WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES
INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION
KEN LAMUG AND VIVIAN MCINERNY
I absolutely LOVE this kidlit community. It doesn’t seem to matter how many wonderful people I connect with…there are still more of them that I truly want to meet. And today’s guests are two of those!
Ken Lamug is an author-illustrator who has created award-winning picture books and graphic novels. Growing up in the Philippines, Ken loved making up stories and drawing on scraps of paper. The grown-ups begged him to stop, but he just kept doodling anyway. Now he lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he is a professional dabbler and has tried everything from beekeeping, filmmaking, 3d printing, photography, coding, and race car driving.
Ken’s wordless graphic novel PETRO AND THE FLEA KING was recognized as the 2020 Nevada Featured Book by the Nevada Humanities. His most recent books include the middle-grade graphic novel Mischief & Mayhem #1: Born to be bad, and the picture books THE WHOLE HOLE STORY, and GHASTLY GHOSTS.
Vivian McInerny is a journalist and fiction writer. Her short stories are published in several literary journals including 805 Lit+Art, Dunes Review and The Cardiff Review. About 45K readers follow her contemporary fiction and essays on ello and Medium. (Note: The sites are not for children.) She has an author page on Facebook . @VivianMac on Twitter. The Whole Hole Story, illustrated by Ken Lamug, is her first picture book.
ME: Hello Ken and Vivian! Thank you so much for stopping by for this double-your-pleasure and double-your-fun Q&A. I know that everyone is excited to learn more about you both…so let’s get started.
ME: Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?
KEN: When I was a child, I did not have access to picture books the way kids do today. The closest I can remember was reading Sunday comic strips and school textbooks which were focused on Filipino folk stories or western fairytales. I was pretty much an adult when I started reading picture books like The Whole Hole Story.
Filipino artists I admired growing up were Larry Alcala and Tonton Young. They were known for humorous illustrations and comic strips found in newspapers. They were prominently displayed alongside Garfield, Peanuts, and Archie (which I also loved reading).
Much later, I was hooked on “Choose your own adventure” books by Edward Packard and R.A. Montgomery. The gamification and excitement of being able to path your own destiny kept me going back. By this time, I had access to the library and bookstores, and I would save up my lunch money so I could buy my own books. I also enjoyed Greek mythologies, Sherlock Holmes, Hardy Boys & Nancy Drew. I was a total geek for the encyclopedia and reference books.
VIVIAN: As a young child,I paid little attention to authors’ names, only to the books themselves. When I was five, a librarian introduced me to Curious George, Babar, Madeline, and the wondrous Harold and the Purple Crayon. I loved the antics of the naughty monkey because I think he reminded me of myself and other kid who got into trouble not because we were bad but because we were curious. I do remember seeking out more Curious George books at the library. I remember feeling as though I’d read an epic adventure when I read my first Babar book where the little elephant loses his mother and goes on to become a sophisticated urban elephant. And the way Harold could draw an image and walk through it was mind boggling, like primitive virtual reality, haha. I loved that book.
I liked that those authors did not write down to young readers. When I learned to read in first grade, I recall feeling disappointed in the assigned books. I went to a Catholic school so our first readers were the John, Jean and Judy series — rather than Dick Jane, and Sally. I’d been looking at the pictures in those books for a long time because I had three older siblings. By the time I finally learned to read them myself, I was nonplussed! Little Judy accidentally closed an umbrella on herself. I expected an epic tale of hilarious misadventure! Instead, the story was reduced to “Look! Look! Oh! Oh! Oh!” or something like that. I was a discerning little critic.
In third grade, I “discovered” Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at our school library completely by accident. I pulled it from the shelf because the tall, narrow shape looked more like a “big kid” book. Then the story pulled me in. I’d never read anything like it. I liked how it felt realistic and then took the reader on a ride into the surreal. I loved that book and I did learn the name of the author and sought out other Roald Dahl books but my heart belonged to Charlie.
I didn’t learn until middle age that Dahl also wrote a collection of strange stories for adults. I admire how the writer was able to effectively address very different age groups. That is my aim. I write for adults, young adults, and children, fiction and non-fiction, journalism, and very bad poetry.
ME: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started illustrating?
KEN: When I first started illustrating, I did not realize the complexity of the publishing industry and how it all worked. I did not know much about getting an agent except that it seemed like it would take a very long time. And since I was just starting out, my craft was a little shaky and my chances of being published were slim.
VIVIAN: To just keep swimming. Rejections can be incredibly discouraging. I guess some people confidently believe everything they produce is brilliant. But I, like many writers, feel that kick in the teeth when a manuscript is rejected. Or worse — ignored! Agents and editors are slammed with submissions so it is easy for a manuscript to get lost in the slush pile. I often have to remind myself that when I was a journalist at a daily newspaper, I was constantly bombarded by story pitches from public relations people, and many worthwhile ideas simply were ignored due to deadlines, workload, and other circumstances that had absolutely nothing to do with the worthiness of a particular pitch.
ME: Where do you like to create – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?
KEN: I have a dedicated room that I share with my wife where I work on projects. Since I am fully digital these days, my setup is a desktop computer and a drawing tablet.
When I first started, my tools of choice were pen and paper. I quickly transitioned to digital and this allowed me to create high-quality illustrations in a quicker learning curve than I would have with traditional tools.
Working digitally also allows me to make changes to the art quickly. One day, I still hope to try my hands at traditional art.
VIVIAN: I’ve known writers who insist every writer must start with pen and paper but I learned to write on a keyboard and that is the only way for me. For many years, I worked in a noisy newsroom and had to focus hard to block out the conversations and interviews going on around me. Now I have a book-lined office in my home designated for writing and reading. I love the quiet. I don’t understand the desire to go sit in a busy coffee shop to write but I know writers who need and seek out that environment. Whatever works!
I used to write on a desktop but I’ve used a laptop exclusively for almost ten years. It’s not the best ergonomically — I get terrible neck aches if I’m not careful. But the advantage is I can move from chair to chair, or chair to improvised stand-up desk, or chair to couch, or when weather allows, backyard lounge chair.
ME: When do you create – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?
KEN: Because of my day job, I draw whenever I have free time. Typically, this is early morning before I go to work, in the evenings, and on weekends.
I think that once you form a routine, it does not really matter what time of day you create.
VIVIAN: I write every day for several hours starting each morning. If I waited for a muse, I would produce nothing. My muse is mostly mum. Those years in the newsroom taught me how to write on demand. Mind you, I’m not saying I always wrote well on demand but I met deadlines and that is a useful skill. Those years were so hectic with career and kids. Now my two daughters are grown and I only occasionally write for newspapers or magazines. I love the freedom of writing only what I choose to write. I know I am fortunate to have a supportive husband (also a former journalist) who has a job so I can afford this luxury.
Before Covid, I walked to an athletic club every morning and then wrote. Now I tend to write first then take time out to walk my urban neighborhood for exercise, often with a friend. I live in the famously rainy, gloomy, damp city of Portland, Oregon but there is usually an hour or so every day when the sun breaks through and it feels good to be physically active after hours of being in my head.
ME: Why do you illustrate for children?
KEN: I love illustrating for this age-group because the stories and artistic style are the closest to my heart. Children’s books tackle such complex emotional concepts and ideas but bundled in a package that is easy to understand and relate to. They are often full of imagination, creativity, hope, quirkiness, humor all at once. Each time you open a children’s book it is like opening a gift.
So, whenever I create children’s art, I try my best to encapsulate all these emotions and wonder into each page. I do not want the stories to end when the book is closed, I want the child to keep the story going and creating their own possibilities of what could happen next. And I think we have definitely achieved that with The Whole Hole Story!
VIVIAN: I write for children because I remember the magic books held for me as a child, and I saw that same magic revealed to my young daughters. When the oldest was about six years old, I read her the Narnia books at bedtime. At one point, she sat up in bed, grabbed the book from my hands, pressed it into her little chest, and declared, “I want to LIVE in this book!”
Imagine writing a story that can enthrall generations of children!
ME: Advice for aspiring writers & illustrators
KEN: My best advice for aspiring authors and illustrators is to find your tribe. When I was first starting out, I had the mentality of a lone creator. I did not have a background in art or writing and did not go to school for them, so I was teaching myself the entire time.
Soon after, I realized the value of community, especially in this industry. Being part of a creative group allows you to improve your craft exponentially and make your stories and ideas the best they can possibly be. Creating can oftentimes be a lonely endeavor. And as you work on your stories, you must battle your own internal critic. Having a group of like-minded friends cheering you on helps a lot… and their unique perspectives and critiques will greatly improve your stories.
I also just want to send a big thanks to parents, educators & librarians out there who are helping our children in these trying times. You are very much appreciated. My wish is that when you read and share The Whole Hole Story, that it will give you hope, fill you with imagination and brighten your day. Thank you!
VIVIAN: I think I greatly underestimated the importance of building community through writing classes and conferences. Honestly, I still fail at that. I’ve had writing groups that were wonderful but they all fell apart for no particular reason after two or so years. I recently took an intensive year-long memoir class through Oregon Literary Arts. It was a small group of eight writers. We were writing personal stuff, obviously, and I found the lives of others fascinating and some of the writing was just beyond beautiful. Yet, I’ve lost touch with all of them! I want to blame Covid isolation but it’s my own bad habit of not nurturing relationships I know to be important.
Don’t make the same mistake. It’s not about making connections to help you get published. It’s about making connections with other creatives because discussing the creative process is incredibly valuable and satisfying and necessary.
ME: Oh my gosh…this has been amazing! Thank you Ken and Vivian for all of your insights…I feel like we all got such a personal experience here with both of you – you poured out your hearts!
And dear friends, we are not done yet! Feast your eyes…and ears…on this AWESOME BOOK LAUNCH chat that Ken and Vivian did with Kwame Alexander!!!
That was amazing, right? The book they just launched is THE WHOLE HOLE STORY…and if you leave a comment and share on social media, you might be the lucky winner of the giveaway copy!
And please remember that the best way to thank our favorite authors and illustrators is to buy their books, review their books, tell friends about their books, and ask your local library to purchase copies for their collection.
I’m counting down the days to the launch of my new book, FROM HERE TO THERE: INVENTIONS THAT CHANGED THE WAY THE WORLD MOVES…and I hope you’ll check out The Children’s Podcast Instagram feed on JANUARY 19 because…it’s an INSTAGRAM TAKEOVER! The amazing Matthew Winner, school librarian extraordinaire, will be posting images and text about FROM HERE TO THERE throughout the day to amaze, engage, and entertain parents, teachers, and al everyone who loves books.
I hope you all have a safe and beautiful weekend!