Oh my goodness! I’m back on my blog! But what in the world have I been doing?!?
In the last few months, Katherine Roy has: (TRUE/FALSE)
- Talked to hundreds of students about her drawings for The Expeditioners book series. (T/F)
- Watched several great white sharks swim around and under her while sitting in a tiny boat. (T/F)
- Mapped all possible escape routes from her apartment in the event of a zombie apocalypse. (T/F)
- Spent 60+ hours a week drawing a book about an ancient fish with a face full of teeth. (T/F)
Answers(s): ALL TRUE!
Which all brings us to the now. Thanks to an invitation from the gorgeous and ever-talented Mizz Bethany Barton (This Monster Needs A Haircut & This Monster Cannot Wait!), I’ve been invited to participate in the coolest of cool things: an Illustrator Blog Tour!! Bethany tagged me as the next “It” to answer questions about my book projects and process, and I’m very grateful for this excuse to share more about what I do and why I do it. Thank you, Bethany! Now on to her questions:
1) What is the working title of your next book?
I have several books coming out in the next 18 months, including Anthony Aveni’s BURIED BENEATH US (November 2013) and the second book in THE EXPEDITONERS series by S. S. Taylor. But for this interview I’ll focus on the first book that I’ve both illustrated and written, called NEIGHBORHOOD SHARKS: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands, coming in Fall 2014. I am deliriously excited about this book—sharks are the most amazing creatures!
2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
Simon Boughton, my editor/publisher over at Macmillan, kicked off the initial prompt that led to the shark book. During my first meeting with Simon in November 2010, I happened to mention that I’d lived aboard a tall ship (The Adventuress) as a deckhand/environmental educator for a season and loved it. Then in August 2011 Simon remembered my love of marine biology, and told me that he’d like to do a book about great white sharks. Over the next five months (while commuting from NYC to teach at the Art Institute of Boston!) I devoured all the shark research I could sink my teeth into (hooray for bad shark jokes!!), and started writing and drawing the story of a day in the life of a Farallon Islands white shark. In February 2012 we submitted the dummy, and three weeks later—on my birthday!—Simon made an offer on the book.
3) What genre does your book fall under?
Non-fiction, Science, & Picture Books; three of the best categories of ALL the categories there ever were!
4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Sickle Fin the Shark!!! He’s a REAL white shark who visits the Farallon Islands every fall, and my protagonist is based largely on him—and he’s even been in a few documentary films, too! But if the question is about HUMAN actors (yawn) then I think maybe Van Diesel would make a good shark. He’s just doing his thing, getting things done, and good at going fast. (Except, of course, that my shark is WAYYY better at swimming than Vin Diesel. And I doubt he ever gets furious.)
5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A day in the life of a great white shark—and how they do what they do (mostly swimming and eating)!
6) Who is publishing your book?
David Macaulay Studio/Roaring Brook over at Macmillan Publishing. If things proceed according to plan, SHARKS will be the first title under the Macaulay Studio imprint that David Macaulay didn’t write and draw himself. David has been mentoring me since my sophomore year at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), so it’s an extraordinary honor both personally and professionally to be a part of his team. I could easily spend the next 18 months hopping up and down with joy about it, but that would probably make it pretty hard to make new work in the meantime.
7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
It went from a pile of notes to some spreads up on the wall during September and November of 2011, and then a real draft came together by early February 2012. So, somewhere in the range of 3 to 5 months?
8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Oh man. What if I just say who I HOPE to be compared to someday? Does that work? I simply adore Steven Jenkins’s books, especially Actual Size and Living in Color. And of course all of David Macaulay’s books have had an enormous impact on my thinking over the last decade. Pretty much any illustrated non-fiction picture book that explains the way things live could share a shelf with my shark book.
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I’m fascinated by the ocean and all the amazing creatures in it, from the tiniest plankton to every apex predator (and all the known and unknown species in between!). I love to study the natural world and I love to share what I learn through my work. I’ve dreamt of having this job since being a kid myself, so, getting to work on SHARKS is really a dream come true!
I’m also deeply concerned about mankind’s inability to manage natural resources: thanks to overfishing, shipping traffic, pollution, and the insanely awful practice of shark-finning, humans kill an average of one hundred million (100,000,000!!) sharks each year, while only seven or so humans die from encounters with white sharks each year. Toasters kill WAY more than seven people a year, but not too many of us are scared of making toast. Humans just aren’t on a white shark’s menu, but their species is vital to the health of the oceans. This book gives me a way to share some of that info with kids!
10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
There’s a lot of elephant seal blood in this book, and the high density of hemoglobin makes their blood shockingly bright red. I’m not sure if that will pique or deter interest but I made my drawings as true to life as possible. Living takes life, and everything has to eat. If white sharks used grocery stores and forks, I would’ve drawn that. But they don’t.
11) Were those questions too easy for you?
WHEW! You mean I’m not done yet?! What kind of Tour is this, anyway?
12) Would you like me to give you some awesome-er questions now?
SHARK!!!! I mean, YES!!! So long as some of the answers can be about sharks.
13) At what age did you start drawing pictures & telling stories?
Super young. In kindergarten I put “Artist and Teacher” in the “What I Want To Be When I Grow Up” box, and I drew myself in front of a school. Now my job is to write and draw educational books for kids! I guess crayons are good at making permanent plans. They’re also super good for drawing sharks!!
14) When did you start making “drawing pictures and telling stories” your job? Was there a “game changing moment” which made that possible?
Selling SHARKS was the real “game changing moment” for me, but it was built on thousands and thousands of hours of work since being a freshman at RISD all those years ago. I’ve been illustrating part-time for the last several years (while working other jobs as a tour guide, a waiter, an assistant, a teacher, in retail, and at a gym, to name a few!) but it’s only been since 2012 that this has really been my full-time job.
15) If you could hug one illustrated book, picture book, and/or graphic novel and ask it to be your bride… which book would it be?
Oh man—hardest question ever! ONE book?!? Can’t I just keep dating ALL the books?!? Well a few books from my childhood come to mind: anything by Shel Silverstein, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and drawn by Jules Feiffer, and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (hence my sailing adventures!). But I don’t think I could ever be a one-book kind of girl.
16) If you didn’t make books with pictures, what other artistic medium would you be drawn to? Sculpture? Animation? Electric Cello?
My husband, Tim Stout (my most favorite human being!), gave me a violin when we got married five years ago, and I’ve finally signed up to take violin lessons this fall in NYC. So if my illustration career ever falls apart, maybe I could switch to busking in the subway? But the songs would have to all be sea-shanties about sharks and seals (obviously).
17) Imagine a kid just read your next/newest book. What’s the biggest compliment they could give it?
“SHARKS ARE SO COOL!! I WANT TO SAVE THE SHARKS! I’m going to grow up to be a responsible scientist/ lawyer/ plumber/ illustrator/ fireman/ musician/ human and tell other humans all about how cool they are too!!!”
18) What’s the biggest challenge in being an author/illustrator?
There’s often a long period of time between submitting a book for consideration and its actual publication date (in this case, about 30 months for SHARK). It also gets kind of lonely sometimes. Unless, of course, you’re on a blog tour! (LIKE RIGHT NOW! THANKS BETHANY!!)
19) What’s the best part about being an author/illustrator?
I get to read and draw all the time, and meet all sorts of different people (even shark scientists!) while doing on-location research and giving public presentations. But maybe best of all is knowing that I’m contributing to the experience of reading for so many children. Seeing photos of kids curled up with THE EXPEDITONERS has been completely amazing for me, because the illustrations in books I read as a kid will stay with me forever. Now I get to pay that experience forward to a new generation. One reader even dressed up as Kit, the main character from the series, based on the way Kit appears in my drawings!!
20) What advice, if any, would you give to the thousands of humans with drawings & stories trapped inside their heads who want your cool job too?
Keep reading, keep writing, keep drawing, keep going. In many ways it’s just a game of hours. How many hours will you put towards this? Would it still be worth if you don’t get paid? There’s [almost] no such thing as overnight success; writing and drawing are skills that take work to build just like anything else. I’ve written/drawn drafts of at least ten books that will surely never see print, not to mention the countless other book ideas that I’ve had along the way. But effort is never wasted, and each failure or flop makes you better if you’ve learned something new. I LOVE drawing, and I’ll do it for the rest of my life no matter what.
21) Is Bethany Barton your favorite person?
Uh-oh!! I already said that Tim Stout was my favorite person!! Can I have two favorite people?? Can Bethany Barton play a shark or a Muppet, and be my favorite shark-Muppet-person??