Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Jim Averbeck, author of the Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book, IN A BLUE ROOM (Harcourt, 2008), about his latest picture book, OH NO, LITTLE DRAGON! He's kindly offered to give away TWO signed/dedicated copies of OH NO, LITTLE DRAGON - so read on!

Q.     Welcome Jim! I adore Little Dragon. It's so sweet and seemingly simple, how did the idea come to you?
A.     I think like with most stories, a few things were brewing in my brain and they came together in an "aha!" moment. I'd been wanting to do a story about a boy - a rambunctious, destructive boy - that showed that underneath it all, boys really do have deep emotions and a need for love. Then I was in China and my guide's name, in Chinese, was "Little Dragon" and I thought, "that sounds like a nice destructive little character." Then I thought about what a little dragon might treasure most- his flame, of course. And I decided to make him lose it. I like to be mean to my characters.

Q.     The illustration style is made up of bold shapes and strong lines - except for the fire, which looks rather complicated. What is your illustration method?
A.     For OH NO, LITTLE DRAGON! I sketched out the general body gestures and expressions I wanted. Then scanned those sketches and changed the line work to blue in Photoshop. These scans I printed multiple times on textured paper, then "traced" quickly over them, again and again, with an oil pastel. By doing many quick "tracings" with the sketches as a guide, I hoped to capture the vibrancy and life that sketches always seem to have. I chose the best oil line work and scanned that in. Then I scanned in textured, colored papers and electronically cut them to fit behind the line work. The fire, on the other hand, was made completely in Photoshop. I created brushes from photographs of flame and shapes of smoke and sparks. Then I painted layer after layer in Photoshop using these brushes. I think each fire image has around 15 layers. Oddly enough, one of those layers is green. But Photoshop allows you to tell the program how to mix the layers. So even though I was painting with green, it came out a bright yellow. Then I added some glow and blur through the program. I really liked the contrast between the simple lines and the complicated fire, which pops off the page.

Q.     I love how he tries to relight his fire. Was this perhaps inspired by a wicked night of Mexican food?
A.     No kidding! As I get older I find I need a good 12-hour head start on a piece of pizza before I go to bed. Unlike Little Dragon, I'm usually looking for a way to put out the spark in my heart.

Q.     You're promoting OH NO, LITTLE DRAGON by joining Dashka Slater, author of DANGEROUSLY EVER AFTER, in a "Dragon and the Dangerous Princess" blog tour. How did the two of you come together and then come up with this idea?
A.     It was Dashka's idea. We've known each other for a few years. We met when we were both presenting at Kidquake, part of the Bay Area's Litquake literary festival. She recently approached me at one of the many elegant kidlit soirees around here and asked if I wanted to team up to do our marketing for the two books we had coming out around the same time. I had decided earlier in the year that 2012 would be "the year of yes" and I would accept all offers that came my way. So I said "yes" and here we are. It's been great for me, because having someone counting on me to do my part means I can't skip the whole marketing phase all together. Thanks Dashka!

Q.     Finally, what was your path to publication? And do you have any advice for my readers?
A.      I guess the first thing I did on my path was to learn to write for children. For me, the best way was to take a class. Too many beginners, I think, skip this step. They do themselves a great disservice. Writing for children has certain rules and you need to learn them. You can break them later, but learn them first so you can break them with intention. The second thing I did was join a great critique group. Find one you click with and commit to it. The third thing was to join SCBWI and volunteer. Doing this gave me face time with editors, agents, writers and illustrators that I wouldn't have otherwise had. Your first book is often the result of "who you know" in this business. So get to know people. Be nice to everyone (except your characters).
     So my advice to your readers is- follow that path. Join SCBWI. Learn. Oh- and ALWAYS submit your manuscript for review at conferences. If you get an editor or agent, celebrate because they may help you get that book published. And if you get a fellow writer, listen closely. They will give you the advice which will get you an editor next time. Commit and expect it to take a while. Good luck!

     Must live in the continental US to win. The drawing will be held next Wednesday!
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Eric Carpenter said...

Looks like another winner from Mr. Averbeck! I'm always interested in reading about process so thank you for asking these kind of questions!

Kristi Valiant said...

I love Little Dragon's expressions and reading about the process of creating these illustrations. He's definitely kept that spontaneous quality from sketches.

Joanna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joanna said...

I too love Little Dragon's expressions! Agree with your advice about beginning with a specific class in writing for children, this can be invaluable.

Needed to add that I'm an Averbeck and Little Dragon fan and I would share with my godchildren!

apple blossom said...

Looks like a cute book I'd love to share with my nephews...

Rannah Romps said...

tiesquev101I have the perfect little boy for this book! His name is Christopher and he was adopted by my daughter and her family recently. We need him to like to read and this book would do the trick!

Stephenie said...

Thank you for explaining how the graphic were created. Little Dragon's fire is so realistic! Now I know why! My two children would love this story!