Author Spotlight

Mark Crilley was raised in Detroit, Michigan. After graduating from Kalamazoo College, he traveled to Taiwan and Japan, where he taught English for nearly five years. It was during his stay in Japan that he created Akiko.

In 1998, Mark Crilley was named to Entertainment Weekly’s “It List” of the 100 most creative people in entertainment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I had to draw pictures for a living or I’d go crazy . . .

I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to be an author or illustrator until I was 28 years old! I taught English in Taiwan and Japan for five years—and seriously considered spending the rest of my life overseas—before finally realizing I had to draw pictures for a living or I’d go crazy. At first I was writing mainly just to give myself something to illustrate. Only recently have I come to see myself as a ‘real’ author.

Ever since I discovered that there were people out there willing to pay me to make up stories and draw strange creatures all day, I knew there was no turning back. “This,” I thought, “is the job for me.” And I still think that, every day.

He taught me to push myself harder, to hold myself to a higher standard . . .

I was very fortunate to be among the last people to study under David Small, the 2001 Caldecott Medal Winner, back when he was still an art instructor at Kalamazoo College. In fact, I was there just after he’d completed Imogene’s Antlers and saw all the original artwork. David definitely was a huge influence on me as an illustrator. He taught me to push myself harder, to hold myself to a higher standard.

When I was growing up, all my favorite writers and illustrators could be found in one place: Mad magazine! Looking back, I think you can definitely see the influence. Still, my mother did make sure that I saw all the great children’s books, and I recall being especially wild about a lavishly illustrated edition of Pinocchio.

I’m one of those writers who believes in total spontaneity . . .

Just sit down and make it up as you go along. Of course, this doesn’t really fly in the world of children’s books, so I do have to plan my books out as best I can. Still, I think a lot of the really good ideas come unexpectedly, popping up out of the blue when you’re halfway through the story.

How can I make this story different?

I start with a general sense of the sort of story I want to tell—a journey into a mystical land, for instance—then ask myself the questions I need to answer to write the story: Who is the main character? How does he/she get to the mystical land? How can I make this story different from all the other stories that follow this pattern? The real trick is to get beyond the obvious ideas to the truly unusual ideas. This requires time, thought, and lots of long walks.

Akiko is mainly based on Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz and Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

I wrote the first story while living in Japan, so I chose a common Japanese name—Akiko—as the name for my “Alice.”

Akiko has a knack for getting along with pretty much anyone, so I think the two of us would get on swimmingly. She would probably describe me as “a pretty nice guy, but he needs to get out more often.”

I hope there is a quiet theme in the Akiko novels about the important role a child plays . . .

I initially felt I was writing for a general audience: the sort of men, women, and children who read Calvin and Hobbes. Now I’ve read enough interviews with other children’s authors to realize we all think we’re writing for a general audience.

Truthfully, I don’t think too much about the age of the reader, more about the sort of reader I’m trying to reach: someone who likes imagining other worlds, going on adventures, laughing on one page and being frightened on the next.

I think there’s a natural “all ages groove” that writers can get into, and before long you’re doing it without even thinking.

Some days I’m convinced my books have no message whatsoever and are simply pure fluff from start to finish! Still, I hope there is a quiet theme in the Akiko novels about the important role a child plays in the world, and how, in many instances, a little kid has more sense than the adults surrounding her.

PRAISE

AKIKO ON THE PLANET SMOO
“[A] stylish debut.”—Publishers Weekly

“The action is fast-paced and nicely illustrated . . . and Crilley’s easy-reading, conversational style is appealing.”—Booklist