What inspired you to create the Cat’s Cradle Series?
Ironically, it was inspired by a dog! You know those types of gentle giants that think they're tiny little lap dogs? My partner's family had the biggest, sweetest pit bull just like that. He had a habit of flopping down on top of me when I sat on the floor, and then refusing to get up. So one day as I'm lying there pinned to the floor, I plead with him that if he'll just get off of me, I'll take him to the land of giants where he can finally be a lap dog. The thought stuck with me, and over time it grew into this whole story about monsters, friendship and finding your true home.
What is your creative process? What does your creative process look like? Do you ever switch it up? Do you have any tips for breaking writer’s (or illustrator’s) block?
My stories start like a sprouting seed— one scene that excites me and grabs my attention. Everything grows from there, and my role is like a gardener's in a topiary— nurturing new shoots and pruning others, until I'm satisfied with the shape. The drawing will usually grow alongside the story, as I need to know what my characters look like. If I'm ever stuck drawing, I just sketch loosely until I find something interesting. Writer's block is harder to tackle for me, as I came to writing later than drawing, but I have developed a few techniques that help. If I'm stuck in a particular plot point, I'll sometimes try the opposite of what I originally intended: If I wanted my characters to escape, what if they get captured instead? I send all these feelers out and see if any take root.
What do you think draws readers to your work?
It's tough to get an outside perspective on your own work, but from the comments I get, I'd say that “charming spookiness” is one of the factors. Even when I try to make a monster downright scary, I can't seem to help making it cute somehow.
Outside of writing and illustrating, what do you like to do in your personal time?
I love treasure hunts! My own type of treasure that is— mushrooms and fossils. Where I live in the Ottawa region, we're lucky to have some pretty cool fossil deposits, and the trails in my village are full of weird mushrooms if you look for them.
What is a cause you care about?
Education. Education is so much more than preparing kids for the workforce— it's about making them creative, critical thinkers and good human beings.
Could you tell us about authors and illustrators who have inspired you?
I have a wide range of influences, from Calvin and Hobbes, to Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials, and Rumiko Takahashi's Ranma ½. Style-wise, I've been hugely influenced by Isabella Mazzanti and Matt Rockefeller.
What advice for do you have for aspiring authors and illustrators?
Create and share. Start putting your sketches or short stories out there, even if you think they're not quite ready yet. Participate in online writing or drawing challenges to get practice and reach a wider audience. And don't be afraid of trying out techniques and motifs you see in artists you love. When I was younger, I resisted looking at other artists too closely— as if I was "cheating", and that my style had to come purely from my imagination to be my own. But once I gave myself permission to learn from other artists, my style improved in leaps and bounds!
Graphic novels are captivating but a lot of work. What do you like best about the graphic format and what are the biggest challenges?
Comics are magic— they give the impression of action with just a few key drawings. They're the perfect blend of story and art, where both reinforce the other. The biggest challenge is exactly what you said— they're a lot of work!
What does your working space look like? What do you need in order to be productive?
Like a Victorian alternate reality, with a mix of thrifted antiques and giant computer screens. I LOVE old objects and paintings— they nurture my soul! And though I'm far from a neat freak, I keep my studio fairly tidy these days, as I find clutter distracting.
Talk to us about music. What are your favorite songs for writing? Do you have different favorite songs for illustrating? Why the difference? Do you have a theme song for yourself as a writing professional?
For writing I need wordless music, so classical is a first choice, along with some contemporary piano. I don't have just one theme song, but I have music to associate with particular times of the year. My music playlists are divided by seasons, with autumn and winter being more inspiring usually!
What has it been like working with Dunham Literary?
Amazing! I first met Jennie at a conference and connected instantly! I love her straightforward approach and her genuine love of books and stories. And it's great to have someone who's very organized to keep an eye on me, since I can be scatterbrained when left to my own devices.
What are your favorite moments of suspense or happiness in your upcoming book?
In the second book I introduce a young thief who's hiding a dark secret from Suri, my main character. I love the tension it creates when the audience knows something the others characters don't!
What are your favorite quotes and illustrations from the series so far?
I love drawing dynamic scenes and moody lighting. Because much of the action in The Mole King's Lair takes place in a cave, I got to play with colors to my heart's content!
How do you celebrate a book release?
By getting together with some of my writer friends, and rewarding myself with more books! I love getting books— maybe too much. We have bookshelves in every room and we're still running out of space!
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