Hi, Mr. Schu! The darn one take rule really got me this time. I’ve ordered a new phone, so hopefully this doesn’t happen again.
Yesterday the students at Parma Elementary had an AMAZING morning with Mr. Bob Shea. We started the day with “Breakfast with Bob”. Mr. Shea did a great job working the room. We had about 10 extra Shea books on hand for the visit. They all sold in the first 10 minutes. Note to self: always purchase too many books. One of the highlights of the morning was seeing parents reading picture books with their children. Nearly half of my third grade class made came in for breakfast. I loved seeing them share their favorite books with their families. Fact: authors are rock stars. My little AJ was very excite, and a little nervous, to meet Bob. AJ LOVES his new Ballet Cat series. Yes, it is possible for someone to complete captivate a room FULL of 5-8 year olds. There is nothing like watching an illustrator draw. Bob needed a little help drawing Unicorn, so he called up one of our Parma leaders. This first grader will never forget this moment.
Bob LOVES his fans. It never gets old watching my own children meet the authors that they adore. My third grades were very excited to learn that they could paint their thank-you cards to Mr. Shea. A big thanks to Mr. Shea for treating each and every student at Parma like a million bucks.
Bob is a winner!
Fact: I love EVERYTHING Greg Pizolli puts into the world. Having the opportunity to interview him makes me very happy. Like super happy: ice cream on a hot day happy.
I’m getting hungry. Better get to the interview.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about Tricky Vic?
TRICKY VIC is a nonfiction picture book about one of the world’s greatest con-artists. Robert Miller (aka “Count Victor Lustig”) counterfeited money, escaped from prison by tying bedsheets together and climbing out a window – he even conned Al Capone. TRICKY VIC tells the story of his life, and explains his most infamous cons so that a new generation of kids can learn from his successes and failures, and hopefully make their own cons even better. (3)
2. What is your favorite thing about being an author?
Definitely too many things to list, but near the top is the avalanche of letters from kids after a school visit. Not having a boss is nice, too. (2)
3. What’s the hardest thing about being an author?
The work itself – the writing and illustrating – is very challenging, but I think the hardest thing about being an author is having to throw a project away. There have been times where I’ve worked on something in my sketchbook for weeks and then in the studio for longer and ultimately realized it wasn’t any good. Throwing something away doesn’t mean the project is totally dead – typically elements of the killed project will creep in to other projects later on – but in that moment when you realize you’ve gone down a dead-end street, that is tough. But, it’s necessary for artistic growth I suppose so it’s probably healthy to embrace it as part of the process. (4)
4. If you could spend one day inside the world of any book which book would you pick?
HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE. (1)
5. What advice do you have for the young writers in my classroom?
I think you guys should work on projects and stories that you feel passionate about, even if they seem silly or sad or weird or that nobody else will like them. I thought TRICKY VIC was too wild and dark to ever be published as a real picture book, but I really wanted to tell the story, so I made my own zine. That zine became the basis for the book, and TRICKY VIC wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t taken that step.
If there’s something you want to create, a book or a comic or a record you want to make, go for it. Don’t let anyone else decide what stories you can tell. (5)
RAFAEL/JORGE: Hi Sara, thanks for answering our questions. We both really love your work. JORGE: And I’ve read “Robot Dreams” to my kids dozens of times. (Since it’s a wordless graphic novel, we don’t exactly read it, but I get to narrate the story of your pictures. It’s fun!)
QUESTION: In a recent interview you mentioned some projects you were working on. Four actually. “Sweaterweather,” a book about a donkey shoemaker, a book about a dog and his bird friend who get caught in a rainstorm and a book called “Darwinia.” Can you describe how you work on multiple projects at once? For example are you plotting one while you’re writing another while you’re drawing a third? Do you focus on just one at a time? How’s does your work work?
Hello, Rafael/Jorge! Well, I think that’s a pretty misleading interview, because it sounds like I just whipped those projects out, but really those are things that I’ve been working on for many years. And, with the exception of Sweaterweather, which is due out in Fall 2016, most of them won’t be out for many more years.
I’m usually not working on multiple projects at exactly the same time. I had to do that recently because I had two books due at once, and it’s really hard to switch gears. For me, books usually happen in stages.
If I break it down, I’d say there are 3 stages for me: (1) selling a proposal, (2) thumbnailing a book, and (3) revising and then doing finals. There’s usually a huge amount of time in between those things, but this time is important because it lets the ideas stew, which is an important part of the process.
So, say, I’ll sell the proposal, and then I’ll put it aside for awhile. A long time will pass and I’ll do something else and then I’ll come back to those thumbnails. If I’m doing thumbnails for one thing, I am not doing anything else. It can take a long time to get editorial feedback, so I’ll do something else in the meantime. For instance, for the donkey book, which I hope to focus on next, I sold the project about 5 years ago. Over 2 or 3 years, I did some research at my leisure. And then I did the thumbnails in 2013-2014; it took me about 6 months. I turned them in around Spring of 2014. Then some other projects came along. I redesigned Sweaterweather in that time (it was different than most projects because it started out with pre-existing material, so it was relatively quick.) And I illustrated a picture book that I did not write for Chronicle, both of which are in the finishing stages. I am supposed to get editorial feedback on the donkey book this month, and then I hope to only work on that until it’s done because it’s the project I’m most excited about. I hope editorial revisions don’t take too long, and then I’m expecting finals to take 15 months, if I can do 3 final pages/week. When that’s done, I’ll come back to the Darwinia project or the picture book about the rain.
QUESTION (FROM JORGE): As I mentioned my boys were obsessed – as was I – with the dog and robot in “Robot Dreams.” Any chances you’ll go back to that world again and check in on them with a new story?
Oh, thanks! Sorry to tell you that I won’t. Once I run through an idea, I don’t come back to it; I’m not really interested in it anymore. I know some artists work with the same characters over a very long time or maybe even their lives, but I’m not that kind of artist.
QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit about how the script to “Robot Dreams,” or “Bake Sale” which you wrote, was different from the script for “Odd Duck,” which you didn’t write. In each case, what did you have in front of you when you sat down to draw?
Working on ‘Odd Duck’ was great. Cecil is a great writer, so I learned a lot about constructing a story from working on that book, since I have very little formal education when it comes to writing.
If I’m writing my own project, I start with the proposal. The proposal is usually a page or two, and it says ‘this will happen, this will happen, and that will happen.’ It’s a list of events in the approximate order that they will occur in the story, and it’s never gracefully written. The resolution is usually open-ended.
From there, I think about it in the back of my mind for a very long time (as I mentioned in your first answer.) I do a lot of running, and I find that this is a great time to think about stories and details. I usually run in Prospect Park, which is really convenient because I don’t have to worry about crossing streets, getting lost, or getting run over by cars. (It’s just a big loop with no car traffic.) So I can really lose myself in thought.
When it comes to thumbnailing, I look at my outline, and I just fill in the gaps, like, how does the character get from one item on my list to the next? Thumbnailing is the hardest part, cause I really have to squeeze the ideas out, but something I like is that surprising details often emerge in the story. For instance, when I begin, I don’t know how the story will end, so I don’t find out until I’m actually drawing it.
With Cecil’s project, I received a complete story. It was about 5 or 6 pages in Microsoft Word, and it was fully realized.
I sat down with it and broke it into pages. I think I originally made it 64 pages, and it got edited up to 96. What’s really important with story-telling is the pacing, so I put in some pages with no words. Silence is an important part of a picture-story. It gives you a little time to think about the thing that just happened, or maybe to savor it. Also, something a teacher once told me is that in illustration, it’s important that the pictures are not just repeating the words, so when you get a manuscript from someone else, you have to figure out what details you can insert to emphasize the ideas in the story.
QUESTION: What’s the first comic book you ever read? Or the most influential?
I did not read comics growing up because I was only aware of superhero comics which did not appeal to me – it was all boy-stuff and a lot of gender stereotypes that were a real turn off. The first comic I saw where I thought, ‘Wow, comics can be like THIS?!’ was ‘Goodbye Chunky Rice,’ by Craig Thompson. Around that time too, there was a small publisher called Highwater Books that made beautiful books about things that were more relevant to me, and seeing those was really eye-opening – those books made me interested in reading and making comics.
QUESTION: What’s on your nightstand?
Well, I always have a long list of book requests from the New York Public Library. (The library is pretty much one of my best friends.) Somewhat inconveniently, I just received a slew of books at once (it’s best when they arrive one at a time,) and here’s what I’ve got right now.
(I also just finished ‘The Buried Giant’, by Kazuo Ishiguro, which I loved.)
Currently reading: ‘The Sculptor’, by Scott McCloud
Currently checked out: ‘Frog and Toad Are Friends’, Arnold Lobel; ‘Petropolis’, Anya Ulinich
Waiting to be picked up: ‘The Sixth Extinction’, Elizabeth Kolbert; ‘Delicious Foods’, James Hannaham
Sadly, I will not get through all these books before they are due, cause I’m not that fast a reader.
Monday, April 27
Cece Bell interviewed at Sturdy for Common Things
Tuesday, April 28
Kazu Kibuishi interviewed at Geek Dad
Wednesday, April 29
Joey Weiser interviewed at The Brain Lair
Thursday, April 30
James Kochalka interviewed at Bumbles & Fairy Tales
Friday, May 1
Mariko Tamaki interviewed at A Book and a Latte
Saturday, May 2
Jorge Aguirre interviewed at The Windy Pages
Sunday, May 3
Luke Pearson interviewed at Mr. Schu Reads
Monday, May 4
Jeffrey Brown interviewed at For Books’ Sake
Tuesday, May 5
Cecil Castellucci interviewed at WinterHaven Books
Wednesday, May 6
Frank Cammuso interviewed at Reading with ABC
Thursday, May 7
Hope Larson interviewed at The Book Wars
Friday, May 8
Eric Orchard interviewed at Alice Marvels
Saturday, May 9
Kean Soo interviewed at Jenuine Cupcakes
Sunday, May 10
Dave Roman interviewed at Amy the Frog Queen
Monday, May 11
Gene Luen Yang interviewed at Finding Wonderland
Tuesday, May 12
Nathan Hale interviewed at Kid Lit Frenzy
Wednesday, May 13
John Allison interviewed at Supernatural Snark
Thursday, May 14
Maris Wicks interviewed at The Roarbots
Friday, May 15
Jenni and Matt Holm interviewed at The Busy Librarian
Saturday, May 16
Craig Thompson interviewed at The Book Rat
Sunday, May 17
Chris Schweizer interviewed at Panel Patter
Monday, May 18
Sara Varon interviewed at Sharp Read
Tuesday, May 19
David Rubin interviewed at Teen Lit Rocks
Wednesday, May 20
Adventures in Cartooning interviewed at Word Spelunking
Thursday, May 21
Mike Maihack interviewed at Bookish
Friday, May 22
John Patrick Green interviewed at Haunted Orchid
Saturday, May 23
Rafael Rosado interviewed at Shae Has Left the Room
Sunday, May 24
Faith Erin Hicks interviewed at Good Books and Good Wine
Monday, May 25
Dan Santat interviewed at SLJ Fuse #8
Tuesday, May 26
Andy Runton interviewed at The Hiding Spot
Wednesday, May 27
Colleen AF Venable interviewed at Graphic Policy
Thursday, May 28
Jay Hosler interviewed at My Bookish Ways
Friday, May 29t
Eleanor Davis interviewed at Love is Not a Triangle
Saturday, May 30
Ben Hatke interviewed at YA Bibliophile
To spread the Lisa Graff love, Penguin Young Readers is hosting a sweepstakes to give away 25 copies of LOST IN THE SUN!
To enter, tweet “Preorder #LostInTheSun http://bit.ly/PreOrderLostInTheSun @lisagraff to enter to win 25 signed copies! US only Ends 5/25” or your own language—but make sure to use the link and the hashtag.
School Library Journal will also be hosting a twitter chat with Lisa Graff on pub day, so please join for that on May 26th!
Sometimes I read professional book reviews and wonder why the heck do I bother writing about books on this little blog. Did you see the review of Lisa Graff’s Lost in the Sun in the New York Times? It is a beautiful review. I wish that I could figure out how to do such beautiful things with the words and sentence I use when writing about books.
The truth is; I may never be able to offer you fancy words and magical sentences, but what I can tell you is that in the 90 days since I finished Lost In The Sun, I think about it almost every single day. I think about how I’ve never loved so many characters in one single book. I think about how if I taught fifth grade I’d read this book aloud to start the school year. I also think about how much 11 year-old Colby would have loved this book.
One thing that I can offer you that you may not find in a big fancy review is what happened in my classroom last Friday afternoon. During my planning time a couple of fifth graders, that are part of the student news team I work with, were in my room to pick up an iPad to work on their news assignment. I showed them the flyer for this year’s Nerd Camp Junior. While pouring over the list of author’s attending this year’s camp one of the girls immediately pointed to Lisa Graff and the cover of Lost In The Sun. She said to her news team partner, “Have you read this book! It is so good! Oh, my God! You Have to read this book! It’s amazing!” I’m always amused by how many consecutive sentences elementary students can use that require exclamation points. Their excitement towards life and books can be so uplifting.
I’ve read a lot of 2015 middle grade novels. A lot. Many of them I would call “5 star books”, but none of them have remained in head like Lost In The Sun. It is a must read book. It is an unforgettable book.
Happy Saturday, friends!!!
I’m sure that the readers in your life book trailers as much as I do. I’m excited to have the opportunity to premiere the book trailer to Django Wexler’s the Forbidden Library series.
BONUS INTERVIEW!!!! I hope you enjoy my interview with Django Wexler.
- Can you tell us a little bit about the Forbidden Library series? (5 sentences)
- The Forbidden Library starts when Alice’s father disappears at sea, shortly after Alice sees him confront a fairy in their kitchen. Alice is sent to live with her uncle Geryon, who turns out to be a Reader – a magician who can unlock the magic of special books. Alice discovers she has the Reader’s gift, too. She makes friends with Ashes, a cat who helps guard the library, and learns to bind magical creatures and use their powers. But as she studies as Geryon’s apprentice, she also investigates her father’s disappearance, no matter where that trail might lead her.
- What is your favorite thing about being an author? (4 sentences)
I’m tempted to say being able to sleep as long as I like in the mornings, not having to commute, and a lack of meetings! (I was a software guy in a previous life.) But honestly, the best part is talking to people who’ve read the books and enjoyed them. Getting to see how something I’ve done makes people happy, and seeing all the different takes on the characters and the stories, is really wonderful.
- What’s the hardest thing about being an author? (3 sentences)
Writing, basically, writing is hard. It’s simultaneously the most fun thing I get to do and occasionally the most frustrating. When it’s going well, I feel on top of the world, but when I get stuck, or have to rewrite something I thought I had down, I can get very grouchy.
- If you could spend one day inside the world of any book which book would you pick? (2 sentences)
Something far-future and science fiction-y, like Iain Banks’ Culture novels or Peter Hamilton’s Void trilogy. I would take the chance to get myself upgraded with all kind of awesome nanotechnology to impress my friends when I came back.
- What advice do you have for the young writers in my classroom? (1 sentence)
Basically, you need to read a lot and never stop, and write a lot and never stop, even if it takes you many tries to get where you want to go.