In this book, Lion dislikes pink and he certainly doesn’t like hearts (or craft supplies). And he refuses to participate. Lion doesn’t seem to like Valentine’s Day or the idea of it.
Q. Is Lion based on anyone you know? Where did the idea of this story come from?
A. I think Lion and Mouse are based on Renata and myself. I almost consider them our id and ego respectively. Lion is raw emotion and Mouse helps him to come to understand those emotions. In the book, Lion learns that love is found and can be expressed in many different ways.
As a child Renata didn’t get as many opportunities to share and show her love as she would have liked. But through her drawings she now finds many wonderful ways to express that love. Renata is also a bit like Lion in that she is not big on pink, or hearts, and definitely not glitter! But that doesn’t mean they are filled with any less love.
I also have great difficulty with the love word and that’s part of the reason why I wanted to tackle the subject. They say to write what you know, but I often seem to write what I don’t. I’m not sure if that is a good idea, but through writing about Lion I’ve learned a lot about how I view love. And I’ve also learned that I secretly kind of like glitter.
Q. Why was it important to show readers that love doesn’t just have to be hugs and kisses?
A. As a kid I had real problems dealing with the idea of love. It just felt kind of icky and the subject made me squirm. I had a very loving family life, but we never, ever expressed love in words – and hugging was unimaginable! This disconnect was confusing for me and caused some difficulty growing up. But I think if I had been able to look at love from a different perspective, it would have helped. I think our passions really defines us as individuals and collectively. And if we can see that love can be in everything we do, we might be able to better understand it, and be better at giving and receiving it.
Q. This is the second book you and Renata Liwska have collaborated on, with Crafty Llama being the first. How did the collaboration work with Renata as far as writing and illustrating?
A. In our experience, editors generally keep artists and writers separate in the development process of making a book. I think it is so that each one contributes something different and uniquely their own. That way when the pictures and words are combined they say twice as much.
I did write the story with Renata’s art in mind, and I included story ideas that I thought she might be interested in or have fun drawing.
But once the story was written, I tried not to be involved in the picture making process at all. My contribution was the words, and I was excited to see where Renata would take the story and what twists and turns she would add to it. Only when Renata had exhausted all her ideas did I add some suggestions and even sketch out a few ideas. Which I’ve done with all her books, and which usually inspires her to draw something completely different from what I suggested. And something better of course!
Q. What do you like about writing for this age group?
A. I love play and I haven’t grown out of it. And neither has the audience, which is exciting. In some ways I think of it as a game. The objective being how much can I say while writing very little. I also think a lot of my work is about a “do over”. Things I would do differently if I had a chance. To be able to share these ideas to kids at such a formative age is pretty great.
Q. How do you come up with the ideas for your picture books?
A. I remember listening to Maurice Sendak mention that what made him good at doing kids’ books was that he remembered what it was like to be a kid. So, I try to remember what it was like to be a kid myself, or better yet what Renata remembers from her childhood. I also try to write books that Renata and I would enjoy ourselves. We really are just overgrown children on the inside. And Renata’s inner child is the perfect age for picture books.
Q. What is your creative process when it comes to picture book writing? Are you a visual thinker or do you first explore the story concept using text?
A. I am a big fan of cartoonist and educator Lynda Barry’s visual approach to writing. I took a workshop from her where she had us write based on visual memories and experiences. Quite a few writing groups I have participated in use visual prompts as the catalyst for writing in general. I consider myself a visual artist first, so it is pretty natural for me to visualize an idea in my head and then find the words for it later.
Q. Love is for Roaring is quite funny. I laughed a lot when Mouse comes to the realization that Lions snacks when he is stressed, and Mouse felt a bit too close for comfort. Why is it important to include humour in your stories?
A. I am glad to hear it was funny. Humour is so hard to write! I think it is really important to have a range of emotions in a story especially if they can be contrasting emotions that occur simultaneously. The contrast magnifies the depth of the emotions and I really believe picture books are a shared experience between the parent and the child. For example, a child might react with joy to a scene with Lion and Mouse playing in a playground, which will make a parent reading the book happy for their child. But the parent might also feel some sadness because they can no longer play with such childlike abandon themselves. Those conflicting emotions can create a richer experience for the readers.
Q. You are an instructor of illustration at the Alberta University of the Arts in addition to being an artist yourself. You are currently working on a sketchbook graphic novel. Can you explain a bit about that project? What would be your dream project?
A. I’ve gotten to the point in my art and life that I try to make sure every project is a dream project. The sketchbook graphic novel is really a lifelong dream project in progress. A big part of our life and work is sketching. Before the pandemic, Renata and I spent much of our time drawing in coffee shops. And so, I have a LOT of sketchbooks. I often think of my sketchbooks as a bank vault of ideas I have saved up. So, while we haven’t been able to get out and sketch I’ve been withdrawing some of those drawings and redrawing others. Compiling my sketches and using them as the foundation for a sort of sketchbook journal/graphic novel.
Q. What do you love about using illustrations to create? How does the ability to both draw and write help your creative process?
A. I don’t feel like there is a big difference between being able to write or draw for me. Both are about storytelling, one with words, the other with pictures. And I learned to do them in the same way. When I was young, my parents needed something to keep me busy. So, they set me up with a pencil and paper to draw. And I never stopped. I did so much of it that I got fairly good at it. Same with writing. Initially, like a lot of people, I didn’t think I could write. But I needed something to keep me and my art busy (and Renata’s too,) so I started writing and haven’t stopped. I think it can be really valuable to both write and illustrate.
When Renata first started doing kids’ books, a lot of editors would say that they didn’t have any stories for her to illustrate but wondered if she had any stories she had written. I remember one mentioned a drawing of child with a red wagon in her sketchbook and asked if she had a story for it. That became her book Red Wagon.
Q. Do you create every day?
A. Yes, I really can’t go a day without creating something and probably have done way more than my share of the 10,000-hour rule (where it takes 10,000 hours of intensive practise to master skills.)
I often think about the idea of how a person’s limitations can be turned into advantages. I am pretty lucky in that I have an addiction and obsession that is somewhat healthy – creating art. I also have a short attention span and get bored easily. So, I’ve worked hard to harness these things as a force of creative good. I feel like children’s literature is one of the most powerful forces of creative good and I am thankful to have the opportunity to contribute.
Q. As an instructor, what do you tell your students about the importance of creating? Any advice for aspiring writers/illustrators?
A. Actually, I think it comes back to some of what I have tried to say with Love is for Roaring. I think creating is an act of love, and you can’t fake it. Sure, it’s hard work and there’s plenty of knowledge to gain and some processes that can help, but ultimately it’s about what the student loves and are passionate about. And then I suggest they say it as loud as they can through their words and pictures – and that’s where the ROARING comes in!