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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Interviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Interview (Part 2) With Ashley Hope Pérez, Author of OUT OF DARKNESS

Welcome back to our conversation with author Ashley Hope Pérez, author of the forthcoming YA historical novel OUT OF DARKNESS, which is based on real-life events of the March 1937 gas leak which caused a massive explosion and killed almost 300... Read the rest of this post

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2. Interview and Giveaway: Fire Me Up by Rachael Johns


[Manga Maniac Cafe] Good morning, Rachael! Describe yourself in five words or less.

[Rachael Johns] Cheerful, optimistic, friendly, crazy and loud.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?

[Rachael Johns] My iPhone

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.

[Rachael Johns] Empty Diet Coke cans, my diary, decks of FIRE ME UP cards, which I’m planning to use for giveaways.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s your favorite snack when you’re working on a deadline?

[Rachael Johns] Does Diet Coke count as a snack? If not, pretty much any chocolate I can get my hands on.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

[Rachael Johns] Nora Roberts

[Manga Maniac Cafe] You have been granted the use of one superpower for one week.  Which power would you choose, and what would you do with it?

[Rachael Johns] Is flying a superpower? I’d really love to be able to fly!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?

[Rachael Johns] Maisey Yate’s Part Time Cowboy; Always a Bridesmaid by Lindsey Kelk; Fiona’s Flame by Rachael Herron.

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Deacons of Bourbon Street #2
Rachael Johns
Releasing Sept 1st, 2015

Can a scorching affair with a bohemian beauty tame a motorcycle man with a dark side? Rachael Johns takes the wheel in the sexy series co-written with Megan Crane, Jackie Ashenden, and Maisey Yates.

Travis “Cash” Sinclair values only two things from his days with the Deacons of Bourbon Street: his prized Harley Davidson and the man who gave it to him. But now Priest Lombard is gone, and Cash has inherited the Deacons’ clubhouse—not to mentions its unexpected tenant. She’s exactly the type of woman he tries to avoid: all incense and art, with a sharp tongue that promises trouble. So why does Cash want to push aside those flowing skirts and lose himself between her legs?

Billie Taylor fled a bad marriage to start a new life among the grit and glamour of the French Quarter. She refuses to let another man distract her from her dreams, especially an outlaw biker with nothing to offer except hot sex and an eviction notice. Cash is dangerous, with an untamed streak he tries desperately to conceal. He drives Billie wild, sending her too close to the edge for her own good. And she won’t fall under his spell—or into his bed—without a fight

“This room is mine,” she said, folding her arms and glaring at him with more bravado than she felt as he turned to look at her with his dark, smoldering eyes. She shivered despite herself and almost forgot to add, “If you insist on staying, you’ll have to choose from one of the others.”

He took his time replying, his gaze sliding downward, scalding her body as if he’d actually touched her. For a moment she thought he was going to object—tell her that not only would he share her house but also her bed—but eventually he shut her wardrobe and nodded. “I always preferred the one next to this anyway.”

She swallowed. Of all the rooms in the house, he wanted to choose the one right next to hers? How would she sleep knowing he was mere yards away? Still, she was hardly in a position to argue, and if it would get him out of her personal space, well, that was a start.

“Fine.” She stepped back and gestured for him to leave. The only good thing about having Travis right next door was that she could keep an eye on him. Or was that a bad thing? Argh.

Surprisingly, he obeyed, stalking past her and smirking again as he did. She hated that she caught a waft of some raw, masculine cologne, which sent ripples of need through her body, rousing places she’d given little thought to over the last year. How ironic that the first sign of life down there had sparked because of a man who seemed intent on messing up her life. Why were the sexiest guys, the best-looking ones, always the biggest jerks?

He didn’t head straight for his room, instead going into the kitchen, and she found herself following. Her hackles rose as he opened the refrigerator and leaned inside, giving her a perfect view of his perfect butt. Oh help me, God! Had any guy she’d ever known looked so damn fine in faded jeans? Her thighs involuntarily clenched.

“No beer,” he said as he straightened.

Despite the traitorous hormones rushing through her body, she shook her head. It went against the grain of every single cell in her body not to be hospitable, but then again she hadn’t invited him to stay here with her. “Nope. Sorry. But there’s a bar next door.”

She wished he’d go back to it. He had to be one of the Deacons that had been hanging around The Priory the last few days. Sophie had given her a brief history of the motorcycle club—apparently it had disbanded around the time of Katrina—and informed her that it would be unlikely any of its members would hang around after her father’s funeral. But, dammit, it looked like she’d been wrong on that account. Billie needed to go see Sophie, make sure this guy was for real. For all she knew he could be anybody. He hadn’t shown her any proof that he owned the building, but something—maybe the way he’d leaned into her face when he told her no one tells him what the fuck to do—made her cautious. He was like a wild animal, and she didn’t want to make any sudden moves.

He smiled wickedly and leaned back against the counter, looking her over again, making her feel aroused and insulted all at once. “I know it. The bar and this place used to be my home.”

“Is that right?” She wondered about Travis Sinclair. He had the leather jacket, the swagger in his step and the don’t-mess-with-me attitude of a biker, but there was something about him that didn’t fit the image. He wore no patches like a couple of other guys she’d seen hanging around next door, but that wasn’t it. There was something else she couldn’t quite put her finger on. “And where is your home now?”

She waited for him to tell her it was none of her fucking business, but he shrugged off his jacket, hung it over one of the odd chairs that sat around her kitchen table and then pulled back the seat and straddled it. “Tallahassee,” he said as he leaned down and yanked a laptop out of his pack. It was a flashy MacBook Air—not at all the type of computer she’d expect of a biker. He didn’t even glance her way as he put it on the table in front of him, lifted the lid and tapped his boots against the tiled floor as he waited for the computer to spring to life.

No idea where Tallahassee was—geography had never been her thing—she vowed to google it later. Leaning back against the kitchen counter, she wiped her palm across her brow, feeling hot and more than a little bothered. Being warm in itself wasn’t unusual in New Orleans or in Western Australia where she came from, but the weather had nothing to do with the rise in her body temperature. And that disturbed her.

Her eyes zoned in on the bad-boy ink that traveled the length of his sculpted and tanned forearms, and the heat that had been simmering inside her boiled over.

Until this moment she’d have said she wasn’t a fan of body art—personally, she preferred her art on walls or in gardens—but Travis’s tattoos changed her opinion. And that was bad, because with her divorce only recently official, the last thing she wanted in her life was another man who thought he could walk all over her.


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Rachael Johns is an English teacher by trade, a mum 24/7, a supermarket owner, a chronic arachnophobic, and a writer the rest of the time. She rarely sleeps and never irons. She writes contemporary romance for HQN and Carina Press and lives in rural Western Australia with her hyperactive husband and three mostly-gorgeous heroes-in-training. Rachael loves to hear from readers and can be contacted through her website at www.rachaeljohns.com

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3. An Interview with Monster & Boy — Not To Be Missed!

Today I am honored to have two wonderful guests from the Monster & Me series, including the recently released Monster Needs Your Vote (reviewed here). You might remember them from another interview (read it here). There is no better way to get at the story than from the view point of the characters.


Monster and Boy cut to the chase as they answer a few of my hard-hitting questions. Of course, you’d expect nothing less from an interview with a political candidate. Monster is vying for President! Yep, he doesn’t play around folks (well, not much), and aims for the top! Monster’s long-time friend goes along on the campaign trail, giving guidance and help as only Boy can. (NOTE:  Kids, any Boy—or Girl—and any Monster can aspire to this relationship, as enviable as it is.)


Welcome Monster and Boy. Your new book Monster Needs Your Vote is in bookstores now. The author, Paul Czajak, chose an interesting topic for your 5th book:  politics. What did you think, Monster, when you found out you would be running for president?


“First off thanks for having me, any opportunity to get the message out I am up for!”

“MONSTER 2016!! Turn your voice into a roar!”

b5“Monster we’re no longer campaigning, remember? You already saved the library.”

m4“Oh yeah, I forgot. Sometimes I forget stuff. Anyway I want to point out when I was running I was my OWN Monster and not an imaginary Monster created by Mr. Paul Czajak. I decided to run for President when I found out I wasn’t old enough to vote. Which is not fair!”


True, at first, you simply wanted to vote. Have you ever voted before that day? I know I’m not supposed to ask, but my curiosity is overpowering my good sense. Which candidate did you vote for?

m1“I never voted before. In fact I didn’t even know what it was until that day. Once I heard about it I thought, “How cool is that?! Being able to voice your opinion on how decisions are made! What an awesome responsibility!” Then Boy told me I wasn’t old enough to vote yet, UNFAIR! So I figured I would run for President and help change that rule.”

Boy has always helped you, like when he helped you choose a Halloween costume, find a Christmas tree, and when he helped you go to sleep. How did Boy help you on the campaign trail?

m1“Well, he’s very good at making posters, and he’s great at coming up with campaign slogans. He created “A chocolate cake on every plate, a pie in every pot!” I thought that was very clever.”


“Thanks, Monster!”

m4“Even though I really liked that slogan, Dessert For Dinner was probably not the best platform, or issue, to run on. Boy helped me figure out that I should stand behind something that isn’t about what I need but what everybody needs, like a library staying open. But honestly who wouldn’t want chocolate cake for dinner?”


“I like vanilla.”


“You’re so difficult.”

Boy, I’m curious again. You have a giant amount of confidence when guiding Monster, but he is, like, 100 times bigger than you. Aren’t you afraid Monster might, well, become a monster?


“I don’t get it? Monster is a monster, that’s why his name is Monster. He can’t become a monster since he’s already a monster. Any idea what she’s talking about?”


“Sorry I wasn’t listening, I’m still thinking about chocolate cake.”

In Monster Needs Your Vote, both of you use some odd words and combinations of words, like soapbox (a box of soap?), oratory, platform, grassroots movement (moving grassroots?), “give a voice” (you can do that?) and “all for naught” (who is naught?). What do these words mean and why are these important when running for president?


“This sounds an awful lot like a “gotcha question.” Where’s my agent?”

“Monster, you don’t have an agent. Plus, I think she just wants to know how you got such a big vocabulary.”


“Oh! Mr. Czajak teaches me lots of big words. No reason not to use them when the opportunity presents itself,

“New Hampshire, then to Iowa he caused a rousing raucous,
“Speaking to the voters at the primary and caucus.”


“Monster, no one likes a show off.”


“Tell that to Trump.”

People running for president usually have a running mate, why isn’t Boy your running mate instead of your campaign manager? (Did the author veto that idea?)


“He was going to be my running mate!”

“Monster needs a running mate, “So who’s it going to be?”
“Monster said, “My only choice is you for my V.P.”

“But I never got to that point since it turns out you have to be 35 to run for President. Which, again, is unfair! I know, I’ll run for President and change that rule too!”

I don’t recall from your first adventure, Monster Needs a Costume, if we found out where you came from. President Obama had to show his birth certificate to prove he was born in the U.S.  Running for President is tough to do. Did anyone ask to see your birth certificate?

m5“It all happened during a debate with one of the other candidates, I think I still have the transcript.”

“A Monster can’t be President, he has no expertise!
“Who is Monster? Where’s he from? I think he may have fleas.”

“Fleas are not the issue, this is just something that misleads
“This country needs a Leader that will focus on the needs.”

“After the debate the officials asked for my birth certificate which showed I wasn’t 35, dumb rule.”

“Also, I would like to go on record that Monster does not have fleas. That man was just being mean.”

What I really like about Monster Needs Your Vote is all the other monsters Wendy Grieb brought out. There are some interesting-looking monsters. Monster, there is one that sure looks like he/she could be a relative. Do you know any of these monsters?


“A lot of them came to my Birthday Party this past April! It was such a surprise when I came home from Pirate Land and found all my friends in the house.”


I’m so sorry. I missed your birthday party. I bet it was a frightful affair!  Anyway, I think Monster would be absolutely terrific at any sport or getting fit (kids need that—adults, too). Boy, what is next for Monster?




“We will focus on Monsters message of “Reading Turns Your Voice into a Roar!” for the rest of the election. Then I think Monster might go to school next fall… His sports career will have to wait a bit. Though he will definitely get involved in something.”


m1“Yup, like basketball, or swimming, or tennis, or yoga, or maybe surfing or cheerleading…”


Ah, Monster, you are such a dreamer . . . I mean you have great dreams . . . um, what I really mean to say is, “Yes! You go Monster!”  So, is there anything either of you would like to say directly to the readers?



“Read! Read! Read! And support your local library!”


“What he said, it’s why he’s the best candidate.”


That is a fantastic message! Monster and Boy, thank you for stopping by . . . Oh, wait! I forgot to ask one BIG QUESTION. In Monster Needs Your Vote (you have my vote)—DID YOU WIN?



“Well I guess someone didn’t read the book. It’s only 350 words, it’s not like it would take that much time.”


“Monster, I think she’s just pretending to have not read the book to build up suspense. You know, a bit of suspended disbelief on the part of the interviewer.”

a2“Suspended what?”

“Suspended Disbelief, when something doesn’t make sense, but you let it go for the sake of the story. You know, kind of like if someone wrote a story about a monster who’s too young to vote but then decides to run for President.”


“You lost me.”

Monster and Boy, thank you for stopping by Kid Lit Reviews once more. It is always a delight and a surprise!

Boy and Monster, what a pair. You got to love them and I believe you will while reading the Monster & Me series. This is one series that has never disappointed me. The stories and illustrations are full of humor, bold images, and a gentle message no one, not even a Monster, tries to blast at you.

You can start the Monster & Me series with their the latest, Monster Needs Your Vote (reviewed here), as each book can stand on its own (and no, Monster, I do not mean that they actually stand on their own, but that you can read any story without having to read the story before it).

Soon it will be Halloween, a good time to read Monster Needs a Costume (reviewed here). And then Christmas will be upon us and Monster Needs a Christmas Tree (reviewed soon) is the perfect holiday story.

If holidays are not your thing (really, could that be true of anyone?) how about a birthday party story with Monster Needs a Party (reviewed soon), or a story to help you nod off with Monster in Monster Needs His Sleep (reviewed here)?

It sounds like Monster will be heading off to school—for the first time—next Fall and maybe joining a sports team—or the cheerleaders. I cannot wait for those stories. Until then, I hope you have enjoyed this latest interview with Monster and Boy.

And don’t forget to “Read! Read! Read!” Support your public library, and VOTE FOR MONSTER!

#5 needs your vote


Copyright © 2015 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved


Full Disclosure: Monster & Me by Paul Czajak & Wendy Grieb, and published by Mighty Media Kids. Monster and Boy’s interview answers by Paul Czajak. Images copyright © by Wendy Grieb.  The opinions expressed are my own and no one else’s. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monster & Me Series

Monster Needs a Costume

Monster Needs a Costume

Monster Needs His Sleep

Monster Needs His Sleep

Monster Needs a Christmas Tree

Monster Needs a Christmas Tree

Monster Needs a Party

Monster Needs a Party

Monster Needs Your Vote

Monster Needs Your Vote



Purchase at  Amazon  IndieBound Books  Mighty Media Kids




A HUGE THANKS to Paul Czajak!

Filed under: 6 Stars TOP BOOK, Books for Boys, Children's Books, Favorites, Guest Post, Interviews, Picture Book, Series, Top 10 of 2015 Tagged: Boy, Mighty Media Kids, Mighty Media Press, monster, Monster & Me series, Monster Needs a Christmas Tree, Monster Needs a Costume, Monster Needs a Party, Monster Needs His Sleep, Monster Needs Your Vote, Paul Czajak, Wendy Grieb

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4. Interview (Part 1) with Ashley Hope Perez, Author of OUT OF DARKNESS

Welcome to Part 1 of our 3-part interview (we just couldn't stop chatting!) with Ashley Hope Perez, author of the forthcoming YA historical novel Out of Darkness, which is based on real-life events (and which we reviewed here).Not only was this a... Read the rest of this post

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5. Interview: Gary Leib Talks About Creating ‘American Ultra”s Animation Sequence

How an indie animator in New York City added a unique animated touch to a major Hollywood film.

0 Comments on Interview: Gary Leib Talks About Creating ‘American Ultra”s Animation Sequence as of 8/25/2015 6:00:00 PM
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6. MATT CHATS: Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman Building Their ‘Invisible Republic’

Though it’s called Invisible Republic, the Image series from Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko has quickly made its presence felt. In five issues the husband and wife duo (along colorist Jordan Boyd and designer Dylan Todd) have managed to introduce a rich futuristic setting and a compelling set of characters. To celebrate the release of the first volume […]

1 Comments on MATT CHATS: Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman Building Their ‘Invisible Republic’, last added: 8/26/2015
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7. Five questions for Steve Sheinkin

Steve Sheinkin 2.13Steve Sheinkin’s young adult history books — including Bomb: The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon (a Newbery Honor Book, a National Book Award finalist, and the winner of both the Sibert Award and the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults) and The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights (a 2014 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner and also a National Book Award finalist) — are acclaimed for a reason. They are meticulously researched nonfiction books written with the pace, drama, and suspense of fictional thrillers. His latest, Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War (Roaring Brook, 11–14 years), is no exception, as Sheinkin spellbindingly unfolds the entwined stories of the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers — “seven thousand pages of documentary evidence of lying, by four presidents and their administrations over twenty-three years.”  

1. What originally drew you to Daniel Ellsberg’s particular story, within the larger narrative of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal?

SS: The very first thing that grabbed me was that a team of secret operatives, under direct supervision of the Nixon White House, actually broke into Ellsberg’s doctor’s office in search of information they could use to destroy him. I didn’t know the story well at that point, and wondered: what could this guy have possibly done to provoke such an incredible — and incredibly illegal — response from the president and his top advisors? Also, Ellsberg is one of those people who is considered a hero by some and a traitor by others, and that has always fascinated me.

2. President Johnson emerges as a particularly tragic figure, almost Shakespearean in his ego, in the cruel subversion of his ambitions (the War on Poverty, etc.), and in his inability to escape the quagmire that was the Vietnam War. I ended up feeling (conflictedly) sorry for him. Did you?

SS: Yes, very much so. You can really feel his agony as he makes these decisions, and the most unsettling part of all is that he seems to know all along that he’s heading for disaster. There’s a great line in his memoir about the presidency being too big for any one person to handle — there’s just no way to control events the way Americans seem to expect their leader to be able to do. But while I sympathize with him, I always end up getting angry at him, too, because I think, ultimately, his fear of political consequences was the main reason he escalated the war.

3. This story is a study in contrasts. On the one hand it’s loaded with farce. All the wigs and disguises; the botched burglaries (those conscientious employees re-locking doors!). But of course it’s a serious and important story of a defining era in our nation’s history. How did you hit upon the right tone?

SS: This story has a lot of you-can’t-make-this-up situations and characters, which makes for great material to work with in nonfiction. And I think the darkly comedic moments of bungling and farce are really essential to the overall story. It would probably just be too depressing without that stuff. It’s a matter of taste, but to me the best comedy is usually found in very serious stories — Breaking Bad did that brilliantly, to give one example. So I tried to keep the tone even, and hopefully the reader is pleasantly surprised by those comic moments.

sheinkin_most dangerous4. You make the point that Ellsberg’s legacy is as a First Amendment hero, while Edward Snowden, for example, has been lambasted by President Obama and Secretary Kerry. How do you think today’s political climate compares to that of the 1960s and 1970s?

SS: Maybe the most amazing photo I came across in my research was in a 1971 newspaper article showing Daniel Ellsberg shaking hands with a young anti-war veteran named John Kerry! And now, as you say, Kerry calls Snowden a traitor. In Kerry’s case, I think the main change is that he was an outsider then and he’s an insider now. Overall, while our country’s political discourse does seem to have gotten stupider, I’m not sure the political climate has changed that much. When the Pentagon Papers story first broke, the response was mainly along partisan lines — Ellsberg’s leak was praised by one side and blasted by the other, exactly like Snowden’s. I think it’s mainly time and distance that have tipped the scales in Ellsberg’s favor, in terms of public opinion. I suspect the same will eventually happen with Snowden, but we’ll see.

5. What do you hope readers will come away with after reading this book?

SS: I always start with the same goal: to tell a good story. So I hope teen readers are engaged with the drama and action and moral dilemmas in this one. Beyond that, I hope they come away thinking about how alive and current this story is, how much we’re still wrestling with the same kinds of questions. And of course the best result of all is for a reader to finish the book and be unsatisfied — that is, inspired to find out more.

From the August 2015 issue of What Makes a Good…?


The post Five questions for Steve Sheinkin appeared first on The Horn Book.

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8. Interview and Giveaway: Delayed Penalty by Sophia Henry

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[Manga Maniac Cafe] Good morning, Sophia! Describe yourself in five words or less.

[Sophia Henry] Driven. Compassionate. Funny.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Whats one thing you wont leave home without?

[Sophia Henry] Lip product of some kind. I’m addicted. I feel like a zombie without it. A dry-lip zombie.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.

[Sophia Henry] Computer, a stack of books for a future giveaway, and a silly little bobblehead of a cat wearing gold chains that my grandpa bought me.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Whats your favorite snack when youre working on a deadline?

[Sophia Henry] Sour Patch Kids. I eat all the Sour Patch Kids when I’m writing!!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

[Sophia Henry] (Detroit Red Wings Forward) Tomas Tatar’s girlfriend? ;) Sorry to my husband…

[Manga Maniac Cafe] You have been granted the use of one superpower for one week. Which power would you choose, and what would you do with it?

[Sophia Henry] This is such a hard question for me, because “with great power comes great responsibility,” ya know? I’ll say invisibility, because then I don’t need to be Tomas Tatar’s girlfriend, I’ll just be invisible in the Red Wings locker room for a week. I think more naughty than I write.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?

[Sophia Henry] I’ve read so much awesome recently. Missing Pieces by Meredith Tate, Game of Love by Ara Grigorian, Across the Distance by Marie Meyer, The Rearranged Life by Annika Sharma, Run Away by Laura Salters, The List by Kate L. Mary, Letting Go by Jessica Ruddick. So many. I love to read (Obviously – ha). And love to support my fellow authors.

**Thank you so much for having me on your blog!

Pilots Hockey #1
Sophia Henry
Releasing Sept 1st, 2015
She closed her heart long ago. He just wants to open her mind. For fans of Toni Aleo and Sawyer Bennett, the debut of Sophia Henry’s red-hot Detroit Pilots series introduces a hockey team full of complicated men who fight for love.
Auden Berezin is used to losing people: her father, her mother, her first love. Now, just when she believes those childhood wounds are finally healing, she loses something else: the soccer scholarship that was her ticket to college. Scrambling to earn tuition money, she’s relieved to find a gig translating for a Russian minor-league hockey player—until she realizes that he’s the same dangerously sexy jerk who propositioned her at the bar the night before.
Equal parts muscle and scar tissue, Aleksandr Varenkov knows about trauma. Maybe that’s what draws him to Auden. He also lost his family too young, and he channeled the pain into his passions: first hockey, then vodka and women. But all that seems to just melt away the instant he kisses Auden and feels a jolt of desire as sudden and surprising as a hard check on the ice.
After everything she’s been through, Auden can’t bring herself to trust any man, let alone a hot-headed puck jockey with a bad reputation. Aleksandr just hopes she’ll give him a chance—long enough to prove he’s finally met the one who makes him want to change.


I’m pretty sure there were only two ways Crazy Hair could have looked better than he had at O’Callaghan’s. The first was as he did right now: sitting on a bench in the locker room wearing nothing but the lower half of his uniform, including his skates, sweat rolling over his sinewy pecs and creating a happy trail all the way into his hockey pants.

The second way—I can only assume—would be if he were completely naked.

“Aleksandr, this is Auden Berezin. She will be your translator.”

“I don’t need a translator.”

I almost laughed, because he’d said he didn’t need a translator in Russian.

“You must talk with the media at some point, Sasha. They’re riding my ass to get better answers from you than ‘was good game.’ ”

Aleksandr Varenkov, hot Russian hockey god, laughed, showing the perfect set of white teeth I’d noticed at the bar.

“You have your teeth in, but you haven’t even showered yet?” Orlenko asked.

Was Orlenko a mind reader? I sure hope not, because I would be fired for thinking about my client naked.

“I wanted to look good for pictures.” Aleksandr winked at me. Then he stood, and drops of sweat raced down the hard planes of his chest.

I’d never been so envious of perspiration in my life.

“Sometimes I talk in the shower. Will she translate for me in there?”

My cheeks began to burn, so I averted my eyes, lowering them to the black Cyrillic script tattooed down his sides, then thought better of that line of sight and studied the soiled beige carpet below my feet.

“Aleks—” Orlenko sighed, rubbing his forehead.

“Zhenya,” Aleksandr began. “You know I’m kidding, yes?” He shoved a towel onto the shelf above his nameplate and walked away without waiting for an answer.

“Yes,” Orlenko hissed. He’d said it under his breath, but I heard him and wondered what my grandpa had gotten me into. “Well, that was Aleksandr Varenkov, your client. He’s a talented player and a good man. But he can be a little—”

“Douchey?” I offered in English. I shouldn’t have said it, considering Grandpa’s professional reputation was in my hands. Then again, Evgeny Orlenko was Grandpa’s friend first, so maybe he wouldn’t be too hard on me. Besides, Grandpa knew what kind of mouth I had, and he’d sent me for the job anyway.

Orlenko laughed, and continued in Russian. “Wild was the word I was looking for, but your adjective may not be that far off.”

“I’ve got it, Mr. Orlenko.”

“Are you sure?” He inspected me through thick black-rimmed glasses that were too small for his puffy face.

“As a college student with an active social life, I’ve learned how to handle arrogant douche bags.” This time I was being paid to handle one.

“I shouldn’t be having this conversation about one of my clients,” Mr. Orlenko said, his lips quirking up, then back into a tight line. At least he was trying to keep a straight face. “You’re like a breath of fresh air, Audushka. I hope you stay that way even with his off-ice antics.”

Off-ice antics? What the hell did that mean and why would I have to deal with them? “Will I have to hang out with him outside of the arena? I thought I was here to translate for media interviews after games and some practices.”

“Aleksandr speaks very little English. He’ll need your assistance in all aspects of his career; interviews, community service. At least, until he gets acclimated. Vitya said you were here for the month, is that correct?”

“Yep. All of winter break.”

“You’ll be putting in a lot of hours.”

“I’m a hard worker. And I need the cash. Got cut from the soccer team, and I have to replace the scholarship money I lost.” I was running my mouth again. Maybe I did need to tone it down.

“Well, I’m sorry to hear that. The being-cut part.” He cleared his throat. “Here’s my card. I wrote my cell number on the back. If you have any trouble or if Aleksandr makes you uncomfortable in any way, please give me a call.”

“Thanks.” I scanned the card wondering if I should try to memorize his number now, since I wasn’t sure how stable this client sounded.

After Orlenko left the locker room, I realized I hadn’t asked him what I should do next, and he hadn’t given me instructions as to where I should wait while Aleksandr showered. Since I wasn’t part of the media, I was extremely aware of being the intruder standing in a room of half-naked men. A shower shouldn’t take very long, so I dug my e-reader out of my messenger bag and sat down on the stool that Aleksandr had just vacated.

“Ewww.” I jumped up and skimmed my palm against my damp backside. Hadn’t even thought about any runaway sweat that might’ve dripped from Aleksandr’s lean, hard body onto the stool.

Stop. Just stop thinking about the shiny, wet flesh covering his impeccably carved frame.

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Sophia Henry, a proud Detroit native, fell in love with reading, writing, and hockey all before she became a teenager. She did not, however, fall in love with snow. So after graduating with an English degree from Central Michigan University, she moved to North Carolina, where she spends her time writing books featuring hockey-playing heroes, chasing her two high-energy sons, watching her beloved Detroit Red Wings, and rocking out at concerts with her husband.

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9. Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Daniel Miyares

Author and illustrator Daniel Miyares—whose most recent picture book is Float, published by Simon & Schuster in June (and the subject of my Kirkus column here)—visits for breakfast this morning. Normally, he tells me, he has merely a hot cup of Earl Grey tea with a splash of milk in the fabulous mug his wife gave him, pictured below. (“She gets me,” he adds.) If he’s taking the time to sit down and eat in the mornings, he says, he goes with biscuits. “I grew up in South Carolina,” he tells me. “It’s kind of a requirement.”

Hey, I’m in Tennessee and get this, so biscuits and tea it is.

Daniel is relatively new to picture books, at least in the grand scheme of things, and I thank him for visiting today to tell me and my readers more about his career, his books thus far, and what’s next on his plate.

Let’s get right to it.

* * * * * * *

Daniel’s breakfast mug-of-choice

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Daniel: Author/Illustrator, but my entry point into a story idea is usually the visual narrative.


(Click to enlarge spread)


(Click to enlarge spread)


Spreads and cover from Float (Simon & Schuster, June 2015);
Visit this 2015 7-Imp post for sketches from the book

(Click each to enlarge)


Jules: Can you list your books-to-date? (If there are too many books to list here, please list your five most recent illustrated titles or the ones that are most prominent in your mind, for whatever reason.)

Daniel: I’ve illustrated: Waking Up Is Hard To Do (Imagine Publishing, 2010) and Bambino and Mr. Twain (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2012).

As author/illustrator: Pardon Me! (Simon & Schuster, 2014), Float (Simon & Schuster, 2015) and Bring Me A Rock! (to be published by Simon & Schuster, Summer of 2016)

Jules: What is your usual medium?


Spreads and cover from Pardon Me! (Simon & Schuster, 2014);
Click here to see early sketches and development work from the book

(Click each to enlarge)


Daniel: I use inks, watercolors, gouache, acrylics, and digital tools to build my images.

Jules: If you have illustrated for various age ranges (such as, both picture books and early reader books OR, say, picture books and chapter books), can you briefly discuss the differences, if any, in illustrating for one age group to another?


(Click to enlarge)


Daniel: I’ve gotten to try a variety of book-type projects. I’ve made picture books, did a novel cover, and when I was first starting out I got to illustrate some serial books for the Kansas City Star newspaper. No matter who the book audience is, I try to use the same approach to visual storytelling. The principles of design and timing speak to all age groups, I think. I have learned, however, that young children have an easier time appreciating where a story wants to take them. Something about getting older dulls our ability to imagine and tolerate the absurd. I’ve found that in the picture books I make I can paint what something feels like and not just what it looks like. Sometimes to tell a proper story you need the freedom to break with truth and reality. Kids get that in a big way.

Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Daniel: I live in the middle of the map as they say, the city of Overland Park, Kansas. It’s just south of Kansas City.

Daniel, age four

Jules: Can you briefly tell me about your road to publication?

Daniel: My first book gig was a collaboration with Singer/Songwriter Neil Sedaka. He was working with Imagine Publishing to bring some re-works of his hit songs to life as picture books. The first one they wanted to do was Waking Up Is Hard To Do [pictured below]. It was 2009. I had just finished building a portfolio with my artist rep (Studio Goodwin Sturges), when they said there may be an opportunity for me, but … you would need to do a sample piece for the story on spec. It wasn’t like I had another project going on at the time, so I said sure. I’m assuming they had a handful of other artists contending for the book as well. We went a few rounds on the samples to define my take on the story, and in the end I got to do the book. For a young illustrator, it was like jumping off the end of the pier to learn how to swim. The stakes felt high. The deadlines were tight. I learned so much about who I was as a book maker, as well as who I might want to be going forward. Also, I realized just how amazing of a creative family I had in my Studio Goodwin Sturges partners. They really gave me an education on the nuts and bolts of bookmaking.

Neil was a force. I really admire his passion for music and passing that on to his grandchildren. You could tell he was totally smitten by them. Before I knew it he was on the Today show talking about our book with Kathie Lee and Hoda.


(Click to enlarge spread)


It was a wild first adventure as a book illustrator. Pretty soon after that, I started to feel the pull to tell my own stories.

Jules: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?

Daniel: danielmiyares.comm or on Instagram @danielmiyaresdoodles — and on Twitter @danielmiyares.

Jules: If you do school visits, tell me what they’re like.

Daniel: I try to tailor my presentations to the audiences.

If it’s a large school-assembly kind of situation, I’ll do a slide show and discussion that starts with when I knew I wanted to be an artist (at about age four).

I also like to share what I think an Author/Illustrator really does. No matter what the age group is, if I ask what an Author/Illustrator does, I get the same answer: “They write the words and draw the pictures.” Technically, they’re right, but I’m convinced there’s a lot more fun and adventure in it than that. To prove it, I share an example of a three sentence story that I wrote for a children’s book class I taught a while back at the Kansas City Art Institute. First I share it with just the words and I ask if it’s a good story. Usually I get a resounding NO! Sometimes I get a boo or two. (Kid-honesty is the best.)



Next, I share the same story again, except I’ve added some rough sketches to it. This time I usually get belly laughs and cheers. Really I just want to share that words and pictures don’t have to be serious, intimidating business. Telling stories can be a lot of fun.


(Click each to enlarge)


I also do readings of my books. The kids are usually so respectful and well-mannered. I invite them to take part in the readings. They help me figure out what’s going to happen next or shout out questions or suggestions. I’ve learned so much about my books through those interactions. Secretly, my goal is to get them whipped up over a story. I want the students to have as much joy and excitement as possible around the reading experience.

My finale is usually a live drawing demo. I make the wild claim to the crowd that it’s possible to make any animal in the world out of basic shapes. Mostly they don’t believe me, so I ask for a shape suggestion from the audience. I draw that on the pad of paper. Then I ask for the animal. If all works out, we end up with some pretty fun stylized animal drawings. As time allows, I’ll get some other brave souls up there to convert shapes into animals, too.

For smaller groups (like the size of one classroom), I’ll change it up to be more hands-on. I like having an activity where we make something together. If they’re on the older side, I break out the three-sentence story assignment for them. It’s a lot of fun, plus I like leaving things behind that they can keep working on or do again in their own way with their teachers.



Daniel’s That-Neighbor-Kid series

Jules: If you teach illustration, by chance, tell me how that influences your work as an illustrator.

Daniel: When I’ve had the opportunity to teach classes, I’m always amazed at how much I grow personally. There’s something about taking on the responsibility of helping others connect dots that inevitably leads to my own dot-connecting.

I was teaching a children’s book class at the same time I was working on Float. When we covered basic principles, like pacing and composition, I would bring in-progress art from my book to speak to. They enjoyed talking about real world examples, and I got some straightforward feedback on how things read. There’s a wonderful accountability that goes along with being transparent.

Also, the student’s passion and curiosity for art and design is infectious. It’s really hard to replicate that energy outside of a classroom.


Cover art for Leah Pileggi’s Prisoner 88 (Charlesbridge, 2013)
(Click to enlarge)


Jules: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Daniel: I just wrapped up the art on my next book with Simon & Schuster. It’s called Bring Me A Rock! It will be released Summer of 2016. It’s about a megalomaniac insect king on a power trip and the little bug who saves the day.


(Click each to enlarge)


Also, I am in the middle of illustrating a new book that Kwame Alexander wrote for North South, called Surf’s Up.


(Click to enlarge cover)


Mmm. Coffee.Okay, we’ve got our eggs, and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with six questions over breakfast. I thank Daniel again for visiting 7-Imp.

1. Jules: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?


: In describing my process, I have to mention Uri Shulevitz’s book Writing With Pictures. A friend turned me onto it when I was building my first book concepts as an author/illustrator. In the second paragraph of the first chapter, Uri says, “A picture book says in words only what pictures cannot show.”

This simple idea helped the tumblers fall into place for me. Don’t let your words try and do what your pictures are doing and vice versa. The magic for me is that space in between word and image. Now when I’m working on a book idea, I do rough loose thumbnail drawings and write at the same time. I also like drawing and writing quickly so nothing is too precious in early stages.


Dummy and final spread from Float
(Click final art to enlarge)


Dummy and final spread
(Click final art to enlarge)


Dummy and final spread
(Click final art to enlarge)


My ideas for stories come from all over the place. I wish I had a clean formula for generating a great idea. As best as I can tell, I usually start with a personal struggle or anxiety. I know that doesn’t sound very uplifting, but I believe that if you can show real human struggle and how it’s overcome or redeemed, people will connect to it.

Float was a different one for me. I didn’t start with an idea at all. I was flying home from my aunt’s funeral, and on the plane I did a small drawing of a boy floating a paper boat in a puddle. As I looked at it I wondered what happened just before that moment — and I drew it. Then I wondered what happened after and I drew that. I went on like this until I found the beginning and end of the story. It felt like carving something out of stone. The plot line was in there already; I just needed to knock off what didn’t belong to uncover it.


Dummy and final spread
(Click final art to enlarge)


Dummy and final spread
(Click final art to enlarge)


Dummy and final spread
(Click final art to enlarge)


When it comes to making art, I usually always make a quick rough sketch to start from. I try not to overdraw my sketches. Many times I’ve fallen in love with a drawing that says it all and then proceeded to choke the life out of a finished painting of it. Now I try to let my sketches give me the energy and spirit I want in my finished piece but not take it too far. I think I have the best outcomes and the most fun when I make some discoveries in my finished paintings.

I use a variety of media. I use inks, watercolors, gouache, acrylics, and digital tools. I paint the elements for my pieces separately and compile them digitally. It allows me to focus on mark-making, edges, and surface texture in a free way. So, for instance, in Float I painted most of the backgrounds with inks and watercolors wet into wet. I wanted it to feel rain-soaked throughout, but for the little boy I cut shapes out of some of my hand-painted textures on the computer. You know how rain slickers are kind of stiff and have those harsh distinct creases in them? It seemed like a fun contrast to those deep, washy, rolling neutral greys.


Dummy and final spread
(Click final art to enlarge)


Dummy and final spread
(Click final art to enlarge)


Aside from the hours upon hours holed up in my studio drawing and painting, making books for me has to be a team sport. The collaborations with my reps, editors, and design partners have truly helped to make my books the best they can be. I hope I never feel like I’ve got it all figured out.

2. Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.


: My workspace now is a studio/office in the lower level of my house. We moved in not too long ago, and I’m thrilled to have a separate room set aside to make stuff in. Up until now, our finished attic doubled as our bedroom and studio. My wife is some kind of saint for putting up with all those late nights.

I like painting on this old reclaimed library table a friend of mine gave me when I first moved to Kansas City many years ago. Painting flat suits my love of wet media. Since I use digital tools, too, I like to be just a chair-swivel away from my Mac.


(Click to enlarge)


I have realized that when I’m cooking up ideas for stories and concepting new projects, being out and about works well for me. I spend lots of time in coffee shops and libraries with my sketchbooks.


(Click to enlarge)


3. Jules: As a book-lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?


: Shel Silverstein really ignited my imagination as a kid. In the third grade, I had a teacher read to us from A Light In the Attic. I couldn’t believe we were allowed to read things like that in school. It seemed unfair, like we were getting to skip our school lessons.

Later on, it was Mark Twain’s short stories that got me. And poetry — Langston Hughes, E.E. Cummings, and the imagist poets. I quickly saw that language could evoke the most visceral of feelings.


Spreads and cover from Bambino and Mr. Twain
(Charlesbridge Publishing, 2012)

(Click spreads to enlarge)


4. Jules: If you could have three (living) authors or illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose? (Some people cheat and list deceased authors/illustrators. I won’t tell.)

Daniel: Ok, as long as it’s between us. Let’s see … I might have to do both living and non.

William Joyce — I’d love to throw around book ideas with him. I don’t know him at all, but he seems like a great idea man.

Alice and Martin Provensen — I’m rather intrigued with how the collaboration worked, but really because The Glorious Flight is one of my all time faves.

Lynd Ward — Because his drawings are ridiculous! Maybe we could’ve drawn together. A friend pointed me toward The Silver Pony, and I can’t stop going back to it.


(Click to enlarge)


5. Jules: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Daniel: I do listen to tunes when I work. Currently I’ve got Dave Brubeck, R.E.M., Sam Cooke, The Cure, Spoon, Dr. Dog. …



6. Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Daniel: I’m a huge John Cusack fan. Whenever he does a new movie—good, bad, or horrible—I have to see it.


Daniel: “A friend of mine recently saw Float
and made me a plush paper boat.”


7. Jules: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

Daniel: I usually don’t get asked about my family, but they’re so much a part of what I do. My wife and I [pictured below] have a six-year-old daughter, named Stella, and a three-year-old son, named Sam. I didn’t grow up dreaming about making picture books. After my daughter was born, it started to make a lot of sense to me. Seeing the world through my children’s eyes has been a real privilege. I never expected they would have such an impact on my creative pursuits. Plus, they constantly remind me of what’s important in life. If left to my own devices, I worry I would be all work and no play. They keep me in a healthy balance.



* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Daniel: “Quietude.”

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Daniel: “BOGO” (not the deal, just the acronym).

Jules: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Daniel: Good art, films, poetry, the fam, drawing just because, down time.

Jules: What turns you off?

Daniel: Doing the same things over and over and small-mindedness.

Jules: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Daniel: Does “poop” count? In my house, it counts.

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Daniel: Belly laughs.

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Daniel: Silent cries. (You know, those out-of-breath kid-cries, where it takes the sound a minute to catch up to the face.)

Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Daniel: Teacher.

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Daniel: Accountant. (No offense. It just ain’t me.)

Jules: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Daniel: “Welcome.”

All images are used by permission of Daniel Miyares.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, copyright © 2009 Matt Phelan.

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10. Katherine Applegate: My Kirkus Q&A

I don’t think there are many middle-grade children’s books that talk about the ‘working poor’ — about the stresses that come when parents juggle multiple low-paying jobs and there still isn’t enough food on the table or maybe even a place to call home. Children may not know what being ‘food insecure’ means, but they understand much more than we give them credit for, especially when it comes to money.”

* * *

Over at Kirkus today, I talk to author Katherine Applegate about her new middle-grade novel, Crenshaw (Feiwel and Friends), coming to shelves next month.

That conversation will be here soon.

Until tomorrow …

* * * * * * *

Photo of Katherine used by her permission.

2 Comments on Katherine Applegate: My Kirkus Q&A, last added: 8/20/2015
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11. Fuse #8 TV: Kevin Sherry

After a brief hiatus I’m back with my regular interview series, Fuse #8 TV. By complete coincidence (fortune favors the busy) I didn’t have an interview slated when I was in the thick of my move to Evanston. Now that I’m safely ensconced in Illinois (albeit with oddly empty bookshelves) I’m fully ready and prepared for this month’s interview. And what an interview it is! Here is a bit of what you’ll find in this one:


Not necessarily in that order. Or, odder still, all at the same time. You see, this week we’re interviewing the hugely amusing Kevin Sherry, author of THE YETI FILES, an early chapter book series one and all should know. And in the course of our talk he not only removes (temporarily) articles of clothing but we also get to learn about his magnificent puppetry.

On top of all that, I continue my “Reading (Too Much Into) Picture Books” series in which I tackle the true villains of the Where’s Waldo series. If you watch it with the sound off, you can have fun with my facial expressions.  So please, enjoy! I sure did.

All other Fuse #8 TV episodes are archived here.

Once more, thanks to Scholastic for being my sponsor and helping to put this together.


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12. Diversity Part 2

I originally posted this article on WritersRumpus.com. As one of my heroes, the Dalai Lama, once said…“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”  Let’s each one of us be the mosquito!   —Lin Oliver This week Lin Oliver, co-founder and Executive Director of the international Society of […]

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13. Ashley Bryan Talks with Roger

ashley Bryan Talks with Roger

Talks with Roger is a sponsored supplement to our free monthly e-newsletter, Notes from the Horn Book. To receive Notes, sign up here.

ashley bryanAshley Bryan lives in the tiny — pop. 70 — town of Islesford on Little Cranberry Island, a part of Acadia National Park in coastal Maine. It’s an inspiring setting indeed for Bryan’s latest book, Sail Away: Poems by Langston Hughes, a collection of fifteen extremely child-friendly poems by the great writer, all devoted to themes of water and particularly the sea, and each one gloriously illustrated in sensuous cut-paper collage. Here are some highlights of my interview with Ashley Bryan via phone from his home (where he was entertaining Horn Book stalwarts Robin Smith and Dean Schneider, whose photos can be found below).

Roger Sutton: I hope you’re having a good summer.

Ashley Bryan: Yes. You know, summers are always special, because so many people I see only in the summertime come, and the island is so beautiful.

hughes_sail awayRS: How much does the population increase in the summertime?

AB: It goes from seventy to about four or five hundred when the cottages around the shore are all occupied. And every day we have hundreds of people take the boat and come out to walk on an island.

RS: How do you like living with only sixty-nine other people for most of the year?

AB: Well, I’ve always loved community. It was that way in New York, Roger. Growing up in the twenties and thirties, we lived in tenement apartments, four or five stories, and we knew all the people in the building. Everyone looked after everyone. In good weather people would sit out on the street with their games and instruments and an eye on the children. So the feeling of community that I had growing up in New York is what I found on these small islands.

RS: How did you discover them?

AB: It was through a Skowhegan School of Art scholarship I received in 1946, the year the school [a summer residency program], was founded. I had just come back from the Second World War and was completing my work at the Cooper Union. I came back completely spun around by the war and wanting to find out why man chooses war. I knew I wanted to finish at Cooper Union, but I knew I had to try and find answers to my question, too. That very summer I came up to Skowhegan, and that’s where I found my roots. Painting outdoors in the midst of the earth, the sky, the sea. I had such a strong feeling of nature and the care that nature asks of us and painting from the inspiration of what was in nature. On weekends we’d go to Acadia National Park, and you’d see all these islands off the shore. That’s how I came to the Cranberry Isles. I knew that every summer that I was home in the States I would spend my time painting on those islands. I did sabbaticals there. So over the years, I grew to know not only the landscape, but the families, for generations.

When I was about to retire I chose to come here rather than returning to New York City, where all I had grown up with has been razed and made uniform — it’s not a community any longer.

RS: Well, we can’t afford it anymore anyway.

AB: Yeah. So I decided I’d live on this little island where not only did I know the people, but the people knew me. Everything that I do here people have taken part in. My work with painting, with sea glass, with making puppets—everything has been my outreach to the community, in the hopes that its few remaining year-round residents will be able to hold on.

blooms and ashley bryan by robin smith

Horn Book reviewer Sam Bloom and his daughter visit Ashley Bryan. Photo: Robin Smith

RS: The art for this book is done in collage. What kind of a distinction do you make when you talk about painting and collage? Do you consider them the same thing, or are they different?

AB: To me it’s all the same thing. As I was saying to Daniel Kany in a recent article in Kolaj magazine, my work in general is not divided into illustration or anything else. It is an urgency that is fundamental, and the essence is the same. It’s the urgency to discover something about ourselves in every work we make. I make no distinction between doing a block print, a collage, a watercolor, a tempera painting. To me it’s an effort to discover something of myself that I do not know and have not done. So each effort is like that of the child going out in the morning, making discoveries and having adventures.

RS: How do you compare the artistic process of cutting a piece of paper with putting paint onto a canvas? How is it the same and how is it different?

AB: Well, design is always at the heart of whatever you do, whether you’re painting a scene of, say, a garden outdoors, or working on a collage. I’m starting with a blank surface. And I’m committing myself, by the first marks I make, to a continuity of rhythm that’s going to create the composition. And for me, that kind of effort is a dialogue between the material and the artist, which is constant. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing. If I’m walking the shore, and I pick up two shells, I put the shells together, and I say, “That reminds me of an African mask. I’m going to make a puppet of that.” It’s seeing a material that you’re going to transform. And that is universal. It’s integral to everything we do. The act of transformation and the desire to transform.

RS: And how much do you know before you start cutting?

AB: I try to know nothing about anything in the art that I am about to begin. What I already know is wonderful. There will always be that biography following me. But I don’t want to do what I have already done or already know. I want to make a discovery. So I say to myself, “I must find something in this adventure that I’ve never had before.” Yes, there will be a family resemblance in the creation. But I want to make that discovery of what I do not know through the adventure of the work.

People have said “Sail Away is the best work you’ve done.” Well, that’s fine. I like to feel that whatever I do, that it is the best. But it’s all in company, a family relationship to everything else I have done. I can respect and love what I’ve done in the past, and I can look back surprised at what I did when I was fifteen, twenty, all of which is currently in an exhibit of my life and art at a museum up here.

ashley bryan and deborah taylor by robin smith

Ashley Bryan and Deborah Taylor on the dock. Photo: Robin Smith

RS: How did you select the poems for Sail Away?

AB: The poems that I selected from Langston Hughes were ones I felt a child would have no trouble immersing him- or herself in. To me, those poems would be like Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, Eugene Field’s Poems of Childhood, Mother Goose rhymes. The freshness, the sense of the child…that would relate to all children. I had a vast range of Hughes poems to choose from.

Through poetry we find this confrontation with the most difficult and the most joyous things to face in life.

And so when I take a poem by Langston Hughes, there is a kind of brilliance. Nikki Giovanni, a living artist today who I know and love, gives me that same sense in the way she explores language and excites the spirit through language. That kind of inspiration just lives with me, which is why I dedicated the book to her and Langston, out of that little poem of Langston Hughes’s, “To Make Words Sing.” “To make words sing / Is a wonderful thing— / Because in a song / Words last so long.” You can remember the strains of a poem that will never leave you. And it does not matter how many hundreds of years ago it might have been written or how recently. It is always current to you.

RS: Do you remember when you discovered Langston Hughes?

AB: I was on my own in that, because it was not a part of my schooling growing up in the Bronx. My finding of black artists was on my own. We had the basics — you know, George Washington Carver. But Langston Hughes was not included, nor Countee Cullen, or any of the black American poets. I discovered them later through my love of poetry — Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson, Frost, Sandburg. But finding black artists, for most young people in school in our country, is a search of their own. It is not a part of the curriculum. It is not required. It is not on any exams. And it is considered something that’s an addition for Black History Month, something which can be forgotten because it will not be on the test.

RS: When you’re illustrating a poem, do you hear it in your head as you create?

AB: Oh, it sings through me constantly, in waking and sleeping. I’m listening, I’m singing it. The motion of it. Each poem that I take on has the depth of a world, feeling and thinking and rhythm. “Off the coast of Ireland / As our ship passed by / We saw a line of fishing ships / Etched against the sky. // Off the coast of England / As we rode the foam / We saw an Indian merchantman / Coming home.” There’s a feeling I wanted to get into the artwork as well, the spirit of excitement, of just being on the sea, with that line of fishing ships.

The artist in nature. Photo: Robin Smith

The artist in nature. Photo: Robin Smith

RS: It’s interesting, as I look at that picture as you read the poem aloud, I see these strong horizontal and strong vertical lines meeting in just the way that you read. It’s like the picture is marching, almost.

AB: Yes. Good. But in each poem, there are different images — and they change so profoundly. In “Sea Calm,” for instance, that one with the very quiet water scene, the person’s lying on the shore with a little child, and it’s so simple. “How still, / How strangely still / The water is today. / It is not good / For water / To be so still that way.” It’s something you’d like someone to look at and reflect on, and almost enter into a dream of observation as they look at it, you know.

RS: I think that’s what you want to do. You want to be careful in illustrating poetry not to be too directive. You know what I mean? You don’t want to simply recreate what the poem says.

AB: You want to give an echo of image that can allow for a wandering experience of the seer, so that they can bring something of themselves to it as well.

RS: Don’t you think that poem “Sea Calm” is kind of creepy? I don’t mean that in a bad way.

AB: Yes, it is strange, but it’s open for people to respond to it their own way. Very often, when I’m crossing back and forth from my island to the mainland, I’m looking at the surface of the ocean. And I’ll just be thinking of the Middle Passage, what the depths of that very still surface of the water has meant to my people, crossing from Africa to our hemisphere, the New World. The sea is always beautiful. But you know what it can mean, if anything happens to the ship. A sudden storm where fishermen are swept away and lost. When they started out on a day that seemed a fishing day, and then suddenly a storm comes up, and they’re swept away. Or your power dies. It’s a winter day. And you’re found washed up, your boat on the shore, frozen against the motor that you’ve huddled over for warmth. When I came here to the islands, in the late forties and fifties, I had some experiences like that, you see. This sea that Langston Hughes loved — he calls his autobiography The Big Sea. The sea is mysterious. It’s beautiful and people like it. But that wide, deep depth is also very holding.

RS: Well, I wonder if that’s part of what keeps us attracted to it — knowing the terror that it holds, as well as the beauty. We can’t look away from it.

AB: I remember visiting the family home in Antigua, in the West Indies. As a young man I wanted to see where my parents had come from. And at that time I would go snorkeling. I would be looking at all these different corridors of fish below, and I would suddenly forget that I’m in water. And I’d have to keep coming back, that I’m being buoyed up by the water as I’m experiencing the rhythm and movement of fish below. It’s amazing — seventy percent or so of the earth is water, so it’s bound to be very much a part of the language and the lives of people.

RS: I think that is a perfect place for us to stop. I got you at your most poetic.

More on Ashley Bryan from The Horn Book


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14. MATT CHATS: Wolves of Summer Creators on Kickstarter, Collaboration and the Hitler Youth

It truly is a new Golden Age of comics, not just because of the fantastic output from such publishers as Image, Fantagraphics, Oni, etc., but also because of how many great comics are going unnoticed. The market is brimming with material that has gone largely undiscovered. I experienced that in a big way with Shawn […]

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15. Keeping the Fires Stoked with Antoinette Portis

Early sketch and final art: “Hurry!”
(Click to enlarge spread)


Author-illustrator Antoinette Portis joins me this morning for a lovely, long chat before breakfast. Last month over at BookPage, I reviewed Antoinette’s newest picture book, Wait (Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press, July 2015). That review is here.

Today, Antoinette talks all about the book and its evolution; her experience as a Sendak Fellow; the fine art of being content with discontent; her upcoming picture books (with art from each to share!); and much more. I thank her for visiting, and let’s get right to it.

[Please note that the colors in the larger versions of each image, should you choose to click on them, are slightly brighter than they appear in the book.]



Jules: Hi, Antoinette! I’m not going to ask you about how the story of Wait came to you, since you covered that in the Horn Book Q&A and the Q&A at Publishers Weekly. I do want to ask about this, which you typed to me in an email when we were chatting earlier:

I don’t think of myself as an illustrator per se, but a visual communicator or a visual storyteller. I generally don’t use drawing as a way to come up with ideas. I get ideas, and then I sketch them out to communicate them. I think my idea machine is on the language side of my brain. Then the drawing side kicks in and fleshes things out. It’s taken me a while to figure out that this is my particular process.

Is this something you discovered during the Sendak Fellowship, by chance? Or earlier?


Final art: “Hurry!”
(Click to enlarge spread)


Antoinette: When I was in art school, my best friend always carried around a sketchbook and drew everywhere she went. In high school, I used to carry around a sketchbook everywhere I went, but I wrote in it. Anyway, my friend’s dedicated drawing practice was a rebuke to me. I wasn’t going to be a poet. I was heading toward being a visual artist, so why didn’t I draw all time? I started carrying a sketchbook and drawing regularly. But mostly, I drew to learn how to see. It was more often a turning outward, not inward.

At the Sendak Fellowship, it seemed like my friend Rowboat Watkins, like my college friend, also used drawing to bring forth ideas. His hand told him stuff about his interior life. It looked like drawing was his connection to inspiration, to his internal idea factory.


Final art: “Hurry!”
(Click to enlarge spread)


That has always seemed like the way artistic process is supposed to work. It’s taken me a while to accept that there are different ways of getting ideas out and onto paper. So, I have gradually come to make peace with, and maybe even relish, my own process. (Judging it and rebelling against it did not prove to be helpful.)

So, I mostly use writing to generate ideas. It doesn’t matter which comes first, words or image, because my books are going to have both. The two strands, at the finish, are going to synthesize into a whole.

Once I immerse myself in the drawing phase, the writing part of me shuts up and I get into that flow where visual ideas just seem to show up of their own accord. Working on Wait, the pictures start thickening up: visual motifs, subtext, foreshadowing, color all started to add little tiles of meaning, like building a mosaic.


Final art: “Wait.”
(Click to enlarge spread)


Each small detail serves the overarching theme, and the whole adds up, one hopes, to a piece of visual literature.

That’s what I’m striving for anyway. It’s a frigging thrilling goal. What picture books are capable of—the endless possibilities—lights my brain on fire.

Jules: Yes, it’s that “seamlessness” of text and art that Sendak once spoke of. Such a unique art form, these picture books.

I am not going to pry into your time with Sendak at the Fellowship, but may I ask about a piece of advice that he gave you that really sticks with you?


Final art: “Wait. Hurry!”
(Click either image to see spread in its entirety)


Antoinette: Maurice talked a lot about making books that had depth and meaning. He thought every book that gets published should matter, should say something children need to hear. He charged us with carrying on his mission — making books that authentically reflect the experience of being human.

So, no pressure. No pressure at all.

I guess what struck me the most about Maurice is that he was the living embodiment of what was great about his books. He was openhearted, deep, funny, honest, poetic, iconoclastic. When you met him in person, you saw that you had already met him in his books.

He wanted us, with him, to fan the flames of rebellion against blandness. He expressed his despair over the growing tendency among publishers—as more and more houses become divisions of giant, publicly traded media conglomerates—to regard books as mere consumer products that exist only to help the bottom line and increase shareholder value.


Final art: “Wait.”
(Click to enlarge)


I’m certainly glad this isn’t universally true. I’m glad there are true believers out there, passionate about making great books.

It was an amazing experience to have Maurice as a friend. He was someone you could laugh and cry with, usually both in the same conversation.

Another thing I learned, something that Maurice wasn’t consciously trying to teach us, was that all artists have to deal with their own sense of failing to meet their internal artistic standards. I may wish I could make a book as great as Where the Wild Things Are, but Maurice wished he could etch like Rembrandt, write a symphony like Mozart or a novel like Herman Melville. The man had seriously high standards. It made me realize that having goals far beyond what you can achieve is useful. Those goals lay out plenty of road ahead to travel.


Final art: “Hurry!”
(Click to enlarge)


With these thoughts on my mind, the day after I left the Fellowship I was in New York at the big Matisse retrospective at MoMA. There I saw a famous conceptual artist whose own retrospective I’d seen in L.A. before I left for the Fellowship. I went up to tell the artist how much I loved his work. He was standing in front of a quintessential Matisse etching—just a few casual, perfectly-placed black lines on cream paper—and there was a luscious plate of fruit. He tipped his head toward the etching and said, “Doesn’t it make you want to kill yourself?” I said, “I saw your show in L.A. and it made me want to kill myself!”

He laughed.


Final art: “Wait.”
(Click to enlarge)


So, there you go. What hope was there for me, lowly struggler, if my idols aren’t satisfied with their work?

We all think: If only I were Maurice Sendak or Mr. World Famous Conceptual Artist, then I’d be content.

But, no, you wouldn’t be.

You’d be wishing, always, to be more, to do more.

So, I am learning to be content with discontent. It keeps the fires stoked. There’s so much still to learn.


Final art: “Hurry!”
(Click to enlarge)


Jules: That makes a lot of sense to me. I feel like I push myself in that way—I often think in my head of the person I’d like most to impress when I’m working on a project—but I figured I was being too hard on myself with my high standards. This is a good way to look at it.

I always like to hear stories about how generous and open Sendak was, because I think right before he died he got a bad rap sometimes in the press. He was portrayed as a grouch. Now, I never met him, and he was sometimes publicly grumbly about publishing trends, but in his career, he helped open doors for so many young, up-and-coming artists. And he had so much respect for children and their emotional lives. I see these things as very generous.

Okay, to the book, specifically! Can you talk about the drafts you went through? We can see here in the images you’ve sent that the story began back in 2010 and was once called But …, right? Can you talk about the story’s evolution?


Final spread in book
(Click to enlarge)


Antoinette: Wait kind of wobbled into existence, as most of my books do. I’d seen this moment happen — a little boy pulling away from his rushing mom to look at something interesting and being kind of yanked back on course. And I knew it had the makings of a picture book.

But the idea didn’t come with a built-in ending. Some ideas come with an arc, like Froodle. I knew what the crisis point was, so I knew where the story was headed.


From the 2010 dummy
(Click middle images to enlarge)


But Wait felt more like Not A Box — episodic, more like a straight line than an arc. They’re both about the perpetual back and forth between adult and child.

So with Wait, the tricky part was coming up with an ending. I wanted to end on a moment of connection. I wanted to honor those moments as a parent when you slow down and let your child show you how to just be.

I first dummied it up as But…. Grammar provided a perfect analogy — a child’s agenda is a subordinate clause. I worked on various iterations in my writing group. The But… version showed the mom rushing, but only the boy spoke. Another version had the mom saying, “Let’s keep moving,” “Mommy’s in a hurry,” etc.

I played around with different variations until it was clear to me that the mom should say only “hurry” and the boy should say “wait.” The counterpoint of the two verbs emphasized the tug of war between them.


From the 2011 dummy
(Click all but first image to enlarge)


Back to the issue of the ending: The funny thing is, as a writer, I had thoroughly put myself inside the head of the child. Kids take it for granted that they are tugged around the world without rhyme or reason. That’s just the way life is. So, I had two versions of an ending, both from inside that context. In one, the mom, in her rushing, drops her watch and the boy is the one who notices it and saves the day. In the other, the boy picks a dandelion out of a sidewalk crack and gives it to his mom and she stops for a moment before rushing on. Neither of those versions got a go-ahead.

But I took good advice from smart people who spurred me to come up with a more dramatic ending. They asked questions that are important for a storyteller to ask: Where is the mom rushing off to? Why is she in such a hurry?

So, duh, I needed to show the immediate goal the mom was rushing toward, so that her stopping had more impact. When I knew where she was going, I could build clues into the illustrations that hint at what the “ticking clock” of the story is: catching the train. And then I knew that the last thing the boy notices had to be something worth missing a train for. A double rainbow, something rare and remarkable.


Early comp work
(Click first seven images to enlarge)


Figuring this all out was a lesson in story-building.

Maybe it will be easier next time.

p.s. I feel like I earned the right to use a double rainbow — after a storm, one arched over my house. Nature gave it to me. And a gift like that, you gotta use.

I just saw on Facebook that you teach a class on picture books. Can I ask where? It seems like one could learn a lot from teaching.


Part of dummy, as presented to Neal Porter in 2012
(Click to enlarge)


Jules: Oh, I teach one course for the The University of Tennessee’s Information Sciences program (library school), and it’s a grad course on picture books. My official title is Lecturer. I don’t have a doctorate (yet?), and I am not even a part-time teacher. I just teach this one course for now. Needless to say, I love it. It looks at picture books in a curricular light (meaning, one week we’ll talk about good poetry picture books; then, nonfiction; then, folktales; then, international books, etc.), and it’s not, say, all about the art of the picture book. But I do open the course by talking about how we define picture books and how they work. I enjoy it.

And, yes, I learn a lot from teaching.

Have you ever taught?

As for the shape your story ended up taking, all I can say is that it’s just right. Also, every time I hear picture book authors talk about their craft, it amazes me anyone can ever get a picture book written. That sounds so goofy and over-earnest, and I guess I’m being hyperbolic. But I had to write one for a grad course once (fiction), and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It’s such a difficult thing to shape a story right and then craft the words. (This makes it all the more frustrating when you hear the average person on the street talk about how easy it must be.) I doubt many picture books arrive fully-formed in any author’s mind. And I think it’s fascinating to see the path to how an author or author-illustrator got there (like you’re sharing here today), even if what matters in the end is the final product, of course.


Part of dummy, as presented to Neal Porter in 2012
(Click to enlarge)


Antoinette: Are you thinking of getting or in the process of getting a PhD? That sounds intense. A lot more intense than making a picture book.

I was just at the SCBWI conference, and there was a lot of talk about people who don’t write picture books thinking they’re simplistic and easy to write. It definitely takes more time to write a novel than a picture book, but it doesn’t mean picture books are a breeze. They can be as deep, complex, and nuanced as any form of art. Just in an extremely economical way. There’s a quote that seems apropos (it’s been attributed to many writers, but apparently originated with Blaise Pascal): “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”

Picture book-making gets intense when a project isn’t working. Or when it was working and then one little revision makes the whole thing fall apart. I’ve come to recognize that as part of the creative process. I noticed this phenomenon when I worked at Disney as well. You hit a glitch and all the work you’ve done so far seems wasted, suddenly irrelevant. But you struggle through to a solution that brings the whole thing to fruition, usually in a different way than you anticipated. Like you might have to ditch something that seemed absolutely essential at the beginning of the process.


Part of dummy, as presented to Neal Porter in 2012
(Click to enlarge)


Then there are the ideas that just don’t take you all the way there. The problem is, midway through the tangle, you don’t know if the idea is inherently unsuitable, or you just haven’t yet figured out how to make it work. You don’t know whether to press on or push the eject button. That’s why a writer’s group is so great. When you feel discouraged, having someone say, “Keep going, you’ve almost got it” makes the difference between a stack of abandoned, dead-end versions and a book that works.

Some ideas I have had to chuck for now, hoping I’ll be better equipped to take them on someday. I heard Neil Gaiman speak once and he said he had the idea for The Graveyard Book years before he wrote it. He felt he wasn’t a good enough writer at the time to be able to do the idea justice. But he learned and grew as a writer, and one day he was ready. And how wonderful that book is!

I’ve never taught, though managing creative people for many years sometimes felt like teaching. Doing these interviews has been a learning experience. I’ve been driven to take vague feelings, musings, and half-formed intuitions and form then into cogent thoughts. Even if no one else learns anything from what I’ve said, I did! I imagine teaching is like that. You don’t even know what you know until you start articulating it as a lesson plan. We take our own life and work experience for granted. It’s just wallpaper. But when you start really looking at that wallpaper, it comes to life. You can pluck those roses right out of there and share them with someone else.


Part of dummy, as presented to Neal Porter in 2012
(Click to enlarge)


Jules: I used to think I’d want to teach full-time in some sort of postsecondary setting (college or university, etc.), but now I’m not sure I’d want to do that full-time. I still have to think about that. I think that would determine if I ever got a PhD (to answer your question).

Yes, teaching forces us to articulate these thoughts wandering around our heads, and that is always good.

Can you talk a bit more about working at Disney? If I knew that, I failed to remember. What did you do there?



Part of dummy, as presented to Neal Porter in 2012
(Click first image to enlarge)


Antoinette: I freelanced at Disney Consumer Products (DCP) for three days, working on an ad for the Pediatric Aids Foundation for which Disney was doing a charity event. There were so many acronyms, private lingo, and meetings; I kind of thought Disney was a cult.

I’d definitely seen the power Disney movies exert over little girls. My daughter was four when The Little Mermaid came out. If we were in Target, she could spot that teal and purple packaging from 200 yards away, and then … the whining! the begging!

I ended up working there full-time on the Disney licensing business. A business I’d never heard of — I thought Disney made everything they sold. I figured I’d be at Disney maybe a year, tops, but I stayed almost nine.

My boss hired me and other designers whose tastes she trusted with the goal of elevating the design standard of licensed products. And we did that. I was able to hire such talented people, and they astonished me every day. Some days my mouth hurt from smiling so much.


Playing with textures for Wait: Foggy city


It’s hard to explain what I did there, because like me when I started there, nobody knows what licensing is.

Skip this paragraph if you don’t care what licensing is (I don’t blame you): Certain product manufacturers pay a fee to intellectual property developers, like animation studios (or children’s book authors) to use that IP on their products. All the products you see outside the Disney parks and the Disney Store are designed, manufactured, and distributed by licensees, not by Disney itself. So, for every Disney movie for which there will be consumer products, Disney makes a source book, called a style guide, for all the licensees to use. The intention is that all the product out there will have a unified look and reflect the film faithfully. No more weird stuff out there like the Mickey Mouse dolls from the ’30s that looked like giant rats.


Early sketches for Wait


Disney provides character art, graphic design themes and elements, color palettes, etc., all approved by the filmmakers. It’s easy to understand that Disney would want the characters on tee shirts to be accurate renditions of the characters you see in the movie, but that same attention extended to graphic elements too. E.g., if Snow White was framed in flowers on a dress bodice, then the flowers had to be based on flowers from the film, drawn in the style of art in which the film was drawn. You couldn’t put Eyvind Earle’s Sleeping Beauty flowers with Snow White or vice versa. Verboten. (My boss was the first one to suggest that perhaps all the princesses could be grouped together, but that idea was vetoed. Disney wasn’t ready to loosen the reins that much. But it did happen eventually, as you can see.)


Playing with textures for Wait: Dry brush


I managed one of several teams of designers and illustrators, who made style guides for new films. We got to work with animation from the beginning of the film’s development. The illustrators, called character artists at Disney, learned from the animators how to draw the characters on model. They ended up knowing the characters’ personalities so well they could draw situations and interactions that weren’t in the movie, but felt true to the movie. The designers got to see all the development reference the animators and background artists were using: color stories, props, design elements, and the design influences of the film’s art direction.

Just to give you one small glimpse into our process of working with the animation studio, one task was to translate the character colors into PMS colors (a universal color system for printing and products) for the style guide. For example, for Hercules, the filmmakers chose a grayed mauve for Megara’s dress. We asked permission (this was like asking the Pope if you could get divorced) to brighten it up to a more kid-friendly shade, since the idea was for little girls around the world to be trotting off to bed in their irresistibly appealing mauve Megara nightgowns and mauve Megara slippers. We were granted this and other never-before-given dispensations, as it became more and more apparent that 1.) a Disney movie was not just a movie but a business franchise, and 2.) The Consumer Products team could be trusted to apply good sense and good taste.


Playing with textures for Wait: Pencil


So, we made style guides, these big thick binders full of art and design elements, and sent them to our licensees. They took the art, and to differentiate their products from the other licensees’, would rejigger it and get creative with it — sometimes in very scary ways that we would try to fix.

My first project there was The Lion King. The licensees were all worried about the movie, because there was no princess. Mattel fretted that they couldn’t make dolls with long flowing locks. It shocked everyone when the movie was the biggest success Disney had had to date. The people heading the studio trusted my boss, so we had more leeway to break out of the traditional way of doing things than anyone had before. For example, all character art previous to The Lion King was drawn in blue pencil and then inked with a thick and thin brush line, like old-school animations cells. When I proposed using different art styles for the character art, the old guard muttered under their breath that it could not be done. But when we showed the producer of The Lion King an illustration of Simba in a rough woodcut style, he was delighted. So that door opened. And we brought in African flag colors and African tribal design motifs from textiles and art, even though there were no humans or evidence of humans in the movie. But those design elements made the design richer and more interesting, and the Studio went with it.


Playing with textures for Wait: Rubbing mesh


There were thousands and thousands of products (stuffed animals, toys, clothing, bedding, games, sippy cups, etc. etc. hauled around in red wagons and deposited in our offices, and my team looked at every single one of them. The character artists and designers both gave notes in triplicate on the forms attached to each item. I had one designer, who’d worked on choosing the colors for the L.A. Olympics, just working on advising the licensees about their color choices. It was surreal. We all took it super seriously, but at the same time were aware of the absurdity of it all. It was an epic feat of micro-management. Needless to say, not all the licensees were fans of the process.

It was funny to work in a serious place of business, at a Fortune 100 company, where everyone had to think like a child. What would a child want? Would a child enjoy playing with this toy? We would be in a meeting with Mattel, at this huge imposing conference table, discussing with utmost seriousness the amount of glitter on Dancing Esmeralda’s skirt. (Glitter appeared to be an occupational hazard of working at Mattel. Executives in suits with glitter on their cheeks!) Or fifteen grownups would be sitting around shooting little arrows at each other from Hercules action figures.

The job was stressful and fun at the same time.


Playing with textures for Wait: Stamps for brownstone


Until it was stressful and not fun. I eventually became a VP. I was proud of achieving that, but then my job was all business. For some execs, business is their creative medium. Not me. I longed to be alone and make work with my own two hands. No meetings to go over sales reports or develop business strategies or to build consensus on those strategies. No group brainstorming sessions. No one was going to storm my brain but me.

I’m glad I stopped liking my job, because otherwise I would still be there. I wouldn’t have this new career that suits my nature so well. As an art student, the idea of a life spent alone in a studio agonizing over the left-hand corner of a painting filled me with despair. Now that’s my idea of heaven!

Jules: That’s intense. And the copious amounts of glitter! (I once heard glitter referred to as the herpes of library story times, and it always makes me laugh when I think of it. There’s a bit of off-color humor before breakfast.)

I could talk to you all day, but I should wrap this up, since you a have life – and a busy and art-filled one at that.

My last question: What are you working on now? Anything you’re allowed to talk about?

Antoinette: The Red Hat, a book written by David Teague that I illustrated, is coming out in December. It was surprisingly liberating to only have the pictures to worry about! It’s about a lonely boy, who struggles to connect with a girl who lives in the tower next door. The tone is kind of magic realism, set in a modern day city.


(Click all but cover to enlarge)


I’m excited about my next book with Neal Porter, Best Frints in the Whole Universe. Two best frints on an alien planet struggle to maintain their frintship through trials of their own making. (Just like friends on planet earth.)

When I was around 10 and had my first fight with a friend, I went home and announced to my dad that Debbie and I were done, finito. He told me that the mark of a real friendship is if you can have a fight and still be friends.


(Click each spread to enlarge)


The whole situation instantly turned around for me. I had no idea that friends fought. I knew siblings did (I had four of the beasts), but the idea that someone you weren’t related to could get mad at you but still love you seemed impossible. And then—Dad wisdom—it wasn’t impossible. I don’t remember how Debbie and I made up. Probably I just went over to her house and started playing with her like nothing happened. In any case, we were great friends and shared imaginary adventures for years. We built rafts that sailed across seas of cement, lived in bush caves, hunted wooly mammoths with pointy sticks, wove floor mats out of iris leaves, and dyed cloth with berries. We shoved gardenia petals behind our ears for perfume.


(Click each spread to enlarge)


My aliens, Omek and Yelfred, do not put gardenia petals behind their ears. They don’t have ears.

Frints is a real shift in tone from Wait. It’s funny. There’s an ironic narrator and two alien guys who behave like my brothers did — always competing, often fighting, and sometimes using their teeth (and not their words) to vent their anger. But there is a happy ending. Apparently, there is forgiveness on planet Boborp, just like here on planet Earth.


(Click first image to see spread in its entirety)


Jules: Thanks so much for visiting today, Antoinette!


* * * * * * *

WAIT. Copyright © 2015 by Antoinette Portis. Published by Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Antoinette Portis.

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16. Doctor Who Comics Day is tomorrow!

We've been writing about it for months now, and can hardly believe it's almost here: the second annual Doctor Who Comics Day is tomorrow!

1 Comments on Doctor Who Comics Day is tomorrow!, last added: 8/15/2015
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17. INTERVIEW: Introducing Keith Burns, Artist Extraordinaire

Keith Burns is an artist out of the UK that keeps an extremely low profile, at least on the Internet. He’s an artist you should know about that you probably don’t know about. There are not a lot of interviews or pieces on him,  which is crazy considering his talent and his pedigree as someone who has […]

1 Comments on INTERVIEW: Introducing Keith Burns, Artist Extraordinaire, last added: 8/17/2015
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18. Comics Illustrator of the Week :: Marguerite Sauvage





















French born illustrator Marguerite Sauvage has been invading the comics world of late and she is wowing fans this week with her stunning interior art for the all-new DC Comics Bombshells series! Sauvage is a self-taught artist who actually decided to pursue a career in illustration after earning her degree in Law and Communication. Just some of her clients include such big names as Elle, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Louis Vuitton, L’Oréal, PlayStation, and Apple!

In addition to the interior art on Bombshells and Sensation Comics featuring Wonder Woman #3, Sauvage has been very busy as a comic book cover specialist for such titles as Hinterkind, Wolf Moon, Secret Wars, Howard the Duck, Jem and the Holograms, Thor, and Wayward.

With so much great comics work completed in such a small amount of time(1-2 years..?), I’m excited to see what Marguerite Sauvage has in store for us the next couple of years!

If you’d like to see more of Sauvage’s work and get the latest updates, you can follow her on twitter here.

For more comics related art, you can follow me on my website comicstavern.com – Andy Yates

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19. Butch Hartman Q&A: ‘Fairly OddParents’ Creator Talks About Launching Noog Network

Butch Hartman knows a thing or two about working with a network -- which is why he's starting and funding his own.

0 Comments on Butch Hartman Q&A: ‘Fairly OddParents’ Creator Talks About Launching Noog Network as of 1/1/1900
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20. 8 at 7-Imp: A Visit from Elisha Cooper


Author-illustrator Elisha Cooper is classin’ up the ol’ blog today with a visit to talk about his newest picture book, 8: An Animal Alphabet (Orchard Books/Scholastic, July 2015).

This is my kind of alphabet book, I tell you what. It’s filled with lovely Elisha-Cooper surprises. (First things first: When you get a copy, remove the dustjacket if you can.) As you’ll read below from Elisha, for each letter of the alphabet he’s painted animals whose names begin with that letter. And on each page, one animal is pictured eight times, and it’s the reader’s job to find those animals. The back of the book includes two glorious “Did you know?” spreads that lay out fun facts about each animal in the book. There’s a bit of additional info there, too, but I’ll leave that for you to discover.

It’s a beautifully designed book, and if you like to see Elisha’s graceful watercolors as much as I do, you’re in for a treat with this one. His composition choices on these spreads are superb. It’s a truly outstanding alphabet book and has garnered a big pile of starred reviews already.

Here’s more from Elisha about the book, and I thank him for visiting.

Elisha: This book had a roundabout beginning. It probably started with me taking my daughters to swim at the outdoor pool over on Carmine Street, here in Greenwich Village. There’s a beautiful Keith Haring mural on the wall next to the pool, and that led me to painting some animal murals for the children’s room at our local library …



… which led me to painting some animals on the walls of my editor’s kids’ bedroom wall, which led to me and him saying to each other, “We should do a book of big —— animals!” (There was a swear word in that sentence.) But beyond that, we didn’t really have a way “into” the book, except for the big —— animals, and we were stumped until the day my editor said to me, on my way out of his office at Scholastic, “What’s your favorite number?”

So, 8. In college my football number was 8 …



… which I thought was a good number for a small wide receiver. Now I just like how it looks, its symmetry. Chubby — and pretty.

But something struck me, there in the doorway at Scholastic, when I said the number “8.” A way “into” the book. The idea that on each letter page, one animal is pictured 8 times. That’s it! That’s the book. So, for the A page there’s an alligator, an aardvark, an armadillo, etc. — and also 8 ants.


(Click to enlarge spread)


Which makes this book an alphabet book, but also a finding book and maybe a curious book, too, as it has a “Did You Know?” section in the back. (Hello, librarians!)

This book took a lot of fun research, from poring through reference books like Smithsonian’s Animal


(Click to enlarge photo)


… to going up to the Natural History Museum and drawing the stuffed animals in their dioramas. Then I played around with layouts, seeing how various animals fit together on the page:


(Click to enlarge photo)


I also did a bunch of practice sketching. Then, I painted …


(Click to enlarge)


… until the wall above my desk in our apartment was covered in animals.


(Click to enlarge)


Last part. The cover for 8 took forever. I kept screwing it up. After the first sketch I did …


(Click to enlarge)


… there were many false-starts and roundabout ideas that came to dead-ends:


(Click each to enlarge)


Most of those versions are ripped up now and probably in Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island.

Making books is messy.


(Click second image to see spread in its entirety)


* * * * * * * *

8: AN ANIMAL ALPHABET. Copyright © 2015 by Elisha Cooper. Published by Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc., New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Elisha Cooper.

3 Comments on 8 at 7-Imp: A Visit from Elisha Cooper, last added: 8/11/2015
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21. Interview: Paul Cornell talks Manic Pixie Dream Doctors, Warcraft, and that time he “messed up.”

We talk with series writer Paul Cornell about his Four Doctors crossover event for Titan, his Dark Horse limited series This Damned Band, a recently announced Warcraft graphic novel due out next year and the one comic he walked away from.

1 Comments on Interview: Paul Cornell talks Manic Pixie Dream Doctors, Warcraft, and that time he “messed up.”, last added: 8/12/2015
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22. Eli Gottlieb: The Powells.com Interview

Eli Gottlieb has done something unusual — he's written two novels, 20 years apart, from opposing but connected perspectives. The Boy Who Went Away, his first novel, draws from Gottlieb's own childhood to chronicle a young boy's coming of age in a family with a severely disabled, classically autistic brother. It won the American Academy's [...]

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23. INTERVIEW: Don’t Call it a Porno, Nik Guerra Takes On Mystery and Sensuality in “Magenta: Noir Fatale” [NSFW]

by Alex Dueben At a time when many comics are criticized for their approach to female characters, it’s interesting to read a comic which is about fetish models.  Moreover, it’s wonderful to discover that the comic is far less exploitive and sensational than many mainstream comics. In NBM’s new graphic novel,Magenta: Noir Fatale, Italian writer and […]

2 Comments on INTERVIEW: Don’t Call it a Porno, Nik Guerra Takes On Mystery and Sensuality in “Magenta: Noir Fatale” [NSFW], last added: 8/15/2015
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24. In the Canyon with Ashley Wolff


Author-illustrator Ashley Wolff is visiting today to share some sketches and art from Liz Garton Scanlon’s In the Canyon, published by Beach Lane this month. (Pictured above is an early sketch.) Liz and I talked about this book, as well as her new middle-grade novel, at Kirkus last week.

Ashley also shares here today some pictures of a hike she took. Here’s what she told me:

[It’s a] real-life hike from rim to river to rim my sister and I took in April of 2014. It’s a really long haul, and both rangers and signs like [the one below] discourage anyone from trying to do it in one day, but we are two, stubborn Wolff women. We started down the South Kaibab Trail before 7 a.m. and returned to the rim after 8 p.m. — 16 miles round trip and a mile’s elevation gain and loss. We didn’t take enough water or food, so at the little store at Phantom Ranch we begged a $10 off the nice attendant, a guy named Bob. We bought all the salty snacks he had, and then he handed us a SASE. Naturally, we mailed him back a $20!

The sketches [below] include a series from very roughest to finish, my main character before I found a model, and some sketches of the lovely Willa. She is also the niece of Daniel Handler and Lisa Brown.

I thank Ashley for sharing art today. Enjoy!


Early sketches
(Click each to enlarge)


The progression of a spread:
“Now here’s a tiny slice of shade, a yummy lunch, some lemonade,
and a lizard, still as sand, his head all speckled, body tan.”

(Click all but second image to enlarge)


“Here’s a little hidey-hole, home to sneaky squirrel or vole.”
Ashley: “[This is a scan] from before the final art revisions. This spread changed in one significant way: I removed the Gila Monster lurking in the upper left, as there was concern children might mistake that for a vole.
Other than that, it is much the same.”

(Click to enlarge)


Final art: “Here’s a footstep, dusty red,
another one, and more ahead …”

(Click to enlarge spread)


Final art: “Here’s the dark, and here’s the shine,
and here’s the moon—it’s like it’s mine!—
to tuck inside me, way down deep …”

(Click to enlarge spread)


(Click each to enlarge)



* * * * * * *

IN THE CANYON. Copyright © 2015 by Liz Garton Scanlon. Illustrations © 2015 by Ashley Wolff. Images here used by permission of Ashley Wolff. Final spreads used by permission of the publisher, Beach Lane Books, New York.

8 Comments on In the Canyon with Ashley Wolff, last added: 8/15/2015
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25. ‘Shaun the Sheep’ Directors Richard Starzak and Mark Burton Feel Liberated By Limitations

The minds behind "Shaun" hold forth for an informative half-hour on making (much) more with (much) less.

0 Comments on ‘Shaun the Sheep’ Directors Richard Starzak and Mark Burton Feel Liberated By Limitations as of 8/13/2015 2:07:00 PM
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