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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Daniel Miyares

Today is Little Fox in the Snow's book birthday!

To help celebrate, I have a special treat for you. An interview with the illustrator, Daniel Miyares. [If you missed it, I interviewed the author Jonathan London, yesterday (here).]

Daniel Miyares grew up in the foothills of South Carolina before studying at Ringling College of Art and Design. After graduating with a BFA in illustration he headed west to Kansas City where he now lives with his wife and their two children. He is the author/illustrator of five picture books and the illustrator of seven others.

Welcome, Daniel.

ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (How did you get started writing and illustrating? Where/when do you write/illustrate? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)

DANIEL: Well, I’ve been making pictures since I was old enough to hold a pencil. I just formalized it when I went to art school. After school I moved to Kansas City and began working at Hallmark Cards, Inc. as an artist. I also started taking on freelance jobs at about the same time. That was in 2002. I fell into a gig with the Kansas City Star newspaper where I illustrated four different serial books that they published one chapter at a time. So for about four years I was getting an education in book illustration, but I didn’t realize it. A friend of mine introduced me to my current artist reps at Studio Goodwin Sturges. That is when the light actually went on that maybe I could make picture books. They saw something in me that I didn’t. I love when that happens. In my personal experience, the “We” is usually much smarter than the “Me”.

As far as writing is concerned, I was always a closet poet. I would write poems and stories but just stash them. I didn’t feel like I had the permission or license to put that part of me out there. Kristin Ostby was an editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers when I was shopping my first concept as author/illustrator, Pardon Me!. She and Justin Chanda took a chance on me. Things kind of started rolling from there. I followed up quickly with Float and Bring Me A Rock!. That officially made me a professional writer I suppose.

I work on my books whenever and wherever I can. I find sustained blocks of time mostly during nights and weekends. Stories are always on my mind. It’s hard to turn it off. Some days it’s a positive driving force, but other days it’s a temptation I have to fight in order to live a balanced life. I can get pretty obsessive.

Over the years I’ve truly attempted to take on projects based on the idea. I think that has yielded a variety of stories and subject matter. If I had to pick some reoccurring themes I’d have to say loneliness, friendship, belonging, and adventure crop up often. I also tend to like stories with “breathing room” – those quiet moments in a story that allow you to think and connect dots. This might be a better question for readers to answer about me. I like to think I’m self-aware, but I’m self-aware enough to know that I’m not.

Oh my goodness. There is so much in that answer - "We is smarter than Me" and creating stories with "breathing room" for the reader - are my personal take-aways. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

Growing up, I absolutely loved Shel Silverstein. I had a teacher in elementary school introduce me to his poems and drawings. He would stand in front of the class and perform all the poems with such conviction. That moved me. My gears were turning.

Time and again, I hear that teachers were the ones who pushed or inspired writers and illustrators. If you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?

Trust in the power of your ideas. Your ideas have the ability to transcend your circumstances.

I love that. What captured your attention/imagination with Little Fox in the Snow?

It was the beautiful poetic flow of Jonathan’s manuscript at first.

I could feel the paint traveling across the paper as I read it. It’s satisfying to me to strip down moments to their core in storytelling and Little Fox in the Snow was already doing that. I didn’t need to peel back much to get to the authentic illustrations.

I think your images flow right along with Jonathan's lyrical text. Many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Little Fox in the Snow? Could you share a few with us?

I didn’t hide any Easter eggs that I know of. For this story the most important thing was to help the reader understand this young fox and how it was trying to make its way in the world. I tried to tap into my own hopes, dreams, and struggles. For instance, when Jonathan writes:

Little foxling, what do you dream?

Of the bushy-tailed she-fox

leaping in the moonglow?

Of your own little fox family

playing in the meadow?

Text © Jonathan London, 2018 and Image © Daniel Miyares, 2018.

At this point in the story the little fox, for the first time is thinking outside of its immediate survival needs. It’s hoping as we do about the future. I often find myself wondering what else is out there for me. Is there a larger purpose than just the treadmill of life?

To show this I thought it would be appropriate to break from the Earth bound world most of the book is set in and go up to the stars in the night sky. I wanted to turn the fox’s dreams into constellations that could guide it on its path.

WOW! This window into your thoughts and process for this portion is a rare treat. Thank you for sharing it with us. What's something you want your readers to know about Little Fox in the Snow?

That the beauty and balance of nature is worth our time and respect. There are so many ways that we’re connected to it. We just forget that sometimes.

And that's something we shouldn't forget. You’ve been very busy in 2017 and 2018. You’ve release two books as the author/illustrator Night Out (May 2018), That Neighborhood Kid (May 2017) and three as the illustrator Little Fox in the Snow, A Chip Off the Old Block (Feb. 2018), and That is My Dream (Oct. 2017). Do you find it harder to be the illustrator or the author/illustrator? Do you prefer one or the other?

Both approaches provide their own unique challenges and benefits. I like to have a schedule that includes things I’ve written and things that were written by someone else. Of course I love seeing my own story ideas come to life. There is so much satisfaction that goes along with that. Also I can tweak and change elements in the story very quickly in service of the overall book. When I’m illustrating someone else’s manuscript I love digging into stories I would never think about writing. It helps me change my perspective and that kind of growth is so important to me.

In addition to the previous books, you’ve also illustrated Bambino and Mr. Twain (2012) and created one of my favorite picture books, Float (2015), as the author/illustrator. Do you prefer writing/illustrating fiction or nonfiction? Why?

I’ve made a lot more fiction than nonfiction in my career so far. I don’t know that I’ve found the subject matter yet that would make me write a nonfiction book. I’m sure there will be something that burns hot enough to push me into it. It’s intimidating really. I think I fear not getting something right. With that said, I’m currently working on a new book with Candlewick called The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity written by Amy Andrews. It’s about Indian mathematician Ramanujan and will be out 2020.

That sounds like an interesting book. I'll definitely keep my eyes open for the cover announcement and its publication. What is your favorite medium to work with? Your least favorite or hardest?

I like using ink, watercolors, and gouaches a lot. I try to lean into what feels right to me. I’m not sure what I think is the hardest.

What is the hardest thing for you about writing and/or illustrating children’s books? Which was your hardest book to write or illustrate?

I think there are challenges all along the way in the process of making a picture book. I’m just thankful that I’ve had teams of amazing people around me to collaborate with.

My book That Is My Dream! was a difficult book because of how much I respect the work of Langston Hughes. That book has a lot of levels to it. Unpacking it all in an honest and deliberate way took a lot of soul searching. My hope is that it translates in a positive way to the reader.

A picture book certainly "takes a village" to create. How did Little Fox in the Snow differ from any of the other books you’ve worked on?

I don’t know that I’ve done a book yet that is about animals in the natural world being animals.

I think you nailed it! What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (as a child or now as a writer or illustrator.)

My children, hands down, are my greatest source of inspiration. They force me to look at life through a different kind of lens.

They do tend to do that, even after they become adults. What is the best thing an author can do to help an illustrator?

I think the best thing an author can do is be passionate about their story and enter into the process with a collaborative mindset. I like to work on projects where there’s room for discoveries to be made.

That's thought provoking - leave the illustrator room for discoveries, not simply space to fill. Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I mentioned The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity earlier. I’m also working on a story with Schwartz & Wade about Rachel Carson written by Deborah Wiles. After that I’m really excited about my next book as author/illustrator with Schwartz & Wade called Ship Shape.

That title's definitely tempting. Is there anything about writing, illustrating, or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or are glad that you did not know?

I feel like I’ve learned what I needed to when I needed to. I’m not one for lingering regrets. I’m kind of glad I didn’t know much about the business of books when I started out. I’ve had to rely on my love of building stories to propel me forward. That’s a good thing.

What is your favorite animal? Why? (Or maybe a current animal you are enamored with?)

My favorite animal has to be dogs. It’s the only animal I allow to live in my house right now.

Thank you, Daniel for stopping by and sharing with us. It was truly wonderful to chat with you.

Be sure to stop by on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book post on Little Fox in the Snow.

To find out more about Daniel Miyares, or get in touch with him:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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