I think being exposed to different cultures helps you think a little more openly, differently, outside your own culture a bit. Growing up overseas helped me to be a little less focused on my own culture (or at least, less apt to assume it was always right) and look at life through different eyes. That’s very helpful when stepping into the shoes of the characters in your books who may think differently from you. It was very helpful in writing Caitlin in Mockingbird, a girl on the autism spectrum, for example.
Moving around makes you flexible and helps you deal with the curves life throws you, which is very helpful in dealing with rejections from editors! And seriously, being flexible is helpful when it comes to revisions in your work or last minute changes in a school visit or even travel snafus on your way to a presentation—once I hit the road north, after my Charlottesville flight was cancelled, booking it for the DC area, all while awaiting a call from the publisher to tell me which airport to go to!
How has reading books written by diverse, international authors impacted you as a writer?
I always say that travel is the best education. Well, reading books from other countries is like traveling. You get a feel for the culture, the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of people from another land. That’s a gift. At the very least, it helps you think a bit more multi-dimensionally. Authors are always asking themselves, “What if?” especially when we get stuck. I ask myself “What if?” a lot more because my mind is open to other ways of thinking.
For example, Australian Boori Monty Pryor’s picture book, Shake a Leg, has multiple stories within the story which relate to the overall theme. Usually, as authors, we think you can’t have multiple stories in a picture book because it’s too confusing for kids, but it’s reflective of Pryor’s culture and effectively done in his work.
What do you hope children reading your books will gain after spending time with your characters, especially those who've overcome difficult circumstances?
Hope. That’s the main thing. Whatever they’re going through in their own lives, I want them to see that there’s always hope, there’s always a way to deal with whatever the problem is, and they’re always people to help. I’d also like any reader to come away with empathy for the character and the character's situation.
One of the things I love about reading novels is learning something painlessly. So in my work, I do like to put in information--about the Middle Ages as in The Badger Knight, for example--information that’s important to the story, not gratuitous, but the kind that's interesting, too.
And I hope that I can keep readers entertained! Reading a book should be engaging and, hopefully, fun. You definitely want your reader to come away with the feeling that it was worth it.
How has participating in and being in attendance at the Virginia Festival of the Book helped you grow as a writer?
There are so many wonderful opportunities VABook offers. You can meet fellow authors, make connections, maybe even start a writing group. You might submit the first page of your manuscript for a panel critique. You could meet an agent or editor and find out exactly what they’re looking for. Just attending a session is inspiring and I find myself scribbling notes—either new story ideas or thoughts on my works in progress. And moderating panels has shown me how different authors write, how they present, and what they know about the industry, all of which is enlightening.
What do you enjoy about Charlottesville's writing community?
It’s a rich, varied, welcoming community of writers. There’s WriterHouse which offers so many kinds of classes in all different genres, literary events like the Virginia Festival of the Book, bookstores to browse in and run into authors, and some kind of electricity in the air that buzzes with inspiration. And my own writing group is here! What’s not to love?
Kathryn Erskine, the daughter of a diplomat, spent her childhood years in the Netherlands, Israel, South Africa, Scotland, Africa, Canada, and the United States. She was a lawyer for 15 years before she figured out that she really wanted to be a writer when she grew up! Kathryn still travels a fair amount, giving speeches, visiting schools, and doing research. Kathryn's books have won numerous awards, including the 2010 National Book Award for Young People's Literature for her middle-grade novel, MOCKINGBIRD (Philomel, 2010). Her latest middle-grade THE BADGER KNIGHT (Scholastic Press, 2014), set in Medieval Scotland and England, is no exception. It was chosen to be among the Children's Book Committee of Bank Street College of Education's list of 2015 Best Books. Her forthcoming picture book, MAMA AFRICA, about Miriam Makeba, South African civil rights activist and singer, will be illustrated by Charley Palmer (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). She can be found online at kathrynerskine.com.
I always tap into the kid in me when approaching any assignment because that's the part of me that contains all my enthusiasm for making art. As a result, I tend to incorporate a certain degree of humor or fun into most of my work. So it ends up just being a matter of slightly changing my mindset when switching between the two. I actually had to make an effort to develop a slightly different drawing style to accommodate assignments where humor or whimsy simply would not be appropriate. In general, I feel much more free when doing children's illustration. For kids everything is new, so literally anything can happen.
Tell us about your process, your style of medium for children's illustration?
I usually start out by sketching various different ideas in a small sketchbook until I get something I like. From there, I scan the sketch into Photoshop where I will start refining things a bit, usually making small changes to the composition such as correcting/exaggerating the proportions, or moving various elements around to get things just right. Digital tools really help speed up this process and give me much more flexibility to try things I might not have time for otherwise. Once I have things the way I want them, I'll print the image and trace it onto bristol board using a Huion LED light pad.
I find that there is a lot of energy in a sketch that can be difficult to replicate in a finished drawing, and this way helps me to preserve some of that. After tracing the drawing (making subtle refinements as I go) I go over the pencil work in ink using a nib pen and India ink. I then scan the completed ink drawing back into Photoshop and add all the color digitally. I usually make a point to add some natural textures to my digital coloring in order to give the finished piece a more traditional feel.
What impact has Charlottesville's writing and art community had on your work?
As a freelancer who works mostly from home, I don't often get the chance to interact with other artists or writers, so I find being part of a group makes a big difference. I've been meeting with the local Urban Sketchers group for a couple of years now and that has had a big impact on my drawing skills. SCBWI has been helpful in introducing me to local writers, which I'm grateful for since I'm not as experienced with writing professionally.
What children's project are you working on?
I'm currently illustrating a book for Brandylane Publishers called Short Pump Bump, written by Angie Miles. It's a collection of fun poems that focus on some of the people and places that help give Richmond its character.
I've also got a couple of graphic novels for children that I'm developing, one with a Halloween theme, and the other about a boy who gains super powers, called Kid Hercules.
How has participating in and/or being in attendance at the Virginia Festival of the Book helped you grow as a storyteller?
This will actually be my first year participating in the Festival of the Book while seeing myself as a storyteller. I've already got several events I'm planning to attend, including a couple at Telegraph Art & Comics.
Scott DuBar first started drawing as a small child and never stopped. Scott’s humorous illustrations appear regularly in several magazines across the country. He is a versatile artist whose designs and illustrations have garnered numerous awards and recognition. His subject matter ranges from the whimsical to the socially relevant. He currently works out of his home in Charlottesville, Va where he lives with his beautiful wife, Vidya. Scott can be found online at scottdubar.com and Tweeting @baliscott.