The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Dashka Slator (Plus Giveaway)
First, I have a little business to take care of. Congratulations to the winners of Penny Parker Klostermann's A COOKED-UP FAIRY TALE:
Now, it is my pleasure today to introduce you to the award winning author of Escargot - Dashka Slater. Whose newest picture book, The Antlered Ship, releases tomorrow (9/12).
Dashka Slater’s picture books have won widespread praise for their inventive language and vivid imagery. Her book Dangerously Ever After was named the 2013-14 Surrey Book of the Year based on the votes of over 12,700 elementary school students and is now being made into an animated film by Fantasiation Studios. A recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, Slater is also an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in such publications as Newsweek, Salon, The New York Times Magazine and Mother Jones. She has three books out in 2017: two picture books – Escargot and The Antlered Ship – and a YA nonfiction narrative called The 57 Bus (October 2017).
Dashka, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest book and writing.
ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
Dashka: I’ve been writing stories and poems my entire life – literally. My parents began writing them down when I was about four and there are recordings of me telling long elaborate stories from when I was about six. By then I was already keeping a notebook. None of this is particularly surprising – both my parents were writers and our home was filled with books. But having parents who write made me very aware what a precarious existence it is, and so I graduated college determined to find some kind of useful career that would support my writing habit. But when I tried to figure out what that might be, I was at a loss. Turns out, I’m kind of a one-trick pony. Luckily, I’ve been able to make my living as a writer, mostly as a journalist, for my entire adult life.
Having spent decades writing on deadline has given me very pedestrian and unfussy writing habits -- I work from 9 to 5, pretty much every day, sitting at my extraordinarily messy desk. My favorite kind of book to write is the one I haven’t started yet, which always gleams with the promise of perfection, unsullied by the actual struggle of creation.
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I hate musicals. I keep trying to like them, but I just can’t get past how weird it is for people to suddenly burst into song for no reason.
Not sure why, but not what I was expecting. Though I like musicals, there are times when that is definitely understandable. As your sixth picture book, how different is The Antlered Ship from your other books? [Firefighters in the Dark (2006), Baby Shoes (2006), Sea Serpent and Me (2008), Dangerously Ever After (2012), and Escargot (2017)].
Every picture book is different in its own way – the product both of its particular moment of inspiration and the different styles of the artists. The Antlered Ship is my first book with animal protagonists, the most adventurous, and the most philosophical. That said, it still feels very connected to my previous books, particularly the more lyrical ones. Like Dangerously Ever After, it’s a fantasy-adventure, and like The Sea Serpent and Me, it’s about the sea.
Who or what was the inspiration for The Antlered Ship?
The book began with a single image – an antlered ship. I woke with the image in my head and felt tremendously curious about what the ship was and where it was going. The first draft of the book was all about me trying to answer those questions and discovering that those questions were the major theme of the book.
I love that! What a fun way for a book to start. How hard is it to manage the promotion of three books being released in a single year?
Well, it’s a bit overwhelming at times, but the nice thing is that I’m kind of in the groove. Often promoting a book requires an awkward shift from the introspective, solitary process of writing (which I love), the very external, somewhat humiliating process of jumping up and down and yelling “Look at me! Look what I made!” (which I don’t love). I generally find book promotion mortifying and awkward and the transition from writing to promoting feels kind of dizzying. So it’s been easier, in a way, to just get into the stride of talking endlessly about myself instead of having to wrench myself repeatedly out of my hermit hole.
Being an author really does require wearing multiple hats. Do you have a favorite book? Perhaps one that was the most gratifying to write? One that means the most you or your family? Or one that tickled your funny bone the most?
Each of my books reflects something important. Escargot is based on a puppet character that I’ve spent a lot of time performing, and the interactivity makes it my all-time favorite Read Aloud.
The Sea Serpent and Me might be the most personal, particularly now that my son has left home. The Antlered Ship is the book that feels the most miraculous -- like it came straight from my unconscious to the page. I’ve always wished I could show someone my dreams. Now I have.
That makes me even more excited to read this book tomorrow! Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
Everything I write was in some way influenced by Lewis Carroll’s two Alice books, which I have read at least once a year since I was six years old.
Did you have any role/input in the Fan brothers being chosen as the illustrators?
I did. I worked closely with my editor and art director at Beach Lane and we looked at a lot of artists, trying to find the ones with the right feel. It was actually my agent who suggested the Fan Brothers, who at that point had not yet published a book. When I saw their portfolio, I knew they’d be perfect, but I frankly couldn’t have imagined they would produce work as sublime and as absolutely right as they did.
They are amazing. I fell in love with their work when I read The Night Gardener. And I got very excited about The Antlered Ship when I saw they were the illustrators. Is there something you want your readers to know about The Antlered Ship?
Just that I hope it will leave them with questions. Lots and lots of questions!
What challenges have you faced having Dangerously Ever After made into a film?
The biggest challenge has been funding. Stop motion animation is incredibly time consuming and labor intensive – each of the props, characters and sets was made by hand, and each second of animation takes hours to complete. The director and producer, Alba Garcia-Rivas, is an enormous talent, who is making a film that looks like it was animated by a major studio from the basement of her house in the Bronx. That means having to deal with crazy setbacks like a basement flood that ruined some hand-made props and sets. Julio Garay, the lead animator, has to animate in the nude because it gets so hot under the lights. Their dedication, innovation, and creativity is so inspiring to me!
I don't know much about animators, but I did not expect that particular tidbit. What a great opportunity though. What has been the most frustrating aspect or period of time as a children’s writer for you? Any advice for aspiring or struggling authors?
The advice I always give my students is: be persistent but not too persistent. It’s important to finish things and to keep revising them until they are as good as they can be. But particularly when you start out, you’re growing so fast as a writer that you don’t want to be stuck working on your first book forever. Move on and write new books, try new things – your first idea is unlikely to be your best one.
Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I never talk about what I’m working on. But I’ll be sure to let you know when it’s finished!
Thank you, Dashka for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.
Be sure to comment on this post or this Friday's #PPBF review to be entered in a giveaway of The Antlered Ship, courtesy of Beach Lane Books (US residents only).
To find out more about Dashka Slater, or get in touch with her:
For events in the Bay area, including the swashbuckling launch party on September 23rd at Mrs. Dalloway's Bookstore, and nationwide events check out http://ymlp.com/zvXaSK.