1. What were a few of your favorite books as a kid?
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble was heart breaking for a young me.
Also on my childhood bookshelf:
Mother, Mother I Feel Sick, Send For The Doctor, Quick, Quick, Quick!
Ferdinand the Bull
Georgie the Ghost
anything by Virginia Lee Burton
Caps for Sale
The Story of Ping
Five Chinese Brothers
The Man Who Lost His Head
( can you tell I liked the curious and odd? )
When I was A little older, I loved:
My Side of The Mountain
Fantastic Mr. Fox
James and the Giant Peach
and The Great Brain.
2. Why a children's book series?
Why a children’s book at all? I have been writing stories and illustrating them for over 10 years. But the spark was ignited long ago by my mother, a kindergarten teacher and master of imagination. And by my experiences as a young actor with a traveling childrens’ theater. I kid you not.
Why did it take so long? Ahh, distractions, life. Or maybe it wasn’t ready. ( read Leo, the Late Bloomer ) Getting published is everything you’ve ever heard: don’t give up, and find some luck.
A series? Well, the kind people at Viking requested it. And I am happy to oblige.
3. Why this subject –"frenemies" ?
Growing up with two sisters there were always fights—yelling, stomping around, name-calling. We lived under one roof with one bathroom and no door on my bedroom. We weren’t always civil, but we got along eventually. Really, anyone with a friend knows that sometimes misunderstandings happen.
Showing kids that tolerance and forgiveness are part of being a good friend has merit. But mostly, I like the sparks that fly with real conflict. All the jokes aside, a real friendship is at stake. When Rat and Roach miss each other, I hope you feel it.
4. What is your process for creating books? Do you write first, then illustrate, or work simultaneously?
For me, the story and the pictures have to work at the same time.
The story affects what is illustrated and vice versa. The two are in a relay race, passing the baton back and forth. But in the end the story wins. A great picture can stand on it’s own and take the lead but it is always in support of the story.
I’ve had plenty of illustrations hit the trash that I thought were fantastic and funny when they didn’t feel real to the story anymore.
I sketch in a notebook, both very rough doodles and phrases and then move into working on the computer. Both the story and illustrations are collages that are built over time.
5. Who are a few children's book illustrators or authors you admire?
Oh my, see the list from question one. But here are some more.
Ian Falconer, Mo Willems, Antoinette Portis, Dan Yaccarino. Oliver Jeffers, When people say, oh, there’s no good kids books out there, they aren’t looking hard enough.
6. Where do you get ideas from?
Where do any ideas come from? From overlapping experiences with memories and wondering “what if?”
Just walking about and listening and watching. Soaking it all in until an idea starts to create steam in your brain. But then it needs time to brew. I don’t know how many times I’ve thought a passage or picture was done and when I left it alone for a while, a better version revealed itself.
7. Why these two pests as characters?
You know that first rule of writing “write what your know”? Well, having lived in New York City for 10 years in the East Village, I know pests. They seemed like perfect physical opposites in the cannon of odd couple archetypes. Felix and Oscar are the most recognizable, but earlier were Laurel and Hardy, Lucy and Desi, and then came Laverne and Shirley with Lenny and Squiggy. That show was a double whammy. I just dated myself. Oh and of course, Bert and Ernie.
Aside from the physical types, pests from the sewers are ripe for smelly, messy fun. I want to make a book for kids who like messes.
8. How did you decide on the look of the illustrations?
The feel of the illustrations came naturally from the place of the story—the texture of the city. Street art has been in galleries and pop culture for decades, but I haven’t seen it used in kids picture books as much. It just seemed right for the story.
I also have a love for older styles of illustration, when color palettes were limited by printing and designers like Paul Rand and Leo Lionni, and Ezra Jack Keats brought a fresh, modern perspective to picture books.
9. Who helped along the way?
Many people. My mom. She is my first and most eager editor, waiting at her front door, red pen in hand, whenever I returned home for a visit. My good friend, Julian Fleisher, became a great sounding board for the story and most importantly made the introduction to my agent. And then, of course, there’s great, great team at Viking Books.
10. What can we look forward to in the second book
Rat and Roach Rock On! is in the works. The internet tells me it will be out in February 2013, day before my birthday. For those who wonder if Roach gets to sing in Rat's band, the title may give you a clue.
11. There's a pretty fun series of video trailer's that you've put together to accompany the book, tell us about that.
Oh, the guys at Red Bucket Films helped me with those.
I’ve seen a lot of book trailers that animate their illustrations, flash-style, which is cool, but I though in keeping with the Rat and Roach style, it might be fun to try using stickers that you might find on the street. Also, I don’t know flash. I was watching some early Pink Panther cartoons at the time. They are great! Using no words, they tell a story.
12. Any thoughts on making a digital version like for an iPad?
I love the tactile quality of a book. But yes, since Rat and Roach are already created digitally, it would be natural leap — just give me 6 more hours in the day! Anyone want to help?
13. How does writing a picture book inform the work you do as a designer and creative director?
The writing that goes into a picture book has to be concise, rhythmic, and paced just so. The exact amount of exactly the right words need to be there, and not one syllable more. And it has to convey a story and emotion that kids and adults connect to. I write and design lot of brand stories in my day job. Connecting with an audience in the most emotional and concise way seems to be a similar to writing picture books. Although, I usually don’t tell fart jokes.
— August 16th, 2012