When I was a kid, I could not get enough of creepy, scary things. So, when I saw the cover of Carlyn Beccia
's new MONSTROUS, I got all excited! Turns out there's a little more to it than just interesting beasties. She stopped by to talk about it...
e: Hi Carlyn! What inspired the story, Monstrous?
Fear was my main inspiration for Monstrous
, or more specifically, the science of fear. It’s been said many times that authors write the books they wish they had when they were children. I was definitely an anxious child and according to recent studies, anxieties in children are on the rise. I am not sure why this is happening but it could be because we live in a culture of fear where in many situations, our perception of danger is outweighing the real threat of danger.
That’s where monsters come in….I view every monster’s rise in popularity through history as a mirror to these cultural fears. For example, vampires became popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth century because they reflected a fear of death and disease and a misunderstanding of how diseases were spread. At the time, wasting sicknesses like tuberculosis were confused with vampirism which led to deviant burials. (Burials in which corpses were contained in the grave with boulders, chains, and rocks in their mouths to prevent feeding on the living.) In the Romantic period, Frankenstein became the first sci-fi novel because it reflected a fear of science being stronger than man. Electricity had been discovered and after Galvani’s experiments, many people wondered if electricity could give life. And if it could…. what would be the consequence of men playing god? In the post-war era, Godzilla reflected a fear of self-destruction through nuclear weapons. And currently, as our world becomes more mobile, zombies have a xenophobic bent and reflect a fear of a pandemic taking out the population.
Werewolf (and dogs) just need to be understood.
In all these examples, knowledge can dispel fear. I want to give kids of all ages the tools to use science (and logic) to control their fears in a way I could not master as a child. It may seem fatuous to educate kids on how to communicate with werewolves but there actually might be a time in their lives where they come across a very angry dog. My hope is that by giving them the tools to survive monsters both real and imaginary, they feel more empowered.
e: Fascinating! What was your creative process/medium for Monstrous, can you walk us through it?
The third image was made by my kids. I asked them to throw paint on a rumpled paper towel. I like to put my kids to work.
I used a three-step process when creating the art for Monstrous
. First, I sketched out a very rough idea of a spread. Second, I used Adobe Illustrator to put together shapes, patterns, and colors in the same way that you would move around cut paper. Third, I scanned in my own mixed media textures and layered them on top of the flat vector art to create more depth. (I did not do the last step with the infographics because I wanted to keep those legible.)
My very messy desk. I sketch on an Ipad pro and paint on a Wacom pressure sensitive monitor. The audio equipment is for my podcast interviews.
What was your path to publication?
I believe success happens when luck, perseverance and talent intersect. That intersection occurred for me when I was working on my first book 16 years ago. At the time, I was doing the corporate slog in a well-known advertising firm. It felt soulless and I needed a new direction. I blindly submitted some circus illustration samples to Houghton Mifflin and waited back for another rejection letter to add to my growing stack. The editor at HM, Ann Rider, saw my circus illustrations and asked if I could write a story around them. Of course, my first reaction was to jump around my office like an overjoyed crack addict (I was doing anti-drug ads at the time).
My second reaction was - oh, I am not a writer. I can’t possibly write books. I just wanted to illustrate them. So, I sent an email back saying just that.
Ann’s response was - ok, so why don’t you TRY to be a writer.
And so, I did. I tried to be this thing I was not.
I like to tell that story to kids at school visits because I often hear kids (including my own) say things like “I am not a great basketball player. or I am not an artist.” And I want them to say I am not that thing YET.
Important real world survival skills for blood loss and vampires.
e: Fabulous! Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of Monstrous? (Although, that was a pretty good one!)
My sense of humor can be a bit twisted. About 5 years ago, I went through a serious illness and had to have a blood transfusion. When I was in the hospital, I was watching The Vampire Diaries
and I kept thinking - there is NO WAY anyone could have that much blood loss and survive. I remember wondering why is the vampire always biting the neck? Why not bite the femoral artery instead? And what if a vampire bites you…. how much time do you have before you are dead? Those thoughts became a spread on how to survive blood loss from vampires (or other calamities). My gallows sense of humor is what leads me to come up with many ideas for my books.
e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
I love this question! And I am going to get geeky when answering it because that is what I do…
Due to our brain’s neuroplasticity, technology is changing our brains. EEG scans are showing changes in attention span, memory, and sleep cycles. One study showed frequent Internet users have twice as much activity in the prefrontal cortex compared to sporadic users.
In other words, in our fast paced, technology driven world, our brains are evolving in a way where attention spans are getting shorter and shorter and even the way we learn is changing. This is why I am drawn to infographics. Infographics give me a way to teach a science concept through pictures in a way that is just as fast paced as my reader’s interactive electronic devices.
On this page, I ask the reader to guess which King Kong traits are factual and which are not before turning the page.
So, I think the art that strikes at the heart is the art that is a fast-paced boomerang and not a blunt instrument. It’s the kind of art that not only communicates quickly but gets the reader to throw it back at you and opens a dialogue. For me, art IS communication. It asks the reader not to just look at the art but to PARTICIPATE with that art. I see the future of art going in this direction where it becomes more and more interactive and less one-sided.
e: Ooo, great answer! How do you advertise yourself (or do you)?
When it comes to advertising, I think everyone has their strength. Some people can charm people at book signings. (I have not done one in four years). Others are social media mavens. (This causes me heart palpitations). I like radio, podcast and tv interviews because I prefer one on one interactions and I like to have philosophical conversations with people. I think the most important thing is to find the type of advertising that fits your personality and focus on that area.
Advertising is a struggle for me because I am very high on the introverted scale. I can’t tell you how many times friends have said to me - “I thought you were such a snob when I first met you.” (sigh) Introverts don’t open up easily. So, this past year I realized that if I did not advertise….my books would never get into the hands of my readers. It’s advertise or die now. With that said, I am going to recommend some “homework” for my fellow introverts who have to playact the extrovert:
Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People by Vanessa van Edwards
If you are curious about behavioral science, you won’t be able to put this book down. You will learn about microexpressions and how to read them. (Microexpressions are the subtle body language we use to reveal are true intentions.) van Edwards has a human lab where she does thought experiments on subjects like; why you should sit in certain spots in a meeting, how to flirt in a way that won’t creep people out (this is important with book signings) or how to have conversations that form more meaningful connections with people.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
I am recommending this book because I think it is important for introverts to understand their strengths. I realize that I am never going to be the life of the party or miss popularity with a million followers. And I think it is important for every introvert to be ok with their quietness. So, if you’re an introvert, avenues like social media are never going to be your strength but you will probably be able to give a great presentation. (Contrary to popular belief, introvert often excel at public speaking.)
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell
This is such a strange combination of fascinating stories throughout history combined with behavioral science. It lets you dive into the minds of despots, serial killers, and poets and understand why we invest in the wrong people and misunderstand the right ones.
And of course, the classic - How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
This should be required reading in every high school. We give kids all these STEM, history and language arts tools but the most important decisions they make in life are the relationships they form and keep. And I think if you are an awkward person like myself, this book teaches you how to communicate with people in a way that is both vulnerable and powerful. No one succeeds without friends. And most authors already know this - when it comes to advertising, your friends are your biggest fans.
My last bit of advice is that if you know you are not great at advertising…. hire a publicist. Your in-house publicist can only do so much and it is unfair to put the burden on that one person. It might mean that you don’t get to take that vacation, but investing in your passion is one of the most rewarding investments you can make. I used Jennifer Musico
and she has got me tons of publicity…. but only the kind I wanted to do.
What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
Variety. Every morning I wake up and get to decide if I am going to do research, art, design, or write. The challenge with that is I am often pulled in ten different directions. Throw a sick child on that pile and nothing is getting done.
Empathy begins with not eating each other….even if you become a zombie.
e: Is there something in particular about Monstrous you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
Empathy. On the surface, Monstrous
breaks down the origins of the monsters we fear and gives readers the science to combat those fears. On a deeper level, I want readers to understand that conquering fear also leads to greater empathy. As human beings, we act out in horrible ways when we hold fear in our hearts. That’s when man truly becomes the monster.
There are a lot of monsters big and small to fear. My hope is that by asking readers to perform vivisections on those fears, it will not only help them become a stronger and better version of themselves, but also see the better version of those around them. I know I sound preachy, but I would like to see more tolerance in the world. With so many virtual connections and fewer REAL connections, I worry that our isolation is increasing our fears and making us less tolerant and accepting of others.
This is my very messy reading corner of my office. The weight of the books is starting to warp the floor. It is so worth it.
e: So true. What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
I am working on a more inspirational book called TEN AT TEN. It’s ten famous people told from the standpoint of their ten-year-old selves.
When I am done, I really hope to do another book on the science behind all the beasts that got cut from the book - dragons, mermaids, unicorns, witches, wizards etc. I feel I still have a lot of “heart art” to give back on this subject. I spent 5 years on Monstrous
and I could have easily spent another five.
e: Sounds awesome! I hope you'll visit again and share those too!