Congratulations on your latest book, Oh My Gods!, a middle grade graphic novel.
Q. It’s such a neat concept – taking characters from Greek mythology and bringing them to life as middle graders. How did you come up with the idea?
A. (Co-writer) Insha and I are big fans of Greek mythology and one day when we were talking, the subject came up and we just started spit-balling story ideas. We have a really silly friendship where sometimes we take something we love and discuss a lot of WHAT IF scenarios for no other reason than to have fun and make each other laugh.
This was one of those types of conversations and we fell in love with the concept that sprang from it! We really felt like we had something though and we started developing it further.
Q. According to your website, you are an avid comic book fan. When you envisioned this idea, was it going to be anything other than a comic book?
A. No, never. It was always a comic in our minds. It started out as just Insha and myself, but when we saw Juliana’s work for the first time, we knew we had found our artist.
Q. You have written a variety of other books, what makes comic book writing different from any other type? When you write, do you write in “comic book” or as a regular book, editing it later to make it work with illustrations?
A. Most mediums have their own format for writing. While comics doesn’t have a “set standard” for how to write out the story, it’s typically a very similar process to TV or movie screenwriting…although my own method is a little less formal than that. For me though, I always heavily outline my stories without thinking of the page layouts and plan what I want all the plot beats to look like in advance.
Once that’s solidified, I go in and script it. Which means, thinking of the story in terms of how I’m going to explain the story to our artist and editor. Each little art window on a comic page is called a panel. You need to include a short description of what’s happening in each panel along with any dialogue that character’s might be saying (which will be put into word balloons) as well as captions.
For younger audiences, you don’t want to do more than four or five panels on a page! So, it’s a lot to juggle in your mind as you write. But that’s where the outline comes in handy and keeps me on track.
Q. Can you please tell me the creative process for creating this book including writing, co-writing, editing and making it work with the illustrations?
A. When it comes to co-writing, the process is still fairly similar. With Oh My Gods!, Insha and I heavily outlined the story together and made sure that the plot beats we wanted to include were all in there. Once we were both happy with it, I went in and loosely scripted it. And then once that was done, Insha went in and tweaked the placeholder dialogue to make each character sound more unique (she’s an amazing character architect!) and helped polish up the story.
After our editor helped us work through all the drafts to get us to the final manuscript, that gets passed off to our artist, Juliana (Moon). Juliana does thumbnails (which are very loose illustrations) to give our editors an idea of each panel’s composition. Once that’s approved, she does the inking, which is the final line art. We worked with a colourist as well on the book (Whitney Cogar) and she went in, built the colour palettes and then coloured it.
There’s a lot of different steps along the way and it’s slightly different for each comic book project, but it’s the collaboration that makes it so wonderful and unique!
Q. Did the book change much from when you first pitched it to what we see today?
A. Yes and no! Originally, we were aiming for a young adult audience so it got aged-down to the middle-grade market, but I honestly think in retrospect that it’s perfect for that age group. And it was so much fun to write for kids. Also, we had a larger cast of characters originally too, and realized that we had to trim that down in order to let Karen and the final cast of characters shine. The story itself isn’t all that different though from what we pitched to the final book, but it’s definitely a lot better because of the wonderful guidance of our editor, Lily.
Q. When you wrote Oh My Gods! was it always going to be two parts (Oh My Gods! Part 2 comes out next January)?
A. Yes! Sort of. We originally pitched Oh My Gods! as one book, but had said that we had many other story ideas for it and could continue the series. When HMH Kids signed us, they knew they wanted at least two books in the series. Both books will standalone as their own separate stories, but they feature the same characters with a few rotating faces. We’d actually love to do even more in the series!
Q. Did you have a choice about your illustrator? What do you like about Juliana Moon’s work in general and in terms of Oh My Gods!
A. Sometimes you get paired up with artists when you’re creating comic books and graphic novels, but in this case, Insha and I brought Juliana on board to this book early on. We weren’t sure how we were going to make it (whether we would seek a publisher, self-publish it on our own, etc.) so we sought out someone to do the art somewhere along the way. Insha and I were drawn to Juliana’s bright colours and her character expressions! We really felt that she had a perfect mix of fun art for readers while also being able to convey their emotions and moods.
Q. There are certainly lots of characters to choose from in Greek mythology, how did you choose who would make an appearance in your graphic novel? Will we see the same characters in Book 2? Will new ones make an appearance?
A. That part was really hard as Insha and I both have a lot of favourites when it comes to Greek mythology. It came down to picking ones that were relatively well-known and that we felt would work with our modern reworking. How would the “core” of who they are blend with our main character? We thought about a lot when narrowing it down. Ultimately, we chose Aphrodite, Athena, Apollo, and Artemis for the core and while you’ll definitely see them again in Book 2, you’ll also get to see some new faces, too.
Q. What do you think makes Oh My Gods! appealing to the middle grade audience? Why did you choose middle grade as your target audience? What do you like about writing to this audience?
A. When you’re a kid, you want to be more grown-up. You don’t want to be a kid, so a lot of us read up. Greek mythology falls into this category where it’s technically written for adults, but because it has monsters, magic, and other cool stuff in it, it’s very appealing to that younger audience, too. I think that definitely lends itself to being able to use that material for middle-grade readers. We didn’t exactly choose the middle-grade audience, but it wound up being the perfect age group for it.
When you’re writing for middle grade, while you still have to be able to tell a good story, you can have a lot of fun with the jokes, puns, and dialogue. Especially the puns.
Q. You have written and edited a variety of types of books from the world of online dating (looks like some funny stuff in there) to radio shows. You have also written a mix of fiction and non-fiction. What do you like best about writing fiction? Non-fiction? Do you like one more than the other?
A. There’s definitely an appeal to never getting too comfortable in one genre or medium; I love playing around with my creative voice and pushing my boundaries as a creator. Each has their own unique draw though, and even when I’m writing fiction or fantasy, it’s always using non-fiction elements, too. Things that have happened to me in life sometimes wind up being used for plot beats for my characters. People say to “write what you know” and for me, that comes from my life experiences.
I love writing fantasy and fiction for sure, but more so than that, I love storytelling in general.
Q. Where do you get your ideas?
A. Everywhere! I’ve lived a pretty full life already, so in addition to just consuming a lot of books, movies, TV shows, and video games that inspire me, I also draw on my lived experiences and use those very real moments from my life to build worlds and characters around.
Q. You have a number of books coming out in the next couple of years. Congratulations. How did this come to be? (Have they been in the works for long? Did you pitch on to HMH and then they ask for more?).
A. Thank you! And yes, everything in publishing takes quite a while to be brought to life, especially when you’re making graphic novels. The artist requires quite a lot of time to do all the art once the story is complete. But before it even gets to that stage, you have to come up with your story and pitch and work on that for a long time. You have a lot of back and forth with your (wonderful and patient) agent who provides you with notes to get a story in shape to pitch. There’s a lot of working parts to it.
All of my upcoming works: ParaNorthern, Oh My Gods! 2, and Pillow Talk are all with HMH. ParaNorthern was actually my first sold project though. It was meant to be my debut, and in that case, once we were done with the script for that, my editor asked my agent if I had any other projects in the works. We were trying to find a home for Oh My Gods! and once they took a look at it, they decided to pick it up.
Typically though, as a writer and creator, it’s a hustle to keep getting work out there.
Q. The publishing dates seem to be a year away from each other. Still, I would imagine there is a lot to do for each. Can you please tell me how you work? Do you work completely on one project before moving on to the next or do you have several on the go at once?
A. I try and my agent tries to make sure that projects are spaced out so that I’m not working on more than one thing at a time. The best work (in my experience) comes from when you’re able to focus on one thing and get that done before moving on. Sometimes you’ll get frustrated with a project and need some space from it, so for me, that means maybe taking a day or two to work on something I want to pitch in the future. It’s all about balance.
Q. Is writing your full-time job? If not, can you tell me what else you do. If it is, can you tell me how you got to this place?
A. It’s not! I have a full-time day job that pays my bills while I pursue writing as a passion. Making a career out of anything creative can be really hard, and I admire those who have been able to take that leap.
Q. Is there some other type of writing you would like to try next? What is your dream project? Any topic you would like to dive into next?
A. Always! I’d love to play around more with TV screenwriting – the format is a bit stricter than comics so I’m forever intimidated, but I’ll get there someday! And, my dream project is always the next story that I haven’t told yet. The dream is to keep writing, not necessarily the content itself. So who knows what’s next for me!
Q. What are your favourite Canadian authors/illustrators?
A. Gosh, there are so many! I think a lot of my faves are all from the comics world, but include creators like Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki, Jason Loo, Faith Erin Hicks, Adam Gorham, Kate Beaton, Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl, Megan Huang, Fiona Staples, Pia Guerra, and so many more! Canada is full of talented people.
Q. Who will you be reading (Canadian) Feb. 17?
A. Definitely revisiting True Patriot Comics which is a super fun anthology of Canadian comics by Canadian creators. Maybe some Adventures of Superhero Girl too! Plus, I’ve been meaning to read Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz.
I review Paranorthern and the Chaoes Bunny A-Hop-Calypse written by Cooke and illustrated by Mari Costa. Read my review here.