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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Kevan Atteberry

Sorry folks. Due to technical difficulties, this post was a bit delayed. But, better late than never, right? I am so fortunate to call today's guest a friend.

Kevan Atteberry is an illustrator/writer living in the Seattle area. He has been drawing since he was knee-high to a crayon. He has designed and illustrated many things including award-winning children's books.

He asserts his biggest claim to fame is creating Clippy the paperclip helper in Microsoft Office which still annoys millions of people every day. But, I think his newest picture book, Ghost Cat, which released June 11th, will give Clippy a run for his money!

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

KEVAN: I think I’ve wanted to make books since I could hold one. Seriously. As early as I can remember I wanted to make stories and pictures. So, I guess I’ve been writing and illustrating pretty much my whole life. And the picture book, naturally, is the thing I like to write most.

And you're obviously very good at it. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

Hmmmm…. The few things I can think of are things I’d like to KEEP that way. I’m mostly an open book, I think. I’ve been a birdwatcher for over 40 years…that’s something not everyone knows.

They are so fun to watch. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

I don’t really remember favorite authors as much as I remember favorite books. Winnie the Pooh, Charlotte’s Web, My Father’s Dragon. And it is funny, I don’t remember any particular picture books, just that I loved them.

But you've got great favorite books! Where did the inspiration for Ghost Cat come from?

I was originally inspired by the ghost cat in my house. I would see darts and dashes out of the corner of my eyes. I still do. So, I figured they were the ghost of the black cat we used to have. What I came to realize, with the help from my critique groups, was that this was more than a story about a ghost cat; it was the story of loss. And moving on. And never letting what you had before disappear. It is permission to love again.

One of the hardest steps after a loss. What is your favorite medium to work with? Your least favorite or maybe one you’re itching to try?

Though most of my work is digital, I love working with most mediums. I’m anxious to do more collage and someday, maybe, when I have the time, the space, and the money, I’d like to try oils.

I hope you get your wish. What is the hardest thing for you about writing and/or illustrating children’s books?

Everything about writing is hard, but I suppose not breaking out in rhyme is a constant challenge. For illustrating, keeping the looseness of conceptual sketches in the finished art is probably what I struggle with most.

So, they each pose a challenge. Do you have a favorite spread in Ghost Cat? Which one?

Yes, the very last one. Which kind of explains the whole story.

Which is why I don't show it here - spoilers. But I will give you a sneak peek at the book cover, under the dust jacket. Isn't it amazing?

Having illustrated seven books (Frankie Stein Starts School (2010), Frankie Stein (2007), Halloween Hustle (2013), Boogie Monster (2011), Lunchbox and the Aliens (2006), Tickle Monster (2008), and Froonga Planet (2007)), do you prefer being the author or the author/illustrator of a book? Why?

Definitely author/illustrator. Although the next three books I’m contracted on I’m only the illustrator.

I love cats and I was immediately intrigued by your blue, grey ethereal cat. Who/what was your inspiration for the ghost cat?

I suppose I wanted a cat that was sparse in details, maybe more specter than actual cat. And I wanted a face with unreadable emotions. The colors I chose for it just struck me as right.

You've captured that little flicker one occasionally sees at the corner of your eye, that's never quite there. How is Ghost Cat different from your other author/illustrated picture books I Love You More Than the Smell of Swamp Gas (2017), Puddles (2016), and Bunnies (2015)?

Well, for one, it is not a funny book. And there are no monsters. This book started out to be a fun story about a ghost cat in a kid’s house, but it turned into what I hope is a moving and touching and sweet and hopeful story.

It definitely succeeded in being just that! What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (as a child or now as a writer or illustrator.)

As an illustrator there are so may illustrators that fueled me. From Arthur Rackham to Mercer Mayer, Maurice Sendak, Brad Holland, etc. But I think my greatest influence as an illustrator is Walt Kelly and the Pogo series. Actually, he was a great influence for me as a writer, too. As a kid I did not always understand some of his story or dialogue till rereading things as an adult, I was/am still mesmerized by the language he used.

What an excellent writer he was to be able to mean something to both kids and adults. What's something you want your readers to know about Ghost Cat?

I want people to know that it is not a sad story. It is a happy and hopeful story.

I agree with you; it is hopeful and full of heart. Many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Ghost Cat? Could you share one or more with us?

I have in other books, but I did not in Ghost Cat. In retrospect, I should have. I know exactly what I would have done and where. And no, I’m not sharing.

Aww, oh well. If you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?

Try harder. Things are not out of reach.

Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

My next three books are illustrating stories by other authors. There is a two chapter-book deal with Dori Hilstead Butler, and a picture book with Liz Garton Scanlon. I’m excited about all of them!

I'll be watching for these. 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 wish I understood at the beginning how book creation is not an overnight thing. Having dashed expectations was sobering and sometimes discouraging. For a long time. Building up a resistance to rejection is incredibly important.

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

All corvids: Crows, jays, magpies, ravens. There is so much story tied to them in virtually every part of the world. And they are incredibly smart. Crows and ravens have even been found to have a sense of humor.

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

Be sure to stop back by on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book Post #PPBF on Ghost Cat.

To find out more about Kevan Atteberry, or get in touch with him:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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