Saturday, June 4, 2011

Crystal Kite Winner Interview Week Three: Brian Lies, BATS AT THE BALLGAME

Our three weeks of Crystal Kite winner interview wraps up with (last but not least) author/illustrator Brian Lies, whose book BATS AT THE BALLGAME received the award for the New England (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island) region. The learn more about our final winner and his work, visit his website.

And one more big HURRAY for all the Crystal Kite winners!

Please tell my readers a little about your winning book.

BATS AT THE BALLGAME is the third book I've written and illustrated about a group of bats experiencing different human activities with their very different point of view. It began with a bad pun rattling around in my head as I worked on the final illustrations for BATS AT THE LIBRARY: baseball bats. Baseball bats. Baseball bats. I thought it'd be fun to take a look at America's favorite pastime through the eyes of my bats. How would they play the game? Right-side-up? Or upside-down? I started messing around with words and drawings, and the story developed.

One big problem was that I wasn't raised as a baseball fan; my only personal experiences as a boy were a single Mets game at Shea Stadium (during which I was bewildered at the Mets fans booing one of their own players, until I was scornfully told that the fans were yelling "MOOO-kie," for their star, Mookie Wilson), and a season in Little League, which for a kid with no baseball skills was a classic primer in elementary school shame. So I had to do a lot of research for the book--reading writers on the game, watching countless games on tv with a note pad, and attending four live games.

One thing I learned was that baseball fans are sticklers for tiny details. Place the toes of the catcher in the wrong position in an illustration, and you're going to get tons of e-mails from eight-year-old readers telling you that you got the baseball wrong. So it was a real challenge--and so far, I've only had one student in schools I've visited raise a hand to tell me I got a detail wrong. But I consulted some experts after I got home, and it turns out the boy had HIS baseball wrong. Whew.

How does it feel to receive an award voted on by your peers? What does this award mean to you?

Having a book awarded the Crystal Kite, in its inaugural year, is a wonderful honor. There's something different about having peers vote for it; they're familiar with how a book goes together, and may have sharper eyes and ears than readers in general. They're attuned to the craft behind a story, and aren't just influenced by glitz or a fancy PR campaign. The New England region of SCBWI is also jam-packed with talented authors and illustrators, and the idea that some of them felt this book worthy of the award is beyond words. Thank you to anyone who voted for it!

How long have you been a member of SCBWI? How has your SCBWI membership been helpful to your career?

I can't even REMEMBER a time when I wasn't a member of SCBWI! It seems like it's been forever. SCBWI was there with me as I worked on my early books, and when I was learning about how the business of children's books worked. I'm certain it saved me from countless missteps and dead-end roads. Shared experiences--what to do, and what has failed miserably for someone—are invaluable in a business which, at its base, is a very solitary thing.

I've also enjoyed the experience of presenting at several SCBWI conferences--keynoting once at our wonderful New England annual conference, and also speaking at Mid-South and Southern Breeze. I've been helped so much by what I've heard at conferences that if my experiences can help other authors/illustrators, it only feels as though I'm working at paying it back. I hope I'll be able to do this more often in the future!

The newsletters have been a great source of information about what is happening at publishing houses, and a valuable window into other members' personal experiences with crafting children's stories and illustrations. And the conferences I've attended have been great. Not only have I had the chance to network with other children's book creators and with editors, but I've heard inspiring speakers whose talks about their professional experiences and techniques have changed how I think or work. And simply spending several days with other people who are all trying to make writing and illustration work is a very inspiring thing. After an SCBWI conference, I just want to go home and create.

What will we see from you next?

I'm finishing up illustrations for a book called MORE (by I.C. Springman, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012), about a magpie with a hoarding problem. I'm trying some new things with the illustrations, and it's been fun to shake my style up a little bit!

1 comment:

Susan J. Berger said...

This was synchronicity. I had been mining the Crystal Kite awards for first paragraph to use in my next first paragraph blog at Pen and Ink and Bats at the Ballgame is one of the ones I am using. I think the my post happens this Monday.
I love this book, both for the wonderful pictures and the clever rhyming. Thanks for the interview.