Our guest: Rowboat Watkins is a Brooklyn-based author-illustrator. His first book, Rude Cakes, comes out tomorrow –June 2, 2015– from Chronicle Books. He makes Hallowe’en costumes for his daughter and collects stray washers.
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.
Staring at the cover of One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. Or maybe it was Fox in Socks? Or The Sleep Book? It was definitely one of those three. I love pretty much all of his books, and only recently discovered the greatness of Scrambled Eggs Super! How could I have not known about this triumph of a book before? Seuss knew how to crank out Thneed remedies like nobody else!
2. WITH WHICH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE CHARACTER DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY?
I’m probably Arnold Lobel’s Toad. I’m 0% Frog. Alas.
William Steig (left). I could read his books forever. His love of words is infectious, and his drawings feel so toothsome and effortless.
4. IF YOU WERE THROWING A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
I don’t know how to answer this question because it fills me with dread. I don’t like hosting parties and I have never known how to talk to more than one person at a time. There are so many people whose work I love and whose brains I would like to pick telepathically, but the idea of actually talking to any of them in real life is terrifying. Having to navigate between five such conversations while worrying if the fish is underdone and if the dessert will tank is the stuff of nightmares.
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
I don’t have any idea what this would be other than maybe…honesty? But saying honesty makes me feel kind of lame because it sounds like a cop out…or too pat…or solemn. Or all of the above. The truth is I have no clue. Making a good anything is a little like alchemy. For me personally, any book that’s worth reading is, first and foremost, a book that is trying to be itself, and not something else. That seems like an obvious point, but there are books that get published each year that seem to be trying to be something other than just themselves, so it’s clearly not a pre-requisite or an opinion that is universally shared. Which is fine. Because I have no idea what I’m talking about.
How about freshness? Does freshness sound as platitudinous as honesty? I think it does. You can see why my hosting a dinner party would be a disaster.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT
Flaws. Lots and lots of flaws. Sometimes this is a good thing. Usually it is not.
7. IF YOU WERE TO DIE AND COME BACK AS A CHARACTER FROM CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO BE?
Good lord, this question made my brain go blank. Why not ask me what my favorite aspect of the Pythagorean Theorem is? I have no idea. Having any idea would mean being able to remember anything I’ve read with something approaching clarity. A skill I’ve never pretended to possess. For lack of a better answer I will say pretty much any one of the jaunty little kids in A Hole Is to Dig. I would love to live in that book, and to have all that empty space around me, and to be able to forever see the world with such freshness and wonder and humor and wisdom.
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I’m trying to avoid saying ‘all of it’.
I would regularly remind myself to have more fun and to stop trying so hard. Freshness and joy are seldom (if ever) the fruits of relentless drudgery and terror.
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
“You need to become a better spy.” Maurice Sendak told me this over lunch one day. That’s a true story. I think about it all the time, and have come to realize the enemy I need to spy on and around most is me.
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
Procrastinate. Panic. Slog. Scold. Flail. Relax. Delight. Doubt. Repeat.
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. Because it is a gem.
12. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT A BOOK YOU LOVE THAT, FOR ONE REASON OR ANOTHER, HAS NOT FOUND A WIDER AUDIENCE?
Amandina, By Sergio Ruzzier. Because it is so tender.