I know I promised you a double post on Facebook yesterday, but apparently the study gods had other plans. Facebook was down on campus for more than 24 hours and I’m convinced that it was all part of an evil plan to prevent us students from procrastinating during finals week … Anyway, I’ll make two posts today to make up for yesterday!
First up … an interview with Daniel Kirk!
C: How does writing and illustrating picture books like “Library Mouse” (one of my personal favorites) compare to writing novels like your “Elf Realm” series?
DK: I like to write, period. It’s fun, and it doesn’t matter what age audience I write for. Picture books and novels have their own challenges and rewards, but I like tackling them. For instance, picture books aren’t necessarily any easier to write than novels, appearances to the contrary! The important thing is being able to see the big picture about any story, no matter how long or short it is. There has to be an idea or theme that carries through, and people have to get it on the first reading. Writing novels for older kids allows for more complex themes and ideas that can be a pleasure to explore. The challenge for picture books is trying to tell a good story, develop characters and keep it super simple. It’s all about the right word choice. As for “Library Mouse,” I could write a “Library Mouse” novel in the “Stuart Little” vein, and it would be fun. It’s hard keeping stories pared down to the essentials, sometimes, and it would be a pleasure to stretch out a bit. But on the other hand, I love the simplicity of picture books. I tend to be a “more is more” rather than “less is more” kind of guy, so I always write ten times more than I need for any project.
C: Are you currently writing for multiple ages (children and teens) or are you focusing your energy on a specific age group at the moment?
DK: I like trying things I have never tried before, to see if I can do them. I feel like I have many things to express, and whether it is in picture books, novels, poetry or song, these are all just different ways of telling a story and sharing it. Some folks say I spread myself too thin, but that’s just my personality—I can’t help it. People do seem to know me as a picture book guy, so it’s a bit harder than I thought it would be making a foray into the world of novels, but I know I can do it! I imagine I’ll always make picture books, though I’d like to find a simpler illustration style that people appreciate. I heard recently about a kid’s book illustrator named Eric Blegvad, who is well into his eighties and working on a new book. He’s done more than a hundred books, but his eyes are going. He’s still plugging away, though. That’ll be me, before you know it. It’s making the pictures for the books that always takes me the longest, and I have so many ideas, I’ll never have time to get them all done. I want to figure out how to make artwork on the computer, maybe that will help. As it is, I spend five months painting the images for each picture book. I do it old school, paint on paper.
C: Illustration fueled your entry into the book publishing world, correct? At what point did you decide that you wanted to create novels in addition to picture books? Was this decision spurred by something in particular?
DK: I was always inspired by books I read to my kids as they grew up. Paul Zelinsky, Chris van Allsburg, these were the guys who made me want to take up picture books. It was the pictures that first drew me in. As my kids grew and I was reading them stuff like Philip Pullman’s “Dark Materials” trilogy, I thought to myself, wow, I want to do that, too! I always loved the fantasy genre when I was a teen, so I figured that would be a good place to start.
C: What was your favorite book as a child? As a teenager?
DK: When I was little, my favorite book was a Little Golden Book called “Mr. Bear Builds a House.” My dad read it to me a thousand times. You’d think I’d turn into an architect from hearing that one so many times, but no, just an architect of words. Later on I came to love Dr. Seuss, especially “Bartholomew and the Oobleck”. As a teen I loved scary stuff, adventure, fantasy. I loved Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Conan Doyle, that kind of thing. Later still I was into science fiction, Bradbury, Heinlein, Asimov, and fantasy like Ursula K. LeGuin, Frank Herbert’s “Dune” and “Lord of the Rings”. I always hated books that took place in school. I did very well in school, but at 3:00, I was ready for something else. I can’t imagine why children want to read about life in school, with teachers and bullies and homework. I’ve thought it might be good for me to try writing something that takes place in school, just to see if I can do it. But it will be hard!
C: What author are you most looking forward to meeting and/or seeing at the Fifth Annual TBF?
DK: I imagine I’ll be pretty busy making presentations and there won’t be much time to meet or hang out with many authors. That’s the way it usually works. But I see by the list there are some well-known writers on the roster, so I hope I get to meet a few! Some of these people are Facebook friends of mine, folks I’ve never actually met in person, but I know a little about them, their hopes, fears and struggles. It’ll be nice to shake hands and commiserate. I always think it is fun to see how fans relate to their favorite authors…everybody should remember that writers are all just people who love stories. Some writers create magic, but each of us can be a channel for that. Writing is a gift, first, and then a craft. We have to take the gift available to each of us and put some sweat into making it something worth sharing. It’s important to remember that many fans are aspiring authors, too, so before long I hope we’ll be hearing about them, as well!
Thanks so much for the awesome answers, Daniel! We can’t wait to meet you at TBF live in less than two weeks!!!