(photo credit: Alexandre Ferron)
Grace is a very active and entertaining blogger, so make sure to visit the Where the Mountain Meets the Moon book site or her blog, Grace Notes, for news, exclusive art, contests, fortune cookie wisdom, and even recipes! Right now you can enter a photo of yourself with Where the Mountain Meets the Moon into Grace's photo contest for a chance to win a gift certificate to her online store! (I'm going to enter in hopes of winning a way-too-adorable dim sum dumpling onesie for a friend's baby... There's a ton of gorgeous WtMMtM items, too!)
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is very folk and fairy tale inspired. What were some of your favorite tales growing up?
I loved folktales and fairy tales as a child. I loved the classics, “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” “The Light Princess,” and "The Wizard of Oz" -- all with gorgeous illustrations, which I devoured and gazed at in awe! They were my inspiration to become a children's book illustrator as well as this book. My mother gave my first book of Chinese folktales as a child and I was, at first, disappointed. Used to lush illustrations and descriptions of my favorites, the Asian books were plainly translated with simple black and white line drawings. They seemed an inadequate comparison. However, slowly I discovered the stories had their own magic and I learned to love them as well.
And many years later, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon came into existence. It’s an homage to the folktales and fairy tales I read in my youth, it is a mixture of Asian fairy tales and North American classics. Not a traditional retelling of stories from either cultures, it is a mix -- like me, Asian-American. Hopefully, it is full of the magic from both that will satisfy readers everywhere!
You've now written and illustrated three novels and fourteen picture books. Which comes easier to you, the words or the pictures -- or are they intertwined?
For Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, the character of Minli came to me from a painting. But the actual narrative, plot, and setting of the book began as words. Even when I work on picture books, the writing or the stories come first. I think that is because in art school we were trained that way, we were given a story or words first and then had to illustrate them -- never the reverse, creating an image and then writing a story around that. Perhaps, that is why after all this time I am starting to view myself as an author first, instead of an illustrator.
You have also illustrated several picture books with text by other authors. How is the process of creating images for these stories different from illustrating your own? Is there a story or circumstance where you would consider having someone else illustrate your work?
Illustrating other authors' writing is challenging. In some ways it's great because usually it forces me to stretch artistically. But in other ways it is stressful because it's forcing someone else's vision into my own. These days I only like to illustrate someone else's story if it is something different from what I already write. It's possible that someone else could illustrate my writing, I know that for textbook editions of "The Ugly Vegetables" they hired another illustrator instead of using mine. But, in general, I prefer to do both.
Do you have any artistic role models or mentors? What about protegees?
I don't have any specific role models or mentors, but I've always relied on my Blue Rose Girls friends for support and encouragement. As for protegees--if you know anyone who wants to be mine, I'm taking applications! Ha ha.
What was the inspiration for "small graces," your monthly art auction for the Foundation of Children's Books?
Many people don't realize that authors and illustrators of children's books support themselves by doing paid school visits. I am one of those authors. I do a lot of school visits and I am so grateful and honored that schools invite me. But, as I said, a great portion of my income depends on the fees I receive from these visits. AND, my most natural state is introverted--there are only so many visits I can do in a year without stammering incoherently. I'm kind of like a jar of marbles--every visit I do I am less one marble until I am empty. So, I can't give away my marbles for free. So if a school asks me to visit for free, I usually must decline. And I feel bad.
Because it isn't fair that the only schools that get authors to visit are the ones that can afford to. Every visit I do, I can see the excitement in the students. But it also isn't fair to ask the author (the usually financially-strapped author) to do it for free either.
So I decided to start "small graces," where I auction off one original painting a month to benefit the Foundation of Children's Books. The Foundation funds school visit programs for low-income schools. So, schools that usually can't afford an author to visit get one, and the author doesn't have to suffer financially either.
Supporting the Foundation is win-win for everyone. Students of all incomes get wonderful programs and fellow authors are able to make a living to keep creating books, and I alleviate my guilt! Isn't that great? Please bid on a painting and support the project.
And finally -- what was your favorite part of working at Curious George? (Read Grace's post, "The Bookstore that Changed My Life"!)
I miss seeing all the new books. I've always thought that working there was a better education in children's books than art school. When you see all the new books every season and what sells, you really get a feel for what connects with readers. When I worked there, it was constantly inspiring and humbling. But I admit I was a horrible bookseller, I constantly got in trouble for reading the books instead of helping customers!
Thanks so much to Grace for her post -- and for all the lovely art and videos! (It's out most interactive guest post yet!) We can't wait to have her back to visit again.