Paper People: Jason Kirschner

This month, I’m thrilled to share another great interview with you.  Jason Kirschner, author/illustrator of Mr. Particular was kind enough to ‘join me’ for a chat.  This book is just as captivating as last months only sillier and full of comic book charm. If you haven’t read Mr. Particular, you really should… like now… wait, actually, after the interview.  Here goes…

I’ll start with an icebreaker in honor of my southern roots, “Can I get you something to drink?”

Thank you kindly. I’m not a fancy drink kinda guy. I’m writing this about mid-morning so I’m still finishing my coffee which is fine for me.

Ahh, coffee is my trademark and quite possibly my first true love.  I’ve had people tell me that anytime they think of me, I have a mug in my hand.  I’ll gladly join you for a cup…or three.  Would you mind telling us a little about yourself, and how you started writing for children? 

At first, I really wanted to draw for children. I still do. I don’t care if it’s comics (my first love) or graphic novels or picture books. I’m a set designer by trade and the kind of sketches I do towards that end are radically different from what children’s illustrations should look like. I started to draw nightly, reinterpretations of old stories or new inventions in order to create a portfolio I could show around.  At a certain point, when I felt ready, I wanted to try a book dummy. Since I had no manuscripts to work from, I started making my own.  In retrospect, I should have just written out the words from any of the hundreds of books on my shelves and tried to illustrate those, but I tend to take the long way around.

 You still juggle a day job and a writing career.  Can you speak a little on that, and how you find time to juggle both of those and family life? 

I’m afraid I don’t do it very well yet. I start my day job pretty early in the morning so most of my drawing is at night after the kids are in bed. Admittedly, it’s not a great system because I’m pretty wiped by then. I do get a second wind though and push through most nights. Also, I’ve had the last couple of summers off while my shows have been on hiatus which is a nice chunk of time to work on book stuff.  I think I actually get more done when I have more on my plate. When I have absolutely nothing to do, I have a hard time getting started.  My studio is in our attic so if my kids ever forget what I look like, they just need to walk upstairs–which they do more often than you’d think. (Check out Jason’s post on ‘The Day Job Rule’ here)

I thought it was just my kids who don’t ‘need me’ when I’m right in front of them, but the moment I step away and try to be productive, are clamoring for my attention.  I hadn’t ever thought to hide in the attic though, you might be on to something there.  I’m assuming your attic was where Mr. Particular was created?  Is this the first picture book you’ve written? 

It’s the first one I published but not at all the first one I wrote. Since I come from the illustrating side, it took me a while to build up my writing chops. (Still building, by the way.) I’ve completed about four or five manuscripts that I’ve taken all the way through book dummy stage. I always have a zillion story ideas but getting them into a perfect under a thousand word picture book manuscript is really tough!

You aren’t kidding!  I instantly fell in love with all your characters.  (Daring Duck maybe most of all!) I’ve always been a bit envious of those who can wear both hats.  Let me ask you: what came first, the words or the images? 

Thanks so much! I love her too.  There are bits and pieces of all the different kids that pass through our house in all my characters. As for which came first–I generally come up with the gist of a story first. Then I start designing characters. For me, the manuscript is much easier to write once I know what the characters look like. I can hear their voices better.   Once I can see the assembled cast, I start writing. I generally don’t start drawing again (with the exception of tons of doodles) until the manuscript is done. And when I say done I mean my agent and critique groups have seen it and given me a thumbs-up kind of done. Then it feels almost like I’m drawing someone else’s manuscript and I don’t need to fiddle with the words anymore for a while. I do revise text again once the pictures are in place. Some text becomes superfluous once the images are there.

You seem to have a knack for both. And comedic timing on top of that! My kids and I giggle every time we read Mr. Particular. I love that he doesn’t like anything squishy; I feel his pain!  I also celebrate his love of ketchup.  Though not to the extent of my three-year-old who dipped apple slices in ketchup last week!  

My kid will also eat ketchup on ANYTHING and he’s 10 so you may have a few more years of that ahead of you! Sorry if I’ve reinforced bad behavior.

Well at least I know what my future holds. I am trying to reign him in a bit.  For instance, I put my foot down when he tried dipping his Oreos in ketchup. But, I really think he does it just to watch me squirm! Okay, back to the good stuff, I read that Mr. Particular was a PiBoIdMo (aka Storystorm) success story.  How was it that Mr. Particular, out of all 30 ideas from that experience, made it as a book?  Yes! PiBoIdMo!  Well…different people attack that thing different ways. I generally try to cheat by knocking out the first 10 or so with things that had been floating around in my head. (Don’t tell Tara.) Some things on my list might be a title, a turn of phrase I like, or a character idea. Mr. Particular came to me as a more complete idea and so I was more eager to work on that one when that particular November ended. (See what I did there?) I’ve also written up other ideas from Storystorm and I think it’s a great think to participate in.

I missed it this year but that won’t happen again!  I find myself always wanting to learn more about different marketing strategies.  How did you promote the release of Mr. Particular?  What worked well for you?  

Ooh. This is a tough one. I simply did everything I could think of. I did book signings. I made activity kits with book info in them and handed them out to local kid friendly restaurants. I think school visits are a great way to get a big group of kids excited about your book and to sell a bunch of copies. And it’s fun to tell kids how your book got made. I did a blog tour. I even got the book and myself on the Meredith Vieira Show (Full disclosure: I worked there at the time.)

Getting the book on the shelves is hard but I think selling your book is harder. I’d also add there are a LOT of books out there. I think there’s a small window when your book is new to get it out there and make it stand out. I don’t think I did enough to get it out there in that window.

Well something worked because it’s still ‘face out’ on the shelves of my local B&N.  Which brings me to my next question, do you remember the first time you saw your book on a bookstore shelf? 

Yes!! Words bookstore in Maplewood, NJ. It was a Friday afternoon and my wife and I were having a rare lunch without kids. We went in to say hi to the bookfolk because I had a signing scheduled there a few weeks later. I always check out the picture book section and there it was!! It was CRAZY bananas to see the book on a bookstore shelf. I mean it had previously only existed in the form of sketches on my drawing table that served as primary lounging material for my cat

Oh, that’s so fantastic!  May 10, 2016 was Mr. Particular’s book birthday! I know I’m late, but Happy Book-iversary! Did you do anything special to honor the day?  Um…no?  It slipped right past me. I wish I’d remembered. I’m usually good with dates too. I did remember a week or two later so I sat down at my computer and went through some of the original sketches just to commemorate the journey.

 

What’s been the most surprising thing about dropping the pre- from pre-published and making it to the published side of the industry? 

Hearing people tell you they like your work has been amazing.  Especially when you hear it from kids. Seeing other kids draw or dress up like my characters has got to be the best thing on Earth. I don’t get that kind of feedback from a viewing audience on a tv show. Still, the best part of being published for me, is walking into my local library and seeing my book on the shelf. (They’ve got three copies.) Actually, the best part is getting to the shelf to find that all the copies have been checked out!

Oh I love the costumes.  That’s probably something that not many authors get to see, how great.  Are you writing now? Do you have anything in the queue that we can get excited about?  

I’ve got a few things that are in progress but nothing sold yet. I feel good about the things I’m working on. I’m working on a few picture books in various stages. I’m also trying my hand at a chapter book. It’s great to be able to use more words than a picture book. I like words.

 

Jason, this was great!  Thanks so much for sharing your time and your talents!   Where can we find you on social media, so that we can help celebrate your next release? 

I’m so thrilled that you and your kids connect with the book! And I’m glad the humor comes through. I worked really hard to have gags for the kids and the parents.

As for social media, I’m on twitter at @jason_kirschner. I’m on Instagram at @jkirsch118 and I’d LOVE more followers there. I’m trying to do a sketch a day post. (I don’t always make it.) Recent sketches have included bunny belly flops, roller skating elephants, and Harry Potter fan art.

Thanks so much for having me!

IMG_2371

Ladies and gentleman, Jason Kirschner! (insert applause)

Again, I’m so thankful that all of you joined me here for my second edition of the Paper People series.  Come back next month and we discuss all things Quackers, and a bit about conferences and making a dummy with Liz Wong.  

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

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