Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Writer's Wednesday

Author and illustrator, David Derrick is my guest today and shares his thoughts and experiences in the following Q & A.
I had the pleasure of meeting David and hearing him read from another of his delightful books, "Animals Don't So I Won't."  I'm sure you'll enjoy getting to know him as much as I did.

David's newest children's book, "I'm the Scariest Thing in the Jungle" has just been released. 
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer/illustrator and when did you finish your first book?
I've always wanted to be a story teller.  Animation and movies came first.  At CalArts I made three short films, they were an incredible amount of work all hand drawn at 24 frames per second.  When I got hired at Dreamworks, I missed telling short visual stories and that's when I turned to children's books.  When you work in feature animation you work along with many other artists to create a story and work of art that is greater than anyone of you could produce alone.  It's really neat to be part of something like that and yet I still had an incredible itch to be my own author and artist.  I work as a story artist in animation drawing and visualizing the story and one of the most famous story artists was Bill Peet who was also a prolific author/illustrator.  Inspired by Bill Peet's work and wanting to continue to tell stories in a short format, I began writing and illustrating my own picture books.  The first to be published was Kadogo the Next Big Thing.  It is the story of a tiny tick tick bird who befriends the largest animal on the savanna, Tembo the elephant.  The story was part of an anthology published by Dark Horse Comics.
What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing/illustrating your book?
I learned that the book world is ridiculously slow and that I don’t have a lot of patience. Agents, editors take weeks even months to give notes. In animation and film making notes are immediate and turnaround is fast. In my experience getting notes back in two weeks is quick and a month the average.

How did you choose the genre you write in?
I only write or draw what I want to see, that’s my big rule. Someone might approach me with a killer idea but if it’s not something I’d like to draw or that I’d like to see I pass. More often than not I’m inspired by nature.

How does your career as a writer/illustrator influence other areas of your life and vice versa?
Stories with resonance even if they are comedic come from true experiences. I search for that inspiration in my life and my biggest inspiration is nature and my family. So I mash up my two inspirations by dragging my family all over the place to see wildlife, whether it’s bears, whales or sequoias. I always keep a notebook or a sketch book handy.  So whether I’m at church, on the train or hanging out if inspiration strikes I start scribbling away like mad.

What do you do when you are not writing?
Draw. Draw. Draw. Picture books are a visual medium much like short films. “Show it first” is a common mantra in animation and film and I feel it’s applicable in picture books.

What other books have you written and published?

Briefly, what's your book about?    I’m the Scariest Thing in the Jungle is the simple conflict between two alpha predators who think they are the scariest thing in the jungle. But as their boasting reaches new heights they both discover something that’s even scarier than them.

Is your book based on real life experiences or is it pure imagination? It’s based on the real life experiences of kids boasting and bragging but thrown into the lush jungles of India.

How did you come up with the title? The title came out of the creative process of boarding out the book and writing.

What led you to write the book? 
Tigers, I confess, have always been my favorite animal since I was a kid. I’ve wanted to make a fun story about a tiger for some time.
What would you like readers to take from it?
A smile.

What are your current/future projects?
I’m working on a prehistoric book which will come out next year, I’ve got a food based book and a monster book which are in consideration at a couple places right now and I’m working on a sequel to Sid the Squid.

What motivates you?
Other artists and authors and my family.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
From life, libraries and lizards.  I've actually been drawing a lot of lizards lately for my prehistoric book.  Honestly it depends on the story. I spend a lot of time at museums and reading books, for others I've gone to the zoo or national park.
What is your writing/illustrating process? Do you follow a regular routine?
I usually draw a character and an iconic image which may or may not make it into the book and I use that as a spring board into writing and illustrating the book. The writing for me is the icing, the illustration the heavy lifting. But it all boils down to discipline, you’ve got to sit down and torture yourself until you come up with a good story and good illustrations.

How long does it take you to complete a book?
How long does it take for an editor to read my book and give me notes? I'm usually pretty frustrated at how slow I'm forced to go.  The Scariest Thing in the Jungle had been kicked around for a while and held hostage at various places, for years even.  But the actual execution of the book took about four months to finish.  If I didn't have a full time job at DreamWorks, a picture book wouldn't take more than a month of solid work.

What challenges did your face in getting your first book published?
The biggest challenge was getting someone to read a dummy. It was surprisingly hard to find readers and people who could be soundboards for my ideas. It’s a weird chicken and egg thing. People don’t want to waste their time on an unproven commodity but you can’t be proven unless you convinced someone to waste their time and read your dummy or manuscript. For my first book, Kadogo, I skipped the agent, editor route and approached with my fellow colleagues the president of Dark Horse who at the time was giving a lecture at DreamWorks. It was a bit bold but it worked. He allowed us to send our work directly to him and his editor and after a little back and forth he wanted to do business with us.

Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you love to work with?
I never intended to go back to any of my stories but I recently received enough fan mail and nudging from my publisher that I agreed to make a sequel to Sid the Squid. I also have a really fun animated book app for Sid the Squid coming out soon.

If you had to do it all over, is there any aspect of your writing or getting published that you would change?
If you listen to too many people, take too many notes in an attempt to please them you run the risk of losing whatever artistic edge you as a person have. Early on I yielded too much to the opinions of others and have found that I’m more successful when I’m polite but firm in my vision and artistic objectives.

What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
Oh man this is hard, I’ve got a big list. Bill Peet, Tony Fucile & Wallace Tripp have influenced the tone and style of my work (two of the three actually worked in animation). Wallace Tripp has an incredible ability to caricature wildlife with expressive pen drawings that I’ve always been drawn to. Peter Brown, Suzy Lee, Federico Bertolucci, Chris Van Dusen, Dan Krall, David Wiesner, Mo Willems have all inspired me with their unique and individual stories and illustrations.
What do you think makes a good story?
Good characters. I’ve always liked the mantra “Simple plot complex characters”. In the case of picture books a great set up, a joke (usually told a few different ways) and then a fun surprise or reversal at the end.

What are the most important elements of good writing? What tools do you believe are must-haves for writers?
Elements and formulas are good but I try and avoid them. If there were a perfect formula there wouldn’t be bad movies or boring books. You have to find what you want to write about and hope other’s will enjoy it too. The most valuable tools are persistence, thick skin and dedication.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
When I hit a wall creatively I do something else. I juggle a lot of projects at once. When I hit a wall I work on another project, which is where I often get my eureka moment to break through the wall. Don’t waste time banging against a wall.
Talk about revising for upcoming writers.
As a story artist in animation I re-board scenes up to six or seven times.  Sometimes we call it story reboarding. Nothing is precious. The story is found and refined and ultimately finished in the revision process.
What's one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you'd like to pass on to readers and writers?
Publishing is changing before our eyes.  Gate keepers are disappearing and traditional methods are being challenged and changed.  This, I believe and hope, is actually a boon for the creators and story tellers.  We will have less restrictions, it will be more about the artist and less about the middle man. Don't let one story define you.  I believe the most important thing is to keep creating.


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