Amanda Vacharat: Artist, Author &
Member of Kelly Dyksterhouse's Kidlit Crew
Thank you for inviting me.
The pleasure is all mine! Do tell. How did you find your way into the kidlit world, and why do you love it?
Oh, there are so many pathways that all led here! But, the simplest (shortest) one is that I encountered M.T. Anderson’s YA Novel FEED, and it opened my eyes to the opportunities there are in kidlit to be weird and genre-less and playful, even if darkly so. I love that it gives us (the authors) that freedom to write for readers that don’t have formed expectations of what literature should or shouldn’t look like yet. We get to show them how expansive that definition could be.
FEED also helped me see that kidlit can focus on asking questions rather than giving answers. Because you are engaging with readers who are encountering concepts and themes, often for the first time, they are open to questioning the ideas behind them, and perhaps come up with their own thoughts and opinions in response. I like to think I’m creating those types of books—the kind that asks the reader questions, and asks the reader to ask questions—but even if not, I’m glad I get to try.
Ah, well, thanks for thinking it’s cool! I have a science and tech background, and I’m a programmer for my day job, so tech stuff is rather constantly on my mind. But science and tech can get a bit serious (*cough*, AI), and I think when you get too serious in storytelling, you can lose people; they will check out before they understand. Perhaps that assumption is wrong, but to me, it seems as if when stories get too serious, the audience starts to become more restricted to the people who already agree or understand. I don’t know. Maybe I just like making things a little playfully weird!
Can you give us an example, please, of something whimsical you're working on?
An example: I’m currently revising a YA novel about government-led psychiatric experimentation, which has some borderline silly and unrealistic locations and settings. And often my illustrations have cute animals doing silly things with industrial or technological props. Actually, I’ve been wondering lately whether “whimsical” is the right word for this kind of story; if instead I should be saying “absurdity.” But there’s overlap there, right? Both are breaks from logic or reality, a sense of being off kilter, though with slightly different overtones.
It sounds like your books will be wonderfully weird, absurdly abstract, and fantastical fictional yarns that young adults will love to read!
Haha! Thanks, I think.
On the simplest level, I’m writing books which feature characters who have one Asian parent, and characters who are autistic, whether or not they are labeled as such. There weren’t characters like this in books or movies growing up, and we’ve come a long way with representation, but we aren’t there yet. Having books with these characters would have helped validate my own ways of thinking and existing, and I hope seeing characters like this will resonate with others still missing themselves in current media.
On a more complex level, many of my characters are a little hopelessly in love with the world. They also tend to want to restore relationships and find their place with friends or family. I’ve been told that desire is quintessentially middle grade (and not YA), but I disagree, partially because of my own experience as a teen, and even adult. And so I’ve stubbornly kept on with it.
Those are themes that resonate with folks of all ages, I think. As an illustrator, what are your favorite subjects to draw, and why.
Oh dear, illustrating. Even though at the very start of this journey, I wanted to be an illustrator, I’ve gotten totally derailed by writing (see answer number 1.) I’m just now getting back into illustrating, and at the very beginning of defining what types of subjects I want to focus on. What’s remained consistent for me is I love drawing almost any types of animals. I’ve always loved animals. Almost all creatures. Except stink bugs.
I'm with you on the stink bugs! Anything else you like to draw?
I once had an art director question why so many of my illustrations feature children who are afraid. So, I guess I like drawing terrified kids? I’m not sure what this says about me.
Haha! Not sure about that one. Last questions: What medium do you enjoy using in your art? And what's your process like?
My go-to medium used to be pencil with scanned wallpaper and photographs, which I would paint over digitally. That process was extremely time consuming, so lately I’ve been playing around with what I can manage digitally to recreate the same sort of look.
Well, Amanda. This has proved to be a most interesting interview, and I foresee some very unique illustrated young-adult novels on the horizon--those inside a genre created by you!
Thanks so much for stopping by. Pop in anytime!