Describe your new book.
My latest project is the recently released book Skelly and Femur, a follow-up to Skelly the Skeleton Girl, released in 2007. In the book Skelly the Skeleton Girl, Skelly found a bone and tried to solve the mystery of where it came from. In Skelly and Femur, things have gone missing in Skelly Manor. Skelly's missing the buttons off her dress, her dog Femur is missing his bone, and it seems most of her friends are missing something, too. Why have so many things gone missing? That's the mystery waiting to be solved within the pages of Skelly and Femur.
What movie character is most like you?
I would choose Mikey from The Goonies: a total misfit who gave himself the title of a Goonie because of his misfit status, but who has a small cluster of close-knit friends whom he cares deeply about. Or maybe E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, a character not of this world whom few understand and who has gifts he thinks are ordinary that others find extraordinary. Or Frankenstein, a creature unsure of why he's here, and who does not understand that there is a dark side to people — a fact that leads to his eventual demise. Possibly Luke Skywalker, a farm boy from a small town, much like myself, who has big dreams with no idea how to make them a reality. Edward Scissorhands? A character that looks a bit scary on the outside while inside he's shy, caring, and talented.
It is interesting to look at all of these characters and to feel a connection with every one of them for the same reason. They're outcast, misunderstood, gentle, and almost naive when it comes to the intent of others. I think most of us have felt a connection with characters of this nature at some point in our lives. I believe that's what makes these characters endearing and relevant to so many people, myself included. I've learned it's okay to be the misfit; it's the misfit who is the most interesting character of most stories, the one who gets to go on incredible adventures. Yes, I'm fine with my misfit status.
How do you write?
About five years ago, I was diagnosed with dyslexia. By the time my diagnosis came, I'd learned to cope with the effects of dyslexia, more or less. The form I have not only mixes up letters and numbers, it visually causes me to see only a single written word in my center field of vision, while those around it are jumbled and distorted. It also makes it close to impossible for me to retain or understand formulas such as those found in mathematics and grammar.
Once people know of my dyslexia, the first question they ask is "But you're a published author. How do you write?"
When I get an idea for a story, it does not present itself in words; it comes to me visually — I see the story in images. My notes for a book are not words, but a series of sketches, which allow me to think the story through. I often sketch key characters and environments before ever writing a single word. At this stage, I draw storyboards (a series of drawings that depict the entire story from beginning to end) of the book like I would do for animation. I then design a rough ride version of the story just as I would an attraction for a theme park, as I did when I was an Imagineer at Walt Disney Imagineering. This provides me with a clear visual script to see if the story is conveyed clearly through the staging, layout, and color of the images. From here, the writing starts in earnest, and the words and images begin to intertwine to tell a single story.
Why do you like Halloween?
Let me start by saying I don't like Halloween, I love it, and here are some of the reasons why: The amazing plethora of colors of foliage on trees this time of year. Watching the Halloween special It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Going to the pumpkin patch to pick out my collection of pumpkins for the year. Carving my pumpkins and watching them magically glow when a flickering candle is placed within. Decorating the house with my giant collection of vintage Halloween decorations. Having a Halloween celebration to share all of these things with my friends.
It's the magic of season, the colors, the traditions, and the Halloween icons that have connected so deeply with me, and as a result, these influences appear continuously in different forms throughout my work. Besides, who doesn't like to be safely frightened one night a year by someone creating a little bewitching Halloween mischief? Not me.
What was your favorite story as a child?
I was introduced to James and the Giant Peach in the second grade. My teacher read the book aloud to us one chapter each day during daily story time, sharing the illustrations on the pages as she read us the story. From the first day, when she read the opening line, "Here is James Henry Trotter when he was about four years old," my imagination was ignited, and I have been enamored with the book ever since. Seriously, as I sat at my desk listening to the words of the book and viewing the illustrations on the pages, I wondered to myself, who wouldn't like to be taken away from the trials of their everyday life on a giant peach flown through the sky by a huge flock of lassoed seagulls on their way to a great adventure?
One element I find brilliant about this book, and most of the works by Roald Dahl, is Dahl's ability to present stories that are a bit off-kilter, and somewhat spooky, all the while making them accessible to readers of any age. He makes the frightening and scary palatable and even enjoyable for the reader, letting them know it's okay to be scared, it's part of the story.
Equally balanced in the original edition of James and the Giant Peach are the illustrations created by Nancy Ekholm Burkert, which perfectly complement the words of Roald Dahl. They are atmospheric, moody, and dramatic, containing wonderful characters and environments, some of them breathtakingly beautiful. The majority of the illustrations are black and white, yet ever so cleverly sprinkled throughout the book are illustrations tinted with limited color, mostly the color of peach. The color is subtle and used for dramatic effect quite su