Monday, December 31, 2007

Interview with Natasha & Sylvie

Today is a very special day. A very very special day. I am happy to be presenting TWO interviews. As a few of you may remember, GO TO BED, MONSTER by Natasha Wing with illustrations by Sylvie Kantorovitz, is one of my favorite picture books of the year. It is just an oh-so-magical book for me. Even the end papers are fun. So I was very pleased when both agreed to be interviewed.

From the press release:

Go to Bed, Monster!, released in October 2007 by Harcourt, Inc., is a story about Lucy who has an active imagination and trouble going to sleep. She draws a crayon monster which jumps off the paper ready for action! The two play together, yet when it's time for Monster to go to bed, he refuses. Lucy's many attempts fail until she comes up with just the right way to get Monster to settle down.

Oil paint and oil pastel illustrations by Sylvie Kantorovitz bring to life the crayon world of Lucy's imagination with kid-like humor.

Natasha Wing's Interview

What inspired you to write Go To Bed, Monster!?

"Go to Bed, Monster!" has gone through many incarnations before it became this story! It started off in 1996 as "Lucy's Crayons," a story of a girl who draws a picture and ends up drawing herself into the picture. Then it morphed into "One Yellow Sun," a concept book of colors and shapes. Somewhere along the line the shapes turned into a hungry monster which ate all of Lucy's drawings - and Lucy! My original editor at Harcourt loved Monster and wanted to develop more fun between the monster and Lucy, so it turned into a bedtime story with Monster taking on the role of Lucy, and Lucy taking on the role of a mother trying to get her unruly child to bed.

How long did it take to write-to go from inspiration to finished product?

Well, I started in 1996 and it was published in 2007, with lots of starts and stops inbetween. Much longer than a typical picture book of mine. [Go To Bed, Monster is Natasha's sixteenth picture book.]

What was your first impression of Sylvie Kantorovitz's illustrations? Did her vision of Lucy and the Monster match your own?

When I saw her illustrations I got the tingles and remembered thinking, "She got it!" meaning she understood the Monster and the idea of reality versus imagination.

Do you have a favorite scene? A favorite illustration?

My favorite is when the Monster snaps, "Not sleepy." I think it's so defiant. Kids, of course, love the potty scene.

One of the things I love most about Go To Bed, Monster! is that it appeals to both kids and adults. It is just as much fun the tenth time around as the first. Was that your goal, to write a book that parents wouldn't get tired of reading aloud to their children? What are your goals? What inspires you?

I never think of parents when I write, I think of the flow of the story and what could be interesting and fun for kids to read. My goal is to find a way to express my thoughts and visions, and to write a story that publishers are excited to release to the world. My ultimate pleasure is to then hear back from readers that they like my stories. The things that inspire me are happy families, funny situations, silliness, with an undercurrent of education.

What is your favorite thing about being a writer? What is your least favorite thing? Can you describe a typical day?

My favorite thing is being able to express myself without being filtered through a committee - at least during the initial stage of writing. I also enjoy the sensation of when my mind locks onto an idea and starts churning it over. If it sticks, then I know I'm on to something. My least favorite thing is when I pour myself into a story that just isn't working and I don't know how to fix it.

A typical day for me is writing from 8:00ish to about noon. I check my emails regularly since that's my form of office chat. And I typically skip around and work on a few stories in various stages. In the afternoons, I either continue writing if something is working well, or else I do some marketing, blog reading, or book reading. But most often my writing is part-time work. All this is interspersed with letting my cat, Jemima, in or out of the house. And a break at noon to watch What Not to Wear.

What projects are next? Do you have a new book coming out soon? What is your current work-in-progress?

Lots of books in the works! I have another story with Lucy and Monster called "Go to School, Monster!" in the final art stage. A biography, "An Eye for Color," about an old neighbor of mine when I lived in Connecticut, Josef Albers, who was an artist known for his Homage to the Square paintings. The 13th book in the Night Before series, "The Night Before St. Patrick's Day." And a chapter book for first graders with Scholastic about a girl, Pearl Ruby, who wants to keep her first lost tooth, but the Tooth Fairy wants it...bad. Then if I can shake this writer's insecurity, I will rewrite a novel for teens that I've been working on for years. I have also produced a DVD geared to kindergartners called "A Visit with Natasha Wing" about what it's like being a writer. It includes a reading of "The Night Before Kindergarten." Should be ready in January. So I'm a busy girl.

Who has been your biggest supporter through the years on your road to publication?

First of all, my husband, Dan. He's the one who gave me "permission" to take a break from my public relations job and give writing a chance. Then I have a few writer friends, Mary Nethery and Barbara Kerley, who I used to be in a writers group with who have helped me improve my skills and provided emotional support. But most of all, my agent, Linda Pratt, who unconditionally believes in me and my skills, so it's very comforting to work from that base of support.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? Did you have a favorite book, a favorite author, someone whose work you admired that made you say "I want to do that!!!"?

No, I didn't figure out that I wanted to be a writer until I was 32. So before then I wanted to be a tennis player, or dig dinosaur fossils, or maybe work in a big time ad agency. I was struck by one of those "angel singing" moments when I was at a Christmas fair and picked up "Polar Express" by Chris van Allsburg and declared, "I want to make magic like this for kids!"

Have you always loved to read? What are some of your favorites? (past or present)

I have always read, but I can remember liking the idea of owning books more than reading them. Having books on the shelves, knowing that I could step into a new world just by opening a book, was thrilling to me. So it was more about the anticipation of things to come rather than the actual act of reading. (I think that's why I like Christmas Eve better than Christmas.) As a girl I had this wonderful Cinderella book with a pop-up crepe paper pumpkin carriage in the back. I thought that was magical.

If you had twenty-four hours, a time machine, and a limitless supply of money, what would you want to do?

First I'd have Stacy and Clinton of What Not to Wear make me over. Then I would love to have a sit down over some fine champagne with Philip Pullman, the author of "The Golden Compass." I admire his brain and bravado and would be honored to be in his presence, even if only for an hour. Then I'd travel to Italy and kiss the handsome tall man behind the counter at the meat deli, and then time-travel back to czarist Russia and ride in Czar Nicholas's carriage, and open up every Faberge egg. Of course it'd all have to end with a fabulous meal, perhaps in southern France.

Sylvie Kantorovitz's interview:

What was your first impression of Natasha Wing’s story, the text of Go To Bed, Monster? What excited you? What inspired you?

My agent sent me Natasha’s story as she thought it was made for me. I loved it right away. It was called ONE YELLOW SUN then. It was more of a counting, shapes and colors book. The element that really excited me was Lucy drawing a monster that came to life.

How long did it take to draw the illustrations—to go from inspiration to finished product?

It is very hard to tell as projects like that go through many stages, through many proposals and rejections, through many revisions and in this case, a complete story upheaval. But all that doesn’t happen in a linear way. From the day my agent sent me the story to the day the final drawings were done, years had passed. But all kinds of other projects alternated with MONSTER.

My favorite scene is when the Monster gets excited when Lucy pulls out a book…Do you have a favorite scene?

I have a soft spot for the page where Lucy falls asleep thinking Monster is finally asleep but we see him awake and looking anxiously at her. Illustrators enjoy adding their own story twists through their pictures.

Your website mentions that one of your goals is to inspire kids to become eager to write and draw their own stories…do you have any advice for parents or teachers on how to inspire or encourage children’s imaginative and artistic sides?

Artists, no matter their age, need material, dreaming time, and approval. Material can be as simple as paper and pencils. Dreaming time may require less organized activities, and approval comes naturally to proud parents.

How important do you think it is for children to have art as part of their education?

I think art is vital for children. It allows for fantastic ways of expression. It can mean everything to some shy or physically challenged children.

What is your favorite thing about being an illustrator? What is your least favorite thing? Can you describe a typical day?

My favorite thing: I work at home. I make my own schedule. I draw and paint and make a living at it. What could be better?

My least favorite thing: Some of my artist friends do a lot of self-promotion. It is a very difficult aspect of the work for me.

A typical day: Days vary so much from one to the next for me. On some stages of a project, I can only spend 2 or 3 hours at a time while at others, I could be at my table for hours on end. So sometimes work alternates with some reading or some of my personal painting or some “office work”. There is a lot more “office work” than one would think. I often enjoy working late in the day. The quiet hours after an early dinner are my most productive ones. If I want to go to the gym or the library or see a friend or do some errands, I prefer to do that during most people’s working hours to be able to have my evenings free.

What projects are next? Do you have a new book coming out soon? Are you busy working on a book?

The editor liked what happened with GO TO BED, MONSTER! so much, she asked Natasha to come up with another story for Lucy and Monster. So I am now working on GO TO SCHOOL, MONSTER. A book coming out soon is SMARTY SARA, a step into reading book by Anna Jane Hays. And I am also working on a story of mine called SOPHIE AND THE MAGIC PIG.

Who has been your biggest supporter through the years?

When I was young, my parents were very proud of my drawings and did agree, somewhat reluctantly, to send me to art school. I am very thankful for that. Later on, my then husband, now good friend, Thor Wickstrom, was very supportive in my first efforts. My daughter Sam, 15, has now taken over.

But the biggest encouragement is to see children enjoying my books and my illustrations during school visits.

Do you think your experience as a teacher has helped you when it comes to illustrating? I mean, does all those years of knowing kids, of observing kids, help you when it comes to knowing how to make a scene just right? Of knowing what makes a book kid-friendly?

I taught only one year and I do have great memories from 3 months during which I substituted in Kindergarten. But that is a long time ago. Although it is not especially conscious, I think I draw inspiration from having observed my daughter and her friends when they were little and from the children I meet during my school visits. And I do believe all of us are still little kids somewhere inside us. I definitely am. Maybe I am illustrating for myself?

Growing up, who was your favorite illustrator? Was there someone whose work you admired? Someone who made you say, “I want to do that when I grow up!”?

Although I read constantly, I do not remember any particular author or illustrator. I do remember a couple of beautiful tale books. One in particular had a Nordic feel to it. But I had no clue that one could become an artist.

There is one clear memory that emerges: I saw an illustrated magazine story where the drawings –of crazy monkeys running after spilled oranges! - were done in colored pencils and in a bit of a childish way. I remember thinking in awe: somebody drew this!

The conscious thought: “I want to do this” came in art school while looking at art books in book stores and being drawn to nearby shelves of children’s books.

Your website mentions that you loved reading—that you still love reading—what are some of your favorite books? (Past or present) Who are some of your favorite authors?

This is a question that makes my mind spin. And go blank! There are so many! But I will try:

Early on: LE GRAND MEAULES by Alain Fournier, HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY by Richard Llewellyn, Jules Verne, Jack London, Mark Twain…

Later on: John Steinbeck (EAST OF EDEN), John Dos Passos (MANHATTAN TRANSFER), Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, Dostoyevsky, Balzac, Maupassant, Camus, Eric Maria Remarque,


But also: Shakespeare, Harper Lee, Somerset Maugham, Henry James, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Ursula Le Guin, Chaim Potok, Elie Wiesel, Russell Banks…

What do you love about children’s books? What has kept you hooked?

I love the variety, the unbelievable cleverness of the writers, the humor, the possibility of expressing a whole range of emotions. Not to mention that while I draw Monster and his antics, I have a big smile plastered on my face.

If you had twenty-four hours, a time machine, and a limitless supply of money, what would you want to do?

24 hours to fix the world. Talk about stress! I would probably spend the whole time making a list of things that needed to be done: environment, education, justice for all, health care for all, world peace… And I would panic: where to start? How?

I probably couldn’t figure out how to use the time machine anyway… oh well. Maybe that’s why I am an artist. I’d rather be drawing…

Sorry I wasted a perfectly good time machine and lots of money…

Read my review of Go To Bed, Monster.
Kelly Herold's review for Book Buds.
Cheryl Rainfield's review


Cheryl said...

Love the interviews, Becky. I just love Go To Bed, Monster! so it was lovely to read about the author and illustrator. Thank you. :)

Annie said...

Great interviews, Becky. This is one of my all-time favorite picture books. It's on the shortlist for the Cybils this year and I just reviewed today. What a good team, eh?