Our guest: Nicholas Gannon is a Brooklyn-based author, whose first book (the wonderful The Doldrums) was published by Greenwillow in September.
The Proust-Esque Questionnaire is based on a set of 36 standardized questions designed by Marcel Proust in the 1890’s to give an overview of the respondent’s personality. Our goals are less lofty, but hopefully will provide some insight into how your favorite authors and illustrators work and what they love.
1. WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
I was very much a reluctant reader when I was a child so my earliest memories of children’s literature would have to be listening to stories. My mother read to us every night—picture books and then chapter books. I think that’s part of the reason I have a great fondness for writer as narrator and storyteller.
That’s tricky. I’d probably most relate to a character who spends the day staring at blank sheets of paper. I don’t think that character exists. It’d be a risk for any publisher.
3. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR? ILLUSTRATOR?
I don’t have one, to be honest. I like specific books more than specific authors. And even then I like specific parts of those specific books. I’m still a reluctant reader in many ways. It’s not a children’s book, but The Sun Also Rises is one I enjoy all the way through.
4. IF YOU WERE THROWING A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
First off is Charlie Bucket. I’d love to see him and Grandpa Joe do a jig when the invitation arrived. Also, social etiquette dictates that Charlie would then have to invite me to his house and he lives in a chocolate factory. Shasta and Aravis are next because I’d enjoy watching these two bicker beside the punch bowl all evening. Mary Lennox might be seen as a disagreeable choice, but I find disagreeable girls agreeable. And finally, I’d invite Digory and Polly (right). It’s difficult to clear a room when the party’s over and these two could help wrap things up by fetching that dem fine woman Queen Jadis. No one clears a room like Queen Jadis.
Somehow we ended up with more than five. That happens a lot at parties.
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
The world a writer creates is most important to me. It doesn’t have to be an impossible world, but children want to go somewhere they otherwise couldn’t. And they’d like to see characters do things that they themselves cannot. And of course, they’d like to have plenty of laughs along the way.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
I’m not sure that’s for me to say. I will say I don’t think I’m breaking any molds with my work. I do the illustrations and I do enjoy playing with structural elements. Those two aspects might make the work my own. But I try not to think it. There’s a danger in being too aware of what you’re doing.
7. IF YOU WERE TO DIE AND COME BACK AS A CHARACTER FROM CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO BE?
I’ve watched Groundhog’s Day enough to know that living the same story over and over again would become very tedious. (Adelaide told me it’s possible she was a pigeon in a previous life. She’s happy with her upgrade.)
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I would change their clothing. Archer, Oliver, and Adelaide wear the same thing in every illustration. Originally, I had planned to change their clothes throughout. For some reason, that didn’t happen.
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
While waiting in line to board an airplane, a finely suited man flew past me flashing his first class ticket. He was thrilled to board the plane before those of us riding in steerage. But then it happened. An old lady stepped in front of him and said, “You were born naked and you will die naked.” I’m not sure if that counts as advice. And the man did still board the plane first. But his pride sat next to me in steerage. I think that was the old lady’s point. Your pride should always sit in steerage even if you have a first class ticket.
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
It begins with coffee at five thirty or six and the rest of the day is spent staring at the ceiling. I like to have scenes in my head before I write them down. So more time is spent thinking than writing. But rewriting is my favorite part.
For the illustrations, everything is hand drawn and rendered and then colored in the computer. There’s a great flexibility when coloring digitally, but I do try to cover my digital tracks. It seems to have worked so far.