fun Times at LA Times Festival of Books 2017

I attended the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Here are photos from that event.

Always a good way to start an event…

I got to meet Karen Lechelt, debut picture book author/illustrator of WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOU? Bonus fact: she has a French Bulldog, so you know she’s cool.

John Rocco introduced me to graphic novelist and picture book illustrator Matt Phelan.

Then John hopped up on stage and worked his magic.

I wandered around the booths, and found the dynamic duo of Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett signing books.

In the audience of the Children’s Stage, I bumped into friend Salina Yoon, author/illustrator of PENGUIN AND PINECONE, and met Jean Reagan, author of HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA.

On stage, we were regaled by a duck hat-wearing David Shannon, author/illustrator of NO, DAVID!

Lee Wind moderated a graphic novel panel with Faith Erin Hicks, Matt Phelan, and Cecil Castellucci.

I wandered some more, and found James Burks, author/illustrator of BIRD & SQUIRREL, Amy Sarig King, author of ME AND MARVIN GARDENS, and Jarrett Krosoczka, author/illustrator of LUNCH LADY at the Once Upon a Storytime booth.

Author/illustrator Jon Klassen and author Mac Barnett read their picture books EXTRA YARN and TRIANGLE to us. Best part: a kid in the audience said “I have THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT”, leading Mac to talk about how Drew Daywalt planted the kid in the audience to promote book sales.

Here is the exuberant Megan McDonald, author of the JUDY MOODY series.

This is a life-sized Olivia.

Lastly, we were entertained by the lively Adam Rubin, author of DRAGONS LOVE TACOS, ably assisted by a dragon.


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Interview with children’s book author/illustrator Daniel Kirk

Daniel Kirk has been writing and illustrating children’s books for over twenty-five years. In that time he’s published nearly fifty titles for Abrams Books, Hyperion, Scholastic, Putnam, and Simon and Schuster. His books include the best-selling LIBRARY MOUSE series. He lives in New Jersey, a short train ride from New York City.

For what age audience do you write?

For the most part I make picture books for young readers, and have made a few stabs into the realm of chapter books and young adult fantasy novels. But mostly I’m known for my picture books! My characters tend to be talking animals, though some of my more popular titles are about vehicles. Apparently people like the way I draw shiny metal things with wheels, but I prefer painting four-legged creatures.

Henry: As a picture book author myself, I’m amazed at people who can write picture books AND young adult novels. They are such different art forms.

Tell us about your latest book.

My new picture book is called RHINO IN THE HOUSE, and it is my first non-fiction title I’ve both written and illustrated. It tells the story of Anna Merz, an Englishwoman who moved to Kenya in 1976 to found a rhino sanctuary. She’d intended to retire there, but when she got to Kenya and saw how so many animals were threatened by hunting and poaching, she decided to do something about it. Anna had a fence built around thousands of acres of land, and arranged for rhinos in danger to be brought to her sanctuary. It wasn’t long before she discovered a baby rhino calf that had been abandoned by its mother. Anna named the calf Samia. My book is about the relationship between the woman and the rhino as she raised the calf to adulthood, and some of the challenges the two of them encountered along the way.

It’s a sweet story about Anna’s devotion to Samia, as well as a tribute to a woman who learned many things about rhinos that nobody had ever bothered to learn before.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

These days there are many endangered animals on the brink of extinction, and I hope that by sharing the story of Anna and Samia, I can encourage kids to understand that when they grow up, they have the power make a difference too. I want to reinforce the fact that endangered animals matter, and that there’s still hope for making our world a better place. As part of my research for this book I went to Lewa Downs in Kenya to see where Anna and Samia had lived. I’d like children to understand how important travel is to understanding the world we live in. At the back of the book I’ve devoted some space to sharing pictures and sketches of other animals I got to see on the range in Africa.

What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging?

I love coming up with ideas and developing them into stories. The challenges are in keeping it all as simple as possible, and keeping it fresh for myself as well as the reader. It can take months, or even years, to come up with appropriate endings for stories, find the right voice for characters, and figuring out what you DON’T have to say to still get across your ideas. People are always surprised to hear that picture books are not written in about the time it takes to read them. They look so simple! But of course, making things appear simple, even when they’re complicated, is very important.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being an author/illustrator?

Patience! I’m continually reminded that my first ideas aren’t always my best, and that nothing gets accomplished without a lot of effort and attention to detail. My brain and my hands never seem to work fast enough, and everything takes longer than I’d like. Sometimes it feels like there isn’t enough time to accomplish all the things I want to do. But slow, baby steps are the only way to really get things done!

Henry: Exactly. Patience and persistence.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

Part of my mind is always tuned into finding inspiration in what happens around me. I hear and see things in the most common and ordinary situations that I wouldn’t have noticed if I weren’t making books. I guess you could call that “writer’s radar”. Certainly I’ve had lots of opportunity to travel and meet people as a writer that I wouldn’t have had if I had some other occupation, but in answer to your question, the biggest thing is the awareness that comes in every waking moment when you don’t just see the events of the day, but you see the way people and things are connected, and ordinary events teach us things about life. This is often how stories get their start!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors/illustrators?

Whatever you do with your writing, always do it foremost for the love of creating and sharing. Creativity has its own rewards, and those rewards are limitless.

Don’t box yourself in with too many self-imposed limits. Try writing in different styles and genres until you find your own voice and the things that you’re passionate about. Try not to look too much at other people’s work or you’ll be distracted from the quiet voices inside your own head. Don’t compare yourself and your successes or failures with other people. These are things that will throw you off balance and just make you feel insecure.

And remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Creativity is a journey—sort of like life in general!

Henry: And don’t quit your day job. Writing picture books is not a path to fame and fortune.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

I like a lot of zen snippets like “Chop wood, carry water”, and “first there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is”. They combine the mundane with eternal verities in an appealing way. Here’s another–“The one who is good at shooting does not hit the center of the target”. I try to remember these when I find myself struggling too hard for perfection in my work!

Henry: “Perfect is the enemy of good enough.”

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?

When I was a little kid I did most of my arts and crafts stuff either in front of the TV or sitting at the kitchen table. I’d say about half of my creative time today is spent working at the kitchen table. There’s a lot of sunlight, and constant access to snacks. And my laptop functions as an entertainment unit, where I get music to work by, or a series on Netflix to listen to while I draw. I don’t know if that constitutes a ritual, or anything strange, but I’m not the kind of guy who likes putting on a suit and tie and sitting at a desk to get my work done. To me, that would be strange!

Henry: You had me at snacks.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

I’d be the guy who could slow down time. To everybody else I’d look like a hummingbird, but I’d really be getting things done. I guess there’s already a superhero like that, The Flash, so I’d be like him. Except without the red costume.

Henry: But, then you’d have to be even MORE patient!

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

I’m kind of shy, so I don’t know about having them over for dinner. But I can imagine randomly bumping into some of my favorite deceased authors. The writer and artist James Flora was a big inspiration to me—even though our work is nothing alike. We both grew up in Ohio. So in my fantasy scenario I’m sitting next to him on a flight to Columbus, and I work up my courage to introduce myself as a fan. Then we discuss media and changing styles, among other things. Tove Jansson is one of my favorite author/illustrators, she created the Moomin books. I can imagine I bump into her on the ferry from Sweden to Finland and we might chat about the mischievous Little My. I love the Frog and Toad books, and actually, anything created by Arnold Lobel. I imagine I’m waiting for the subway train in Brooklyn, when I spot him on the platform. I’d have to ask him what he thinks Owl Tear tea would taste like!

Henry: I imagine Owl Tear tea tastes like disappointment.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Mythological creatures tend to be dangerous, and danger isn’t really my thing…but I can’t help being curious about Sirens, as I’ve always tried to imagine the song they sing to lure sailors to their demise. Is it the melody? The lyrics? The singing voice? I’d love to hear a short, non-fatal sample to help me figure that one out.

Henry: It’s the sirens’ dance moves…

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I love to write and illustrate books but my great passion is music. I’m in a couple of bands, singing and playing guitar, and I love harmonies and rhythm and playing with other like-minded people. Making books is good creative fun but tends to be solitary. When I write songs that’s solitary, too, but making music together is one of life’s greatest pleasures for me.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

When my time is up on this planet, I plan to have my ashes tossed into the wind over some lovely vista. No tombstone. The memories of my friends and loved ones will keep me going for a while, and if anybody finds my books in used book stores and likes what they see and read, that’s enough eternity for me.

Henry: Indeed, books are authors’ tombstones.

Where can readers find your work?

Well I certainly hope in new and used book stores, on Amazon and Ebay, and of course, in libraries. My website is danielkirk.com, and you can get a decent glimpse of what I do by checking me out online. I’ve also got a bunch of short videos that I just put up on Youtube for my new book, “Rhino in the House”!

Henry: Thanks for visiting with us, Daniel.


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Good Times at WonderCon 2017

My sons and I had a great time attending WonderCon yesterday.


We had beautiful SoCal weather.


Comic conventions always boast entertaining food trucks.


A well-designed Gen. Grievous costume from Star Wars.


With author/illustrator Will Terry at his booth.


With NY Times bestseller and Caldecott honoree, John Rocco.


I moderated a rock star KidLit author/illustrator panel with Joe Cepeda, Stacia Deutsch, Eliza Wheeler, John Rocco and Marla Frazee.


Signing books after the panel, next to Caldecott honorees John Rocco and Marla Frazee (looking like the cat that ate the canary)


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Interview with NY Times bestselling children’s book illustrator Tim Bowers

Tim Bowers is a children’s book illustrator. His first picture book was published in 1986. Since then, he has illustrated over 45 other titles. A couple of the titles have landed on the New York Times best seller list. His art is usually filled with animals and humor…and people, when needed. Tim currently lives in Granville, Ohio with his beautiful wife. They have four talented grown children and are proud grandparents.

bowerstim

For what age audience do you illustrate?

I illustrate for all ages, but mostly for children. I hear from many parents who have enjoyed my books as much as their kids. That’s especially true for my title, MEMOIRS OF A GOLDFISH by Devin Scillian. A very funny story.

Henry: Sounds like quite a fish tale…

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book is FOOTLOOSE by Kenny Loggins. Kenny re-wrote his 80’s hit song, Footloose, into a kid’s version, which includes a zoo keeper (who, I’m told, looks a lot like Captain Kangaroo), dancing animals and a couple of curious kids.

What do you hope readers will get from that book?

When your life is a total zoo…DANCE!

Seriously, it’s a fun story about two kids who sneak into the zoo just before closing. The zoo keeper and animals have a great dance party under a full moon. The party continues until sunrise.  Kids can read the story, follow the illustrations and listen to the song (a CD is included in the book). So, I hope kids will put on their dancin’ shoes and have fun!

Henry: Fun! And now you’re only one degree away from Kevin Bacon.

“Now I gotta cut loose
Footloose, kick off the Sunday shoes
Please, Louise, pull me off of my knees
Jack, get back, come on before we crack
Lose your blues, everybody cut footloose”

What aspect of illustrating do you find most challenging?

A children’s book is a long project: from character development, sketches and book dummy to the final art. It takes focus and endurance to keep the process moving forward. There are times during the painting of the final art that seem to move at a snail’s pace. My mind seems to wander during those times. I’ll think of new book projects, other art techniques to explore, people I’d like to meet, a good name for a pet elephant, how would I even get a pet elephant?, would I rather have an elephant or a monkey?… and guitars, wish I could practice more, wish I could buy another guitar.

Then, I snap out of it and get back to the final artwork. Come to think of it, I’ve had this problem since childhood. Focus, focus, focus.

Henry: Would You Rather Have a Monkey or an Elephant sounds like a great picture book idea. Thanks!

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being an illustrator?

Art is a powerful tool used to tell a story, deliver a message or share an idea. I want to use my talent to help deliver positive messages and good ideas and stories to viewers and readers. That’s why I like to illustrate children’s books.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been an illustrator?

There are a lot of them. I’ve been to hundreds of elementary schools to share my experiences and talk to students about making art for picture books. I love talking to kids and sharing my art with them. I wouldn’t have had that type of a connection without being an illustrator.

I’ve also worked with some celebrities because of my illustrations. I illustrated DREAM BIG, LITTLE PIG! by Kristi Yamaguchi. Without the illustration connection, I probably would not have worked with Kristi because I’m a lousy skater. I’ve also illustrated books by Neil Sedaka (DINOSAUR PET) and Kenny Loggins (FOOTLOOSE). I’m not in their social circles, and I need a lot more practice on my guitar so being an illustrator got me those “gigs”.

I guess the “powerful lesson” would be that being an illustrator has allowed me to connect with people through stories, from children learning to read to well-known people with stories to share.

Henry: I’d pay good money to watch you play guitar while ice skating. Triple axle!

What advice would you give to aspiring children’s book illustrators?

Surround yourself with books. Study the great picture book art of the past, explore current art trends, and use the best of both to create your own personal voice.

Work on your craft. Draw. Learn the elements of visual story telling/sequential art. Draw more. Strive to create art that connects emotionally to the reader. In most books, the words and art must unify to tell a clear story. Practice working with text, using your art to compliment the written word. Then, draw some more.

Much can be learned by connecting with groups like The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI.org).

So, three things that I would suggest: One- work to improve your art skills, Two- learn about the business/process of creating children’s books, and Three- make connections (network) with people in the biz: editors, authors, designers and others who are pursuing your same goals.

Henry: Four – get an elephant. Or a monkey.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

I have a huge file of quotes. Here are a few of my favorites for today:

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
– Groucho Marx

“Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.”
– Miles Davis

“I get up every morning determined both to change the world and to have one hell of a good time. This makes planning the day difficult.”
– E.B. White

“Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia.”
– Charles M. Schulz

Henry:

“Every dog has his day, unless he loses his tail, then he has a weak-end.”
– June Carter Cash

“What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?

Hmmm, let’s see. I usually listen to music, have a cup of coffee by my side and try to keep focused on the task at hand (see earlier answer about staying focused). I find it extremely hard to work if my paintbrush isn’t just right for the job…if it’s lost the sharp point, too big, too stiff. The wrong brush can drive me crazy. Brushes wear out after a while, so I have a container filled with hundreds of those retired brushes. I often work better at night. Between 11pm and 3am seems to be an easier time to focus. I can’t think of anything else that might apply…Hey, did I tell you that my Grandpa had a monkey?  Would you rather have a monkey or an elephant?  Oh, sorry… where were we?

Henry: Life’s too short to use the wrong brush.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

The power to heal at will. I could eliminate the pain of people suffering from abuse, burns, cancer and accidents… as a starter. It breaks my heart to see kids who suffer in life. Having wings would also be cool but then what? You fly around. That would be nice but I think that healing would be my superpower. But, having two powers, flying around AND healing, would be even better. I’d like to negotiate for two superpowers, if that’s ok.

Henry: Ah, the old “wish for more wishes” ploy. Healing is a lovely wish.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

The Apostle Paul…because he was there.
Kate DiCamillo…because her work is full of heart and humor. One of my very favorite story tellers.
Cynthia Rylant… because her work is full of heart and humor. Another one of my very favorite story tellers.
There are so many amazingly talented authors (I’ve worked with a lot of them), so I’d have to have a few more dinners.

Henry: Trying to break the rules again? I sense a trend. 🙂

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I’d have to go with dragons. I’ve illustrated a great dragon book, NOT YOUR TYPICAL DRAGON by Dan Bar-El. Mermaids would come in a close second place…who doesn’t like mermaids? I’ve illustrated one book with a mermaid, Sometimes I wonder if POODLES LIKE NOODLES by Laura Numeroff.  I created some “Mer-mutts” (dog mermaids) in THE ADVENTURES OF UNDERWATER DOG by Jan Wahl, but that probably doesn’t count.

Henry: The blog judges rule that Mer-mutts is an acceptable response.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I play the guitar. I do more listening to great players than playing but I’m always thinking about guitars. I also have a beautiful ukulele and mandolin (my grandpa, who had a monkey, was also a mandolin player). They get less playing time than my guitars. I also like to fish. I only had time to fish a couple of times, this summer. That’s why I didn’t have you over for a big fish fry, Henry. I really like to golf, but I’ve only done that several times. My kids bought me a new set of clubs for father’s day, so I need to golf more often.

This question is leading me to believe that maybe I work too much. I have a lot of interests but don’t seem to have much time outside of my work schedule. I think I need more balance in that area. Thanks for bringing it up, Henry.

Henry: You’re welcome, Tim. You should definitely have more fish fries. I’ll even bring the fish!

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

I’m not sure but here’s another quote that might apply:

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Henry:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…”
– Henry David Thoreau

Where can readers find your work?

In children’s books at your local library or bookstore. On line, you can visit my website: http://www.timbowers.com/ and my blog: timbowersart.blogspot.com.

Henry: Thanks for joining us, Tim!


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Interview with graphic novel/picture book author/illustrator Ben Hatke

Ben Hatke is an author and artist of graphic novels and picture books. His notable works include the ZITA THE SPACEGIRL TRILOGY, the Eisner award-winning LITTLE ROBOT, and the picture book JULIA’S HOUSE FOR LOST CREATURES.

hatkeben

For what age audience do you write, and in what genre?

My comics are mostly classed as “middle grade” but I really try to write for everybody. I also make picture books which are even more for everybody. As to genre, I tend toward fantasy and science fiction. I tend to add swords and robots and goblins to just about everything I touch.

Henry: You complete me. Fantasy makes everything better. And cowbells.

Tell us about your latest book.

MIGHTY JACK is a two-book, modern-day, graphic novel retelling of the Jack and the Beanstalk story.

Henry: Fun! I’m a big fan (and writer) of fractured fairy tales.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

A sense of wonder.

Henry: Wonder at the world you created, or wonder at what goes in inside your head?

What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging?

It’s all challenging, and really, the challenges are the best part. Except for drawing cars. That’s just terrible no matter how you look at it.

Henry: Conversely, I can only draw cars. Ha! Let’s collaborate on a fantasy picture book: DON’T LET THE DRAGON DRIVE THE BUS.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being an author/illustrator?

You never know who will be touched by your books, or how. It’s incredibly humbling to see both kids and adults connecting to some crazy story you made up.

Henry: Right! Which is why it is so important to weave a positive theme in one’s story.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been an author/illustrator?

There have been many. In 2014, I was invited by my French publisher to the big comic festival in Angoulême. It was such an amazing week that I cried at the end.

Henry: Oo la la! Not only do they host the Angoulême International Comics Festival, but “the commune has been awarded four flowers by the National Council of Towns and Villages in Bloom in the Competition of cities and villages in Bloom.”

hatke-angouleme

What advice would you give to aspiring authors/illustrators?

Make things and share things all the time. Creativity is a habit, and the more you do it the better your work will become.

Henry: For example, Ben posts sketches on Facebook.

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?

You know, I honestly can’t think of anything…

Henry: Uh huh. Really? A guy who teaches his daughter to shoot flaming arrows has no strange work rituals?

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

The ability to know with certainty, once a day, when and where something terrible was going to happen. Everything else can be planned for.

Henry: Coupled with the power to NOT BE THERE.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

C.S. Lewis: because I feel like he’s my fairy godfather, my Serious Black.
Neil Gaiman: because very early on I modeled many of my career goals after his career, and boy do I have questions for him.
Jane Austin: because she has hilarious insight into human nature that make me think she’d be lots of fun at dinner, and because my street cred would be through the roof.
Honorable Mention: Patrick Rothfuss, because we got to be friends while arguing in front of a full room at Comic-Con last year.
Extra Honorable Mention: Cory Doctorow, because he’s fun and I think my wife would get a huge kick out of arguing with him.

Henry: By the way, I was in that room at Comic-Con (as was Laini Taylor) when you and Patrick spoke. I watched the bromance bloom in person. You guys were great.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

That …whew, that can change from day to day. Goblins, though. I think Goblins are my steady. I love those filthy little guys.

Henry: Didn’t see that coming AT ALL from the author/illustrator of NOBODY LIKES A GOBLIN… I loved the wink at Dungeons & Dragons.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

It’s really hard for me to distinguish my hobbies from my work. Even when I’m hiking, I tend to bring a sketchbook. The closest thing I had to a pure hobby was skipping rocks. I also really have a deep love of archery. Gosh I love arrows.

Henry: Especially exploding arrows! How do you feel about trebuchets?

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

I guess if I live a life of legend, my tombstone could say “Yes, THAT Ben Hatke.”
Oh! Or how about “Here lies Ben Hatke: shit got real there at the end, didn’t it?”

Henry: Also consider, Ben Hatke: Teller of Tall Tales and Drawer of Dark Domains. You’re welcome.

Where can readers find your work?

At the library! (and online at BenHatke.com, Instagram @heybenhatke, Twitter @benhatke)

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Ben!


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Interview with picture book author/illustrator Lisa Brown

Lisa Brown is a New York Times bestselling illustrator, author, and cartoonist. Her books for young’uns include HOW TO BE, BABY MIX ME A DRINK, THE LATKE WHO COULDN’T STOP SCREAMING by Lemony Snicket, EMILY’S BLUE PERIOD by Cathleen Daly, and MUMMY CAT by Marcus Ewert. She teaches picture book writing and illustration at the California College of the Arts. Her most recent book, THE AIRPORT BOOK, is about the airport. She lives in San Francisco.

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For what age audience do you write?

A better question might be “for what age audience DON’T you write?” I’ve created humor books and comics for adults, picture books for kiddos, one co-authored illustrated novel for teens (PICTURE THE DEAD, with Adele Griffin), and I am blissfully at work on a YA graphic novel.

Henry: FYI, the YA graphic novel is entitled THE LIVING DOLL, and tells the story of conjoined twins who remain connected even after one of them dies during the operation to separate them.

Tell us about your latest book.

It’s a picture book about the airport. Called, creatively, The Airport Book.

Henry: Hey, spoiler alert!

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

I hope to demystify and mystify an airline journey.

Henry: Always burning the candle at both ends, eh?

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Perhaps the most challenging thing is letting it out of my hands. I always think that there is more to be done.

Henry: I agree. I suspect sculptors feel the same way, although it’s worse for them. If they remove something, it’s much harder to put it back.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

Don’t read Amazon reviews.

Henry: So true! Note: this is not a criticism of Amazon. Rather, it is advice about reviews in general. The good ones tell you what you already know, and the bad ones make you sad or frustrated. My writer friend Deborah Underwood got a bad review because the book arrived damaged! My bedtime picture book MABEL AND THE QUEEN OF DREAMS was dinged for not having enough action!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

You can’t write well if you don’t read well. Read. Read everything. Read like a writer, with one eye always on craft.

Henry: A lion is the product of all the zebras it’s eaten. I read critically now, although I find it can take some of the joy out of reading others’ picture books.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
a medley of extemporanea,
And love is a thing that can never go wrong,
and I am Marie of Romania.” —Dorothy Parker

Henry: “Wanna be the ruler of the galaxy?
Wanna be the king of the universe?
Let’s meet and have a baby now!
Wanna be the empress of fashion?
Wanna be the president of Moscow?
Let’s meet and have a baby now!” – B-52’s

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?

Define strange.

Henry: That is my life’s work, and we don’t have room here…

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Invisibility. It would be useful while eavesdropping, an activity important to any writer. And relaxing for introverts like me.

Henry: Invisibility is a good choice. Like mind reading, though, it could lead to learning things you really don’t want to know…

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

I already have an author over for dinner almost every night, my husband, Daniel Handler (http://www.danielhandler.com). So maybe I’d choose some other kind of artist. I’d have loved to have dined with David Bowie, of blessed memory, Dorothy Parker, and Edward Gorey.

Henry: Hey, that’s cheating! For the few that don’t know, Daniel Handler is also known as Lemony Snicket. Wikipedia helpfully adds: “Dorothy Parker was an American poet, short story writer, critic, and satirist, best known for her wit, wisecracks and eye for 20th-century urban foibles.”

“From a conflicted and unhappy childhood, Parker rose to acclaim, both for her literary output in publications such as The New Yorker and as a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table. Following the breakup of the circle, Parker traveled to Hollywood to pursue screenwriting. Her successes there, including two Academy Award nominations, were curtailed when her involvement in left-wing politics led to a place on the Hollywood blacklist.”

“Edward Gorey was an American writer and artist noted for his illustrated books. His characteristic pen-and-ink drawings often depict vaguely unsettling narrative scenes in Victorian and Edwardian settings. He illustrated works as diverse as DRACULA by Bram Stoker, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS by H. G. Wells, and OLD POSSUM’S BOOK OF PRACTICAL CATS by T. S. Eliot.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I always really, really wanted the Borrowers to exist.

Henry: A fine choice. Note: THE BORROWERS is a children’s fantasy novel by Mary Norton, featuring four-inch tall people who borrow things from their human hosts.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Read. Draw. Drink coffee.

Henry: Write. Read. Draw. Drink coffee. Repeat.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Please stay off the grass.

Where can readers find your work?

In bookstores and libraries, naturally. And online… I post my daily sketches on my Tumblr, here: http://americanchickens.tumblr.com. They can also take a peek at my Three Panel Book Reviews, which will be collected and expanded into a book by Algonquin Books, here: http://threepanelbookreview.tumblr.com

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Lisa.