My lack of focus is truly astounding. Whether I'm writing or drawing, I'll often . . . OOOOOOOOO, CAKE!!
Okay, what was I saying? Oh, right–"focus." As a children's book creator, my lack of it has been both a blessing and a curse.
For every book that I write and/or illustrate I'd guess I come up with another dozen stories–and for me, that's the most important part of the whole process. By writing stories about whatever odd things pop into my head, I'm able to take those germs of ideas and then try to mold them into a story that's (hopefully) clever, offers some insight, and engages a reader. If a story is going well, I will take it to its logical (or even better its illogical) conclusion, andthen I'll refine the story. With any luck, it'll become a full-fledged book printed on paper and everything. Other times I will simply have an image in my head–a visual that I find compelling– and I will craft a story based upon that image, weaving it into a tale.
I may be excited beyond belief about a story today, and when I read it tomorrow, I wonder, What on earth made me think it was working? It then goes into a antique trunk that I have converted into a filing cabinet that houses every manuscript of mine–the good ones, the bad ones, the incomplete ones, the failures, the potential successes. This old trunk is made of extremely old and dry wood, so if there's a fire in the studio, it and the contents would be sure to fuel a three-day inferno.
My most recent book for Random House, The Donut Chef, is one of those stories that came to me through twists and turns and happy accidents. I was seeing how more and more gourmet bagel shops were creating products that tasted more like overly sweet donuts. At best, a true bagel is dusted with sea salt and a fist full of poppy seeds, but slathered in mango curry and peppered with toasted cashew halves? No, thanks!
I found the mental image of all these odd donuts and bagels compelling enough to doodle some thumbnails showing what a bagel chef might look like, how a donut chef would appear, even a street corner where their shops might be established. The story was written and I thought it quite fun–then I realized the only word that rhymed with “bagel” was “finagle.” Hey, I'm all for imposing artistic constraints to your writing through the use of rhyme, but at least give me some options!
My editor, Diane, wondered if the story could take the non-bagel route, so I rewrote the plot in a more donut-centric fashion,and I think it worked. Ultimately, 'The Donut Chef' tries to convey a very simple concept to kids: that sometimes less really is more.
Ironically, that parable can be viewed as an allegory for the modern-day children's picture book as well. In an age when writers, illustrators, publishers, and booksellers are faced with the challenges of a world where video game explosions, blasts, and over-the-top sound effects seem so effortlessly capable of capturing the attention of kids, competing with that sort of baroqueness is an uphill battle. But by accepting and building upon the more quiet and poetic aspects of a children's picture book, it's my greatest hope that these simple words and images really do more to inspire, nurture, and encourage a child's imagination.
All the complimentary book reviews in the world are one thing, but they pale in comparison to one letter from a kid who claimed your book inspired them to read.
Less is indeed more.