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There are a lot of licensed comics out there that lack a certain legitimacy. Whether they’re good or bad, they’re not the main version of those characters and those worlds, and they’re usually created by people who weren’t involved in the original. IDW’s Samurai Jack circumvents that sense of not feeling like the “real” thing not only by continuing where the animated series left off but also with art by Andy Suriano, character designer of the Samurai Jack TV show. I spoke to Suriano about how it felt to wrap up the comic with Issue 20, along with other projects he’s involved in.
For a day job you’re working on cartoons of Mickey Mouse, who is Disney’s flagship character but has lately been off a lot of viewers’ radars. Does that give you a chance to experiment and get away with more?
I wouldn’t say Mickey Mouse is ever off anyone’s radar, but yes, Disney has been very supportive and encouraging with the type of designs, humor and stories we’ve been doing–playing to the strength’s of our team as well as the climate of today’s viewer, all the while keeping them timeless.
You were considered to write the series as well as handling art duties. How did the plans you laid out in your pitch differ from what you and Jim Zub did together with the series?
I think my stories were more stand alone that intersected occasionally versus Jim’s more connected, linear story arcs, which fit better with the direction they wanted for the book. I’m happy Jim landed the gig because he did a terrific job. But I am happy that a couple of my stories still made it into the final product with issues #8 and #18 which I got co-writing and writing on, respectively.
What unique elements do you think Zub added to Samurai Jack that weren’t there before the comic book series started?
Well, Jim brought the AWESOME that IS Jim to the series. He came on board with actually more knowledge about the episodes I worked on than even I did. I think he took the rules and framework of what we established with the animated series, and quickly took ownership of the character and was able to expand the mythos in a fun way.
In your mind, what are the most crucial elements of any Samurai Jack story?
Action. Humor. Visual storytelling.
Zub mentioned that he’s seen you draw a Samurai Jack sketch in less than 10 seconds. How long does it take you to draw a whole page?
It’s not about the time in which I do a drawing, it’s what I put into it. I purposely decided early on to use a more kinetic line quality on the book to intimate a sense of movement and speed, that was so integral to the animated series. It was my way to try and “animate” the stationary printed page.
A number of pages of Samurai Jack (such as Page 4 of #20) contain multiple actions but don’t use typical panel arrangements. How do you manage to keep everything coherent?
Ha! I close my eyes and hope for the best! Confusion to the reader or viewer is what will kill you, so I experiment a lot in the layout phase and see what works the best–and what leads the readers eye the best, to hopefully create a fluid, organic and fun experience.
Is Samurai Jack #20 your final stamp on the character, or would you return for more?
If IDW and Cartoon Network decided to do more and asked Jim, Josh and I back, we’d be back!
What did you take away from more time with the property?
I just enjoyed getting an opportunity to live in that world a little bit longer.
After two years revisiting Samurai Jack, where do you go from here?
Well, thankfully I still have my day job on the new Mickey Mouse shorts at Disney, I actively contribute to the new TMNT series at Nickelodeon and I do a weekly webcomic with homestarrunner.com creator Matt Chapman called Cosmic Scoundrels which I encourage you and anyone reading to check out and help us spread the word!
You can find Andy Suriano on social media like Twitter and Tumblr. Check in next week for my interview with Samurai Jack writer Jim Zub!
In our May/June 2015 issue, reviewer Martha V. Parravano talks to author Ilyasah Shabazz about her approach to writing a novel about her father, Malcolm X. Read the starred review of Xhere.
Martha V. Parravano: Why did you choose to present the story of Malcolm X’s formative years as fiction, rather than nonfiction — and told in the first person, at that?
Ilyasah Shabazz: I wanted to write a book that portrays my father in the light my family remembers him. I chose fiction to illuminate the true spirit of Malcolm that a straight biography couldn’t possibly capture. I wrote X to show teens who may share my father’s feeling of rejection by society that circumstance does not determine destiny. Through passion and hard work, any young person can rise up and make a difference. Writing in the first person enabled me to take the reader inside Malcolm’s head to experience his journey from lost adolescent to human-rights icon as he did — through his own eyes.
‘Loquacious’ (used in the book), along with ‘copacetic,’ were two words I learned from my sister’s boyfriend. When I was a kid, I loved knowing these big words. It made me feel grown-up. In fact, when my friends and I used to greet each other with ‘How ya doin’?’, the correct response was ‘copacetic.’ It was like a code or our own secret language, hidden right there in English vocabulary. If you knew the response, you were in the ‘copacetic club.’”
Today over at Kirkus, I talk with Jim Averbeck, quoted above, and Yasmeen Ismail, both pictured here, who are the author and illustrator (respectively) of the new picture book One Word from Sophia (Atheneum), which will be on shelves in June.
That Q&A is here, and I will have some art and early sketches from it next week here at 7-Imp.
* * * * * * *
Photo of Jim taken by Tim O’Meara and used by his permission.
Photo of Yasmeen taken by Olivia Hemingway Photography and used by her permission.
Vendela Vida is a force to be reckoned with. She's written four novels and one book of nonfiction; she's a founding editor of the Believer and a cofounder of 826 Valencia, plus she's done some screenwriting. Her newest novel, The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty, is her strongest work yet. In this moving, darkly funny, beautifully [...]
During this year’s C2E2, Comics Beat was #blessed to be able to sit down for a quick roundtable interview with Brad Neely, Daniel Weidenfeld, and Dave Newberg – the driving force behind Adult Swim’s hit show China, IL. What happened next was mostly laughing, carefully edited to read like a real conversation.
CB: Okay so China, IL! What can we expect from the rest of the third season?
Weidenfeld: Well, we have an episode coming up where the mayor bans eating anchovies on pizza in town – you can only eat pepperoni. It sort of becomes our take on the idea of a “gay gene.” We’re showing that now because of everything going on in Indiana. The pizza laws.
Neely: And at the end of the season we have an hour-long musical, kind of in the style of a Disney musical like Lion King, with thirteen original songs by me. We’ve got Cat Power singing, Rosa Salazar, Evan Peters, so we’re real excited about that. Otherwise we’ve got three or four other episodes in there.
CB: You’ve got an extensive cast of voice talent this season. How hard was it to round up all these people? There’s Hulk Hogan, Danny Trejo, Christian Slater, etc. Did you have to come to these people, or did they seek you out?
Neely: Yeah, no one comes to us, haha. We have to go to them. We just aren’t shy about asking, all they can do is say no. There’s an equally long list of people that we have asked that were either busy or thought we were disgusting. We’re very lucky to have these folks.
Weidenfeld: Yeah, Christian Slater has a monologue, and he just kills it, it’s so funny. He was so great, and such a pro, just amazing to record. We did it over the phone in like 15 minutes – it was perfect. And Danny Trejo was the same. We’re just really lucky to have all these talents that bring their own voices and their own style of comedy to keep it varied.
Neely: We have Donald Glover this season, which has been great. We like to think that he came over from Community and moved on to regular college. Stayed in school.
CB: What was it like to get Hulk Hogan onboard as the Dean?
Weidenfeld: Once we got Hulk Hogan, we re-wrote everything because we knew we now had America’s dad as the Dean. The father of masculinity. So everything changed for the better, for us. He’s very fun.
Neely: He recorded for an hour, how many 5-Hour Energy’s did he drink?
Weidenfeld: He brought three and slammed them all. But when you think about how big he is, the ratio kind of works out. He’s something else.
CB: I know in previous seasons the show is sort of done piece by piece and brought together at the end. Are you approaching the production differently this season?
Neely: Well, there’s a plan always. But you know, you have to stay on your toes to adapt to whatever is the funniest or working the most. We bring in every actor individually, we don’t record in an ensemble – to facilitate greater dexterity in editing. But we encourage the actors to read the lines in their own words, and improvise after we get what’s on the page.
Weidenfeld: Brad writes every episode, so we tend to write them a little long, so it’d be really hard to bring everyone into a room and have them all feeding off that energy. It’d be a lot harder to cut as a result. And with Brad doing three of the main voices on the show, we always have the luxury of re-recording. It’s incredible to have that flexibility, especially on an animated show. If we have to cut something, we can salvage lines that are important for story.
Neely: Yeah, we fix things by changing my characters’ stuff, because we don’t want to have to call somebody back in, especially after they’ve done something that’s great, and we’ll work around that and re-work my lines.
CB: Are there limits placed upon you by the network? Do you find that you have more or less creative space either way?
Neely: Strangely – you wouldn’t suspect this of a network with the reputation Adult Swim has – but they insist on us making sense on a emotional and character level. The story has to have an appropriate escalation and resolution. They’re pros about holding us accountable to those standards. They’re very involved when it comes to that.
Weidenfeld: Sometimes they’ll have a very specific thought of something they wants us to do, and we’ll have a conversation about it. There’s a real back and forth respect. We always try to meet in the middle in some capacity.
Neely: It’s a healthy working relationship. They don’t hold back when they think something isn’t working, or could be more forceful.
Weidenfeld: We can say shit now five times per episode. Never a fuck though. They don’t give fucks. Or dicksucker… or cocksucker.
Neely: But we can have an extended pause in between those two words.
CB: So do these episodes start with a joke, or does the joke come together after?
Neely: Every episode starts differently. Some of them just come from a nugget of, “I want to talk about Listerine strips,” or, “Don’t you hate it when you have to order food from a counter?” Sometimes we start with, “Alright, we need to see Frank in this kind of situation.” So we try to keep it balanced where there’s half that come from big stupid ideas and half that come from real deal emotional necessity.
Weidenfeld: But the main thing that has to happen in any given episode, is there has to be one big visual funny that Brad sees.
China, IL airs Sundays at 11:30 p.m. (ET/PT) on Adult Swim.
Back in November, queer nerd organization Geeks OUT launched a kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of a convention by queer nerds, for queer nerds. A month later they’d far exceeded their $15k goal, raising nearly $20,000 to make their con a reality. I spoke with Joey Stern about what led him start Geeks OUT, how that led to Flame Con, and what queer geeks and their allied communities can expect from New York City’s first ever LGBTQ comic convention on June 13.
Edie Nugent: Tell me a little about your role at Geeks OUT and how you got involved with the organization.
Joey Stern: We founded Geeks OUT in 2010 after New York Comic Con. There was only queer panel that year and it was so packed that you had to stand in the back just to be there.
We wanted to make an organization that connected these fans, and gave them a more than once a year event to gather and see each other. We also wanted to make NYCC a gayer place, so we held events and parties as we fund raised to get enough money for a table.
It was really intense, but a year later, we debuted at NYCC with monthly queer comic/geek events and a table where people could come and find a group for themselves.
Nugent: So how did you decide to make the leap from that to putting on an entire convention?
Stern: We and the board of Geeks OUT felt like it was a natural progression and an opportunity to introduce an existing queer audience to amazing queer and ally artists and creators.
There’s so much out there now, it’s really hard to find a lot of the stuff that’s made for you, and Flame Con offers a connection for people and creators to meet and find new passions.
It also creates connections and empowers queer fandom, which is an important part of what we do.
Nugent: Why do you think comic book fandom appeals to the queer experience?
Stern: There really is no art like Comic Books. It’s not only informative, but it offers a lot more context for the writers’ words than traditional books do (or paintings offer on their own). They also have an indie experience, and like queer culture, were for a long time considered the realm of weirdos and freaks.
Comics in general are often about exploring new worlds and future tomorrows. And I think that idea is really appealing to anyone who has experiences of being on the outer edge of polite society.
For me, the X-men’s construct of creating new family, and finding friendship with people like you was really informative.
Stern: Yeah! Oh man, it was terrifying, we were worried the whole thing was going to fail, but people really came out to support us and this effort. It just shows how vibrant and important this community is.
Nugent: Do you think recent media attention on sexual harassment at cons, especially of cosplayers, helped identify a real need for a more progressive type of con experience?
Stern: Sure! But I think a lot of that work has been done by cosplayers coming to the media. It’s been really amazing to see people having that conversation and pushing for safer spaces (and to see cons, like NYCC respond positively to those changes).
Nugent: What are some programming highlights from Flame Con that you’re excited about?
Stern: We’re excited to be putting on all sorts of programming – hopefully something for everyone! A panel about writing for LGBT teens hosted by award-winning author David Levithan, a Q&A with Steve Orlando, writer of DC’s upcoming Midnighter series (DC’s first ongoing title to feature a gay man as a lead character,) a great panel on queer horror with Mark Patton, star of the infamously queer Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and Cecil Baldwin, voice of the hit podcast Welcome to Night Vale, a panel about looking at Sherlock Holmes from a queer perspective, a discussion with some up-and-coming industry pros about costume design, and lots more. We’re really packing something interesting into every minute of this con! There’s also a performance from Sarah Donner!
Nugent: What makes Flame Con different from other cons that aren’t queer-centric?
Stern: It’s tailored to its audience. All Gender bathrooms, queer artists and creators taking center stage, and panels that are not Gay 101, but a bit more focused.
Nugent: How so?
Stern: Bigger cons have panels focused on Gay Artists, we have panels focused on writing Gay Sherlock Fan Fiction.
This morning I have an interview with Debbie Mason, author of Wedding Bells in Christmas. Be sure to enter the giveaway, too!
What’s one thing you won’t leave home without? Cell phone.
Name three things on your desk right now. Lilacs, a cup of coffee, and at least a hundred scraps of paper with notes for my new proposal scribbled on them.
What’s your favorite snack when you’re working on a deadline? Chocolate.
If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be? My oldest daughter. She’s studying at King’s College in London, England.
You have been granted the use of one superpower for one week. Which power would you choose, and what would you do with it? Time travel. I’d travel back to 18th century Scotland in hopes of finding Jamie Frazer. Yes, I know he’s a fictional character, but a girl can dream.
WEDDING BELLS IN CHRISTMAS by Debbie Mason (May 26, 2015; Forever Mass Market)
To have and to hold from this day forward Wedding bells are ringing in the charming town of Christmas, but not for Vivian Westfield. She’s just had her heart trampled under the cowboy boots of Chance McBride and lost her dream job at a big-city newspaper. But when she returns for a wedding, she stumbles on a story that could resurrect her career. First, though, she’ll have to deal with the handsome man standing in her way . . . and a still-burning flame that’s too hot to ignore. Chance recognizes trouble when he sees it. He just didn’t expect to find it in the first-class cabin on the flight home for his father’s wedding. Yet there she is, as gorgeous as ever. Vivi dared Chance to want things he knew he could never have. It’s why he left her. But Christmas’s meddling matchmakers have them firmly in their sights. So if they want to survive the next week, they’ll have to play the part of an adoring couple-an irresistible charade that may give them a second chance at the real thing . . .
Debbie Mason is the bestselling author of the Christmas, Colorado series. Her books have been praised for their “likable characters, clever dialogue and juicy plots” (RT Book Reviews). She also writes historical paranormals as Debbie Mazzuca. Her MacLeod series has received several nominations for best paranormal as well as a Holt Medallion Award of Merit. When she isn’t writing or reading, Debbie enjoys spending time with her very own real-life hero, their four wonderful children, an adorable grandbaby, and a yappy Yorkie named Bella.
“I thought we’d already settled this, Slick.” His hand wrapped around the neck of the bottle, he moved it between them. “You and me, we’re together now.”
“We are, but I wasn’t sure if that meant you wanted me to—”
She bowed her head when he gave his a frustrated shake, set his beer bottle on the dock, and got to his feet.
He held out his hand. “Come on.”
“No, I want to talk about this.”
“We will, once I have you naked and in my arms.”
She smiled and patted the blanket. “We can do that right here.”
He kept his eyes on her as he undid his shorts and stripped them off. “In the water. Now.” Without waiting for her response, which she was having trouble forming due to the delectable view he provided, he turned around, giving her a brief look at his muscled back, tight backside, and powerful legs before diving into the water.
He reappeared moments later, looking like he belonged on a movie set or in a magazine as he smoothed his hair back from his gorgeous face with his hands. “Come to me.”
There was something beneath the command in his deep voice that had her rising to her feet. Her eyes locked to his as she walked to the edge of the dock. The dancing moonlight shimmered across the water, illuminating his serious, almost pained expression. For some reason this was important to him. Maybe he needed to know she trusted him to take care of her, to protect her.
She looked into the dark depths. Oh God, she really didn’t want to get in the water. But from day one this man had pushed her out of her comfort zone. Why did she expect him to change now? Taking a deep breath, she loosened her towel, letting it drop to her feet.
“Jesus, God,” Chance said, his voice gruff, his eyes drinking her in.
He’d seen every inch of her body, kissed and caressed it, too, but the way he looked at her now felt strangely more intimate. She lifted her hands, about to cover herself, but dropped them to her sides when he said, “Don’t ever hide yourself from me. You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, Vivi Westfield. I . . .” He had that pained look on his face again, then he smiled and held up
his hands. “I’ll catch you.”
Vivi didn’t let herself think; she just closed her eyes and jumped.
Megan Morrison and I met in 2003, via our mutual friend Melissa Anelli of the Harry Potter fan site The Leaky Cauldron, and I read an early draft of Grounded in 2004. I liked its characters and action a lot -- Rapunzel descending from her tower against her will, and traveling across the land of Tyme with a thief named Jack -- but to my eye, it didn't have enough emotional and world-building depth to elevate it from "cute and smart" to "real and meaningful," and I thought Meg could do more with it. So I told her that, in a three-page editorial letter, and offered to look at a revision when she was ready.
I did not think at the time--and nor did Meg--that this readiness would take eight years. But when she contacted me about the ms. again in 2012, she said that she had rewritten the book, "revised the rewrite, plotted the entire series in detail from back to front, and then revised it again. . . . Though the plot sounds similar to what it was, the book is very different, with a cast of characters who are fully realized and motivated, including the peripheral characters, who don't come to the fore until later books in the series. I love it and believe in it." I had never forgotten Grounded--and in fact had been hoping for this e-mail for eight years--so I asked to see it again.
And this time, I loved it and believed in it too, as Meg was 100% right in her estimation of her revised novel. I adore fairy tales in part because the transformations they contain speak to some of our deepest human stories and relationships, and my favorite retellings round out those transformations with complex psychology and world-building, while honoring the readerly pleasures of wonder or romance or connection at their heart. The new Grounded kept all the charm of Rapunzel and Jack's banter and the cleverness of the land of Tyme, whose history, geography, and even the resulting economics and sociology have all been fully thought through. But it achieved the reality and deeper meaning I'd been hoping for, thanks to Rapunzel's complex relationship with her Witch, whom she truly loves, and who has good reason to keep her in the tower; and Rapunzel's own process of growing up, finding out hard truths, and yet moving forward into wholeness. The book made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me intensely happy as a reader; and since it came out earlier this month, both Meg and I have been delighted by its critical reception -- including two starred reviews! -- which has praised both its many pleasures and that emotional depth. (It's also an Amazon.com Best Book of the Month for May.) Publishing it has reminded me yet again: Good things come to editors who wait.
Four more notes, before I share Meg's Five Questions:
You can actually see a rare scene of the editor and author at work, sort of, in Melissa Anelli's Harry, A History. Page 79 documents a writing weekend among the three of us that took place at my apartment, where Meg was working on Grounded, Melissa was writing for the Leaky Cauldron, and I was editing A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth Bunce, another great fairy-tale retelling. (And also making pancakes.)
This entire series of five-question posts was actually inspired by Meg herself, as she's written "Five Reasons to Read _________" posts like this one on her blog for years.
Meg wrote about her side of this story at Literary Rambles and in this interview, which also reflects on her experience as a Harry Potter fan and a fanfiction author.
And Meg and her friend Kristin Brown, who's a professional geographer, talk about their collaboration in creating "plausible geography" for Tyme in this fascinating interview.
Five Questions for Megan Morrison
1. Tell us a little bit about your book.
It’s the story of Rapunzel – the hair, the tower, the witch – except that my Rapunzel loves her tower and doesn’t want to leave it. She has everything she wants and thinks she is the luckiest person in the world. Until things go wrong, and she learns otherwise.
2. If this book had a theme song and/or a spirit animal, what would it be and why?
If I were to choose just one song, it would have to be “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell). This is Witch’s promise to Rapunzel: that she will allow nothing to divide them – that she’ll rescue her from anything. It’s a very different song at the beginning of the book than it is at the end.
3. Please name and elaborate upon at least one thing you learned or discovered about writing in the course of creating this book.
Sometimes, the idea for a story will come before the writer is ready to meet it. That doesn’t mean that the writer should stop writing or give up on the idea, but it means that the story won’t mature until the writer does. I had the idea for Grounded long before I was equipped to write it well. Life experiences – in particular becoming a mother and a teacher – were necessary. Not that those particular experiences are prerequisites for writing. Far from it. They were just necessary for me. They changed me in big, important ways, and strengthened me as both a storyteller and as a professional. My work ethic and my openness to criticism are vastly improved over what they were ten years ago. I have hardened and mellowed both, in the ways that I needed to.
4. What is your favorite scene in the book?
Rapunzel’s conversation with Witch at the end.
That’s a hard question, though. Whenever Rapunzel and Jack are talking to each other, I am delighted.
5. What are you working on now?
The second book in the Tyme series! A different fairy tale, set in the same world. Many characters who appear in Grounded will show up again.
And a happy Thursday to you all. It’s May 21st and that means another episode of Fuse #8 TV is up and running. As per usual I kick the whole kerschmozzle off with a new edition of “Reading (Too Much) Into Picture Books”. Though I had a recent request to tackle The Giving Tree, I couldn’t find an adequate hook. Until I do, I find that the board book Subway by Anastasia Suen (illustrated by Karen Katz) has a spy thriller vibe going on just below its seemingly innocuous surface. Doubt me? Check it out.
As for our special guest, I was pleased as punch to speak to Geoff Rodkey. For years I’ve been a fan of his Chronicles of Egg series. Now he has a whole new bunch of books out, this time with Little, Brown. Beginning with The Tapper Twins Go to War (With Each Other), Geoff speaks frankly and honestly about his screenwriting life, publishers he’s dealt with, and the true nature of his work on the Carmen Sandiego video games.
Talks with Roger is a sponsored supplement to our free monthly e-newsletter, Notes from the Horn Book. To receive Notes, sign up here.
In Ava and Taco Cat, Carol Weston’s second book about sisters Ava and Pip, fifth-grader Ava negotiates some of tweendom’s most essential relationships: with your sister, your best friend, and your parents. Put a much-longed-for cat into the mix and you’ve got middle-grade drama at its most appealing.
Roger Sutton: How are you, Carol?
Carol Weston: I’m well, thank you. How are you?
RS: Just fine.
CW: I’m glad you’re calling me on pub day.
RS: What’s that like, pub day?
CW: This is not the first time I’ve had a book come out, but I think for first-time authors, you expect it to be Christmas morning or something, and sometimes it’s quiet. The book is in the stores, but it doesn’t mean that everybody has just finished reading it.
RS: Did you ever read Anne Lamott’s essay in Bird by Bird about book publication day? Where she talks about getting up in the morning and thinking it’s going to be great, and how she practices aw-shucks stubbing her toe in the dirt, preparing to receive all the compliments, and of course no one pays any attention whatsoever.
CW: I loved Bird by Bird. I’ve actually had forty letters published in the New York Times. It’s always exciting, and people do see them, but it’s not as though your phone rings in the morning. A week later people will say, “Oh, I saw you had a letter in the Times.” So I guess it’s good that I planned today to wake up, read the paper, go to the gym.
RS: I think it can be hard these days, with social media, because there can be such quick response to things, and when you don’t get it…
CW: Oh, it is such a noisy world. It’s amazing any of us gets any attention. I’m probably better taking it in stride and having realistic expectations. That said, if I’m having a book event I work pretty hard to let people know. I don’t just hope that the bookstore will fill up all by itself. Bookstores appreciate it when authors know that they have to do their part. If you have a book event in your hometown, or a place where you have friends, and you let your friends know, then you’re probably good to go. But if you have a book event in Indianapolis and you don’t know anybody, then even famous authors have to hope for the best.
RS: What do you find are the special challenges, both artistically and in terms of promoting the second book in a series?
CW: You know, it’s funny. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky and I, together, have decided that we’re not necessarily calling this a series, maybe because of those challenges. For instance, the New York Times gave the first book, Ava and Pip, a lovely review, but they may or may not mention a second book in a series.
CW: Unless it’s Harry Potter. On the other hand, as we were just saying, it’s hard to get noticed at all, so if you can get your first book in the series to be noticed, to land, then it’s nice. Kids love series books. If they like the first one, they’ll gobble them up. Child and parent are both happy to see another one in the bookstore. I’m already very far along in the third book, which will be called Ava XOX. Each book needs to work as a standalone, but I love that I created this whole world, Ava’s town of Misty Oaks. I hope to keep writing brand-new books, but I also like finding my way back into the same characters, the same family.
RS: Do you find you have to do any particular kind of extra work, because there are going to be some readers who read the first book and some who haven’t? How do you balance the expectations of those two groups?
CW: Pretty carefully. I will have a few lines that are there to amuse the fans, but I have to be sure never to confuse the new readers. So I’ll say something like “My big sister Pip, who used to be so, so shy…” To somebody who’s read the first book, that’s practically the entire plot of it. You know, I met Sue Grafton before she became Sue Grafton.
RS: What letter is she up to?
CW: I think she’s up to — X has not come out. W Is for Wasted I definitely read, and I think X has not come out. We became friends back in Columbus, Ohio, and we’re still very good friends. I read A Is for Alibi in manuscript form, and now she’s up to W, so I have watched her deftly reintroduce Kinsey Millhone in each book. I’ve been able to learn at the hands of a master.
RS: She has it tough, too, because she’s got to finish the alphabet. She must have realized by about F or G that she was in it for the long haul, whereas you can keep going with Ava or not.
CW: That’s true. And even my editor — I love my editor; his name is Steve Geck — he and I both are thinking, well, maybe we’ll keep going, or maybe not, but I love that he’s given me the open invitation. I am under contract to write one more Ava book, and also one non-Ava book, but I said to him, “I love hanging out in Misty Oaks.” I love that he wants me to be taken seriously as a literary writer, so he doesn’t want me to get pigeonholed, but neither of us is going to leave Ava and Pip hanging if we’re both still enjoying working with them. I appreciate that it’s not set in stone.
RS: I think it’s very interesting the way you have these very standard, child-appealing motifs, like getting a new pet, dealing with your sister, and what happens when your best friend gets a new best friend. But those are all complicated in interesting ways in this book. Like the fact that the sisters are only two years apart. Often you’ll see more of an age difference in that kind of a story, so that one is clearly a teenager and one is clearly not. Here we see the way the sisters’ interests blend and diverge throughout the book. It goes back and forth. I thought that was neat.
CW: Thank you. Well, as you may know, I’m also the Dear Carol advice columnist for Girls’ Life magazine. I’ve been doing that for twenty-one years. And I’m the mother of two daughters (now grown up), so I happen to be acutely aware of what it means to be an eleven-year-old girl versus a thirteen-year-old girl versus a fifteen-year-old girl. If I were writing about boys, I’d probably struggle with that a little bit more. But with girls, I know every little step along the way. I like the idea of the girls who are in between, who aren’t kids, but they’re not teens. Ava’s sister Pip is still pretty darn young, but, yeah, she’s got herself a boyfriend. It’s pretty innocent, but it’s important.
RS: About the pet adoption — I wanted to thank you for showing how difficult the period of adjustment is. We got a dog a couple years ago — rescue dog — and he was very shy and scared in the shelter, and they said, “Oh, you get him home and he’ll warm right up.” Well, it took two years.
RS: Six months living in the closet. We’d go for walks and then come in and he’d march to his little closet and sit there and look at us. So I love that you show that it’s not going to be this wonderful bonding as soon as you get them in the door, which I think some kids expect.
CW: It does take a while. Everything’s gradual. Everything’s baby steps.
RS: The other thing I wanted to ask you, both in terms of this book and your position as an advice columnist for girls, is why do you think we see so many middle-grade dramas for girls mining these stories of three-way friendships? I’m a guy. It didn’t really work for us like that as boys. But for girls, it’s huge.
CW: Do you mean why in real life, or why there are so many books about that?
RS: I guess both.
CW: It is so hard for girls. That first friendship: “We’re best friends.” It’s almost like being a couple. So when all of a sudden there’s somebody else, you’re kind of like, “Huh?” Most adults know how to navigate friendships, and if our friend makes another friend, well, that’s certainly fine. But when you’re a child, and your best friend makes another friend at camp or school, it feels like an earthquake. It shouldn’t be devastating, and eventually kids learn that you don’t have to like all of your friend’s friends. You and your friend just have to like each other. But that’s a lesson you have to learn. I get so many letters about it. When I write my fiction I don’t want it to be all laden with takeaway messages, but I know what kids think about because of the advice column, and I can’t help wanting to help them.
RS: So how do you keep on this side of the line, so that you’re not preaching or being didactic about how a person should be with her friends?
CW: You create realistic characters and add humor. In my advice column, I really can’t be very funny. I think adult advice columnists can be, but eleven-year-olds do not want humor about bras or boyfriends or anything like that. I’ve learned to just make it very sincere and earnest. But in fiction I can be funny, and that’s helpful.
RS: Why do you think that is? I think you’re right, but why do you think that kids can accept it in fiction, whereas they couldn’t in straight-on advice?
CW: With an advice person, they want somebody very safe, where they can say, “My right breast is smaller than my left breast” or “I like my best friend’s boyfriend. I’m a terrible person.” They don’t want to know whether the advice columnist has a sense of humor. It’s just too important. A kid finally admitting something — they just want you to give them the equivalent of a big hug and a bunch of wisdom, to tell them that it’s okay, and they’re not the only one, and here are some ideas.
With fiction, kids want to laugh. They want to learn, but they also want to laugh. They want to just turn the pages and have fun. It’s a different animal. As far as not preaching, I’m also lucky—and it’s a luck that I’ve worked for—in that I have a group of friends of all ages, kids and grownups, who read my work. If I’m getting a little heavy-handed about anything, they’ll say so. And this includes my husband and my kids. They will give me very honest feedback
RS: Do you find that these readers have pointed out something consistently to you so that you think, “Oh, yeah, I really need to work on this?”
CW: Yes. In the old days, because I’m an advice columnist, I would get my characters in trouble and then quickly help them out. By now I’ve learned that when I’m writing fiction, you get your characters in trouble, and you keep them in trouble for a long time. You throw more obstacles at them, and make them suffer. I hate making an eleven-year-old girl suffer. I try to help her out as much as I can. I surround her with lifesavers.
RS: That’s interesting, because that’s almost the same thing as what you’re saying about humor. That in real life, of course you want to help a child as quickly as you can, but in fiction, kids want to see other kids get in trouble, just as they want to be able to laugh at the characters they read about. Because there’s a distance between them and the character in the book. It’s not them.
Do you see a lot of yourself in Ava?
CW: I really wasn’t a big reader in fifth grade. I admired kids who were, and my best friend was a bookworm, but I was just a kid with a diary for the longest time. I would read the schoolbooks, but pleasure reading wasn’t something that I really did. I did read Aesop’s Fables, but they’re really short. There is a lot of me in Ava. I’m certainly a cat person. It’s funny: it’s my fourteenth book, but this is the first time I’ve written about a fifth-grade girl with a diary and a cat. You’d think I would have written that one already.
In our May/June 2015 issue, we asked publisher Anita Eerdmans about the bespectacled, bowtied — and strangely familiar-looking — protagonist of Roger Is Reading a Book. Read the review here.
Horn Book Editors: We’d like to know: Is that Roger our Roger?
Anita Eerdmans: Yes and no. In the original Dutch, the main character is called simply Neighbor (Buurman). One of our acquisitions team members objected to the impersonal nature of it and suggested we give Neighbor a name — maybe something alliterative with the title. Something like… “Roger.” Those of us who know Roger Sutton were immediately struck by the character’s uncanny likeness (bowtie and all). And so to our great delight, “Neighbor” became “Roger” (with thanks to the Belgian publisher, De Eenhoorn, who allowed the change).
Because both Skye and Batty grew out of parts of my personality (as did Jane and Rosalind, though not so much), some of the tensions between the two sisters came from internal struggles of my own. … [W]riting about Batty’s struggles was hard. I had to spend a lot of time re-living scared and lonely parts of my childhood.”
* * *
Over at Kirkus today, I talk to author Jeanne Birdsall, pictured here, about the latest novel in the Penderwick series, The Penderwicks in Spring (Knopf, March 2014).
The first book in The Chronicles of Claudette, Giants Beware! was quite well received; in fact, it earned the creators several awards, including the Cybils Award for Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels. The book, and its new follow up, Dragons Beware!, follow the courageous and battle hungry Claudette, her brother and culinary prodigy Gaston, and Marie the princess with a penchant for negotiation in their medieval adventures. The first graphic novel in the series left readers hungry for more sword slinging action, clever humor, and fun character building, and the wait is finally over! With Dragons Beware! hitting shelves today, we figured this was a great time to sit down with the series creators Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre to discuss creating the sequel, their backgrounds in animation, and the future of Claudette and her pals.
You both have backgrounds in animated TV series and films…how did you come to writing and illustrating this comic series respectively?
RAFAEL: We’ve been friends for a very long time and we always wanted to collaborate on something. I’ve been on the art side of animation and Jorge on the writing side. I had these characters bouncing around in my head and in my sketchbook, and a rough outline of a story. I brought that to Jorge, and he developed it, and thus a graphic novel series and a great collaboration was born.
Have you been fans of comics since childhood, or was it something you only came to later?
RR: I’ve been a comics fan my whole life! Starting with Disney comics, moving on to Mexican wrestler comics, and finally superhero comics, particularly Kirby. I discovered Underground and Alternative comics in the early 80s and sort of left superheroes behind.
JORGE: I loved comics as a kid. I remember writing a letter to Dick Giordano (the editor of DC comics in the 1980s), in which I asked him if I needed to be able to draw to get into the comic book industry. He wrote me back: “No.”
What inspired the stories and characters in the first book, Giants Beware?
RR: I wanted to make kids comics that told a big story and were sort of cinematic in tone. Bone was a huge inspiration, of course.
JA: When I was a kid, my dad used to tell me Greek myths during the painfully long twenty hour Spring break drive from Ohio to Florida. I think some of that mythology seeps its way into the stories we tell.
Was it a challenge to figure out what the story for this second book should be?
RR/JA: Yes and no. We always knew – even when we were working on GIANTS BEWARE, that the second book (if we were ever lucky enough to get a second book, which thanks to First Second, we were!) was going to be about facing off against a dragon to get a powerful sword made by Claudette’s father, Augustine. And we knew the evil wizard part of the equation. But it was a big challenge for us to figure out how much wizard, how much dragon, and how much sword to have in the story.
Have you had plans for where these characters would go after writing Giants Beware!, or did the story in Dragons Beware! find its inspiration later?
RR/JA: We had a rough outline of like 5 or 6 books when we worked on the original pitch of the story, which became Giants Beware!. But as we finished GB, we fell in love with Claudette, Gaston, and Marie, and it just takes more time to develop characters you love. And we found out there were other things about this world, which we had created, that we wanted to explore. If we get to tell more of these stories, eventually, everything we had in mind will get out there.
One of the best things about the series, and Dragons Beware! especially, is its rich cast of unique characters. Which of the kids do you each find yourself most identifying with?
JA: I wish I could say I identified with brave Claudette. But I probably have some of the neurotic, perfectionist, worrier characteristics of Gaston mixed with the naive, curious optimism of Marie.
RR: Same here, Gaston. For more or less the same reasons. I’m definitively not impulsive, like Claudette.
How did the two of you come to work on this series together?
JA: We met in college at Ohio State University. We bonded in a video making class, in which a poorly written script of mine was selected to be directed by a more experienced student, Rafael. After that, we always wanted to work together again.
RR: Jorge’s one of my best and oldest friends: he was even in my wedding! It’s a real pleasure to be able to work with him on this series.
What was your writing process on Dragons Beware? Did it change from how you worked on Giants Beware?
JA: Rafael and I work on the story together, passing ideas, paragraphs, outlines back and forth and talking a lot until we’re happy with the story. That part did not change between books. But when I was writing the script for Giants Beware, I didn’t fully realize how quickly a page of script could expand into pages and pages of artwork. Rafael and I had to make a lot of tough cuts along the way just to keep the book from exploding into twice its final size. I was better at knowing the relationship between words and art when we did the second book (though, I’m still learning). The hard part was trying to give Claudette, Gaston, and Marie new character journeys. And we tried hard not to repeat ourselves.
Are the three main characters inspired by anyone in particular, in their personalities or designs?
RR: As far as the designs go, I wanted characters whose silhouettes were clear and quickly identifiable. Claudette has the big head and crazy, spiky hair, Gaston has the cue ball head with huge ears, and Marie has the triple hair bun and puffy skirt. Hopefully they’re successful designs that way.
What made you choose the heroes’ particular talents–negotiating for Marie and cooking for Gaston in particular?
JA: Rafael originally drew Gaston as a scaredy cat. And when we were working on first book, I think I was watching a lot of TOP CHEF and so we added that to his character because it seemed like fun and interesting. As for Marie, we both liked the idea of taking the princess archetype and giving it a fresh take.
What are the challenges of writing a family book?
JA/RR: We don’t see it any more or less challenging than writing for a different age group. We’re basically writing for each other. We’re trying to entertain and make each other laugh. The only limitation, if you can even call it that, is that we don’t have our characters curse and we go easy on the blood.
Jorge, how has your writing for children’s television informed your graphic novel writing?
JA: Writing for TV probably informs the structure of our books (which is related to your next question about pacing). We think of our stories in terms of Three Acts, and we like the story the to be in a certain place in a certain act. Overall, writing for me is all related – whether I’m writing for TV or graphic novels. It’s all about structure and characters.
The pacing in Dragons Beware has a very cinematic sense of editing; do you each take inspiration in style more from animation or comic books?
RR: I’ve been working as a storyboard artist for over twenty years, so it’s inevitable that my comic book work would reflect that. That being said, there’s only so much overlap between the two forms. You’re missing that element of time, obviously, but there are effective ways to control the pacing in comics.
JA: We’re both heavily influenced by films and filmmaking so the structure of our books probably resembles a three act film. In fact, when we were plotting the first book, I was reading a screenplay writing book called Save the Cat. Reading books about writing is an excellent way to avoid ever having to write. But I’ve learned to read those books with a grain of salt. I take what’s useful to me.
I hear there are rumblings of a third book in the Chronicles of Claudette series…what can you tell us about what’s coming for our heroes?
JA/RR: Yes! The script is done and Rafael is drawing like crazy. We can tell you that there are monsters in the third book. Funny, vile, awful, silly monsters. Better beware!
Dragons Beware!, published by First Second, hits stores near you today!
You may have seen this recent Horn Book article by Betsy Bird on illustrators who come from an animation background. Today’s visiting illustrator, Ovi Nedelcu, is one of those, and he’s here today to share artwork and talk about his experiences.
Ovi, a character designer and story artist who lives in Portland, has been working in animation full-time for the past fifteen years for various studios, such as WB, Disney, Cartoon Network, and Sony — but mostly at LAIKA, working on both Coraline and The Boxtrolls. He’s not new to publication—his first published work was for DC comics back in 1998, and since then he’s published a comic book series and has illustrated a couple of picture books—but Just like Daddy (POW! Kids Books), out on shelves now, is his debut as an author-illustrator. It’s the story of one preschooler’s grand perceptions of his father’s day, juxtaposed with the everyday reality of his 9-to-5 job. It’s a warm story propelled by Ovi’s expressive cartoon art.
Ovi also talks about the book below, so let’s get right to it. I thank him for visiting.
On Just Like Daddy:
The book is basically about the relationship between a boy and his father. It’s a boy’s perception of what it’s like to be a grown-up — and the reality thereof. This is one book I really feel gives both the child and the adult something to enjoy and smile about while reading it. There is a take-away for both.
The idea came to me by just observing things my kids would mimic throughout the day. They would copy things I would do, like fold my legs, push-ups, put on my shoes, etc. My wife would point out how cute it was that they were trying to do things “just like daddy,” and that’s when it hit me as a good idea for a picture book.
(Click each to enlarge)
On How Animation Influences his Work:
It affects it in a couple of ways, I think.
One of them is speed. You have to get things done “yesterday,” so you don’t really have too much time to sit around and second-guess yourself too much. You have to go with your gut and just get the work done.
The second thing I learned in animation (from doing storyboards, particularly) is to not be too precious about my drawings initially. I draw probably thousands of storyboards on any given film, and you have to be willing to throw away something you just drew in order to draw a better idea. The whole point is to get the film up in storyboards as fast as you can so you can get it wrong as fast you can and change/fix it. If we spent all our time rendering our storyboards so that they look pretty but don’t really tell the best story in the animation reel (rough cut of the film in storyboards), then we just wasted all that time polishing storyboards we now have to throw out and re-draw.
(Click each to enlarge)
So, to apply that to book-making is great, because I can rough out a book in a day or less and then take a look at it and fix the story structure before I even worry about tones or useless details that will change as the story evolves and gets better. If you spend a lot of time on rendering your sketches or drawings, then you start to become attached to them and it will be harder to toss them out and start over to get a better idea and story across. Remember, story is king. Focus on the story, not the rendering. If the story doesn’t work, the rendering won’t make it better.
I try and focus on the visual story structure, character development, staging, compositions, pacing, and word play — and then add the details and rendering later. If it doesn’t work in a sketch, it won’t work in an illustration. It might look pretty, but there will always be something “wrong” with it. You can’t cover up a story with fancy words the same way you can’t cover up a bad illustration with fancy details.
On Comics and Picture Books:
The biggest difference is the complexity and intensity of the story. With a comic book, you get to elaborate on stories and really build things with characters, plot lines, subplots, and story arcs, like you would in a film. With picture books, you basically have to focus on one main theme or story point/issue and try and resolve it by the end. It’s hard to tell complex stories in picture books, because you are only allowed so much room to do so. You have to keep the audience in mind as well, which are kids and then adults. That’s not to say stories can’t have multiple layers of meaning; it’s just you have to really stay focused on that one issue.
I like using traditional mediums, like pencil, pen, paint, and such. I use acrylic, watercolor, oils, gouache, pastel, and color pencils — but I mostly paint digital, due to time and schedule. I have created a library of digital brushes that reflect the look of traditional media. I also try and paint digitally the same way I would if I was using real brushes, meaning I try not to use too many layers or manipulate the digital painting with effects or filters. I try and respect the process and use the same techniques and steps as I would if I were painting it traditionally, because I never want to lose that hand-crafted look or process to my work. I want to be connected to it as much as possible.
I also sketch in my sketchbook all the time. I always try and have it with me. I like using just a rich ballpoint pen.
The process of illustrating a book is really similar to storyboarding for a film. Once I’m done writing/outlining the book or if I’m illustrating a book someone else wrote, I start to do small thumbnails of the pages. I try and do them as simple (shapes and lines) as possible and not focus on details or rendering. I’m just laying down the basic composition and “feeling” of the illustration and trying to figure out what is the best way to capture the story point and the feeling of the piece. I ask myself questions like:
What’s the story point/theme?
What am I trying to communicate to the audience?
How do I want them to feel?
What is the feeling of the moment/illustration?
What are the characters thinking/feeling?
Why do they feel that way?
What do the characters want/desire?
What’s stopping them?
What’s the conflict/problem/antagonist?
What does the character learn?
How do they change/grow?
(Click to enlarge)
Just Like Daddy roughs
Those are the type of questions I ask that inform what I put down on paper.
I try and use compositions and body language/gesture/silhouette, etc. to communicate the story point visually.
Speaking of, I also do my thumbnails in my sketchbook or on paper. I try and stay away from the computer as long as possible.
(Click to enlarge)
After I have my pages roughed out, I enlarge them to print size on the computer and digitally I go back and do a second pass over them and clean things up a bit. This is essentially my under drawing and what I paint over once I finish cleaning it up a bit. I try not to clean the drawing up too much, because I want there to be a bit of play and back and forth between the drawing and the painting so that the process still feels organic and hand-crafted as much as possible. I want the under drawing to be “clear” but not “clean,” meaning I want the pose or gesture to clearly read and communicate the idea — but I don’t want the drawing to be cleaned up to the point where it’s stiff and lifeless.
Once I start painting, I like to block in my BG, MG, FG with my color scheme. Then I go back in and paint BG to FG using only a few brushes. I don’t do any black and white value studies, I just go right into color and try and do the values with the color. Once I have all the basic shapes and forms painted in, I go back in and do a final detail pass over the illustration and try and emphasize the focal points.
Children's Book Week was just last week, and thanks to First Second we're still celebrating--throughout April and May, MacTeenBooks has organized a massive multi-blog tour featuring Five Questions with a wide range of amazing cartoonists for kids... Read the rest of this post
Note from Erin: I’m thrilled to have YA author Jenny Martin on Pub Crawl today. Her debut novel, Tracked, (which just came out on Tuesday!) puts a futuristic twist on street racing (think: The Fast and the Furious in a galaxy far, far away). In fact, I loved Tracked so much, I blurbed it! But more on that later. Let’s get to the interview first…
Welcome, Jenny, and thanks for stopping by! Tracked is your debut novel, and like many authors, your publication journey wasn’t all smooth sailing. Can you tell us about your road to publication? (Was this the book that got you your agent? Were there any roadblocks you hit that made you want to give up? etc…)
Hi, Erin! Thanks for having me on Pub Crawl, one of my favorite sites!
Let me preface my answer by saying…this is for all the struggling writers out there—those who are facing rejection and are almost ready to give up. I hope my story encourages you, and give you hope. I want you to know you’re not alone.
I started writing novels in 2009. In 2010, things seemed to be going pretty well. I’d already snagged my first agent, the good old-fashioned way, through a cold query. But truthfully, I wasn’t ready. My project had the tiniest glimmer of spark, but I didn’t know how to revise it or level up as a writer. I floundered so badly. But lucky for me, shortly after parting ways with my first agent, I signed with Sara Crowe. And that made all the difference on my path to publication.
You see, Sara is the perfect agent for strugglers like me. She doesn’t give up. If she believes in you, she’ll stick with you, even when you’re knocked to the mat, a time or two. When our first project didn’t sell, we tried another round. When it still didn’t sell, we tried another book. When even that didn’t sell, she remained tenacious and steadfast, encouraging me to start a new project. So I did. I wrote Tracked in 2011, and it sold in 2012, after quite a bit of editorial revision.
But the wait didn’t end there. Tracked was bumped, and then bumped a second time, and then nearly bumped again. (It’s nobody’s fault. It just business, and it happens more often than you might guess.) But now, nearly three years later, that book—the one that almost wasn’t—is here, and I couldn’t be more excited and thankful! It’s such a sweet victory to see it out in the world at last; I’m so proud of Tracked, and how far it’s come, thanks to everyone who believed in it and helped me nail down that final draft.
So the moral of the story is to just…keep…writing. Always be writing the next book. Always, always, always!
Such great advice. And thanks for your honesty. The internet can turn into a highlights reel where people only share good news. It’s easy to forget that every writer has their ups and downs.
Tracked is the first in a series, correct? Are you working on the sequels now? Something else?
I am working on the sequel. Final edits are almost here, and I’m so happy about this book. I’ve come so far, and so has Phee, the protagonist. I can’t wait for readers to see what happens next. This next chapter in her journey…It’s going to be so satisfying and bittersweet, I promise.
I’m also working on a new project, a dark, twisty, heartbreaking horror-slash-love story. I love this main character so much, and I can’t get him out of my head. I hope to share his story with readers someday soon.
You had me at horror-slash-love story! I can’t wait to read it! So what’s a typical writing day for you? Do you have any writing rituals?
Ha! I wish I could say I had a typical writing day, but between full-time work in the library and a full-time family, I just write whenever I can, wherever I can, especially on nights and weekends. And while I can write anytime, anywhere, I do tend to favor 10 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. drafting sessions in my big, comfy, red chair.
You’ve already shared so much great advice, but do you have anything else to share with aspiring writers?
I have two favorite bits of advice, and the first comes from my dear friend and fellow author, A. Lee Martinez. He says that artists only need two out of three things to succeed: Luck, Talent, and Persistence. So even if you’re luckless, if you keep honing your craft, and you never give up, something good is bound to happen.
The second piece of advice comes from my heart: No matter how many times you’re knocked down, always get back up. Get back up, and keep writing.
So true! You can’t succeed if you don’t keep writing! Now for a few quick Pub-themed questions… There’s a creeper at the pub! What are you reading to avoid him?
Why, Fine Cuisine for First Dates by Hannibal Lecter, of course.
Bahaha! And uh-oh. PUB BRAWL! What weapon are you wielding and why?
Unless I’m allowed to borrow Thor’s Hammer, I’d think I’d have to go with my dog-eared copy of Jeff Herman’s Guide to Publishers, Editors and Agents, 2010 edition. It’s pretty thick; one good hit to the head would probably do the trick, actually.
Thanks so much for asking me to visit, Erin. It was a pleasure, and it’s an honor to have your name on Tracked’s jacket!
And I was so honored to provide it!
To our Pub Crawl readers: Trust me, you do not want to miss this book. Here’s what I had to say about Tracked:
Deeply inventive, Tracked is an action-packed sci-fi with heart. Martin has crafted a world that feels familiar yet fresh, and her spitfire heroine shines as the galaxy’s newest street racing star. Sequel, please!
—Erin Bowman, author of the Taken trilogy
If that still isn’t enough to convince you to pick up a copy, check out the official synopsis:
The Fast and the Furious gets a futuristic twist in this action-packed debut! On corporately controlled Castra, rally racing is a high-stakes game that seventeen-year-old Phoebe Van Zant knows all too well. Phee’s legendary racer father disappeared mysteriously, but that hasn’t stopped her from speeding headlong into trouble. When she and her best friend, Bear, attract the attention of Charles Benroyal, they are blackmailed into racing for Benroyal Corp, a company that represents everything Phee detests. Worse, Phee risks losing Bear as she falls for Cash, her charming new teammate. But when she discovers that Benroyal is controlling more than a corporation, Phee realizes she has a much bigger role in Castra’s future than she could ever have imagined. It’s up to Phee to take Benroyal down. But even with the help of her team, can a street-rat destroy an empire?
To celebrate Tracked‘s release, I’m giving away a copy to ONE lucky reader.
If the winner has a US mailing address, he/she can chose to receive a hardcover copy OR an ebook. For international addresses, this giveaway is for an e-copy only. Use the rafflecopter widget below to enter!
Happy belated release day, Jenny! I’m so happy Tracked is finally in the world and that readers can fall in love with Phee just as I did. Can’t wait for book #2!
Jenny Martin is an author and Texas school librarian. She lives in the Dallas/Fort Worth area with her husband and son, where she is an active member of the YA publishing community. Tracked is is her debut book. You can visit her online at readjennymartin.com.
Welcome to MATT CHATS, where I (Matt) talk to a person of interest in the comic book industry every Tuesday at 4:30 PM Eastern. Today I am speaking with an industry veteran but relative necomer to the Image renaissance. When Brian Buccelleto offered the first two issues of his upcoming Image series Sons of the Devil (also a short film) to reviewers on a recent episode of the Word Balloon podcast, I jumped at the chance to read them and talk to him. As a fan of his collaborations with Francis Manapul on The Flash and Detective Comics, I was not disappointed, more than happy to discuss with Brian the differences between something on the screen and on the page, the effect crowdfunding has on financials and other aspects of the creative process.
Did you talk with Kyle Higgins about the process of bringing something from the screen to the comic book page?
He’s a really close friend of mine and so we talk about everything – including the process of filmmaking and comic books. That said, he helped me out a lot on the film. Shout out to Kyle!
How are your philosophies similar?
We love film and comics and want to do both. So I think everything we create is done with the hope of being able to tell the stories in both mediums.
What do you think are the pros and cons of doing a film simultaneously with a comic, as opposed to adapting a film years later like Higgins did?
I think the biggest pro for doing it simultaneously is that you can actually SEE the story come to life on screen, which informs what you do in the comic AS you are doing it. Having actors take your material, interpret it, and make it their own helps you see the characters in new and interesting ways. Also, in the case of Sons of the Devil, we were able to secure interesting locations and have visual reference that I then gave Toni in the script. I think there was a certain level of synergy with doing both comic and film together. For Kyle and C.O.W.L./The League, I think adapting it later allowed him distance to cherry pick the best elements of his short. Honestly, I don’t know if there is a downside to either. Making comics and films are each awesome experiences… getting to do BOTH is off the charts awesome.
What are some storytelling benefits of telling a story both on the comic page and on the screen?
I think the two mediums are similar but have their own inherent advantages in how the story is told. Film is a forward-moving visual medium where you experience the story with sight and sound. There is a momentum to films that you want to sustain because you HOPEFULLY have the viewer’s undivided attention and you want to keep it. It’s more of a sensory experience for the viewer. Comics are also visual, but are experienced at a pace dictated by the reader. There is no captive audience. In some ways that’s a disadvantage… but the benefit of a comic is that a reader can spend as much time on a single page as he/she wants. And the reader can go back and re-read and really digest the material without it hurting the experience.
What kind of audience did the Kickstarter attract? Was it more composed of fans of films or comics?
It was mostly comprised of fans of my work, who were intrigued by my transmedia concept.
Does the fact that the comic was funded through a Kickstarter campaign change the financials of the series at all? Because of the Kickstarter, for example, is the sales threshold lower?
II I don’t think being a Kickstarter project has any bearing on sales thresholds. In the case of SOTD, almost all of the funds we got went into the budget of the short film – which ended up costing more than what we got from Kickstarter. So financially speaking, the Kickstarter didn’t pay for the ongoing series. I had to get financial support from other means. But Kickstarter allowed me to start the comic book and get far enough down the road to pitch it to Image. This allowed me to take the concept from its initial plan as a one-shot to becoming an ongoing series.
Kickstarter is as much about marketing tool nowadays as it is a way to amass funds. How big of an impact do you think the campaign has had on the visibility of the work?
Honestly, I don’t know how directly Kickstarter will factor into the marketing of the book. I had approximately 250 backers, so I don’t think that number will significantly impact the sales number for issue 1.
For any artists looking to be discovered, can you describe how you searched for an artist for Sons of the Devil?
I feel VERY lucky. I was searching an international portfolio website called Behance when I came across Toni Infante’s work. I also tried DeviantArt and inquired using social media.
What were some of the challenges of working with a less experienced artist?
Honestly, I don’t look at his art or our lack of American comic credits and think “less experienced.” He is a professional artist with an amazing skillset, and I haven’t had any challenges that you might associate with a new artist.
Were there any benefits?
Only that I get the honor of working with him.
Was it hard letting go of the coloring duties for Sons of the Devil?
Not really. I’ve been coloring for 20 years and have had my fill. Of course, him showing me great coloring samples helped to make the decision easy.
You’re perhaps best known in the comics scene for your collaborations with Francis Manapul. Has it been difficult in any ways to be seen as a writer in your own right?
Not really. I made the decision to do my own solo stuff very early on, so that I could carve out my own identity as a writer. I self-published a book called Foster early on in our Flash run and did a 12-issue Black Bat story for Dynamite. I think it took a little more time for me to build trust within DC editorial so that they saw me as an individual in collaboration with Francis and not just the guy that he brought in to help. But to their credit, they have been very supportive of me and have allowed me amazing opportunities to shine on my own with Rogues Rebellion, Injustice and a few solo arcs on Flash. Oddly enough, I think Francis has had a tougher time being seen as a writer because he is such an amazing artist that it overshadowed his own writing chops. But he IS a writer/storyteller and has future plans to do his own solo stuff.
What are your hopes for Sons of the Devil professionally, creatively and personally?
Personally and creatively, I am always trying to grow as a writer and tell personal stories that resonate. So my hope is that each project I do is better than the last. Professionally, I would love for SOTD to be an ongoing series AND a television series.
Do you think the amount of great output from Image Comics good for business, or does it make it harder for your book to stand out?
I think there is always room for good books from every corner of publishing. The Image brand is obviously something any creator would want to be associated with. The amount of quality content that Image puts out means that retailers and fans will be more likely to try the book because Image’s track record is a promise of quality. As far as standing out among the other great books, I think that’s a challenge no matter how many books Image is publishing. There are 400 books that come out in a given month… so standing out is bound to be a challenge,
What’s the most exciting part of taking the plunge with a creator-owned series from Image?
Being able to tell the stories I want to tell EXACTLY how I want to tell them. Unfiltered.
You can find Brian on Twitter and his name on issues and trades in comic shops across the world.
Please give a warm welcome to Marina Adair this morning! She stopped by the virtual offices to answer a few quick questions, and she brought a giveaway for you to enter!
What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?
Name three things on your desk right now.
Since I write in bed, it is my cat Suki, my other cat Awesome Bob, and a bag of powdered sugar mini-doughnuts.
What’s your favorite snack when you’re working on a deadline?
The previously mentioned powdered sugar mini-doughnuts. Yum!
If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?
A zoo keeper. I would want full access to go and visit all of the animals.
You have been granted the use of one superpower for one week. Which power would you choose, and what would you do with it?
Zoolingualism. I would spend the entire week trying to figure out why my cat Suki likes to sleep in my dirty clothes and what Awesome Bob is thinking when he eats the fern, even though he knows the fern makes him sick. I imagine the conversation would go a lot like this:
SUGAR ON TOP by Marina Adair (April 28, 2015; Forever Mass Market; Sugar, Georgia Book #2)
She’s sassy and sweet
The last thing Glory Mann wants is to become chairman of the Miss Peach Pageant in Sugar, Georgia. Spending months hearing nothing but the clinking of pearls and judgment? No thank you! But when Glory is forced to take the rap for a scandal she didn’t commit, the judge sentences her to head the committee. Even worse, her co-chairman is rugged, ripped . . . and barely knows she’s alive. He’s ready and willing Single dad Cal McGraw can’t take any more drama in his life. After a difficult divorce, his little girl became a boy-crazy teenager and his hands are full. The last thing he needs is to spend his down time with the town bad girl. Glory is pure trouble-tempting and tantalizing trouble. But he can’t deny the strong chemistry between them-or how her touch turns him inside out. Now as squabbles threaten to blow up the contest and the town of Sugar itself, Cal must risk everything on the sexy wild card to get a second chance at love . . .
Marina Adair is a lifelong fan of romance novels. Along with the Sugar series, she is also the author of the St. Helena Vineyard series and the upcoming Shelter Cove series. She currently lives in a hundred-year-old log cabin, nestled in the majestic redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains, with her husband and daughter. As a writer, Marina is devoted to giving her readers contemporary romance where the towns are small, the personalities large, and the romance explosive. She also loves to interact with readers and you can catch her on Twitter at @MarinaEAdair or visit her atwww.MarinaAdair.com.
Excerpt: Glory walked to the door and peeked out the peephole, doing some panting of her own when she recognized Cal’s sexy blue eyes peeking back.
She knew the minute he realized she was on the other side of the door because he smiled and took a step back, as though waiting for her to just open up her door and welcome him inside.
“I know that you know it’s me, Boots, so open up.”
Oh, she knew it was him all right. Her nipples told her that the second he’d knocked. Plus she could smell the testosterone through the door, and his soap, which from the looks of it he’d showered, too. Although, she thought bitterly, he’d put on a fresh pair of jeans and an untucked gray button-up, not a pair of shorts with dancing pigs on them and a tank that said RESIDENT BED HOG across the chest.
“Or I can go get my tools from the truck—your call.”
And since the thought of Cal with tools made her hot, she opened the door—wide enough to see his face.
“What do you want?” she asked, more than aware that she hadn’t put her bra back on after her shower.
“Our date wasn’t over.”
Time to be firm. “I had a fun time, I’d love to do it again, but like I already told you, panties are a strict date five topic.”
“You said date four if they’re special.”
She had said that, damn it.
He pushed the door open a tad and his eyes dropped to her pajamas. He grinned. “And, Boots, those shorts don’t leave much room for imagination.” He pushed the door open wider and leaned in. “Or panties.”
He was right. She was commando under there. Not that she’d confirm his suspicions or even had time to. Before she knew what was happening, Cal took her hand in his and led her down the stairs toward his truck—and the already opened passenger door.
She stopped at the bottom step. “I’m not wearing shoes and I’m in my pajamas.”
“Which answers the question of what you sleep in. Although, I have to admit, I took you for more of an in-the-buff girl.” She felt her cheeks heat but played it cool. “Ah, good to know.”
Okay, maybe not so cool.
Cal slipped his jacket over her shoulders, then turned around to offer her his back. “Pajama issue solved. Now climb on.”
Knowing that he wasn’t going to let her be until she did as he asked, at least that was the lie she told herself, she wrapped her arms around his neck and legs around his middle—which only managed to smash her front deliciously against his broad, muscular back.
He walked her over to his truck, sat her on the seat, and shut her door, not saying a word until he was in the driver’s seat with his door shut.
He didn’t start the engine, didn’t explain what he was doing, just turned to her and smiled. “I had a great time tonight, which after my day seemed impossible. But you made it fun, made it easy to talk about Payton, and just . . . easy. With you, tonight, it all seemed so easy, so thank you.”
And wasn’t that the most romantic thing anyone had ever said to her. “I had a great time, too.”
“Good.” His smile was back and he got out of the truck, walked around, and opened her door.
Glory rolled her eyes, but inside she was melting. “What are you doing?”
“Walking my date to her doorstep.” He looked at her bare feet and waggled a brow. “Or carrying.”
“That’s okay, I can walk.” But one hand was already around her back, the other firmly planted on her butt, and he was scooping her out of the truck, not putting her down until he was up the stairs and at her door.
Hands shoved in his pockets, he leaned against the rail. She opened her mouth to speak when he said, “Hang on.” He reached out and closed her front door. “There. Now, you were saying.”
“Just, thank you,” she whispered and neither of them moved, neither of them spoke. It was as though time hung, and in that one moment nothing else mattered. Only the two of them and this insane connection.
His eyes dropped and he cleared his throat. That’s when she realized he was waiting for his jacket.
“Oh, right. Sorry.” She started to take it off when he gripped the collar and tugged her to him.
“I don’t care about the jacket, I’ll get it next time.”
Her knees wobbled at the idea that he wanted a next time.
Oh my God, Charlotte was right, she had it bad. Glory was a certified McGraw addict; she had every last symptom, even down to wanting their next time to be now.
Cal must have been suffering from the same affliction, because he tilted his head and delivered a gentle kiss that seemed to last for hours. Languid and soft and with deliberate control, the man kissed her as if there was nowhere else he’d rather be. This wasn’t a race or a sprint to the bed; to him, kissing was his way of connecting, sharing.
By the time they came up for air, Glory’s bones had turned to mush and her entire world had shifted because Cal wasn’t just special, he was perfect.
Then he did the one thing that could have made her fall, had her opening herself up to all the what-ifs and going all in. Cal gave her one last kiss on the cheek and made his way down the stairs, giving her what she wanted, time to prove he was serious, that she was worth waiting for, worth fighting for.
Only every step he took caused her chest to coil tighter and tighter until it hurt to breathe.
One date. A hundred. It didn’t matter. This was Cal. He was one of the good ones. He’d come all this way, in the middle of the night, to escort her to the door, and there she was, watching him walk away, wondering if she’d get another chance.
The least she could do was invite him inside and offer him a cold beverage.
He was rounding the truck when her feet finally got the message from her brain, and she took off down the steps, not stopping until she was standing in front of him. “Don’t go.”
Welcome to MATT CHATS, a weekly interview series in which I, Matt O’Keefe, talk with people of interest in the comic book industry. Whether they’re writers, artists, letterers, editors, retailers, etc. if they have something to say, I want to hear it and share it with you. Here’s a special conversation I had recently with webcomics maven Scott Kurtz.
Scott Kurtz is one of the original webcomic pioneers, having created PvP(Player vs. Player) nearly seventeen years ago and making a living writing and drawing it for almost as long. He eventually launched a spinoff of PvP named Table Titans about friends playing a role playing game that’s taken on a life and legacy of its own. I spoke with Kurtz about the huge-and-still-growing webcomic series, the role the owners of Dungeons and Dragons have in the comic, building an online empire and more.
What were your initial hopes for Table Titans creatively, professionally and personally?
My hope with Table Titans was to create a comic book that captured the spirit and joy of tabletop roleplaying. I’ve personally wanted to make a fantasy comic for many years, and after a reader survey revealed many of our fans were into tabletop gaming, it seemed a perfect topic. We’ve been telling stories for years at our kitchen table that nobody but our gaming group is aware of. What an amazing opportunity to tell them to a wider audience and simultaneously encourage them to tell their own stories collaboratively with friends.
How do those hopes compare to where you are now?
All of our hopes with Table Titans have been fulfilled and exceeded. The comic is doing gangbusters. In only two years it has the same traffic as PvP on days we post new strips. That’s more than we could have ever hoped for. And every email, and fan interaction at cons involves someone telling us how they started playing D&D because of the strip or one of our podcasts about gaming.
You brought Steve Hamaker on to color Table Titans, but choose to leave the pages black & white when he’s unavailable. What brought about that choice?
Steve is always available. It’s just that sometimes I’m late getting pages in to him where it works inside his schedule. So on those days, we run in black and white and then once Steve gets the time to color them we pop them up. It’s my problem. Steve is a monster.
How did the collaboration with Wizards of the Coast on Table Titans come about?
We had an existing relationship with Wizards from our D&D podcasts and live shows we do with Penny Arcade. So we talk all the time. And we ran the idea of Table Titans past them at the early stages of outlining the comic. They loved the idea and we talked to them about the possibility of working in a marketing partnership with them on it. They promote the comic, the comic promotes D&D. Win-win, right?
Do you have to jump through many hoops to use their characters and concepts?
Not really. We’re not an official Licensee. It’s a marketing partnership. So they’re very hands off. There are a lot of things I can put in the comic that, while are a part of D&D, aren’t owned by Wizards. Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, Dragons, Goblins, Clerics, Fighters, etc. I just don’t get in trouble when I drop in something they do own like the drow or a beholder or displacer beast.
How involved is Wizards of the Coast in the storylines in Table Titans?
Not terribly. We talk all the time about what they have coming up as far as their campaign settings and if it interests us from a story level, we get to incorporate it into the comic. Season one of the comic centered around their campaign to reintroduce the idea of D&D as a collaborative storytelling exercise. We focused on that theme quite a bit. And season two lined up with their “sundering” campaign (sort of). So we see what they’re doing and if it ignites an idea we run with it. But these are our stories. They’re very hands off.
What are the big benefits of getting to use the Dungeons & Dragons content in Table Titans?
The biggest benefit is that we’re associated with Wizards of the Coast and they promote the strip on their social media sites. We’ve also worked with them collaboratively on a couple of non-comic projects. We’ve jointly made a beholder dice bag and a vinyl figure of our main character Val standing triumphant over a beholder. Those projects are a lot of fun. Plus I grew up playing D&D and so it’s the game I want reflected in the comic. I could have just made up a fake game they were playing, but how great is it that they get to play D&D. Just like we all do?
Are there ever times you wish you were using creator-owned characters and setting instead?
All of Table Titans is creator owned. We own everything we create. Sure if we drop in a displacer beast or a drow (as we have done in the two years we’ve produced the strip), Wizards owns those characters. But it’s worth creating an antagonist from the pages of the offical Monster Manual for our characters to go up against. And in the end, we own Table Titans. We’re also currently working on our own campaign setting which we’ll be featuring in the strip in upcoming seasons. We wanted to show the natural progression players take. Season 1 was D&D encounter groups (what you do when you’re learning). Season 2 is a purchased campaign setting. Season 3 and beyond will show the Titans playing their own home-brew setting. And in the real world, we’ll be building that setting ourselves.
How business minded would you say a lot of your creative decisions are?
It’s impossible not to be business minded about all the decisions you make. But at Toonhound Studios, we make what we love and find a way to monetize it afterwards. We try not to put the cart before the horse. I’ve also been lucky to have found a business partner in Cory Casoni (formerly the marketing director at Oni Press, currently the Director of Business Development & Brand Management at Toonhound Studios LLC). Cory came on board about 3 years ago and we’ve been building Toonhound Studios into an American Mangaka. That’s why we work with so many talented people on all of our projects like Dylan Meconis, Brian Hurtt, Tavis Maiden and Steve Hamaker. We’re trying to build the independent publisher of the future here. And having a ball doing it.
Are you setting out to build a webcomics empire, or is it happening organically?
It’s happening organically. And it’s nothing that I had any interest in until I hired Cory. His first couple of years were spent undoing all the mistakes I made on my own over the first 15 years of my career. HA HA!. Then once all the old business was settled we sat down and said “What’s next?” Honestly, I handn’t thought much past “I want to be a cartoonist.” So that’s been a difficult but exciting and challenging question to try to answer. We are always trying to remain fluid and lean and ready to adapt. Things change so fast in this industry. We always want to be creating new content and trying things that challenge us and scare us a little bit. So yes we have plans. But to say we’re trying to build an “empire” is a little far reaching I think.
You eventually stepped away from The Trenches, and helped bring in and guide the new artists on the series. Would you ever do that with Table Titans one day?
We’re already doing it. Brian Hurtt will be taking over drawing duties on Table Titans for the next season. He’ll be writing and drawing a story with a side group called the Dungeon Dogs. Meanwhile I’ll be busy drawing the next Table Titans adventure and we’ll move the comic from posting 2 days a week to 4. Tavis Maiden (tenkoking.com) is also working on a new project with me that takes place in the Table Titans universe that’s so crazy and hilarious It’s hard not to talk about it. And I’m writing PvP now with Dylan Meconis, so everything at Toonhound is a group effort. Working collaboratively is my next step as a cartoonist and it’s making all of our work better across the board. Hands down.
How do you see Table Titans (and PvP) evolving as time goes on?
Who knows. I’m equally nervous and excited about it. I just turned 44 and PvP is turning 17 in May. I don’t see myself ever stopping either strip. I love making them so much. I still love writing and drawing PvP after over a decade and a half. I want to join my heroes Stan Sakai, and Sergio Aragones in celebrating 20 and 30 years of making the comic. Same goes for Table Titans. I can definitely see myself creating new comics and characters and working with others to carry on PvP and Table Titans with my guidance while I work on other things. Another hero of mine is Jim Davis and he built an amarican Mangaka at PAWS. A lot of people give him shit about that or look down on him for it. But they respect and honor Miyazaki for working the same way. Makes no sense to me, but it’s all cultrual. I know the benefits of collaboration and I intend to do more of it as my career continues.
Author/illustrator Rowboat Watkins and I had a long conversation about his picture book, Rude Cakes, coming to shelves in June from Chronicle Books — and I’m posting the conversation today. The book is the surreal story of cheeky, impudent cakes (words I never thought I’d string together)—throw in some cyclopses with some unexpected behavior traits—and it’s funny and entertaining. There are some spreads from it in our chat below. (Pictured above is a sketchbook image.)
Rowboat and I also talk below about picture books and elbow room; Sendak (Rowboat was a Sendak Fellow several years back); giant paper legs growing up hallways; resolute poodles; four-horsepower Super Rosengarts, both metaphorical and very real; the severities of plain white walls; and much more. This is essentially a conversation for the die-hardiest of die-hard picture book fans—I can’t promise the absence of a digression or two—and I enjoyed every second of it. Later in our chat, Rowboat writes:
Anything that betrays its own messy history of becoming itself makes my eyes widen.
… which I’d pretty much like to tattoo on my forehead.
Let’s get to it, and I thank him for visiting.
* * *
Jules: Hi there, Rowboat! I’m glad you’re visiting 7-Imp. I like your new book.
I bet authors hate to be asked about “inspiration,” so I’d like to ask what inspired this story without using the word “inspired” or “inspiration.” Oops. Too late.
But no really, can you talk about when this notion of sentient cakes came to you? Was it during the Sendak Fellowship, by chance, which I’d also love to ask about. Eventually. Or maybe I just did.
Clearly, I’m not very organized.
Rowboat: Hey, Jules.
Am glad you like the book. It’s weird seeing it as a real alive book. Exciting. But weird. And a little bit scary. But mostly exciting. I think. I could be lying. 50/50, as my daughter likes to say.
As to the inspiration, I’m going to ignore what I believe is your insinuation that cakes aren’t really sentient. Water under the bridge.
I’ve been drawing sentient cakes for over a decade.
And giant hairy hands looming in from the sides and top of my sketchbooks for almost as long.
Why? I don’t know. Sometimes it’s better not to ask too many questions.
Anyway, at some point in an extended trough I’d been sliding into for who-knows-how-long, I finally hit the bottom. Conk. Like in a cartoon. Conk. Honestly. My brain literally made the sound conk. I kid you not. And I just knew I couldn’t sink any lower. Which was weird, because I’m pretty much always sure there is somewhere lower to sink. But for whatever reason, I thought, “Well, I don’t like any of my ideas (because they all suck), and it sure would be fun to draw a book with a giant hairy hand looming in from the top of the page. Who wouldn’t love that? I would.”
(Click to enlarge)
And then I thought about a dream I’d cut out of a recently-failed dummy about a tiny poodle who wanted to be tough — but wasn’t. As part of the poodle’s wan regimen for making himself tough, he tries dreaming about tough things — such as, flowers with mustaches; hammers; piles of rocks; and rude cakes who kicked each other on purpose and never said sorry. And I thought, “Well, the poodle story is going nowhere fast, but who wouldn’t want to read about rude cakes who kicked each other on purpose? I would. Maybe there’s a way I can have a giant hairy hand loom in from the top of a page and have it grab a rude cake, who at some point earlier in the story had rudely kicked another cake?”
(Click each to enlarge)
Genius! I was like the guy (or lady) who invented the peanut butter cup. Combine two individually delicious things (a giant hairy looming hand and a remorseless kicking cake) to make something even more delicious. Great job, brain. Way to go. Idiot.
When one is at the bottom of a deep dark hole of one’s own doing, options are limited. I had nothing to lose, since I couldn’t write a worse story than the ones I’d already been writing. So I just made myself start typing. And then the book kind of wrote itself in, like, a day. And a half. All at once. Which had never happened before and will undoubtedly never happen again and was more than a little bit scary. I was so nervous after I’d finished writing it I thought I would spontaneously combust. It was the same feeling you have when you find out the girl you’ve secretly had a crush on for months (or years) actually likes you, too. Totally thrilling. Equally terrifying. So I kept it a secret for a few days before emailing it to two friends to ask their opinion.
Some of the first thumbnails for Rude Cakes
Does that answer your question at all?
It occurs to me I should say one more thing specific to your question about inspiration, Jules, which is this: In my first two or three passes on the story, there were multiple rude cakes and they were all eaten by polite cyclops-children, who wiped their mouths with napkins and held out their hairy little pinkies when they drank from their glasses and thanked their parents for giving them such delicious little cakes to eat. It was totally ham-handed and kind of dumb, but that’s what the story was, so I was going with it. Because at least I was going to get to draw giant hairy looming hands and rude sentient cakes.
It was only when I started making rough thumbnails of cakes being daintily shoved into appreciative adolescent cyclops-maws that I suddenly realized the cakes looked a lot like hats. What? It was like a literal cartoon lightbulb went off in my head — only I don’t remember what sound it made.
It had never occurred to me that cyclopses might want to do anything with little rude cakes other than eat them, but now I had this whole unexpected sartorial direction — and that was the AHA moment I had been blindly throwing out grappling hooks for. If I hadn’t simply started writing and drawing the book in all of its ham-handedness, I would have never discovered the twist.
Rowboat: “It feels like the seeds for whatever ideas that start vaguely forming themselves in my head always start vaguely [with my sketchbooks]. With doodling mindlessly on the subway, or while waiting for my daughter at dance class, or at after school, or wherever. They are the closest thing I have to inspiration.” (Click each to enlarge)
And here are a few pix of my room at the Sendak Fellowship. I didn’t mean to ignore your question about the Fellowship, Jules. Honest. I could bore you to death with all I have to day about my time there. But I didn’t want to overstay my welcome before I’d allowed you to ask more than one question.
(Click each to enlarge)
Jules: Hear hear for sketching AND for ham-handedness. (Should your next book be about monsters with hams for hands? Hmm.)
I love seeing these early images. Did you name your early cyclopses? What is the plural for cyclops anyway? I see there’s a Pearl up there, and I’m wondering who she is.
I knew you weren’t ignoring my Sendak question. I have a bad habit of asking more than one question at once and figured you were taking them one at a time. Looks like you got to draw/paint on the walls there? Or are those taped?
I’d have so many questions about the Fellowship that it’d be annoying. I guess it’d be neat to know what it was like. Is it true Fellows were able to spend their days alone, thinking, creating, etc. — and then whenever you needed advice from the great man himself, you could ask for it? Is there anything he told you that changed the way you make stories? You are welcome to tell me to shove off or ignore that question, if you’d rather not share. I’d respect that, especially since I know you developed a friendship with Maurice, and that’s a private thing.
Another sketchbook drawing (Click to enlarge)
Rowboat: Pearl is my daughter. And she uses the words literal and literally more than anyone in Christendom. About things which are debatably debatable — or at best figuratively true. And no, she didn’t learn this from me. When I talk about literal brain conks and literal cartoon lightbulbs, these aren’t mere metaphors, Jules. They seem to have really happened. Then again, why would you trust anything said by someone whose brain goes conk?
The cyclopses never had names. Sorry. They were originally nameless, giant, hairy, one-eyed monsters — grown-ups and kids. Until I remembered there was already a perfectly good name for giant, one-eyed monsters and that I didn’t need to call them hairy if I drew them hairy. And then I realized it would be simpler if I didn’t worry about what age the cyclopses were. When in doubt, simplify. I always forget this.
The first person to read the story was my friend Ali Bahrampour. Ali is a copy chief by day, but he’s also one of the smartest people and picture book-makers I know (and funniest and nicest and darkest). And he’s been selfishly squirreling away everything he’s written and drawn since he published his singular gem, Otto: The Story of a Mirror back in 2003. Which is just plain wrong, but it’s his selfish life and far be it from me to begrudge him his secret, selfish squirrelings.
In the version Ali read, I used cyclops as a plural of itself. Because I liked the sound. Cyclops. Like fish. Or moose. But Ali flagged this and (apologetically) noted that the plural of cyclops is cyclopes. As in “sigh-kloh-pees.” What?!?! Cyclopes? The whole book was ruined. Who the hell ever heard of sigh-kloh-pees? Not me. It sounded contagious. Who would even know how to pronounce it? I don’t remember what sound my brain made at the time, but it was not good.
To make a long story short (and you were the one who opened up this giant hairy one-eyed can of worms in the first place, Jules), the copyeditors at Chronicle were nice enough to let me use cyclopses instead cyclopes. Because “cyclopses” is at least a debatably debatable usage, whereas cyclopes is quite literally depressing.
As to the walls of my room in the Nuthouse (it’s what we called the fellows’ house, because its thin roof was under constant attack from acorns), I didn’t remember anyone telling me I couldn’t draw on the walls. Which were so oppressively blank and looked exactly like the horrible case of writer’s block which had settled in my head. Only with fresher paint. I had no clue what to work on. And I was afraid to talk to Maurice, because he was MAURICE-frigging-SENDAK. And I was afraid of talking to the other fellows, because they each seemed so legitimate and accomplished. And I was ashamed that I had no idea what to do with my month living next door to all of them, as they briskly buffed and honed their brilliant dummies. The only dummy in my room was me. Bad joke. What do you expect? My brain goes conk.
Anyway, desperate times call for desperate measures. So I went to Staples (I didn’t know any other art stores near Ridgefield, Connecticut) and bought a bunch of construction paper and double-stick tape. And I started covering my walls. At first I drew only on the paper. Because I’m a goody-two-shoes coward by nature and I didn’t want to get in trouble. But then I started drawing off the paper a little. And then I accidentally started drawing smally in the hallway. And maybe I kind of drew in the stairwell leading up to the kitchen? And in the kitchen? And in the pantry? And coat closet? Just one leafy tree. Because this wasn’t my house. But at this point I was talking to and cooking with and getting lost in the woods with the other fellows, even if I was still mortally afraid of Maurice. And because Lynn and Dona, who ran the fellowship, didn’t seem to mind that acorns were falling from the electrical outlets. Or that bandits were claiming the lightswitches. Or that a faint hairy hand was reaching for the original Chris Van Allsburg, which hung in the breakfast nook.
More Nuthouse switchplates
When I had my first one on one talk with Maurice, maybe a week or so into the fellowship, he nervously said, “Why don’t you like me?” And I told him I was terrified and that, as is always the case when I’m afraid of talking to someone new, my mind becomes an empty room. This was a few years before my brain started conking, so I didn’t mention that. Then he told me he liked my feet. The one’s I had taped on the wall. And he said he would like to live in a room like this. And I told him he owned the house and that it was his room anyway. And then he sat down and asked me about my daughter.
Were you allowed to draw on the walls of your room when you were a kid, Jules? And do you let your daughters draw on the walls in theirs?
Jules: I love that Staples story. And the Maurice part. For some reason, I got teary-eyed. Maybe because, though I generally don’t get really starry-eyed over authors and illustrators (as in, I know they’re just people too, right?), I would have given anything to have met Sendak in person. I know he was a mere mortal, like the rest of us, but he had such respect for children that I feel like … I dunno … it really is the end of an era with him gone.
CYCLOPES? WHO KNEW? Whoa. Well, I’ve learned something new this week.
No, I never drew on my walls, though I guess in high school I painted song lyrics around my door frame. My girls don’t draw on the walls, though my husband and I talk about one day letting them turn over the kitchen table and paint on the bottom of it.
New subject: Did I already tell you that I read Rude Cakes at a story time, and it even made the fussy toddlers get quiet? I’m reading at another story time tomorrow at an elementary school, and I’m bringin’ this again.
Have you shared this, by chance, with children other than your daughter?
Also, is there anything we can do to get Ali to share more of his books?
Another sketchbook drawing (Click to enlarge)
Rowboat: I don’t know what can done about Ali. Sergio (Ruzzier) was a Sendak Fellow the same year Ali was there, and he’s been trying to get Ali to send out his dummies for years. Without success. You know how charming Sergio is, so you can imagine how cagey Ali must be to resist. Maybe you should invite Ali to talk sometime? And ask him to share some of his work? Maybe this would poke a hole in the dam? And get him on someone’s radar. If nothing else, I’m sure you’d love talking to Ali.
Can I ask what lyrics you painted around your door frame? I was never allowed to put anything up on the walls, growing up. Not even a postage stamp. Lucky for my childhood door frames, I’m terrible at remembering lyrics. I’ve been listening to the same forty or so albums for the past however-many-decades, and I still couldn’t do more than hum gibberish if I had to sing something a cappella on the spot. Which will never happen. Trust me.
The same is true for books. I have only the gauziest of impressions of what any of my life-long favorites are about. I’d blame this on the brain surgery I had after a bad exchange with a truck while riding my bike, but the truth is my memory was dicey before then. The upside of all of this being I could be stuck on a desert island with three books and three records and I would never get bored. Because there would always be so much to discover. Maybe even two books and one record?
One of the things I discovered after going to the fellowship was how much I liked having giant paper legs growing up the walls. I would have never pegged myself for this kind of person before, but there you have it. I am apparently that kind of person. And I liked it so much that I finally had to put one up in the hall of the building where I live. I would have put it up in my apartment (I really would have), but all of our walls are crammed with stuff. So it had to be the hallway or nothing. And … it looked GREAT!!! What a thrill that there was finally a giant paper leg in the hall.
(Click to enlarge)
The problem was, there was only one. For weeks I tried to pretend this was okay. But after a while, it became too much. So while everyone was off at work and school one day, I put up another one. Because my neighbors never said anything about the first leg. And I couldn’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to walk by twice as many six-foot-tall paper legs springing from the baseboards, while tromping off to work or coming home with heavy bags of groceries. I mean, come on.
A master plan started simmering in my head to paper the whole length of the stairwell with a chorus line of giant legs kicking up to the second and third floor landings and on to the roof. This kind of thing can simmer in my head, because it is totally unencumbered by song lyrics or historical facts or anything it ever encountered on the printed page. So the glass is half full.
But one day, a couple days after the second leg gloriously appeared, my favorite neighbors left a message on my voicemail asking me to call them. And I learned the very sad lesson that some people apparently prefer to haul heavy bags of groceries against a wan backdrop of dull white paint. How could this be? These are smart capable people. Job-having, child-rearing, book-reading, vote-casting citizens. Plain white walls are just so … I don’t even know what they are, but they sure are sadder without legs.
My neighbors were so contrite and polite about the whole thing, and I felt horrible for putting them in the position of having to sheepishly explain why life is lived better while tromping off to work against a legless wall of nothing. If only I could have remembered all the lyrics to The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, this kind of thing might never have happened. Suffice it to say, there will never be a chorus line of giant legs kicking their papery way up to the roof. And my neighbors, whom I love, will never have to worry about anything else springing from the baseboards in our common stairwell. Really.
The only thing more disturbing than suddenly needing to grow giant legs in one’s hallway is suddenly deciding to blog about wanting to put up giant legs in one’s hallway. On a secret blog that no one reads. Which is here. And here. The entries are from a few years ago, but the shame of it all still smells fresh. Now you know my deepest, darkest secrets, Jules.
You asked me earlier if there was anything I learned from Maurice that changed the way I made books. I learned so much from him, and he had so much to say about everything that it would be impossible to choose. And the structure of the Fellowship was less about some traditional student/teacher model than about becoming a part of a community of like-minded nutjobs. About fellowship. Fruity as that may sound, that’s really what I think it was about. Because making books can be so lonely and dispiriting and disorienting. And even someone as accomplished as Maurice still needs friends in whose adoring faces he can see glimmers of his own goodness.
That I have become the kind of rainbow-twirling person who can say this kind of thing is hard to swallow. But there you go. I like giant legs and sometimes twirl rainbows. It is so easy to lose your way when you are stuck inside your own head all the time and you don’t know how to do anything but hum. Know what I mean?
I am curious to hear how story time went, Jules. I’ve not read the book to anyone other than my daughter. I didn’t even read it to her. She can read it herself. And she watched me working on it for months. Since my desk is right next to the kitchen and you can’t get anywhere in the apartment without walking by my desk. I have given the book to a couple friends, and I know they have read it to their kids and I’ve heard that they supposedly laughed and liked the book. But what else are someone’s friends going to say? I even gave a copy to my leg-hating neighbors, but their daughter is maybe a little too young for the book, since she just turned two.
My secret hope is that one day her parents will walk into her room and they will spy something strange growing from the baseboards. I have no idea what that something will be. Or how far in the future it will be. But I say this and wish this lovingly. Because hope springs eternal. And you will never be able to convince me that anything is truly done better against a wan backdrop of dull white paint. Except brain surgery. Or starting over.
Another sketchbook drawing (Click to enlarge)
Jules: I share your disdain for plain white walls. Well, there are some people who decorate the rooms they inhabit with a lovely sort of asceticism I can only strive toward, and that in and of itself can be a great thing. But I always end up hanging up lots of stuff. You could ask my husband and daughters any time about the number of nail holes I’ve put into our walls, and they will laugh. I visited the Biltmore recently, where they hang pictures from cords that hang from the ceiling and go down the wall, so as not to put holes in the walls, but I can’t very well do that either.
Let’s see … the song lyrics were the chorus of a song that started out with “let me pull down on your high ideals / to sweet earth, honest and wide.” They were by Sam Phillips, who at that time went by her real name, Leslie. (This was 1987/1988, and the song sounds very dated now.) I started listening to her back in high school. When she sung under her given name, Leslie, she was singing what is called contemporary Christian music. And I was a Christian back then. Or tried really hard to be one and tried really hard to understand all that. Right around the time I started having big questions about religion, she stopped singing contemporary Christian music. I don’t know if she underwent some kind of religious conversion herself (and that’s not any of my business), but she got really tired of the pressures of that market and just walked away. Her music changed a lot, too, in even better ways, but I digress. That particular song was, I think, her goodbye to all of that. And it spoke to me. And it’s like we went along paths in life that I saw as similar ones, though again, I don’t know what she, personally, believes now. All I know is she is still making fabulous music—she’s in her 50s now—and I’ve followed her all these years. So talented that it’s criminal.
“Strange things are happening every day.” Those are the opening lines to one of her best songs. (Bonus: A stroh violin!)
She also has a song called “Lever Pulled Down”:
I’m a lever pulled down / I’m a flipped switch. / I’m a lever pulled down / and I don’t know why it’s so. / I’m a lever pulled down / and I’d give my life for the lightning in our dreams.
AHHHHHH. It’s like a lost Whitman piece, and the song itself is this delightfully scrappy country kind of thing.
Anyway, how’d I get onto the topic of religion? The Dalai Lama once said, “my religion is compassion.” That works for me now.
I still remember, speaking of Sendak and speaking of faith (because that’s what he was discussing when he made this comment), a chat with Roger Sutton he once did where he said … well, he said this. I just went and looked it up, because I posted it at 7-Imp the day I heard about his death:
[D]eath is a comfort because that’s what saves you. Suffering, cancer, some horrible disease, I’m terrified of pain. Death will just take you away from that. So what’s to be afraid of? It’s a cessation of pain. What more could you ask? It’s like the good nurse. … I think the most graceful thing offered us is sleep without dreams. That is so sensible.
Sleep without dreams. I like that too.
I meant to say earlier, when we were talking about the loss of the great man, that when I read about his death (on Twitter, of all places), I cried with a grief that surprised me, because again, I’d never met him in person. But I guess it’s perfectly normal for people to respond to their favorite artists (or musicians, etc.) in this way.
And how’d I get on such a heavy topic? OH FOR THE LOVE OF PANTS, as my 11-year-old says. I think we need a moment from Rude Cakes:
“Rude cakes never say please …” (Click to enlarge spread)
I feel like I should extend my sympathy to you for this bike wreck with a truck that has happened in your past. OUCH. Did you know that happened with Ludwig Bemelmans, too? Here’s the scoop. He collided with a four-horsepower Super Rosengart, as he writes, while bicycling one day, and in the hospital he was inspired to write Madeline (though evidently his inspiration came from other sources too). But your bike adventure sounds much worse.
And, yes, I read your story to kindergartners. They loved it. I asked them to guess what was on the bottom of the cover. Anyone IN THE KNOW knows it’s a cyclops. Duh. Someone said a donut. I think someone said a spaceship. They laughed outloud at the spread where the “GIANT CYCLOPSESE” are revealed — also at the spread where the rude cake begs, “PLEASE!” I told them the “cyclopes” story. I thought they’d roar with laughter at the pronunciation of that word, but they did not. But I’m still glad you got away with “cyclopses,” because I’d probably stare at “cyclopes” and wouldn’t be sure how to read it.
p.s. If Sergio can’t convince Ali, I’m not sure I can. But I can always try.
” … and they never say thank you …” (Click to enlarge spread)
I guess I should ask you what you’re working on next. But I’m also curious to know: What inspires you? Generally. In life. Other than giant legs in the hallway. (For the record, you could paint some in my hallway any time.)
Rowboat: Sweet Jesus, Jules. (Can I say that?) Who wouldn’t want to collide with a four-horsepower Super Rosengart? While vacationing on the île d’Yeu. With a sack of lobsters slung jauntily over their shoulder. And then write Madeline. Seriously. I have total collision envy. If only my truck moment were half that delectable. Or classy. Or inspiring. All mine did was knock the smell out of me for a year. And the hearing out of half my ears forever. Lamely impersonating roadkill on the corner of 6th Avenue and 9th Street. Without any whiff of inspiration.
Speaking of inspiration and roadkill, I’m currently floored by the breezy profundity of Bárður Oskarsson’sThe Flat Rabbit. Wow. Right? Clearly Oskarsson ran into some kind of Super Rosengart of his own.
Jules: Yes, I wrote about that book here at Kirkus (with art here at 7-Imp). I am still thinking about that book, even after all this time. It’s even part of an essay on international picture books I just wrote for this.
Rowboat: As to how I’ve gone through life having never heard of Sam Phillips before, I stand duly shamed. Is it possible I heard you talk about her on Number Five Bus? And ignored your pompoms on her behalf? Did I make that up? I remember loving your interview with the nifty Steads (I hope they resume their bus chats, by the way), but maybe I’m confusing your story with Anna Karenina? Or some other something I ran into and loved and then forgot as its outlines blurred ever further out of focus? Anyway, I may have snubbed your rumored exhortations once, but there’s only so much foolishness and regret I can visit upon myself.
I just listened to some of Sam Phillips’ songs online, and if she is not the very essence of a sack of shoulder-slung lobsters slamming into a Four-Horsepower Super Rosengart, then I don’t know if running into Super Rosengarts means anything anymore. I say that after having listened to only a handful of her songs. WIth one working ear. And a brain as empty as the Dalai Lama’s Man Cave. I have no idea what that means. My brain sometimes goes conk, remember. All I meant to say is I think I get why Sam Phillips continues to floor you. If there were one album of hers you’d recommend for starters, it would be…?
Jules: Yes, I talked about Sam in the chat I had with Phil and Erin last year. I’m always talking about Sam’s music. I might very well annoy people, and I’m really off the subject of picture books, aren’t I? As for which album to recommend first … It’s so hard to pick. I always say Fan Dance if people ask me this, though she described it in later years as something like “an album where I had a conversation with myself.” (I paraphrase.) May not be her most accessible album, that is, but it’s my favorite. Then, go backwards in time and listen to Martinis & Bikinis.
Rowboat: For reasons that elude me, at this very moment, all I can think about is The Cars. The band. Whom I haven’t listened to or thought about in eons. And that commercial for Head-On, where the voiceover keeps saying “Apply directly to the forehead” over and over again.
Rowboat: And The Pretenders. The Pretenders never stop sounding fresh to me. And full of nail holes.
That’s exactly the kind of thing that inspires me, Jules. A room full of nail holes. I say that as someone who hails from a long line of devout spacklers. Militant spacklers. “Hurry! Hide all evidence of our uncertainty. For Heaven’s Sake, use a daub or Colgate if you must, but get those ungodly voids filled in before someone sees!”
Anything that betrays its own messy history of becoming itself makes my eyes widen. It’s what’s so exciting about John Burningham.
All their work feels like tomorrow everything could be hung a little more to the left. Or the right. Like, if I didn’t keep checking in, the sofa might run away. It’s totally different than walking into a room where you know everything hanging there now will always tastefully hang exactly as it does. Because the room is stunning and perfect and it is already the fullest expression of itself, and as such it doesn’t need me to visit again, because the armchairs will never go AWOL.
I think this is why Maurice’s illustrations for [Wilhelm Grimm’s] Dear Mili or Outside Over There (both unimpeachable stunners) do less for me than his spots for [Ruth Krauss’] A Hole is to Dig, which take my breath away every time. Part of this predilection is undoubtedly sublimated envy; I will never have Maurice’s drawing chops. But part of it also has to do with there being too many exquisitely upholstered pillows in the room. And my being afraid to sit down anywhere. All that exquisiteness starts to close in on itself. It’s why people’s dummies sometimes look more alive and inviting than the final art.
– From Dear Mili
– From Outside Over There
A picture book is such an intimate space to begin with. One in which I want to feel like I can kick off my shoes and make mental crumbs between the pillows, or leave a ring on the side table. Which is a complete joke, because I’m the unrepentant Crumb Stasi of my own home. Of my own life. Constantly torn between a native allegiance to walls without nail holes, and a secret desire to draw acorns falling from the lightswitch plates. It’s a battle that is lost and won on both sides of the frontline every minute of every day. With no clear victor in sight.
For the love of pants, I didn’t mean to go all Paths of Glory on you like that, Jules. But it’s something I think about all the time. The ongoing struggle between the necessity of hard work, and an equally imperative need for pointless tangents of fun. Purposeless joy. Apply directly to the forehead. It’s the people who make their own virtuosity look effortless and fun who most inspire me. Because there’s something so generous about creating the hope or illusion in the mind of the viewer that, if they only tried, they could do it too.
Speaking of pants and pointless tangents, the book I’m currently working on is about an elephant who doesn’t want to wear them. It’s called Pete without Pants. He’s supposed to come streaking past you sometime is 2016. There is also a mermaid lurking in the corals. And some marshmallows and gorillas.
(Click each to enlarge)
One of the last Talmudic imperatives Maurice shared with me before he died was, “You need to become a better spy.” At the time, I understood it to mean something about how to sneak my secret agendas past the Crumb Stasi of the marketplace. How to create the illusion of compliance without capitulation. But I have come to realize his advice has just as much to do with sneaking my timid slant for mischief past the repressive ministry of my own brain. I’m almost a 100% sure that’s how any of us will find “the lightning in our dreams.” And I’m reasonably certain it sounds something like kids laughing.
Am so glad to hear your kindergarteners liked the book, Jules. And that they’re still too young to hear anything funny in the real pronunciation of cyclopes. Here’s hoping we have occasion to ride our Rosengarts into each other again sometime soon. I’ll bring the lobster if you promise to arrange for airfare to the Île d’Yeu.
p.s. Militant Spacklers. Band name. I call it. (My girls and I have a list of band names—most of them come from books we read together—and I’m adding that to it.)
I enjoyed this conversation. Immensely. Thank you, Rowboat.
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All images are used by permission of Rowboat Watkins.
The stories about jumbies were part of regular conversations when I was growing up. People talked about La Diablesse and douen and all the other, as if they’re walking down the road or lived at your neighbor’s house. They were very much alive to me, even though I knew they were probably just stories. And I also read and listened to fairy tales, which were just as scary, but they were also in books that were so beautifully illustrated, and I felt like all the kids who grew up hearing jumbie stories got cheated. Where were our fairy tale books? Where were our beautiful illustrations? I figured I’d have to make those books myself.”
* * *
Over at Kirkus today, I’ve got a middle-grade novel on the mind. I talk to author Tracey Baptiste, pictured here, about her newest novel, The Jumbies (Algonquin, April 2014), a book unlike any other you’ll read this year.
I first met Sarah Nicolas several years ago at an RWA conference in Orlando, FL and instantly liked her. She’s funny, nice, and a generous soul. It’s wonderful when good things happen to good people, so it’s a true joy to help her celebrate the release of her debut YA novel, Dragons are People, Too. I (virtually) sat down with her recently to chat about her book, publishing path, and what’s next.
A little about Sarah…she’s a 30-something YA author who currently lives in Orlando, FL. She believes that some boys are worth trusting, all girls have power, and dragons are people too. She’s a proud member of the Gator Nation and has a BS in Mechanical Engineering, but has switched careers entirely. She now works as an Event Coordinator for a County Library. She also blogs at YAtopia.
Sixteen-year-old Kitty Lung has everyone convinced she’s a normal teen—not a secret government operative, not the one charged with protecting the president’s son, and certainly not a were-dragon. The only one she trusts with the truth is her best friend—and secret crush—the über-hot Bulisani Mathe.
Then a junior operative breaks Rule Number One by changing into his dragon form in public—on Kitty’s watch—and suddenly, the world knows. About dragons. About the Draconic Intelligence Command (DIC) Kitty works for. About Kitty herself.
Now the government is hunting down and incarcerating dragons to stop a public panic, and a new shape-shifting enemy has kidnapped the president’s son. Kitty and Bulisani are the last free dragons, wanted by both their allies and their enemies. If they can’t rescue the president’s son and liberate their fellow dragons before getting caught themselves, dragons might never live free again.
1. I’m a sucker for dragons and political thrillers, so I’m already intrigued–what inspired you to put dragons into the “Secret Service” so to speak?
Oh man, that is a good question. I have always loved dragons and I’m a HUGE fan of spy-type movies and TV shows, so I guess it was just a natural combination of two of my interests. I just thought, if the US government was aware of these “people” with these amazing abilities – what would they do with them? Weaponize them, of course.
2. Is this a stand-alone novel or will there be a series? I it’s a series, any juicy tidbits on future books?
There is at least one sequel. That was always the plan. But I keep getting more and more ideas and I’m not sure if I can fit it all in! I’ll give you the only tidbit I’ve given my agent: ICE DRAGONS.
3. Ooo! I already can’t wait for that one. Can you tell us a little bit more about your protagonist, Kitty Lung? What drew you to write her story?
When the book starts, Kitty is very good at her job and is well-suited for the structured way her life is. She loses her temper easily, but Sani is able to keep her in check. Then all of that structure and safety gets violently ripped away from her and the way she reacts to that was my favorite thing to explore.
4. What was your favorite aspect of writing this book?
There is a scene where Kitty gets into a fight with an F-22 Raptor. Enough said.
5. Not enough by half, but I get you can’t give away all the good stuff. Was there anything about the novel you struggled with? How did you overcome it?
I did take a huge break from this book (we’re talking a year-ish) because I was struggling with having too much to do. Brenda Drake had read part of it and was really upset when I took that time off. I don’t know what happened – one day I just decided to make it a priority.
6. You’re a book marketer as well as an author–is it strange being on the other side of the desk? Are you doing anything differently for “your” novel?
I’m not doing much differently, but it is a very different experience. I somehow simultaneously feel like I have too much to do and am not doing enough. The work on this side is much more creative though, whereas when I’m working as a publicist, it’s more logical and coordination. Promoting your own book is harder than promoting others. The “no, thank you”s hurt a bit more.
7. Since this is your debut novel, could you share some of your journey? What did you learn that might help someone on the same path? What mistakes (if you made any) do you wish you could have avoided?
Oh man, there is so much. I think the biggest thing is not to get discouraged if the first (or second or third) book you write doesn’t sell. That’s perfectly okay and pretty normal. That time isn’t “wasted” either, because you learn so much along the way.
8. Anything else you’d like to share about the novel or you personally?
I just love Kitty and Sani and all of my characters so much and I hope you’ll enjoy spending time with them in Dragons Are People, Too!
Thanks Sarah, and best of luck on your novel. Looking forward to reading it.
Writer Emma Newman hosts the most excellent podcasts called Tea and Jeopardy with her butler, Latimer, and I got to dress up, visit their chequerboard palace and have a chat with them. And I got to bring along someone special...
Do have a listen! I have a bit of a schoolgirl crush on Emma's dulcet tones; she has the most melodic speaking voice you'll ever hear. She designs and wears gorgeous costumes, and we both outdid ourselves for this podcast. It's half an hour long, and be prepared for some Light Peril.