Thursday, May 19, 2011

I would be DAN SANTAT's SiDEKiCk Any Day!

I rambled off fifty different ways to start today's interview. I was smart, witty, and dashing (although you couldn't see it - I really was). I dressed in superhero gear, prepped my utility belt, filed the batarangs and gassed the Mattmobile (my version of the Batmobile disguised as a silver Chevrolet). Sometimes, no matter how much you prepare, you just can't be fully ready for an explosion of geektastic awesomeness that is today's interview. Seriously folks, I am over the moon. I have been a big fan of DAN SANTAT for a long time. His work is inspiring and laugh-out-loud makes me want to cry amazing. Thanks to LISA YEE, I finally got to meet him. But that is enough of my fan boy blathering. Let's get down to the meat and potatoes!

Coming in July is Dan's latest graphic novel that is going to melt our faces off, turn them to dust and blow the ashes into the wind. If you are not aware of SIDEKICKS (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2011) - you are now. Dan and I talked about this awesome book and I of course had to ask other slobbery fan questions. So sit back and enjoy the awesomesauceness about to unfold...

Can you tell me a bit about Sidekicks and how the story came about?

DAN SANTAT: When I was in art school I took a Natures of Materials class where we learned how to paint in various mediums and experiment with different painting surfaces. All the assignments had to have a theme and so I went with superhero animals. The first one I did was a beaver dressed as Captain America (which ended up becoming the hamster in my book) and the next came an electric cat and so forth. I started sketching out these characters more and more in my sketchbook until I had six characters that I was fully satisfied with and I called them The Domesticated Six.

I still had a good year left in art school and I began appropriating them into other class assignments hoping that I could have a whole picture book dummy to show by the time I got out of school. Turns out that a year after graduating I met Arthur Levine and he offered me a two book deal (the first being The Guild of Geniuses) and the second was The Domesticated Six, which he bought just on the idea alone.

After the release of The Guild of Geniuses I ended up working on other projects and eventually getting my own cartoon show with Disney Channel called “The Replacements” while the whole world was eagerly waiting for JK Rowling and Arthur to finish up Harry Potter 6 and 7. Within that time the Graphix imprint at Scholastic was starting up we switched gears and Arthur asked me if I was interested in doing the story as a graphic novel. This was, originally, how I had envisioned the story to be in the first place and so I agreed to take on the task never having done a graphic novel before. The premise about neglected children who fight for a working parents attention seemed to hit pretty close to the model of today’s modern parent. It’s never a parent’s intention to spend less time with their families, it’s just that it’s harder than ever to make ends meet and you are slowly seeing more two income families with kids who spend hours in after school daycare and so forth. The family dynamic has changed tremendously since I was a kid and I just thought it would be an interesting story to tell. The first draft took me one year and it was 500 pages and it was a total learning experience on how not to make a comic. I was told it was too long and that two of the six characters just seemed too thin. After rewriting the manuscript we got it down to four characters and around 200 pages. The reason why this all took so long was because I was spreading myself too thin in every direction trying to pay my bills and raise a family of my own and certain paying assignments just always too precedence over that ‘white whale’ of a project what had an open ended deadline. It was about 5 years after I originally signed the contract that I finally squared away the manuscript I wanted to tell. The other two years was just drawing and coloring.

Are you a comic book fan? What books or stories are you following and who influences you the most (characters or creators)?

DS: I’m a HUGE comic book fan. I grew up giving almost every comic out there a fair shake until I eventually settled into reading mostly Marvel comics. I had a friend who introduced me to every title out there from the more obscure characters such as Dr. Strange to the very popular X-Men. After about five years of collecting I had collected about a thousand comics and when there was that mass exodus of talent to start Image Comics I started branching out into Manga. Back in the day when you wanted to see Anime you had to go to a comic convention and buy it off some guy who recorded a movie off of a laserdisc and sold it for $30.

All of it was in Japanese and I couldn’t understand a single word but it clearly was a different philosophy of storytelling and I wanted to know more and so I started reading AKIRA and Appleseed and so forth. The beauty of those titles was that characters had major flaws and would suffer from their dearly for their mistakes, sometimes even death which was uncommon in American mainstream comics. Sure Superman died but they brought him back a few months later.

The death of Robin was the closest thing we ever seriously got to anything I read in Manga.

Now I’m rather picky about what I read. I often like to support the smaller independent writers and I’m actually less of a superhero fanatic than when I was a kid. Right now the only real serialized comic that I’m reading is “Blade of the Immortal” but for the most part I’m reading stories like “Ghost World”, “Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid in the World”, and most recently “Scott Pilgrim” and anything from First Second Comics (I mean anything). Throughout my life I find myself being influenced by folks like Masamune Shirow, Katsuhiro Otomo, William Joyce, David Sedaris, Daniel Clowes, and Tex Avery.

As a writer/illustrator can you tell me how your process works? Do you find yourself doodling and then inspiration strikes for a story or does the story hit and images come later?

DS: I’m always infatuated with the story. Illustrations can give me ideas but I never actually draw anything unless I feel the story is solid and it’s worth my time. I may draw the characters a few times to figure out how I want them to look and that will often reflect their personality, but that’s it. I outline (Sidekicks was about a 27 page outline) followed by storyboarding the dialogue and then assemble the boards into comic spreads and finally ink and color.

When I think about storytelling I’m sometimes inspired by a drawing I’ve done, other times I’m inspired by other stories which I feel could be interesting if approached it in a different way. As a whole I’m often inspired by everything I see and read and I flesh out and outline.

You created a wonderful cartoon, The Replacements. How different is it working in animation for you than illustrating books? What are the biggest challenges in animation?

DS: In animation you work with a group of folks, (creative and administrative) and the idea is agreed upon as a whole and the end product is about getting as many viewers as possible. What I feel it suffers is that it tries to be everything at once and in turn becomes a watered down version of the basic idea. The biggest challenge in animation is having your choices constantly having to be filtered and approved before you can move on to the next step. It’s a constant start and stop and you often find yourself having to compromise on some things. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate a team effort but when you compare it to publishing it’s just you, an editor, and an at director. The vision is more pure and the editor helps you make your vision come out clear and concise. Though animation pays much better I prefer the clear pure vision of the original idea any day.

I certainly hope there will be some new cartoons coming from you. Anything you can share with us? Tease us about?

DS: I’ve been playing with some ideas but I haven’t really approached the animation industry since the Replacements. I’ve been really focusing on becoming more relevant in publishing and firmly establishing myself there, besides, it’s a lot easier to get a book deal than a TV show, and I have a lot of stories I want to tell.

Well I am glad you are doing books right now because I think they are the truest form the creator can have.

What do you love about the writing and illustrating process? What do you hate about it?

DS: I love the outlining process of writing a story. It’s the fitting of all the pieces of the story where I finally see things come to life. It’s only after I do an outline that I can fairly judge if an idea I have is worth publishing or not. When I illustrate it’s actually more on the finishing end that I appreciate. I’m pretty loose when I paint and things don’t really come together until the last few steps. In fact, I rarely sketch things out unless it’s needed. I generally like my artwork to evolve from nothing rather than be so carefully calculated. I understand the need for it though which is why I try to put most of my energy in the sketching process so I don’t have to redo as much in the end.

If you could adapt any story you wanted into the Dan Santat version/retelling what would it be and why?

DS: I have a Dune/Nausicaa idea (though not as dark and creepy) that I’m working on that I’m really excited about but it will be years before I even get a chance to tackle it. There aren’t any specific reasons other than the idea came into my head and it just feels really exciting.

That sounds fantastic! Can I pre-order that now even though it is not ready? No, really... can I? 

Okay, last question (I promise). Let's say there is a zombie apocalypse going on and you are trapped in a house for a long time with only ONE book. What would it be and why?

DS: “The Zombie Survival Guide” by Max Brooks. Duh!

More like super DUH!! But Dan is the first one to say this book! That's why I would be his sidekick. Chewie to his Han, Robin to his Batman, Strawberry to his Shortcake... er. Well, you get the idea.

Okay, that was FANtastic for me and I hope everyone else enjoyed as much as I did. A super hero sized thank you to Dan for dropping in, kicking butt and taking names. A Batastic hug to Lisa Yee as well for being her usual superb self. Be sure to follow Dan (because he is hilarious) and all his happenings through his website and blog here. Until next time, keep kicking TAIL!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Serving up the CHEESIE MACK with Steve Cotler

For many of us summer break no longer exists. These days we work through the week to get to the weekend to have mini summer breaks. But there was a time when summer break meant a world of possibilities. A time to reinvent yourself before the new school year. A time to explore the outer fringes of the neighborhood and stay up late at night reading monster books or watching monster movies (okay that is what I did - you fill in your summer event here). I say embrace those memories and grab yourself a heaping of STEVE COTLER'S debut book CHEESIE MACK Is Not A Genius or Anything (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2011). It's here just in time for your summer reading. Ahh, summer. Well, I could go on for days about the crazy things I did in the summer but let's talk to the author of this awesome middle grade book that will leaving you craving for more.

Mr. Cotler, you have a very interesting background from Apollo to Harvard Business School to Hollywood. What brought you to writing for children?

Steve Cotler: First, I’m a father and grandfather who purposely engages his progeny in conversation. I like to hear what they have to say, so even small events in small lives get me thinking. For children, there’s an adventure in every hour. Second, I’m a natural storyteller. Ask me a question (“Where could I go to dig up my own fossils?”) and be prepared for a very long, but very intriguing answer. (“There’s a little-used highway heading east out of Madras, Oregon. I was driving Winkie—remember that periwinkle-colored van?—past hawks, rock slides of every hue from red to redder and from gray to green, and one horse with a man and a sheep dog.”) And third, I no longer feel I have to prove anything or win a ribbon. Now, I just want to do good deeds. The grin on a kid’s face when imagination leads to cognition or discovery is evidence of one of those good deeds.

Currently working in Hollywood myself, I find that a lot more screenwriters are turning to writing books. Why do you think that is? What do you think is the biggest challenge in doing so?

SC: I left TV and screenwriting in 2001. And I was never really part of the Hollywood scene, so I can’t generalize about others making the switch to books. For me, novel-writing offered the privilege of writing alone, without producers and studios sitting on my shoulder as I stared at the keyboard.

Your debut book, Cheesie Mack is a lot of fun! What made you decide to have this be your first book and can you spill any beans on some of the upcoming books in the series?

SC: The summer I was 19, I was a counselor at a boys camp in Maine. I made up and told my charges a lights-out story that was so sensationally and happily terrifying, it became a staple in my storytelling repertoire. I retold it many times over the succeeding decades. A few years ago I resolved to turn it into a middle-grades novel, but it needed to have a kid as the protagonist, not a 19-year-old. That’s how Cheesie was born. His last few days of school leading up to summer camp became Cheesie Mack Is Not a Genius or Anything. The second book takes place at camp. By book three, Cheesie’s in middle school…and that’s where he’ll stay for the rest of the series.

You state that you are an "11-year-old author" who has basically never grown up. (My wife will agree with that thought about me). How much of Ronald Mack is within you?

SC: A lot. I was a small, smart kid, like Cheesie. But I never had a sister, nor any sibling as mean as Goon. I wish I’d had a friend like Georgie…I guess that’s why he’s so important to the series. And I never had a grandfather. But Cheesie’s not really me. I grew up in a small, non-descript farming town in California; he lives on the Atlantic coast surrounded by classic New England history, some of which will make it into succeeding books, I hope. You can’t go back…but as a writer, I have the chance to fill in some missing pieces and experience a second childhood in 21st century Gloucester.

What do you love most about writing and what drives you bananas about the process? Why?

SC: What I love most is what I call the writerly unexpected. When Georgie found the envelope in his basement, I had no idea what was in it. I didn’t even know there was an envelope until Georgie popped out from under the stairs and held it out. And when he showed Cheesie (and me) the coin and the necklace, thin tendrils of story, previously invisible, showed themselves…and the thlot plickened.

Steve didn't like the word bananas so he took the 5th on that. I don't blame him. Sometimes bananas can get over ripe and gross. Okay, let's carry on...

What authors are you reading today and who are the most influential to you? Why?

SC: I have always liked Kurt Vonnegut, Barbara Kingsolver, and James Salter. And no one writes better children’s books than Sharon Creech. But I don’t read many children’s books these days. Perhaps it's because I never follow recipes when I cook, and I never make the same dish twice. These days I am reading non-fiction almost exclusively. I am deeply interested in American history, politics, and society, especially racism. The Civil War began 150 years ago this past April, we have an African-American president, yet racism continues. Two excellent books I read recently were James Bradley's The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War and Honor Killing: Race, Rape, and Clarence Darrow's Spectacular Last Case by David E. Stannard. The former makes clear how racism determined America’s foreign policy 100 years ago (and still today?). The latter book shows how a single incident can illuminate the prejudices of the times (the 1930’s).

Let's say you were stuck on the moon with only one book to read. What would it be and why?

SC: Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds by Harold Bloom. Although I don’t agree with every Bloomish observation, his brilliantly challenging insights would keep me reading forever. I’d never finish the book. (It’s on my nightstand. I haven’t finished it!)

And because I am a big space geek. How cool was it to work on Apollo? Did you ever just want to take it out for a joy ride or anything? At least eat lunch in the thing!?

SC: I was 22, working for IBM as a systems engineer in Cambridge, MA. My job was to code a couple of subroutines for the onboard computer simulator. Everything I did was virtual. I never left the office and never saw a single hunk of hardware. But this was 1966, the early days of computers. I was riding the frontier, trapping muskrat, and trading with the natives. I loved the nerdy challenge. I am still very connected to science. I am a trustee of the Summer Science Program (, the most challenging enrichment program for super-bright high school science students. SSP is now in its 53rd year. I attended in 1960 (year 2), and it changed my life.

That's not Steve, but it is an IBM

A huge thank you to Steve for stopping by the Asylum and hanging out with us during his very busy schedule. I also want to thank Casey at Random House for being super awesome! Keep those books coming!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

From the mind of M.P. KOZLOWSKY sprouts JUNIPER BERRY

I don't know about you, but when I find a book that I love I want to selfishly keep it all to myself. Then you realize that you can't keep it tucked away in a dark corner for your eyes only. You know that everyone else needs to read this book. JUNIPER BERRY by M.P. KOZLOWSKY (Walden Pond Press, 2011) is one of those books. It dug its hooks into me and hasn't let go.A haunting and whimsical tale with delightfully dark elements, this book is sure to please. Just watch the trailer and you will see.

Awesome. I know. So let's get into it with M.P. already and see what he has to say about this wonderful book.

Can you tell us about your background and what brought you to writing for children?

M.P. - My goal had always been to write. I never considered myself a children's or adult author or even an author of a specific genre. I take great pride in the fact that I am able to write in various styles and mediums, something I practiced from a very early age. I now plan to continually shift and dabble in different areas of the writing world, resisting confinement. When I decided to write Juniper Berry, however, I happened to be at a crossroads. My father had died after a very long battle with various illnesses and disabilities caused by a severe head injury. With his passing, he left me a small sum of money - money that I wanted to use to honor him and not stuff away in a bank account or waste frivolously; I didn't want his death to be in vain - and so, I quit teaching high school English after three years and set about writing a novel and memoir, neither of which, upon completion, I believed were quite ready for publication. But, I was running out of time and money - there had to be something else. And then I thought of Juniper Berry. The book could only have been written at this urgent point in time. There were certain issues I wanted to tackle, certain themes, and I felt a children's story would be the best way in which to do it. Staring failure in its harrowing and pallid face, I persevered at the very last moment.

A lot of writers make a transition from being teachers to authors. Why do you think that is?

M.P.: Speaking for myself, my childhood was spent mostly in poverty, and so, instead of taking a huge risk, my mother always advised me to acquire a degree with which I could always fall back on and a secure job while pursuing my dream on the side, which teaching allows one to do - or so it seems. I actually believe there are even more teachers out there who wish to be authors or, perhaps, something else, but the profession is so difficult and demanding, that the time they once believed would be used to pursue this passion becomes something else: much needed rest and relaxation, of which I don't begrudge them one bit.

Juniper is a wonderful debut novel and I love the dark elements to your story. Can you talk to me about your influences and why you chose Juniper as your first book to write?

M.P. - My influences tend to run dark - most likely the effects of a troubled childhood, the things I was witness to. Most days, I found life to be quite dangerous and confusing, sad and tragic. Fairy tales, such as Grimm's before they were filtered down by Disney and the like, really spoke to me. I enjoyed children's books and movies with a darker, more mature edge to them, such as Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Dark Crystal, and so on. My childhood had a tremendous effect on Juniper Berry and everything else I write today. Sometimes pain can be used in a positive way. I channel it whenever I can.

This book resonated with me because I work in Hollywood and the theme of losing yourself really connects to this business. Do you know your theme before writing or did it evolve during your writing?

M.P. - I figured Hollywood would serve as the best example, though losing one's self can refer to many different paths in life. The theme of the story definitely existed before I set about writing. As a writer entering the world of publishing, the rigid structure of it, the particular guidelines, I was all too wary about being consumed. Sometimes, the desire to succeed can be so strong that one is willing to do just about anything to achieve it. In a way Juniper's journey reflects my own.

What have you learned about the steps of publishing since your journey to becoming a published author?

M.P. - First, there are the rejections. Every writer speaks on this, but it is never enough to prepare you - I kept an entire log of them. To me, the most important step was in finding an agent, which I succeeded in doing by accepting Elana Roth's wonderful offer of representation. After this, she made it seem easy to get published. Of course, from there, the road is much longer than most may think. From the amount of drafts and rewrites to line editing and emails back and forth about design and illustrations and marketing - by the time the book sees print a few years have passed since writing the very first word. The common perception is that it is not difficult to write - one sits at home, behind a desk, writes a few words, maybe takes a break, gets back to it, grabs something to eat, etc. - but unless you actually go through the entire process, all the research, all the edits, all the stress and pressure, the constant tug and pull, most people will never realize exactly how much blood, sweat, and tears (no exaggeration) really go into it.

If you could give new writers advice about the craft, what would you tell them to do? What would you tell them not to do?

M.P. - Among other things, I think Juniper Berry is a sort of commentary on the path to publication. It is easy to sell out, to write formulaically with the specific goal being to make money. I would advise against this at all costs, as it will not lead to the self fulfillment one may hope for. Always write for yourself. And, of course, read and write as much as you can - there shouldn't be much time for anything else (free time should be a thing of the past).

If you were trapped inside a room beneath a tree in the forest with only one book to read, what would it be and why?

M.P. - It would have to be something of great length while simultaneously being beautifully written, a book that begs to be reread over and over again, a book ripe for deep analysis. Perhaps, Don Delillo's Underworld.

I want to thank M.P. for stopping by the Asylum and hanging out with us. I would also like to give a ginormous thank you to Kellie at Walden Pond Press for all her help and continued support. 

There are still plenty of stops left on the Juniper blog tour. Be sure to stop by and check out them out. 

Friday May 6th – Guest Post at Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Saturday May 7th – Review and Giveaway at National Examiner
Sunday May 8th – Interview at National Examiner
Monday, May 9th – Review, Guest Post and Giveaway at The Book Smugglers

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

JUNIPER BERRY Blog Tour & Writing Contest

This Thursday author M.P. Kozlowsky will be stopping by to chat with us as part of the JUNIPER BERRY blog tour. To celebrate the release of this amazing book from Walden Pond Press.

Be sure to stop by and visit the other blogs on the tour (listed below).

Monday, May 2nd – Review at There’s a Book & Review & Interview at Alison’s Bookmarks
Tuesday, May 3rd – Guest Post at My Friend Amy
Wednesday, May 4th – Review and Giveaway at Reading Vacation
Thursday, May 5th – Interview at Literary Asylum
Friday May 6th – Guest Post at Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Saturday May 7th – Review and Giveaway at National Examiner
Sunday May 8th – Interview at National Examiner
Monday, May 9th – Review, Guest Post and Giveaway at The Book Smugglers

AND partake in this wonderful opportunity!

Juniper Berry Writing Contest: On 5/1/11 we are launching a writing contest for tweens that centers around the novel. The winner receives an iPad and a library of WPP Ebooks, paperbacks and hardcovers. Here is all the info – feel free to post if you like:

To celebrate the release of M.P. Kozlowsky’s debut novel Juniper Berry, Walden Pond Press is inviting all writers aged 9-14 to write his or her own tale of terror and temptation in at least 500 words. One grand prize winner will receive an iPad and a library of Walden Pond Press eBook, paperback and hardcover novels and his or her story published online at Author M.P. Kozlowsky will select the winner. To learn more:

Monday, May 2, 2011


To celebrate this week's release of Horton Halfpott: Or, The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor; or, The Loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's Corset (Amulet 2011) - a book I have been dying to get my hands on - I caught up with the amazingly talented creator of the book, Tom Angleberger, author extraordinaire and uber wonderful person. As many of you know, Tom has written some fantastic books - The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and The Qwikpick Adventure Society

I love the title of your upcoming release, Horton Halfpott... Can you tell us a bit about the book?

Tom Angleberger: It's a loving spoof of Victorian novels with a side-order of The Three Investigators. I wanted to write a book that I would have flipped for in the 6th grade, so I tried to put in everything I love in a book: secret passage, crazy map, hidden jokes, a little bit of love and pirates. Since the book is set in the middle of England, the pirates had to be Shipless Pirates.

Since the release of the awesome Origami Yoda (OY), you have been busy working on the second book and the illustrations. When did you have time to write Horton?

TA: Actually, Horton was already written. It was the first book I ever finished writing. And it was the book that really made me determined to be a kids' author.

However, the many of the illustrations were done in the midst of all this OY craziness. It's about 75 pen and ink drawings in all. That was much, much harder than writing the book.

Was there anything that you learned from the OY experience that you took with you when writing Horton and the sequel to OY? If so, what?

TA: One thing I have finally learned, is that skipping around in time can be a real problem. Unless there's a really good reason for it, it is confusing/annoying to the reader AND my editor is probably going to make me change it anyway.

What is the biggest challenge for you writing multiple books? What advice can give to those of us who may be faced with that challenge someday?

TA: Quite simply, it can be hard to find the time/peace-of-mind to sit down and write a book when you are running all over the place promoting the last book.

Many authors today are expected to promote their own work because of shrinking marketing divisions or budgets. How much time do you spend doing this every week? What has worked the best for you?

TA: First of all, Amulet's Marketing team is incredible! They have done an amazing amount of work for my books. But yes, I do a whole lot myself. Sometimes I feel like all of my time goes to promoting. I'm finishing up folding 200 Darth Papers which will be given away with the ARCs. I'm running various contests on my various blogs. I'm about to go to a conference to do a panel with Michael Buckley. (He's a riot!) There are Skype visits, book signings, blog comments to moderate, e-mails and real mail to answer, events to schedule (and re-schedule due to broken leg), book trailers to film, etc.., etc... The easiest thing to put off is writing.

Once we gobble up Horton, what release is coming up next for you?

TA: Darth Paper Strikes Back is coming in August: "It is a dark time at McQuarrie Middle School..."

If you only knew the power of Origami.
I LOVE that Tom stays busy because I always have a book to look forward too. Now that you are done reading this post, RUN don't walk to the bookstore and get a copy of HORTON (did I mention that the cover glows in the dark!). What are you waiting for... GO!