Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Interview with author, Darren Farrell on the book, Doug-Dennis and the Flyaway Fib
A sheep named Doug-Dennis and an elephant named Ben-Bobby are an unlikely pair of friends. What made you create this duo?
Actually, when I first began writing this book, Doug-Dennis was a boy. A boy with crazy hair and a large elephant for a best friend. It just seemed odd that a boy would have an elephant for a best friend. Odd in a cool way. I happen to love elephants. My current bedside table is a large elephant-shaped plant pedestal handed down from my grandmother. Also, my first pet was an Indian Elephant. (I
made that up.)
As my agent and I worked on the art for the book, we decided to think about making Doug-Dennis an animal and I ended up going with another personal favorite – the sheep. I went to the University of North Carolina and our mascot is a ram. So maybe that’s why the sheep holds a special place for me. One day I hope to have a little sheep farm. (I am not making that up.)
Is there any significance to their hyphenated names?
You can blame the hyphenated names on my deep south roots.North Carolina is where I grew up, . I have always been intrigued by the southern Billy-Bob, Bobby-Ray double first name tradition, so I endeavored to pick two alliterative names that really don’t belong together but still somehow managed to have a memorable ring. My goal is to give almost every future character a double name.
Are you planning other books for this duo?
Other books for this duo are penciled in, but there are a number of other books in the pipeline and I will probably have one or two of them published before getting back to a Doug-Dennis book.
Are the poster characters in the front of the book waiting to have their own books as well?
Some of the characters in the circus posters may wend their way into other books I’m working on, in particular a few have made appearances in a chapter book I am toiling away on right now.
This is your first published children’s picture book. Prior to this book what other publishing credits did you have?
Prior to this book, I had written a couple of magazine articles and quite a number of print and television advertisements. I went to journalism school and then moved to New York and started work in advertising. I have created spots for the Library of Congress, the NFL and lots of other folks.
Did you work in graphic arts design before doing this book?
I have always been a writer. Doug-Dennis and the Flyaway Fib is my first experience being paid to create art. Early on, as I showed the initial stages of this book to friends and friends-of-friends, people responded favorably to my sketches and characters, and so I continued developing them. Eventually, with lots of sage guidance from my agent, the art arrived at a place where everyone was extremely happy.
I have always worked around talented art directors and have been friends with a handful of very thoughtful designers. I watch them work. I learn their computer shortcuts. I see what they think of various layout ideas. Also, I soak up New York City. NYC is full design inspiration – the crazy fashion I pass on the street, the odd chocolate wrappers and foreign food packaging, the crazy store window dressings, the art museums - I soak up graphic inspiration all over the place.
What writers or illustrators inspire you in the children’s genre?
I’m a huge fan of Oliver Jeffers. His artwork and craftsmanship is stunning. I want to give Mo Willems a great big hug for being so dang awesome. Dan Yaccarino has a timeless simplicity to his books that resonates with me. I read and re-read and re-re-read Where The Wild Things Are to remind me how powerful boiling writing down to its bare essentials can be.And I buy new books all the time for my 2-year-old son, so I probably have about 500 more author-illustrators I could include here. Shel Silverstein, David Shannon, Etc.
Tell me about the process of getting this book published. How did you go about finding a publisher?
It took me several years to have this book published. Initially, I created 14 little homemade books and gave them out to friends and asked each friend to give me a tough critique. The very first person I handed one of these books to was a friend-of-a-friend who worked at Bloomsbury. She immediately took a shine to the book and to the artwork (which gave me confidence to keep pushing on it) and she worked with me to shape it. I took her feedback and feedback from plenty of others and kept working.
Eventually, a friend from North Carolina named Trip Park, who is a wonderful children’s book illustrator, connected me with Elana Roth, who became my agent. She cracked the whip and worked with me on the art for a solid 8-months. It was eight-months of working on this book like a madman, while also holding down a full-time job. So lots of LATE nights and early mornings. When she was happy, we wrote and illustrated an amusing pitch packet and sent it off. 2 days later, we had a book deal. It happened that fast. Dial loved it and we had a great time making the final tweaks together.
What was the most frustrating part of getting this book published?
Nothing was really frustrating about getting this book published. Of course there were bumps along the way and A LOT of hard work went into creating it, and it did take me a long time to stumble down the right path, but that is just how life works. I have a great working relationship with Dial and have an excellent agent. It’s all good.
What has been the most surprising – in a good way?
The most surprising thing about having this book published is a) I am still a combination of surprised and elated any time someone genuinely relates a story of how much their nephew or daughter or neighbor loves it, b) I was surprised how much work can go into promoting a book – planning readings in bookstores and schools can be another full-time job.
Since you are both author and illustrator which did the publisher want to change more – your writing or the illustrating?
My art changed drastically from concept to publication. As I mentioned earlier, I am a writer by trade and my art is a constant process of discovery and experimentation. I have done several presentations where I show how the book essentially stayed the exact same from spread to spread in concept and in writing – while the art underwent massive changes.
The art started out black and white. The only color was pink for the giant pink eye on each character. I kept it very minimalist. The second color I added was yellow. Then my agent pushed me to really color the entire book and so gradually added a little bit more (blue and red) and a little bit more and a little bit more color until you have the explosion of colors you see in the final. I also worked very hard to add depth to the backgrounds, so initially the backgrounds were flat and more abstract, but in the final book, you’ll see other people and trees and characters from the circus posters.
What’s your favorite way of promoting this book?
I love doing school readings. The creativity and positive energy in a classroom is fun to be around. I love making kids laugh and I have a blast hearing what they have to say.
What do you know now about getting published that you wished you had known earlier in your writing career?
An agent is important. I would have started looking for an agent sooner. But things really worked out perfectly, so I can’t complain.
What advice would you give someone who wants to write or illustrate children’s books?
Work your butt off. Study award winning books. Read and re-read authors and illustrators you love. Give your book to friends and friends-of-friends and tell them to be harsh - seek out harsh criticism and use it to make your book better. Find a great agent who truly believes in you.
Do you have any books in the publishing process right now that you’d like to tell me about?
I am working on my next picture book right now and it is tentatively called ‘Thank You Octopus.’ It’s a funny look at the friendship between a little boy and his pet amigo Octopus, who is well-meaning and innocently annoying at the same time. Should be really funny. I will go to art on this book in a couple of weeks.
I hope this inspires you to go out and buy his book. Here's a direct link. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did. If you'd like to know more about Darren and his upcoming works and appearances, I am including a link to his blog here.