Two children's book master creators, Marion Dane Bauer and John Shelly, have come together to create HALLOWEEN FOREST. John is a fellow member of the Picture Book Artists Association and the SCBWI, so we've emailed for years (although with him living in England and Japan, we've never met). I've also never met Marion, but hope to! Meanwhile, I'm thrilled to have them both on my blog today to answer questions...

Q. Congratulations to you both on the beautifully yummy and creepy HALLOWEEN FOREST! Q.    Marion, the writing is described as "unmetered rhyming verse." Can you explain that a little further? Is there a conscious pattern you use when you write this way?
A.    There is no conscious pattern. I could, in fact, call it writing by the seat of my pants. Mostly I'm working at avoiding falling into any set rhythm for too long a time so that the ear comes to expect it and be jarred when I leave it. (I probably don't succeed at that 100% of the time.) And I let the rhymes come as they may, falling naturally, I hope. It's a kind of game for me. I'm playing with the rhyme and letting it play me. What's hard is to keep the fact that I'm rhyming from pulling me into regular patterns either of meter or rhyme, because if I do that the text loses its flow.

Q.    John, when you first read the text, did the images you wanted to create fill your head, or did it take more 'noodling' than that?
A.    This was a great story to work on, I was instantly pulled into it. On the first reading my head was filled with the spooky excitement of the text, so I was immediately caught up in the atmosphere of the verse. I made a number of tiny thumbnail jottings as I read through, a number of which proved the seeds of later full illustrations. When I plan books I tend to start with the overall composition, roughly establishing the look of key images in very small, loose scribbles, then gradually work out details in progressively larger sketches. In the case of Halloween Forest the structure of the spreads came together very quickly in the earliest stages, which were then elaborated with detail and texture.
    The next challenge was how to give full justice to the imaginative images conjured by Marion's text – the mechanics of making a forest of bones and filling it with the creatures described, and also of establishing the look of the central character. One of the great things about pen-and-ink drawing is the wonderful flexibility pen lines can provide. The forest was a question essentially of morphing roots and tree bark into bone-like shapes. After a number of planning sketches established the look of the trees, I just had to populate the scenes. My sketches are always in black and white, usually in pencil, so the tonal balance of the images, dark against light, was a key part of creating the atmosphere.

Q.    Marion, did pictures fill your mind when you wrote the story? How did you react when you saw John's illustrations?
A.    I love writing picture books and have learned to use my text to set up opportunities for the artist to create active, changing illustrations, but I rarely have any concept of what the illustrations are supposed to look like. That's an advantage, I think. I'm never disappointed because the artist's vision is different from mine, because I, quite literally, have no vision. (When most people read a picture book for the first time, they go through looking at the pictures. When I pick up one I haven't seen before, I read the words from beginning to end, then remind myself, "Oh, this is a picture book" and go back and check out the illustrations.) When I writing a picture book text, I am immersed in the words and waiting for the rest to be supplied. When I saw what John had done with my forest of bones, I was thrilled. "Oh, that's what it looks like!" I said. It's such a gift to have an artist commit so much to my small story. The first time I saw the illustrations of Halloween Forest felt, not like Halloween but like Christmas.

Q.    John, The detail in your illustrations is amazing. How long did it take you to draw each spread and what medium did you use?
A.    The final spreads were all drawn with india ink in pen, then coloured with watercolour, all “by hand” (no digital). I invariably work on all the spreads in stages – first all the linework, then all the base washes, then all the backgrounds and so on, so it’s difficult to say exactly how long each individual image would have taken had I drawn one at a time. Also, raising my daughter does tend to cut down my time at the drawing table! For Halloween Forest the colouring was fairly time consuming as I used a lot of layering and back-fill in small areas like tree bark. Its great for developing texture, but naturally takes longer than if I’d just painted the whole tree one tone. On average I’d say a day or two for drawing linework, then between 3-4 days painting, per spread.

Q.    Marion, I love that you used the word 'dismay' so prominently. Do you have a theory behind your word choices and what is or isn't appropriate for kids?
A.    My theory about word choice is the same, whatever I'm writing and for whatever audience. The simplest word is always the best. But the simplest word may, in fact, be dismay. I write early readers as well as picture books, and early readers, even though they are, presumably, for a somewhat older audience are much more limiting to write than picture books. That is, of course, because young children's word comprehension is much greater than their reading comprehension, and usually picture books are being shared with an adult who is doing the reading. As to throwing in an occasional word that might be unfamiliar, we all know that reading--or being read to--expands vocabulary . . . and not just for kids. So I'm always trying to use the word that is both the simplest and the one right word in that context, but I'm not afraid to ask my readers/listeners to stretch.

Q.    John, HALLOWEEN FOREST is a showcase for your talent. Was it a favorite project on which to work?
A.    Oh definitely, without question. It’s quite unusual to find a text that is so close to my inspirations, my points of reference as an illustrator, Halloween Forest rang bells in all my departments, combining humour with naturalism, character, spooky mystery and drama, all of which are key aspects of my art.

Q. Finally, you are both so very far apart - Marion in Minnesota and John in England. How do you plan to promote the book? Have you ever met in person? And what do you think you'll dress up as this Halloween?
Marion:    I do most things--writing and promoting--from my desk here in St. Paul. I used to toodle around the country more than I do these days, and I still do a bit of that, but home grows sweeter with each passing year. What a blessing the Internet is in that regard . . . and people such as you who will help get out the message about a new book. And no, John and I haven't met. I hope we'll get a chance to one day. As to what I'll dress as for Halloween, I'll probably put on my softest, most comfy robe and hang out in front of the fireplace behind a bowl of candy, waiting for the trick-or-treaters to come. (I'm eager to hear John's answer since during the year I lived in England I attended a great celebration of Guy Fawkes Day in our rural village, but I didn't see a single treat-or-treater.)

John:    I’d love to meet Marion, either in the US or of course I’d love to see her in the UK too! It’s somewhat difficult for me to promote the book from the UK, but I’ll be blogging and otherwise active online as much as possible. I’d be very happy to join in any promotions in the US, I do go over to the US whenever I can, perhaps a Halloween trip would be in order – I’d have to board the aircraft in costume of course. Hmmm, what to wear? How about a ghostly pilot outfit? Would they let me through immigration and customs I wonder.....

GIVEAWAY!! Enter in the random drawing for a free copy of HALLOWEEN FOREST. Must live in the continental USA to win. The drawing will be held next Wednesday. a Rafflecopter giveaway


Krista R said...

I'd love a copy of the book, because I love the illustrations shown, and can't wait to see more. I would share the book with my daughter who loves all things creepy.

Kristi Valiant said...

Can't wait to see this one in person. How gorgeously creepy!

Maggie said...

Thanks for a very informative and entertaining interview! Marion and John sound like a wonderful combination.

cathy ogren said...

Great post! This would be a wonderful book to add to our library collection!

Mrs. B. said...

I would love this book for our collection. Looks great. Thanks for this chance.

SiskiyouSue said...

Marion Dane Bauer is one of favorite authors! I have used her books in my classrooms several times. This would be great for my room or our school library!

Anonymous said...

Great interview! Looking forward to sharing this one. Sounds fun & spooky and the illustrations are amazing. Can't wait to see more. Grafixjess at hotmail.com
Thanks for the chance to win a copy!

apple blossom said...

love to win this book cause my nieces love to be read to. I'd share it with them thanks

ABreading4fun [at] gmail [dot] com

Anonymous said...

Such neat people...thanks for the interview! Great
giveaway Elizabeth...thank you!

Gayle S said...

I love the illustrations. I would love to bring this book to the classroom where I work.

Gayle S said...

I love the illustrations. I would love to bring this book to the classroom where I work.

Jan Castle said...

Wonderful interview...great to learn more about the process of creating! Thanks for the chance to win...looks to be a really fun read for kids (probably for adults too - it's peaked my interest)!
Paper Hugs,
Jan Castle