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Friday, April 13, 2007

1st ever Blog Book Tour for Joe Kulka!

     I'm starting a new feature here at dulemba.com - a BLOG BOOK TOUR!
     What is that?
     Well, several of my friends have books coming out about now, and we've gotten together to help you learn about their new creations.
     Today, I interview author/illustrator Joe Kulka about his new picture book, Wolf's Coming! (Carolrhoda Picture Books).
     Joe will be interviewed by several friends this week (hence the Blog Tour): Ruth McNally Barshaw's brand spankin' new blog, "Ellie McDoodle" on Tuesday; Alan Gratz's "Gratz Industries" on Wednesday; Dotti Enderle's Blog on Friday; and Barbara Johansen Newman's Blog, Cat Jammers Studio on Saturday.
     Enjoy the interviews and go check out the book! (Click the cover to go to it's listing on Amazon.)

So Joe, congratulations on your new release, Wolf's Coming! (Carolrhoda Picture Books)! Is this the first book you've written and illustrated? Tell us about it!

     Thanks. Yes, this is my first book as both author and illustrator. The story is about the animals in the forest spying Wolf leaving his cave and heading towards their tree house. They spread the word that Wolf is coming, running and hiding as they do so. When Wolf arrives they are ready for him and the book ends with a surprise.
     O.K., I'll give away the ending here but don't tell anyone. They really are running because they have a surprise birthday party planned for Wolf.
     Hopefully little readers will get a kick out the story and especially enjoy reading it a second time with a new perspective once you know the ending. There are little clues in the illustrations that foreshadow the ending to the observant reader.

How many books for you is this now? Give us the list!

     The other books I've illustrated are Granny Gert And the Bunion Brothers by Dotti Enderle published by Pelican, Monkey Math (Rookie Readers) by Larry Brimmer published by Scholastic, The Spitting Twins by Andrea Jones published by Frog Ltd, "Woodsy's ABCs" published by the USDA Forest Service, Have You Seen King Candy? by Jackie Glassman, and Happy Birthday Princess Lolly! by Jackie Glassman both published by Scholastic.
     I've also illustrated a number of educational readers and a sticker story book on pirates will be out this summer.
     Right now I'm working on my 2nd book as author and illustrator, "The Rope" which will be published by Pelican.

What "drew" you (sorry!) to picture books?

     Reading Rainbow and Charles Santore get a lot of the credit/blame. For a couple years after graduating college the only work I was getting was scientific and medical illustration for text books. On the way to the publisher's to deliver my drawings of spleens and kidneys I would walk past Charles Santore's studio. I could see him up there painting away at his drawing table. This was around the time he was working on The Wizard of Oz. When the book was released I was (and still am) in awe of how beautiful it was. I also would tune into Reading Rainbow every day when I would eat my lunch. I enjoyed seeing the variety of children's books that they showed. I realized that children's book was the aspect of illustration that I truly wanted to pursue.

What do you love about the business, and what do you . . . not love?

     What I love the most is that I've suckered people into paying me to draw pictures and now make up stories.
Little do they know that I would do it for nothing! However, let me quickly add that I pride myself on being an astute businessman as well as an artist and absolutely realize the value of my commodity.
     What I'm really trying to say is that I absolutely love what I do and I'm extremely grateful that I am able to make a living doing it.
     I love having a 5 second commute to work. I love being able to (and usually do) work in my pajamas.
     The thrill of my professional life was when I got to sit down and read my own book, "Wolf's Coming!" to my 3 and 6 year old sons as a bedtime story. Even if I were to win a Caldecott someday I doubt that would top that one. But I'm certainly willing to find out, so feel free to throw one my way.
     The aspects of it that I don't love... working into the wee hours of the morning more nights than not, work for hire contracts - contracts from certain publishers that require you sign over the copyright of your illustrations - I avoid those as much as possible. Other things that I don't love- computers that crash, brushes that drip, advances that are long spent before the book is finished and books that somehow get printed with the colors far off from what they should be. Thankfully "Wolf's Coming!" colors look great.

Can you share your journey into children's publishing?

     As I said above after I graduated from college, the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, I had my degree in illustration but not a clear idea of what avenue to pursue. Somehow while in college pursuing children's books seemed to be something that only women did. So I never took a children's book class. Other than Reading Rainbow and envying Charles Santore, the other eye opener for me occurred at the medical publishers I was working at. I was filling in as staff illustrator for a few months while one of the illustrators was on pregnancy leave. The publisher was part of Harcourt and around Christmas time a big stack of children's books would appear in the break area from the children's division in San Diego. Stellaluna was in there one year. It was a joy to look at and dream of doing something half as good someday.
     It took me quite a while to be able to revamp my portfolio and switch from scientific illustration to children's book illustration. About 8 years for the complete transformation.
     During that time I had a couple small detours. One of which was getting myself up to speed using a computer.
     I had always worked with pen and ink, watercolors and oils. I wanted nothing to do with a computer.
     However my clients were starting to ask for work delivered in a digital format so I saw the handwriting on the wall. I got myself a Mac and shortly thereafter was lucky enough to land an in-house job at a multimedia company. I was part of a team that was developing one of the first games for the original Sony Playstation. I was doing storyboards and they needed to be done digitally so I got to learn my way around a computer pretty quickly. I found out that programs such as Painter were really just another tool to help you create - the same way a pencil or brush is.
     As the company I was working for began to implode I decided it was best to resume my freelance career and get back on the track of pursuing my children's book dream.
     At this time I started to focus on my writing. I was confident in my drawing skills but felt like a novice when it came to writing a story. So I joined a Yahoo group on picturebooks and someone posted an email about wanting to start a critique group. I jumped in and was fortunate enough to fall into a group comprised of 7 extremely talented writers, some illustrators as well.
     The crit group has done wonders in helping me hone my writing skills. First by having a deadline - I need to have something to submit when it's my turn - I'm forced to write. I think my years of illustration background has me needing that deadline to get something accomplished. Another key aspect is having to critique the work of the other writers. Having to look at a story critically allows you to pick up on writing techniques that you might otherwise miss. You can really learn a lot. I feel as though I've gotten my master's degree through my crit group.
     So once I felt my writing skills were up to snuff and I had a story that was ready to go I made up a dummy and sent it out. And got it back rejected. So I sent it out again. And got it back again. The third time was the charm for me and CarolRhoda bought "Wolf's Coming!"
     My editor, Ellen, was an joy to work with. It was such a pleasure knowing that her suggestions were always on the mark and made the book the best it could be.
     So now I just hope that I can keep doing this for about 40 more years or so and then you plant me in the ground with a smile on my face!

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