Summer Blog Blast Tour Recap

Here’s a complete list of this week’s interviews:

Monday:

Tara Altebrando at Chasing Ray
Shirley Vernick at Bildungsroman
Jack Ferraiolo at The Happy Nappy Bookseller
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen at Writing & Ruminating

Tuesday:

Sean Beaudoin at Chasing Ray
Neesha Meminger at The Happy Nappy Bookseller
Rachel Karns at Bildungsroman

Wednesday:

Sarah Stevenson at Chasing Ray
Emily Howse at Bildungsroman
Ashley Hope-Perez at The Happy Nappy Bookseller
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich at Vivian Lee Mahony (Hip Writer Mama)

Thursday:
Tessa Gratton at Writing & Ruminating
Micol Ostow at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Maria Padian at Bildungsroman
Genevieve Cote at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Vera Brosgol at lectitans

Friday:

Genevieve Valentine at Shaken & Stirred
Stacy Whitman at The Happy Nappy Bookseller
Alyssa B. Sheinmel at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Matthew Cody and Aaron Starmer at Mother Reader

Summer Blog Blast Tour: Vera Brosgol

Vera Brosgol is the creator of Anya’s Ghost, a young adult graphic novel about Anya, a teenage girl who wants nothing more than to be normal. When Anya falls down a well and meets the ghost of a girl who died a century ago, she quickly discovers that her new friend can help her with her social life and her schoolwork. As is always the case, this friendship is more complicated than she initially realizes.

Vera was kind enough to answer seven questions for me for the SBBT.

Why did you choose to create Anya’s Ghost in black and white?

I honestly didn’t think it needed color. Full-color can really add a lot to a story especially when it takes place in an interesting location or fantastic world, but for this particular one I feel like it would’ve been superfluous. The monochromatic palette served the mood of the story, I think. And it would’ve made the coloring take twice as long.

In addition to creating comics and graphic novels, you are a professional animator. In Anya’s Ghost and the art on your website, you create a sense of movement in still images. How do the skills required for comics and animation overlap?

I’m actually a story artist rather than an animator, though I went to school for animation.  [K: My bad!]  In college I learned that the part of the process I enjoyed the most was the storyboarding part, so that’s what I went into. I didn’t have the patience for animating! I think animation made me a much faster and more flexible artist – when you have to do thousands of drawings you can’t fuss with them too much. It also taught me how to be efficient in communicating with a drawing. I started focusing less on making a pretty picture and more on telling some kind of story with it. That definitely carried over into my illustration and comics work. I feel like the same part of my brain gets used for storyboarding and comics.

Like you, Anya came to America at the age of 5. A lot of Anya’s concerns over her appearance and behavior are magnified by the fact that she comes from a Russian family. How do you think having this extra level of being different affects common teenage concerns?

It’s just one more thing making life difficult. Anything that makes you in any way different from everyone else makes you a target, and when your skin is bad and your clothes are fitting weird you don’t want to pile anything else on top of that. I didn’t have a hard time about being Russian but I was constantly aware that my home life didn’t exactly match that of my friends, and a part of me definitely wished it did. Of course it depends on where you live. I went to a high school in Brooklyn where there was a huge immigrant population and being from another country didn’t cause problems – at most it just dictated what group you’d be friends with.

While Anya’s worries are common to most teenagers, Anya’s Ghost adds a supernatural element to issues of friendship and peer pressure. What do you think is powerful about using the supernatural to tell this kind of story?

Part of the reason I added the paranormal element to the story was to make it more fun for me! Regular old school drama is all well and good but I don’t really get excited unless there’s something weird or creepy going on. And Emily served as a way to reflect all of Anya’s bad traits back at her, so that she could get a good honest look at herself. That would’ve been possible to do with a non-ghost character but it made sense for me to do that with someone who literally didn’t have a life of their own.

On your website, you feature fan art for other works such as Scott Pilgrim and The Hunger Games. Who are some of your favorite artists and writers? What about their work inspires you?

I’m a big fan of Fred Moore and Earl Oliver Hurst, both of whom drew lovely lady illustrations. Jillian Tamaki is one of my favorite modern illustrators – I love her embroidered Penguin covers and her amazing ink work. There’s a Czech illustrator named Stepan Zavrel who did the most amazing watercolors – I’d love to get some of that looseness into my own work. And I’m friends with some phenomenal artists – Jon Klassen, Chris Turnham, Steve Wolfhard, Emily Carroll… so I am constantly inspired by them. Writer-wise, I really like Haruki Murakami’s books. Before that I read Dracula and Geek Love. Right now I’m working through the Song of Ice & Fire books. I usually want to draw a picture to go along with whatever I’m reading just to get it out of my head!

A lot of your art, such as your collaborative Tumblr blog Draw this dress! and your many circus-themed pieces, draws on vintage imagery. What is it about these images from the past that appeals to you?

I love fashion. I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was little (as well as an animator and a children’s book illustrator and probably a vet or something). Though really I think what I meant was costume design – I love anything that tells a story and clothes can absolutely do that. Vintage clothes tell you about the kind of person who wore them, what their life was like, what was going on in the world at the time… it’s really easy and fun to insert a character into them, which is what Draw This Dress is all about. Modern fashion can be a lot of fun too but there’s definitely more variety if you’re borrowing from the past.

When you were in high school, you created the webcomic Return to Sender. What did you learn from this experience that has helped you in your career?

Haha! I kind of learned what not to do. I did that comic before school and the whole thing was a very fussily-drawn, poorly-planned experiment. I generally knew where the story was going but putting it up online one page at a time was not the best way to do tell it – once a page was up it was up, there was no going back and reworking things to improve the story. Maybe for a comic strip that would’ve been okay but I was essentially trying to make a graphic novel. It reached a point where it had gotten sloppy and I got too busy with school to deal with fixing it so I just stopped. I’m much more careful with plotting now and try to think of a book as a whole, rather than a series of installments. And I stopped using those darn Micron pens!

Thanks, Vera!

Summer Blog Blast Tour 2011, Day 1

Hi there! It’s time once again for our semiannual (because we do one in winter, too, see?) smorgasbord of interviews with authors and illustrators. Every day this week, I’ll be posting links to interviews elsewhere, and then on Thursday, I’ll be sharing my very own interview with Vera Brosgol. Enjoy!

Today’s Interviews:
Tara Altebrando at Chasing Ray
Shirley Vernick at Bildungsroman
Jack Ferraiolo at The Happy Nappy Bookseller
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen at Writing & Ruminating

SBBT: Jo Knowles

Jo Knowles is a writer of many dimensions. She does freelance work, a large part of which is for educational use, teaches at Simmons College, and helped an incarcerated woman achieve her dream of becoming a published writer. Her first novel, Lessons from a Dead Girl, was published in October 2007, and her next, Jumping Off Swings, will be released on August 11 of this year.

Jo was kind enough to answer some questions for me as part of the Summer Blog Blast Tour.

In Lessons from a Dead Girl, Laine’s sister Christi and Leah’s sister Brooke are usually present, though not featured prominently. In your bio on your website you say that your sister read to you and that even now when you read your sister’s voice is often the one you hear. How has having a sister influenced your writing?

Growing up, my sister influenced me in lots of ways. She did everything first, and I followed. I remember when she went to college and took a creative writing class, she’d call me at home and read her stories to me and I would think: Someday, I want to write like that. I wish my sister would take up writing again because I know she would be a star.

One of the most important scenes in Lessons from a Dead Girl features Laine and Leah teaming up in a horse show. How did your own experience with having horses and a pony as a child influence this scene?

Well, like Lucky, my own pony, Smoky, was ornery, old, small and sort of embarrassing. But he was mine and I adored him. He was so tiny he fit in the front of my friend’s horse trailer where you’re supposed to store the hay and stuff, so even though I’d give him a bath and get him all pretty, he’d end up a dusty mess by the time we got to the various 4-H shows we went to.

Like Laine, I felt pretty out of place at those shows among all the fancy horses, but I also felt a little pride in being there, too. It felt good to mix things up. And I was grateful to my friend’s parents for letting my pony hitch a ride in their trailer. But unlike Laine, I got to keep the ribbons I won. 🙂

In earlier interviews at Cynsations and Debbi Michiko Florence’s blog, you talk about the timeline for publication of Lessons from a Dead Girl. How does that compare with the timeline for the publication of your second book, Jumping Off Swings?

Well, once again it’s a fairly long timeline, because at some point I stopped submitting SWINGS to work on other projects. There were certain pieces of the story that just weren’t working, and I really needed to set it aside for a long time before I could look at it with fresh eyes to figure out what the problems were. Ellie’s chapters were originally written in free-verse, and I don’t think that worked so well. I also totally re-worked Caleb’s mom and Josh’s dad, thanks to my editor’s suggestions. Sometimes, hard as it is, you just can’t rush the process. Or at least I’ve learned that’s true for me.

In addition to writing fiction, you are also a freelance non-fiction writer. What is the most interesting thing you’ve had to write about as a freelancer? What is the hardest?

I wrote a nonfiction book for teens about Huntington’s Disease and that was by far the most interesting project I’ve worked on. Part of the assignment was to write about a famous person who had the disease, so I read Elizabeth Partridge’s biography of Woody Guthrie (This Land Was Made for You and Me), which was amazing. As far as the hardest thing, I’d say writing about chronic illness or potentially fatal diseases. Knowing that your readers are probably going to be people who’ve just found out they or a loved one has the disease can put a lot of pressure on you to get it right and to be positive, but realistic. You want to make sure your words motivate your readers to take care of themselves, but you also don’t want to scare or depress them. For the most part, I really enjoy learning new things with each project, and also knowing that hopefully the work is going to help people.

You’ve said in interviews that you are more of a "pantser": you finish the first draft of a book before outlining it. How does this compare to your process for writing non-fiction?

It’s almost the exact opposite, actually. Most of the time, I receive a “research report” from the marketing team, listing the key points they want me to cover, so I usually use this list to form an outline. With writing nonfiction on a very short deadline, I can’t afford the luxury of going down dead ends. I have to be as efficient as possible. So, I start with a page by page outline, organize my research and dig in.

You have kept a LiveJournal since 2004. How has that affected your experience as a professional writer?

Oh, in so many wonderful ways. I’ve met TONS of friends through LJ. Many I’ve gone on to meet in person. There is a wonderful writers’ community in LJ that has helped me during what seem like countless ups and downs over the past five years. When I moved to Vermont five years ago, I left many close friends and a strong writing community. Then, two months after we moved, my brother died. I was already feeling quite isolated, so add to that the extreme grief I was suffering and the isolation became almost unbearable . I finally decided to start an LJ account in hopes that it would help me keep in touch with the small handful of friends I knew who had accounts. As I made more connections, I felt a new community growing up around me. Even though it’s “virtual” I’ve met enough of my online friends in person to know they are all real and wonderful, nurturing people.

You try to read a book a week and recommend that aspiring authors do the same. How do you decide which books to read? What are your sources for book recommendations?

Well, my friends’ books are my first priority, so I always try to keep up with those. But I also like to read books that are getting lots of buzz, so I can stay in the loop. 🙂 I love my agent’s taste as well, so whenever he says he likes a book, I try to get right on it. My to-be-read pile is always overflowing, which is fine by me. I know a lot of people who read a book a day, but I’m a slow reader. 🙂

Thanks so much for the interview, Jo!

Today’s SBBT schedule:
Barbara O’Connor at Mother Reader
James Kennedy at Fuse Number 8
Maggie Stiefvater at Writing & Ruminating
Rosemary Clement-Moore at Bildungsroman
Jo Knowles at lectitans
Melissa Wyatt at Chasing Ray

Don’t forget the Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Boys!

Summer Blog Blast Tour: Day One; Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Boys

Today is the first day of the third annual Summer Blog Blast Tour. This event is organized by Colleen of Chasing Ray to showcase authors and expose them to a wider online audience.

You can find today’s interviews at the following places:

Andrew Mueller at Chasing Ray
Kekla Magoon at Fuse #8
Carrie Jones at Writing & Ruminating
Amber Benson at Bildungsroman
Greg van Eekhout at Shaken & Stirred

(Many  thanks to slayground for the code above!)

Come back tomorrow for my interview with Amber Benson!

Over at Guys Lit Wire, you can participate in the Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Boys. Purchase a book or a few and send them to the LA Juvenile Justice System, which currently has no library. The Book Fair is already a great success but you can make it an even bigger one!