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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.

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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 NY Times bestselling picture book author Sherri Duskey Rinker

Sherri Duskey Rinker is a mom who loves to garden, cook and collect old oil paintings. She lives in a crazy house, filled with unmatched socks, kids, total chaos, endless noise and a dog who barks whenever she picks up the phone. She is also a #1 New York Times bestselling children’s picture book author.

rinkersherri

Tell us about your latest book.

On Valentine’s Day, the long-awaited sequel to GOODNIGHT, GOODNIGHT, CONSTRUCTION SITE debuts, titled MIGHTY, MIGHTY, CONSTRUCTION SITE.

Henry: Will there be rhyme? Will there be heavy equipment!?

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

First, I hope that fans of GGCS will enjoy and appreciate this second offering; I’m so afraid of letting anyone down! Next, the theme of the book deals with friendship, teamwork and cooperation, and I hope the spirit of that comes through — joyfully.

Henry: Breathe! You’ll be fine. 🙂

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

For me, it’s finding the TIME and the QUIET to write in the mix of a busy life — taking care of my kids and our home, promoting books, traveling for school visits, etc. Oh, and editing. I hate editing.

Henry: And yet, revision is key to getting the most story out of 500 or so words. I thought you were going to say creating good rhyme, BTW.

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

The stories we put out there can become treasured memories for kids and their families. That’s pretty big. And amazing.

Henry: So true. And those stories can shape lives. I still remember borrowing (over and over again) WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE from my elementary school library. WTWTA was a gateway drug to LORD OF THE RINGS. And LOTR eventually lead me to become a writer.

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

I’ve had the opportunity to “talk shop” with authors and illustrators that I greatly admire. That’s been pretty awesome. And, school visits: I love school visits and talking about books with kids. When I mention a book that I love and a bunch of faces light up… wow: such a connection!

Henry: I love answering young reader questions at school events. You never know what they’ll ask. “What’s your favorite color?” “How old are you?”

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Read everything in your genre. Stalk bookstores. Read reviews. Read the trades.

Henry: Read like no one’s watching. But write like everyone is.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” — Albert Einstein
(I think this resonates with me because I’ve always felt a little intellectually inadequate — my recollection of history, geography and factoids is limited. I don’t watch much television, so I’m always out-of-the-loop on pop culture conversations. My ability to recall classic literature and romantic poetry is faulty. I fail miserably at Jeopardy. But, perhaps, imagination makes up for that, just a little? Einstein boosts my confidence — a bit, anyway.)

Henry: “This world is but a canvas to our imagination.” – Henry David Thoreau
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain

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

I prefer to be showered and dressed — I’m not sure that’s strange, but I hear of authors writing in their pajamas, and that just doesn’t feel like “work mode” for me. Also, I like beverages —Sorry, Henry — Nothing too odd; I’m kinda boring.

Henry: There’s nothing strange at all about writing in ballroom attire… *backs slowly away*

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

Does singing count as a superpower? Ok, then — FLYING. Totally.

Henry: Magical singing that produces an extraordinary result most certainly would be a superpower! See “Treesinger” in THE WHEEL OF TIME or Tolkien’s AINULINDALË, the tale of the song the angels used to create the world.

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

JK Rowling, Kate DiCamillo and Beverly Cleary — just to bask in their greatness and hear them discuss their work, processes and inspirations with each other.

Henry: I think everyone knows who JK Rowling is. Wikipedia helpfully adds:
“Katrina “Kate” DiCamillo is an American writer of children’s fiction for all reading levels, usually featuring animals. She is one of six people to win two Newbery Medals, recognizing her novels THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX (2003) and FLORA AND ULYSSES (2013). Her best-known books for young children are Mercy Watson series illustrated by Chris Van Dusen.

Beverly Cleary is an American writer of children’s and young adult fiction. One of America’s most successful living authors, 91 million copies of her books have been sold worldwide since her first book was published in 1950. Some of her best known characters are Henry Huggins and his dog Ribsy, Ramona and Beezus Quimby, and Ralph S. Mouse.

She won the 1981 National Book Award for RAMONA AND HER MOTHER and the 1984 Newbery Medal for DEAR MR. HENSHAW. For her lifetime contributions to American literature, Cleary received the National Medal of Arts, recognition as a Library of Congress Living Legend, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal from the Association for Library Service to Children.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I adore Despereaux! — such a dramatic, emotional, unlikely hero with so much surprising inner strength.

Henry: Don’t get me started on fantasy animal heroes! Here are four heroic mice: Desperaux Tilling (from THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX by Kate DiCamillo), Reepicheep (from PRINCE CASPIAN by C.S. Lewis), Martin the Warrior (from REDWALL by Brian Jaques), and Celanawe (from MOUSE GUARD by David Petersen)

miceheroes

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

Read a book, work in the garden, bake a nice bread, shop for old oil paintings or antique gesso frames (but, admittedly, I’m running out of wall space). Oh — I’ll confess: I love naps. Especially on Sunday after church, or on dreary days. I. LOVE. NAPS.

Henry: Not enough wall space? “Honey, we need a bigger house!”

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Thanks for stopping by! Now… go read to a child: It makes all the difference.

Where can readers find your work?

Wherever books are sold. 🙂

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Sherri!


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Interview with NY Times bestselling KidLit author David Elliott

David Elliott is a New York Times bestselling writer of books for young readers. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife of 33 years and a rescued Dandie Dinmont terrier mix.

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For what age audience do you write?

I write for the very young, the middle grades, and with the release of BULL in March, teen readers. I’m currently working on one of each kind of book. I like to have a few things going at once. It’s the ADD.

Henry: Given the slow speed of the publishing industry, working on multiple projects simultaneously isn’t just ADD, it’s a good idea! Speaking of which, I recently wrote a picture book featuring an OCD owl and an ADD hummingbird.

Tell us about your latest book.

BULL (HMH, March 2017) is an expansion of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. I know that sounds kind of highfalutin – expansion. But I use it because the book doesn’t at all change the outline of the myth; rather, it fills in areas about which the myth remains silent – the Minotaur’s childhood and adolescence, for example. At least that was my intention. The story is told in the various voices of the main players, each character speaking in a distinct poetic form. It practically killed me, but I loved writing it.

Henry: BULL is terrific. Sort of a YA mashup of Homer and Eminem.

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

O dear. I think I’d better leave that to the readers. But it would be terrific if one or two saw that each of us has the potential to become either Asterion — the Minotaur’s’ actual name, by the way, meaning Ruler of the Stars — or the Minotaur. Or maybe even more important, the ability to encourage one or the other in the folks around us. We are now seeing at the national level what happens when the monstrous is excited — the uptick in hate crimes, the increased cruelty in our schools, all of that. Our leaders on both sides of the aisle seem lost in the labyrinth.

Aside from that, I hope readers will enjoy the humor in the book and the language used to tell the story, their language (for speakers of English.) It’s resilience. Its playfulness. It’s beauty.

Henry: We should mail balls of string to Congress so they can navigate the labyrinth!

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Oh, writing comes easily to me. But writing well comes very, very hard.

Henry: That pesky adverb well again! When I first began writing for children, I was surprised at how many revisions are necessary. Not like writing when in school, where the first draft was the final draft!

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

I think sometimes people feel that publishing a book changes your life. And I guess it can if you’re someone like J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, at least in terms of material security. (Uh . . .that has not been my experience.) But here’s the thing: Even after that book is on the shelves, you are still who you are. There’s no escaping that.

For me, and especially since every book is different, being a writer is a process, not a result. I now try to think of myself as a scribe rather than the more elevated “writer”.

Henry: I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how collegial the KidLit author/illustrator community is. Not at all like the hyper-competitive Hollywood scene.

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

Well, the most memorable is very difficult to describe, and if I did, people would think I was crazy, so let me just say that a few years ago, I was invited to Germany to visit schools there. My wife and I became very good friends with the person assigned to interpret for me. She is still an important of our lives. How lucky is that?

Henry: So, you think describing a memorable experience will push people over the edge on assessing the sanity of a man who fractured a Minotaur myth with rap?

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Accept all criticism as one hundred percent accurate.
For twenty-four hours.

Henry: Interesting approach. Another good piece of advice I’ve read, is never read reviews of your own work. The positive reviews don’t tell you anything you don’t already know, and the negative ones are so rarely constructive, that you’ll just end up depressed.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

Here are three:
“If you haven’t surprised yourself, you haven’t written.” Eudora Welty.
“Habit is more important than inspiration.” Octavia Butler.
“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” E.L. Doctorow

Henry: So, Doctorow was a pantser, not a plotter? Isaac Asimov said “Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” Then there’s Ray Bradbury: “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

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

My entire life has been, and continues to be, One Strange Ritual. I think everybody’s is.

Henry: Capitalizing the phrase makes it sound like a great book title. Well played, sir.

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

I know from the one I already possess – the ability to eat non-stop –that superpowers are very difficult to control. I think it might be wiser to bestow them on those better equipped to manage them.

Henry: Isn’t it only a superpower if you can eat all you want and NOT gain weight?

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

Not many people know this, but Charles Dickens and the Polish poet Wyslawa Symborska are conjoined twins, so if invite Charlie, he’ll have to drag Wyslawa along. (The original meaning of Plus 1, by the way.) That’s also true of Teju Cole and Richard Wilbur. Then there are those famous triplets, George Eliot, Shakespeare and Moliere. Journalist Masha Gessen and the Australian novelist David Malouf are my alternates.

Henry: Boy, give you and inch, and you take a mile! Wikipedia helpfully offers:
Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska was a Polish poet, essayist, translator and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature “for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality”.

Teju Cole is a Nigerian-American writer, photographer, and art historian. Cole is the author of three books: a novella, Every Day is for the Thief (Nigeria: Cassava Republic, 2007; New York: Random House, 2014; London: Faber, 2014), a novel, Open City (New York: Random House, 2012; London: Faber, 2012), and a collection of more than 40 essays, Known and Strange Things, published in 2016. He is currently working on Radio Lagos, a non-fictional narrative of contemporary Lagos. Salman Rushdie has described Cole as “among the most gifted writers of his generation”.

Richard Purdy Wilbur is an American poet and literary translator. He was appointed the second Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1987, and twice received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, in 1957 and again in 1989.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

As you know, I’ve spent quite a lot of time with The Minotaur recently. I think I might choose someone a little cheerier next time around, The Mad Hatter, maybe. Or someone really solid like the armored bear, Iorek Byrnison, in Philip Pullman’s wonderful book, The Golden Compass. I do wish the Oracle of Delphi had a better sense of humor.

Henry: Please note the minotaur on the cover of MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES in the header image above. But, I’m with you on the panserbjørne!
panserbjorne

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

These days, I feel like I’m always working. I’ve got three separate and very different (from each other) projects going right now, and the administrative part of the writing life – interviews like this one, for example, are taking more of my time. (Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. Who doesn’t relish the opportunity to talk about himself?) To complicate matters, for the first time ever I’ve become actively political. Nobody is more surprised about that than I am.

Staring out the living room window into the fields behind our old house is a wonderful thing.

Henry: Can we say your passion for democracy has trumped your desire to focus on writing?

What would you like it to (accurately) say on your tombstone?

He wasn’t afraid.

Henry: You gave me a Monty Python opening, and I’m taking it.

Bravely bold Sir Robin
Rode forth from Camelot
He was not afraid to die
Oh, brave Sir Robin
He was not at all afraid
To be killed in nasty ways
Brave, brave, brave, brave Sir Robin

He was not in the least bit scared
To be mashed into a pulp
Or to have his eyes gouged out
And his elbows broken
To have his kneecaps split
And his body burned away
And his limbs all hacked and mangled
Brave Sir Robin

His head smashed in
And his heart cut out
And his liver removed
And his bowels unplugged
And his nostrils raped
And his bottom burnt off
And his penis split and his…

“That’s… that’s enough music for now, lads.”

Where can readers find your work?

Wherever weird books are sold, but especially at your local independent bookstore.

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, David. For something completely, different, check out David’s THIS ORQ (HE CAVE BOY)
orq


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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.

brownlisa

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.


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Interview with children’s book author Lori Mortensen

When award-winning author, Lori Mortensen, is not letting her cat in. Or, out. Or, in–she’s tapping away at her computer, conjuring, coaxing, and prodding her latest stories to life. All that tapping has resulted in the publication of more than 70 books and over 350 stories and articles. Recent releases include Chicken Lily (Henry Holt 2016), Mousequerade Ball (Bloomsbury, 2016) illustrated by New York Times bestselling illustrator Betsy Lewin, and Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range (Clarion, 2016) a sequel to Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg, one of Amazon’s best picture books of 2013.

mortensenlori

For what ages do you write?

All ages. I love picture books and when they’re well written, they can captivate, enlighten, and entertain readers young and old.

Tell us about your latest releases.

Any release is exciting, but it’s a special thrill to have three picture book releases in 2016. First out of the gate–or the egg as the case may be–is Chicken Lily, a punny story about a chicken that’s . . . chicken! Who knew, right? In this case, Chicken Lily doesn’t want to recite a poem at the school’s Grand Slam Poetry Jam, but it could have been almost anything because (don’t tell anyone) Chicken Lily was a lot like me when I was a kid. Raise my hand in class? Forget it! Eat something new at lunch? No way! These days, I’m not so chicken, but it was fun to reconnect with my own “inner chicken” and write this egg-citing story.

The next release is Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range, the sequel to Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg. In Clyde’s next adventure, he learns how to ride one of them new-fangled bicycles. Thankfully, I haven’t met all the pokey, pesky, and downright dangerous critters Clyde encounters on his first ride, but as an author, I was plum tickled to conjure up some mischievous mayhem for Clyde to sort out along the way. “Another doggone funny cowboy caper chock full o’ chuckles.” Starred Kirkus Reviews.

The last book to waltz out onto the bookshelves this year is Mousequerade Ball, A Counting Tale. This book is particularly gratifying because eons ago, I earned my degree in dance from Brigham Young University. Although I don’t leap across the stage anymore, I’m tickled to people my literary stage with whatever whimsical characters come my way–moon-jumping cows, dirty dogs, chickens, cowpokes, . . . and even some dancing mice!

Henry: And who doesn’t really like dancing mice? No one, that’s who.

What do you hope readers will get from reading these books?

A ginormous helping of humor, with a dollop of courage, determination, and friendship.

Henry: Hey, is ginormous a word? Oh, wait. We authors get to make up our own words!

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

For me, the biggest challenge is coming up with that initial idea. While some writers can’t scribble down their ideas fast enough, I’m more like a patient hen that pecks here and there. When I find an idea that resonates with me, I scratch my ideas together like a hen building her nest. (It’s clear I’ve spent too much time with Chicken Lily!) After lots of false starts, it comes together and I get a glimmer of hope that this could be something! Not all of my ideas come this way, however. Sometimes a title pops into my head and I’ll know exactly what I’ll want to do. The hard part is when you’ve finished a project and think, now what?

Henry: For me, the two biggest challenges are the first draft, and knowing when to stop revising.

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

I’ve learned that passion and persistence make all the difference. Without passion, you won’t care enough to keep trying. Without persistence, you won’t pursue your dream long enough to cross the publishing finish line.

Henry: Very true.

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

Standing up in front of an auditorium full of people and talking about my books. I was always the shy kid at school, (much like Chicken Lily!) so the idea that I would one day fill an author’s wobbly shoes in front of an eager crowd is mind-boggling.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Read, read, read. Read some more. Then, write what you’d love to read. Be patient as you learn the craft and enjoy the journey. Join SCBWI. Find a critique group. Sidle up to revision. It’ll be your best friend.

Henry: I completely concur.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Calvin Coolidge

Henry: Nice. I also like, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

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

Interestingly, no. While my very ordinary life unfolds, I show up at my computer and see what happens. (If you know any strange rituals that work, let me know.)

Henry: When it comes to strange rituals, I don’t think the benefits are transferable. Eating large amounts of Boston Cream Pie may not help your writing one bit.

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

Flying would be at the top of the list. (Who doesn’t want to fly?) However, if I wanted to consider this very important option carefully, I would wave my magic wand and remove the curse of self-doubt. . . Unless of course, there’s a better super power. You never know. Self-doubt isn’t everything. There’s probably lots of super powers that would be far superior, like laser vision, invisibility, shape-shifting. You know, now that I think about it, I should have chosen something else. I’m not the best person to ask about super powers. Now, if you asked about baking cookies, or straightening a picture, I’d be on much sturdier ground. So let’s give this some more thought…

Henry: Well played, Lori.

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

Arthur Murray (love to dance!), Arthur Rubinstein (imagine the great dinner music!), and Arthur D. Levinson (talk about tech support!). Oh! You meant authors. I get it.

In that case, I’d invite Madeline L’Engle, Beverly Cleary, and Maurice Sendak, each of whom made a lasting impression in my childhood. L’Engle for how she pulled me into the far-reaching wonders of A Wrinkle in Time. Cleary for creating Ellen Tebbits, a young character so much like me, trying to figure out the complexities of friends and foes, and Sendak for Where the Wild Things Are, who first showed me the inexplicable enchantment of a picture book.

Henry: Sendak is why I love fantasy books so much. I’m distantly related to Madeline L’Engle!

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

Go on walks, browse the library, ignore the weeds, and think about my next writing project!

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

She’d rather be writing.

Henry: Indeed, wouldn’t we all?

Where can readers find your books?

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, indies, and cozy laps everywhere. For more information about me and my books, visit my website at http://www.lorimortensen.com.

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Lori.


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Interview with picture book author/illustrator Terry Fan

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.

fanterry

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/


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Interview with children’s author Kelly DiPucchio

Kelly DiPucchio insists she grew up on a farm in Michigan but her husband has serious doubts about her claim. As a child, Kelly had a pet goat and jumped in manure piles so you be the judge. Kelly is the author of over twenty award-winning books for kids including two New York Times bestsellers. Some of her titles include: GRACE FOR PRESIDENT, ZOMBIE IN LOVE, and GASTON. Kelly lives in a suburb of Detroit with one husband, two dogs, and three children.

dipucchiokelly

For what age audience do you write?

I write what I like to call everybody books which are picture books for all ages.

Henry: As all picture books should be. Well played.

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book is called ONE LITTLE, TWO LITTLE, THREE LITTLE CHILDREN, illustrated by Mary Lundquist and published by Balzer + Bray. It’s very different from my more recent titles because it’s a short, rhyming book inspired by an old nursery song.

Henry: As the author of MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES, I like what you did there!

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

I hope the book conveys that children, mothers, and fathers all over the world are more alike than they are different, and that families, no matter how they’re structured, or how they look, want the same things: love, peace, and happiness.

Henry: Nice. This is true of monsters, too.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

For me, the writing itself is a joy. What I find most challenging is struggling with feelings of inadequacy when it comes to networking and publicity. After being in this industry for nearly 20 years, you’d think I would have gotten over my insecurities, but at my core I’m still a shy, awkward introvert who often compares herself to her more gregarious peers.

Henry: It is something of a paradox that the solitary activity of writing, must be supplemented by promotion, which is done in front of audiences.

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

I’ve learned that we are the authors of our own life stories and it’s never too late to revise.

Henry: Just don’t “murder your darlings” in real life!

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

I never would have had an opportunity to co-author a book with the Queen of Jordan and go to The Oprah Winfrey Show! (THE SANDWICH SWAP, illustrated by Tricia Tusa, published by Disney-Hyperion. 2010)

Henry: Umm, YEAH!! Did you know the current King of Jordan had a cameo guest role on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation?

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

I always suggest that new writers join SCBWI, read and study picture books, find a really good critique group and have fun. I know it sounds ridiculously corny and cliché, but having a book published is more of a journey than a destination.

Henry: Good advice. Studying other picture books is doubly helpful. It hones your craft, and it can help you avoid duplicating an existing book. For example, I had a zombie book idea. Did some research, and, whadya’ know? You had done something similar already! Also, critique groups are invaluable.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

I keep a journal of favorite quotes but two that seem relevant with everything that is happening in the world today are both by the Sufi mystic, Rumi. “Raise your words not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” And “Yesterday I was clever so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise so I am changing myself.”

Henry: Nice. I also like, “What you’re doing speaks so loudly, that I can’t hear what you’re saying.”

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

I don’t know if I would call it strange, but I meditate before I begin writing any new manuscript. I also do some visualization exercises and I imagine the book is already completed. These two rituals really open a channel for me and allow the story to flow. Strong coffee and Pop-Tarts help too.

Henry: There is nothing strange about eating Pop-Tarts!

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

It would be to eat whatever I wanted and never gain a pound!

Henry: That tailors nicely with the Pop-Tarts response. That reminds me of a scene from the movie Defending Your Life.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I absolutely adore Dan Santat’s Beekle. I love the character, the concept and the inspiration behind Dan’s unimaginary friend. Beekle is one of those brilliant ideas I wish I had thought of first!

Henry: Wait. Beekle’s not real!?

beekle

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

ATTENTION VISITORS: Kelly DiPucchio has been relocated to a different department. Check your internal directory for a listing of her new assignment and location.

Where can readers find your work?

Readers can find me at http://www.kellydipucchio.com and on Twitter @kellydipucchio, Thanks for sharing your space with me, Henry!

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Kelly. I’m a big fan of your work!

 

 


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Interview with picture book author Julie Falatko

Julie Falatko is the author of Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book), illustrated by Tim Miller (Viking Children’s Books, February 2016); The Society for Underrepresented Animals, illustrated by Charles Santoso (Viking Children’s Books, 2017); and Help Wanted: One Rooster (Viking Children’s Books, 2018). She lives with her family in Maine, where she always checks too many books out of the library.

FalatkoJulie

For what age audience do you write?
I write children’s books, though I’m not sure how to say what age that’s for. I like reading picture books, and I’m not a child anymore…

Henry: Me too!

Tell us about Snappsy.
Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book) is about an alligator who is having an ordinary day until the narrator of the book starts making up lies. Hilarity ensues.

Henry: I love books where the story/illustrations contradict the narration. See also Jon Klassen’s This is Not My Hat.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
Well, mostly I hope they laugh. If they laugh, I’m happy. I hope the fact that I just said this doesn’t lead to a string of awkward appearances where the kids are forcing laughter just to keep me happy.

Henry: Right, because elementary school kids are all reading my blog. 🙂

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
I still have trouble remembering that the great idea in my head might turn into an awful idea when I write it down. And that that’s normal. I really love writing, but sometimes I want to yell at the words: “WHY AREN’T YOU AS AWESOME AS I KNOW YOU CAN BE??!!”

Henry: Darn those uncooperative ideas! Of course, if it was easy, anyone could do it. I’ve found if no inspiration follows a great title or idea, I set it aside for a while and come back to it later.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
Writing is so magical. It’s amazing to me that an idea I had while making dinner is an actual book that strangers can read. It’s humbling, and a little scary. But when you’re writing you have to forget about that far-away end goal. You just have to get the idea down. As you can tell from my answer to the previous question, I still sometimes struggle with this, but writing is like anything else that requires practice. You work at it, you get better. And sometimes initial ideas and attempts at story are truly terrible, and you need to work at it to make it better.

I guess that’s a long way of saying that writing has taught me the beauty and power of creative tenacity.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
My local library has been unbelievably supportive of me and my writing. They let me put up a poster, blanket every desk with bookmarks, and plan my launch party for their space. The children’s librarian told me about this adorable 6-year-old girl who was so excited for Snappsy. She’ll hold up one of the bookmarks and say, “I can’t wait for this book!” or point at the poster and talk about how much she’s looking forward to the party. Apparently she always talks about Snappsy during her weekly visits to the library.

The library had a “Noon Year’s Eve” party on New Year’s Eve, and we decided I should read Snappsy. The librarian called the family of the cutest little superfan to let them know.

I read the book to a huge crowd of tiny rowdy revelers, but didn’t see the girl. And then I saw her later. After I’d read.
She’d missed it. She’d missed me reading this book that she was so excited for.

So I pulled her aside and sat in a corner and read it to her and her sister. They sat on either side of me and we had to put our heads close, because the room was so noisy. They laughed at all the right parts. They pointed out things they liked in the illustrations.

It was amazing.

How is it possible a stranger, a child, falls in love with a bookmark, and then I get to read to that real kid? I still don’t understand it. I’m just a normal person. I can’t dance. I am a fair-to-middling cook. I eat too much buttered toast. But I’m so lucky. What a privilege to be able to read something I wrote to a kid who wants to hear it. What a crazy thing. I’m still boggled by it. I am so grateful for this tiny kid. She’s what it’s all about. That one kid loves my book, and that’s all that matters.

Henry: All the feelz!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Write often, even if what you write seems terrible (especially then). Read a lot, and figure out what makes you like a book. Take your time. Be patient. Work hard.

Henry: Yes. Write and get helpful critiques!

Do you have any favorite quotes?
“To change one’s life: 1. Start immediately, 2. Do it flamboyantly, 3. No exceptions.” –William James

“Be so good they can’t ignore you.” –Steve Martin

“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us, and then stands back to see if we can find them.” –Elizabeth Gilbert

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
My rituals aren’t strange, but they are consistent. I get up early. I drink coffee. I write in silence. I exercise and take the dog for a walk, which is when the words I started working on in the early morning like to get some exercise too. The words get stronger and whisper into my ear, and so I write them down (which confuses the dog, who can’t figure out why we’re stopping). And then I go back home and type those ideas in. But by then it’s 9:30 and my creative window is closing. I really work best in the very early morning hours.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I would like to be able to read books completely just by holding them. If I wanted to. I’m sure I’d want to read books slowly too sometimes. But there are so many books to get to, and I can never read them all fast enough.

Henry: The Vulcan Mind Meld with books!

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
I would have Carter Higgins and Elizabeth Stevens Omlor. They are my support group and critique partners, and if you haven’t heard their names yet, you’ll know them very soon. We all have books coming out in 2017. I talk to them every day but never have them over for dinner. I would also invite Margaret Wise Brown, because you know she’d be a good time.

Henry: Wikipedia helpfully offers: “Margaret Wise Brown (1910 – 1952) was a prolific American writer of children’s books, including the picture books Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny.”
EdMassesa
Graphix editor Steve Massesa wearing a Goodnight Moon-inspired t-shirt at San Diego ComicCon.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
Well. Unicorns are nice. Dragons are pretty great. Everyone loves a good fairy. But we’ve been playing a lot of Dungeons and Dragons in my house lately, and there is this one D&D creature called the Rug of Smothering. It’s a rug. It smothers. And now I am in awe of rugs. I never really thought about rugs before. But apparently some of them are sentient beings who are trying to kill me.

These are my favorite kinds of characters in literature – the ones who aren’t at all what you’d expect.

Henry: Best. Response. Ever.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I like camping and hiking. I like going for runs, and taking my dog for walks. I have four kids and they do all those things with me sometimes. We’re pretty outdoorsy. Though we can be indoorsy too. We play board games and eat Crunch ‘n Munch while lying on the rug. I’m pretty sure our rug is not evil. Pretty sure.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
Just one more chapter.

Where can readers find your work?
In libraries and bookstores. Smothered by rugs, probably. You can also find her at juliefalatko.com and on Twitter @JulieFalatko.

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Julie!


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Interview with picture book author/illustrator Russ Cox

Russ Cox was born in the backwoods of Tennessee and raised by a pack of wild hillbillies. After spending many years in the South, he migrated North to attend art school. With a portfolio in hand, he set out into the world of graphic design where he worked for many years. During this time, he became an in-house illustrator, which rekindled his love of drawing. Having settled in the moose-juggling capital of the country, Maine, he became interested in creating children’s books, which he still does to this day. When he is not locked in studio, he enjoys spending time with his wife and 4 cats, playing the banjo, and running amok in the snow.

Henry: I had the pleasure of meeting Russ at a Los Angeles SCBWI national conference.

CoxRuss

For what age audience do you write?

As of now, I write picture books for the 3-8 year old range, at least that is what I am told. I do have ideas for some early readers and chapter books.

Henry: Me too. But, writing a chapter book after writing a picture book is like playing raquetball after playing tennis. You use different brain muscles.

Tell us about your latest book.

FARAWAY FRIENDS, my debut picture book as both author and illustrator, is about a friendship lost and found, usually under one’s nose. Wannabe astronaut Sheldon has a friend who moved away, in his mind, to Jupiter. With his his trusty dog, Jet, by his side, he goes in search of his friend through an imaginary space adventure.

Henry: In space, no one can hear you bark.

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

hope that readers will learn that people come and go in one’s life, and that new friendships can be exciting. I also want kids to get the idea that they can go outside and invent worlds to play in. Imagination is powerful thing. And that computers, TV’s, phones, etc. are not needed, just brains and the outdoors.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Since I am an illustrator and new to the writing side of books, the whole process of writing is challenging to me. It is not in my comfort zone, but I find that very exciting. I learn something with each word and sentence. Maybe you can teach an old dog a new trick.

Henry: As a writer only, I cannot imagine gaining the skill to become a published illustrator.

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

This is a lesson that I still need to work on: write every day. Good or bad, put words onto paper or a computer screen. You hear this from everyone in publishing.

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

I would never have thought I had stories buried deep inside me. After creating my first book, all of these stories are starting to spill out. I should thank Debbie Ohi for pushing me towards writing my first story and starting this new chapter in my life.

Henry: Fun coincidence: Debbie was the first person I met at my first Los Angeles SCBWI conference.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Do your homework by reading, especially picture books. Many people think they can write a picture book, but it is probably the hardest book to write. By sitting in the children’s section of a library or bookstore, and reading, you can learn how such a book is constructed. The words and pictures must dance in unison with our stepping on each others toes. It is a hard dance to learn and one I am still learning.

My second, and just as important, advice would be to find good critique partners. You need people who are willing to tell you when something is not working, but also cheer you on when you get things moving along. It also helps you to toughen up and become less sensitive to any criticism. You must be ready for any rejection, because it will happen. My critique group consist of about 18 very honest and supportive people. they make me so much better than if I just kept everything to myself.

Henry: And let me add that in once sense, being an author only is even more challenging, because we don’t get to live in the illustrator’s head. We have to write well, show rather than tell, but avoid excessive art notes so as to leave room for the illustrator to add their magic.

I completely agree on the benefit of being part of one or more critique groups.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ― Stephen King

“Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of a job: it’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins.” ― Neil Gaiman

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” ― Maya Angelou

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” ― Ernest Hemingway

“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” ― Walt Disney

“We are the facilitators of our own creative evolution.” ― Bill Hicks

Henry: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” ― Ernest Hemingway

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

When I am writing, I tend to go the library to find a quiet room, and to disconnect from the social world, meditate for a few minutes to cleanse my head, and then let the pencil go for a walk. I still write my first several drafts with pencil and paper. I need that connection of hearing the lead scribbling and seeing eraser shavings. I guess I am old school at times.

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

I think being the Flash would be helpful. I could write and type my story ideas down much faster. Plus, I can get my storyboards, sketches, etc. done quicker. Of course the drawback could be the tons of typos and bad drawings created from moving so fast.

Henry: There are other drawbacks of moving very fast. See my mock interview with Edna Mode about the drawbacks of superpowers.

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

Okay, it would Poe because of his mastery of the macabre, and he is my favorite writer; Mem Fox who can say so much with so few words, and I would want her to read to me all evening; and finally E.E. Cummings, because he uses words and sentences as instruments.

Henry: I’m sure Mem would be thrilled to learn she’s in such company.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

The cyclops. I think they are misunderstood and really have a good soul. From being so different, they are ostracized which makes them a tad angry. All they need is a friend.

Henry: We haven’t seen that pick before on this blog. But, I don’t see eye-to-eye with you on this one. If you eat people, you’re more than just misunderstood. “Hey, Russ, wanna’ come over for dinner.” “Errr, I think I’m busy.”

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

You can usually find me with either a banjo or a book in my hand. Maybe at the same time. I also love movies.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Have sketchbook, will travel.

Where can readers find your work?

Many of the books I worked on can be found or ordered through your local book store.

You can find me at my website, on Facebook, the Red Fox Literary website, or Twitter.

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Russ. This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.


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Interview with picture book author/illustrator Kelly Light

Kelly Light lives in New York, but grew up down the shore in New Jersey surrounded by giant pink dinosaurs, cotton candy colors, and Skee-Ball sounds. She was schooled on Saturday-morning cartoons and Sunday funny pages. She picked up a pencil, started drawing, and never stopped.

Kelly is the author / illustrator of LOUISE LOVES ART and LOUISE AND ANDIE: THE ART OF FRIENDSHIP. She has also illustrated ELVIS AND THE UNDERDOGS and ELVIS AND THE UNDERDOGS: SECRETS, SECRET SERVICE, AND ROOM SERVICE by Jenny Lee, and the QUIRKS series by Erin Soderberg.

She pinches herself daily that she gets to spend her life drawing.

Henry: I had the pleasure of meeting Kelly at a Los Angeles SCBWI national conference.

LightKelly

For what age audience do you write/illustrate?

I primarily make picture books. So ages 2-6? The middle grade chapter books that I have illustrated were for ages 7-11.  I like doing both. I love the broad humor I could really play with in the chapter books, and I love the cinematic feel of making picture books. A picture book is like an animated short in my mind that I get to write, direct, cast and shoot. It’s the closest I‘ll ever get to being Orson Welles or even better! Mel Brooks.

Henry: Picture book idea: LOUISE LOVES YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. You’re welcome.

Tell us about your latest book.

Well, I am currently sitting working on a book that won’t come out for 2 years. So, I will talk about Louise and her first book, LOUISE LOVES ART and then her continuing series. In LOUISE LOVES ART, we meet Louise – seven year-old girl who is obsessed with drawing. She is consumed with the need to create. She says, “I love art. It’s my imagination on the outside.”  She’s so focused on making art that she doesn’t notice her admiring little brother, who just wants her attention. His name, just happens to be, Art. Art may just mess up some of Louise’s great works of art! Their cat sees it all happening, and tries to warn Louise. Louise realizes her little brother just wants to be like her, a great artist.

LOUISE AND ANDIE, came out Spring 2016. Louise and Art get a new neighbor moving in next door. Louise just knows the new kid will LOVE art too!  Andie, the new girl… does love art – a whole lot!! What Louise thinks will be the best day ever doesn’t go exactly as planned when she realizes she and Andie have artistic differences. Can they see past their differences to friendship?? We’ll have to see…

Louise also has a series of leveled readers coming out soon. I am a huge fan of books from Dr. Seuss and P.D. Eastman and Syd Hoff. I had trouble learning to read, so I spent a lot of time at this level as a kid. I am excited to make books like these!

Henry: We look forward to seeing them!

What do you hope readers will get from reading LOUISE?

I hope to connect directly with the creative spirit that thrives inside of all kids! I hope that Louise is relatable and can act as a muse and a mirror. By showing her in situations that are true to the artistic experience and also funny, I hope readers see themselves and get a glimpse into the universality of those feelings. Everyone experiences self doubt, criticism, rejection, pride, fear, jealousy, wanting to belong … whether it’s about art or life or school or friends. It’s human and real. I hope that’s what they get.

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

Illustrating is easiest. I actually storyboard the whole book for weeks before I ever write a word. I have a whole moving , animated short in my head.. then I have to hit PAUSE! Choose just the right image…the fewest words from the ongoing dialogue ….. and start cutting! Oh, I do not recommend this process to anyone. Oh the pain!! I often say, drawing is like breathing…. writing is like punching myself in the face.

Henry: It always amazes me how much process variety there is by different author/illustrators. Some write first, and some illustrate first. I can only write, so it’s face-punching for me.

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

Creating and publishing a book is like a trip through the Fun House. Excited and happy, ticket in hand, you are now tall enough to ride this ride!! You make the book on a long and winding line. Waiting is hard as the release day draws near. You climb the metal steps behind all of the people with books coming out with you that publishing season…thinking, “Let the fun begin!!”. But, Fun Houses are designed to distort reality. The floors move, the mirrors make it hard to see yourself clearly. You try to climb a ladder that has steps that shift. With a lot of effort and determination, you make it almost all of the way through and then you reach a giant spinning barrel. You can kind of read the writing on the barrel..”Does it say Award season?” “ ….can’t concentrate… too much spinning…” You are DIZZY. Ahead….you can see daylight. You are a little worn out and discombobulated. Someone is taking your picture, yelling at you to SMILE! You have to hang on and get through the barrel. Then you slide…down… and out of this book’s release. People are all waiting for you outside of the Fun House anticipating the tale of your trip. You feel like you want to barf, so you force a smile and you squeak out, “That was great!!!” You have to remind yourself to laugh through all of this. You got to be at the Amusement Park when so many people didn’t get to come! Remind yourself that you wanted this. Approach it with the feeling that it is a wild ride, and being knocked off of your feet is part of it. There’s more rides to go on. Take some time and play skeeball. Win an unfortunate-looking stuffed animal at whack-a-mole. Celebrate the small victories. Have some cotton candy. Then you will think – “I had the best time…can’t wait to do it all over again.”

Henry: Beautifully said. You should write for a living.

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

I used to work in animation. Then I worked in cartoon licensed merchandise as a character artist for companies like Disney, Warner Brothers, Hanna Barbera, Henson, Nickelodeon, etc. Cartoons are my life-long love, and I came to making books through my love of cartoons. My favorite cartoons are the Warner Bros. shorts. My favorite of all of the Warner Bros artists is Chuck Jones. I followed on the web, all of the Chuck stuff that I could for years as I pursued being published. When I was touring the U.S. last Fall for LOUISE LOVES ART, I thought I would make a stop at the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity in Costa Mesa, CA. Well – that little thought plus a few ounces of wishing and a pinch hope plus a smidge of believing anything is possible…and I found myself there. The Chuck Jones Center for Creativity was set up to inspire and encourage the creativity that flourishes naturally in kids. Free art classes, outreach to schools that have lost art funding, talks and workshops for kids and adults… all of these things keep the legacy of a great artist alive, Chuck Jones. A man, who in his lifetime, thoroughly enjoyed meeting and encouraging young artists. His family runs the center along with a wonderful staff and volunteers sharing that common goal. I gave a workshop on character design that had an unprecedented attendance for me and for the center. Since then, I have become a “International Creative Ambassador For The Chuck Jones Center for Creativity”, enjoying a continuing connection with that amazing place and helping to keep awareness of what they do and hope to do, along with the the work of Chuck Jones – thriving!

It was making a book and creating a character of my own that lead me to this opportunity. Life is nuts.

For more information on The Chuck Jones Center for Creativity- go to: http://www.chuckjonescenter.org/ And Henry? I know you live pretty close to it…so your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go with your kids and check out a “Drop in and Draw” day!

Henry: Challenge accepted.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors/illustrators?

You have to really want this and treat the pursuit of being published as if you already have a career in publishing. It’s not a hobby, it’s not a dream, it’s not weekend trip to a conference. It is your life if you want it to be your life. Keep making new work and continuously show it at every opportunity you can find or make. You are your work as well, be your best self, make your best work. Everything else is beyond your control – but what you can control? Bust-a-move.

Henry: And be patient. Don’t give up your day job.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

The Gospel according to Laverne and Shirley…

“Give us any chance – we’ll take it
Read us any rule – we’ll break it
We’re gonna make our dreams come true….
Doin’ it our way

Nothin’s gonna turn us back now
Straight ahead and on the track now
We’re gonna make our dreams come true…
Doin’ it our way.”

Henry: “Na na na na, na na na na, Batman. Batman! Batman! Batman.”

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

Music and loud singing …while doing final art. Podcasts about comedians and old movies… if I am in the studio doing general stuff. Total silence if I am writing (punching myself in the face).

Henry: I’d be happy to collaborate on a picture book with you to save you from self-punchitude.

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

My superhero name would be “Deadline”. I would have the ability to freeze time, add time, procrastinate without any penalty, the more pressure I was under the stronger I would become and I would have “Storm”-like control over the world supplies of coffee and chocolate. I would always return after a battle to the fortress of Bubble bath.

Henry: Your nemesis would be “Thoughtless Reviewer”. The only drawback to Bubble Bath Fortress is when it rains.

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

I’m bending the rules. These are all writers/creators.

Well- I want Chuck Jones to be there, and his pal, Ted Geisel. I am fascinated by their friendship… and let’s add Mel Brooks. Oh, that – would – be – fun.

Henry: “Look at me!
Look at me!
Look at me NOW!
It is fun to have fun
But you have
to know how.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

The Cheshire Cat. He’s kind of helpful but also a little snarky… and he can disappear when things get out of hand. I dig that.

Henry: “Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”

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

I love to rummage through antique stores and I collect old photo albums (clue to upcoming book) and old radios.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Why are you here? GO. Live!

Henry: I notice a similarity in your words and glasses to another famous lady…

edna

Where can readers find your work?

Well, I am truly fortunate to have books available at all major book outlets like Amazon and indies all around – check Indiebound.com… and to my ultimate happiness..in SO many libraries!!! My website.

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Kelly. This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.