Author/Illustrator Interview: Meet Michael Garland (And There’s A Giveaway!)

Happy Monday Everyone 🙂

I’m delighted to be reinstating this feature as a monthly special on my blog.  I love having the opportunity to talk with talented, creative people who are making a go of it in this very competitive field.  It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn – about what works and what doesn’t, what the particular challenges and rewards are, what is hard and what comes easy, and how different people go about accomplishing their work.

These interviews will usually take place on either the third Saturday or the third Sunday of the month (I haven’t decided yet :)), but since January started on a Sunday and there’s so much going on as the new year kicks off, I bent the rules by a week.  Then, due to the squirrelly internet out here in the boondocks, the art for the post didn’t come through in time, so I couldn’t post yesterday.  So here it is today instead, bumping Oh, Susanna into next week.  Such is the way of things sometimes 🙂  But well worth it for today’s interview!

It is my very great pleasure to present this month’s Author/Illustrator, Michael Garland!

Michael Garland

SLH:  Michael, thank you so much for joining us today.  We’re thrilled to have you!  Let’s start with some just-for-fun quick warm-up questions 🙂

Agented or Not?  Not
Traditionally or Self-Published? Traditionally
Traditional or Digital Format? All books so far started in traditional format, but some have been converted to digital.
Apps or Not?  3 apps: Icarus SwinebuckleHenry’s Parade, and Angel Cat.
Plotter or Pantser? Plontser 🙂
Laptop or Desk top?  Desk top
Mac or PC?  Mac
Day, Afternoon or Night Worker?  Writing – brain freshest in AM; drawing – second nature and can do any time.
Coffee or Tea?  Coffee
Quiet or Music?  Writing – complete silence; painting/drawing – any noise is fine but usually choose CNN, the Golf Channel or the History Channel.
Currently Reading?  In The Garden Of The Beasts by Eric Larson

SLH:  Now for the more involved stuff!  When did you first become interested in writing/illustrating?

MG:  I began drawing as a very young child.  I drew to entertain myself.  I even made little books, although I didn’t really think of them that way at the time.  My parents were lavish with their praise and encouraged me.  When I reached Kindergarten, the teacher was equally enthusiastic about my work.  It was quickly and readily apparent that I could draw better than the other kids.  My teachers would hold up everything I drew to show the other students… which was never true of my math tests 🙂  I went to a Catholic boys high school where there was no real art curriculum.  But afterwards I attended the Pratt Institute.

(Here are a few samples of Michael’s recent book covers to give you a sense of his talent!)

SLH:  So illustrating really came first for you.  When did you begin writing as well?

MG:  It was a leap for me to finally write a story myself.  I had always thought of myself as an illustrator, not a writer.  But after I had illustrated a number of books for other people, I began to think how much fun it would be to tell my own stories.  The first book that I both wrote and illustrated was called My Cousin Katie and was based on my own daughter.  Having written about one child, I wanted to wrote about the others, so My Cousin Katie was followed by Circus Girl and Dinner At Magritte’s for my other children.  These three titles remain among my favorites, along with Leah’s Pony, the house for which was modeled on a house near me even though it takes place in Texas; The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, which has remained in print for a long time; Santa Kid, which I illustrated for James Patterson; and The Magically Mysterious Adventures of Noelle The Bulldog and Noelle’s Treaure Tale which I illustrated for Gloria Estefan.

SLH:  How many books have you published?

MG:  I have published about 40 books that I illustrated but didn’t write, and about 30 where I did both.

SLH:  Wow!  That is impressive!  Have you ever written anything that didn’t sell?

MG:  Oh, sure!  I have about 5 or 6 projects that don’t sell for every one that does.

SLH:  You’re ahead of the curve, then 🙂  Most people say they have 10 unsold mss for every one that sells!  Do you consider yourself an author or an illustrator first, or are the two inseparable?

MG:  As I mentioned, I originally thought of myself as an illustrator.  But now the two are really inseparable.

SLH:  You were really a pioneer in digital art – one of the first to use that medium.  Can you tell us a little about that?

MG:  The first time I used digital art was for The Mouse Before Christmas which was published in 1997.  It was hard to get folks to accept back then, but interestingly enough, it was an older editor – in her seventies – who was willing to give it a try.  Editors quickly saw how much easier it was to work with digital art.  Changes that were time-consuming and difficult to pull off with traditional painting could often be fixed in matter of minutes in the digital format.  The equipment was expensive, and the disks were huge, cost about $60 each, and could only hold about 2 paintings each, so I would hand over a stack of disks for a single book, which I then, usually didn’t get back to reuse.  But it turned out to be worth it!

SLH:  This leads into your new book – Fish Had A Wish – due out from Holiday House in February 2012 – just a couple weeks away.  You have pioneered another new art form with this.  Can you tell us about the book and the new art?

MG:  Fish Had A Wish (originally titled Fish Wishing, then Fish Wish, and finally Fish Had A Wish) was inspired because I love nature books and I wanted to write one.  So I started out with a fish.  He is bored of being a fish and imagines what it would be like if he could be something else.  It is intended for earliest readers and as such has a very short and simple text.  It was short and simple to begin with, and the editor cut it by about 1/3 again.  The new art you’re referring to is what I like to call digi-woodcut.  It’s a form of digital art that mimics woodcut.  I scan in all kinds of wood textures and then layer them in the painting.

SLH:  It’s really beautiful.  Here is the cover of Fish Had A Wish (as well as a couple interior illustrations because they are so incredible I just have to share them!):

illustration copyright Michael Garland 2012

illustration copyright Michael Garland 2012

illustration copyright Michael Garland 2012

Aren’t they gorgeous?!  Which brings me to the importance of art in picture books…  As both an author and an illustrator, what are your thoughts on the importance of writing vs. the importance of art?

MG:  A picture book is supposed to be 50/50.  The author, or the writing, tells half the story and the illustrations tell the other half.  It should be equal.  A good picture book is.  But in terms of how it’s perceived, in my experience, in the publishing equation authors get a disproportionate amount of the credit.

SLH:  A few of your books have become apps – Icarus Swinebuckle, Henry’s Parade, and Angel Cat.  What has your experience been like in this venue?

MG:  It’s been fun to see the books developed into apps.  When Icarus Swinebuckle came out, it was on the itunes bestseller list for 2 weeks and was #1 in Jamaica!  But then you get into the problem of the infinite bookshelf.  New apps are coming in all the time.  When books are available in a library, they’re right there on the shelf.  You can see everything there is to choose from.  It might not be the most extensive choice, and you might not notice everything that’s there, but it’s finite.  When apps go out, they become part of the infinite bookshelf.  Publishers are taking all their backlisted books and digitizing them.  EVERYthing is available.  So how do you even know what’s out there?  How do you find things?  As an author or illustrator, how do you get people’s attention?  This is one of the challenges facing us as we move forward.

SLH:  Do you have any advice for aspiring authors and/or illustrators?

MG:  Don’t allow one rejection to discourage you.  Or even a bunch.  And it has to be enjoyable.  If you’re not having fun, you shouldn’t be doing it.  I have been 38 years in the business.  I’ve made the New York Times bestseller list 4 times – with Miss Smith And The Haunted Library, Santa Kid, The Magically Mysterious Adventures Of Noelle The Bulldog, and Noelle’s Treasure Tale.  But what I consider to be one of my real successes is that I get to do something I love.  I have never had to go to a job I hated.

SLH:  Finally, Michael, I’d like to finish up with a question from one of our readers.  She asks, is it totally important to have a story, or can you just entertain and make people think?  She gives as an example a current idea which is an adventure with a lot of imaginative things, but no story per se.

MG:  In my opinion, story is the most important thing.  The writing tells half and the pictures tell half, but if you don’t have a story, you have nothing.  You need a beginning, a middle and an end; a provocative opening, something has to happen, and then it has to resolve.  Story is everything.

SLH:  Michael, thank you so much for joining us!  It’s been wonderful hearing all you have to say!

And now, my friends, just because I like you :), anyone who comments on this post by Wednesday January 25 at 11:59 PM EST will be eligible to win their choice of Icarus Swinebuckle or Miss Smith’s Incredible Storybook by Michael Garland.

Michael’s book are available wherever books are sold.  Fish Had A Wish will be out in a couple of weeks, so go ahead and pre-order 🙂  And please visit Michael at his website where you can see the breadth of his work as well as learn about his availability for school visits.

For another great interview with Michael which focuses on his 2011 holiday book Oh, What A Christmas!, please visit Pat’s blog at Children’s Books Heal.

86 thoughts on “Author/Illustrator Interview: Meet Michael Garland (And There’s A Giveaway!)

  1. Vivian says:

    What a wonderful interview, Susannah!
    Michael is a gifted illustrator…and although I haven't read his books 😦 😦 I have no doubt that he is a talented writer as well. I love the woodcut effect in his new book…he is definitely a groundbreaker.
    To be truthful, Susannah, I learn so much, every time I visit your blog!
    Since I haven't read Mr. Garman's books, I don't know which I would like if I would lucky enough to be a winner. I'm sure I'd be happy with anything he wrote and illustrated. 🙂

  2. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    His books really are wonderful, Vivian. Not only is he a talented author/illustrator, but he's very generous with his time to others, and does great school visit presentations. If you don't end up winning a book, you should at least check out something of his. I love Leah's Pony (which he illustrated but didn't write) and I'm ansious to read Icaarus Swinebuckle since he told me all about it!

  3. Donna Martin says:

    Thanks, Susanna, for introducing us to Michael Garland! His illustrations are beautiful and it's comforting to know that perseverance can actually pay off in the writing industry!

  4. Stacy S. Jensen says:

    What wonderful art and stories. Thanks Mr. Garland for sharing your story and advice. I love the point about the story! Great tips. I'll have to look up the apps for an immediate fix. Thanks Susanna for the interview, too.

  5. Stacy S. Jensen says:

    Thanks for the link to Children's Books Heal interview by Pat. Very nice. I wonder has Mr. Garland always not had an agent. Maybe that's an Oh Susanna question. I've heard authors/illustrators mention no agent in the past, but I thought that model had changed in recent years. 🙂

  6. Renee LaTulippe says:

    I would buy Icarus Swinebuckle just because of the title. 🙂 Excellent interview – those woodcut ills are incredible. It kind of boggles my mind how that is even put together. As you saw on my blog today, I'm kind of obsessed with illustrators, and now you've gone and put another on my list to swoon over!

  7. Tiltonph says:

    Loved your interview with Michael Garland. He is one of my favorites. His bold illustrations have always caught my eye. I especially am intrigued with his new art technigue he calls digi-woodcut! The layering adds a completely new dimension to his illustrations and a very natural look that is absolutely beautiful. And, I'm happy to see a book about nature. Fish Had a Wish looks like a must read — can't wait until it's released. Grandpa's Tractor is among my favorites.

    Stacy, his apps are wonderful and fun, and Enzo would love playing with them. Very educational.

    Susanna, thank you for mentioning my review. You're very thoughtful!

  8. Julie Rowan-Zoch says:

    Thanks for introducing Michael Garland! along with Stacy I am interested to know why Garland does not have an agent, and as a prolific maker of books I would like to know his strategies (or if he has any) on keeping himself on task.

  9. Brenda says:

    I'm so glad Julie mentioned your interview on 12 x 12 in '12. I liked the questions you asked and enjoyed Michael's responses. I wonder if he's ever done trailers for any of his books. (I'm trying to make one now for a storybook I've just published). I guess I'll check YouTube.

  10. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    I know – I love that digi-woodcut technique. I can't get over how beautiful those illustrations are. And you are most welcome for the interview mention – yours was terrific and had a different focus and information I skipped because I knew it was there, so I thought people might want to pop over 🙂

  11. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    I'm so glad you stopped by, Brenda, and that you enjoyed the interview! I'm not too good about mentioning stuff on the groups, I'm afraid. Thanks Julie! You know, I don't know if Michael has done any trailers. My guess is no? But I will ask!

  12. Michael Garland says:

    Thank you everyone for your kind words.
    I've never done a book trailer but it's on the list of things to do. I just have to learn the technology.
    I don't have an agent for my books because I prefer to have my book proposals go unedited and directly to the publishers. I'm not sure if this is the best way, but it's worked pretty well so far.
    Thank you again Susanna, for hosting me on your blog.

  13. pennyklostermann says:

    I love this new monthly feature! You amaze me with the ideas you come up with. Your blog is very useful. I really like the way you have it scheduled. There are so many blogs to read, but we know what we're getting and when we are getting when we visit your blog.
    The interview was amazing. The warm-up questions were especially entertaining. I already have his books on the list for my library visit this week. They don't have them all, but I am sure I will enjoy those they do have.
    Fish Had a Wish is a really catchy title. I will add that to my Books I Want To Read list.
    Thanks to you and Michael for your time.

  14. Catherine Johnson says:

    What a fantastic interview! Thank you so much both of you for this huge insight. And what an amazing talent. I hope this inspires us all to make as much of illustrators as authors in all our Perfect Picture Book Fridays. And thanks for answering the question, I have a story in the third draft now, beginning middle and end. Thanks!

  15. Joanna Marple says:

    I am a big fan of Michael's and, like Pat, if I had to pick a favorite it wold be Grandpa's Tractor, both for the story and the illustrations, but so looking forward to Fish Had a Wish!

    I think it is sadly true, as Michael said, that authors still do often get more credit than illustrators, which is one reason I do love interviews with illustrators, to highlight their part in all the storytelling.

    Thank you Susanna and Michael for this insightful interview.

  16. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    That one is great, isn't it? Maybe I'll have to add it as a winner's option 🙂 It's funny because, as an author only, I am so indebted to illustrators that I always think they bring more than half to the table! Glad you liked the interview!

  17. Tracy Campbell says:

    I loved the interview you did with Michael Garland. I found it encouraging as I too have been an illustrator, although not for books. Now that I'm venturing into the wacky world of writing, I can't wait to add my artwork to the mix. And I'll be sure to check out Michael's website.

  18. Cathy Mealey says:

    Plotter or Pantser? Plontser 🙂

    Well, that right there had me hooked! Great interview. Can't wait to hold a copy of those great digi-wood cuts in my hands and study them close up! My list of spring release PB's is getting longer and longer. Thanks for adding Michael's to the mix and for the great interview!

  19. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Yes, Iza and I fall into the plontser category too – it was really her term 🙂 The digi-wood cuts are gorgeous, aren't they? And THANK YOU FOR THE NUTELLA!!!! You are so sweet 🙂 It just arrived today, and any second I am going to join the legions who are hooked, I have no doubt 🙂

  20. Loni Edwards says:

    What a fantastic interview! Thank you Susanna and Michael. I loved the advice, it was very inspiring to me. And I also love those digi-wood paintings. I will have to experiment. I love this new monthly feature! Can't wait for next month's 🙂

  21. Rachel Mary Bean says:

    Wow, those illustrations are beautiful! I wish I could do that. My seven-year-old daughter is already more artistic than I am!

  22. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    I'm so pleased you like the idea and that you enjoyed the interview! Michael is amazing – the digi-wood is really exceptional. You know me – I like to keep people hanging 🙂 – but I believe next month's feature will also be someone of interest to you illustrators!

  23. Clarike Bowman-Jahn says:

    You'll have to use a tool to pick the winner of this give away, lol. I'm comment 43 now and there will be more with this famous author/illustrator giving away one of his treasures. Please count me in.

    I went back and read Patricia's interview as well of Michael Garland. He is so fascinating and interesting. I love hearing about the process of both illustrating and writing together. Thanks so much for this great post. I wonder what comes first the story or the pictures. Wish I had thought to ask that when I had the chance.

  24. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Luckily for you Clar, many of the comments are from me or Michael and we don't count 🙂 THis is a very good question – one I had intended to ask myself – so I have asked Michael if he can answer for us 🙂

  25. greenteantoast says:

    Hi Susanna, lovely to meet you via 12 x 12. What a great blog and great interview. I'm off to seek out Grandpa's Tractor right now. My son would love it. x

  26. Michael Garland says:

    Thanks for your question, Clarike. The simple answer is, the story always comes first. As I write the story, I imagine the images. By the time I have a first draft, I also have a vague notion of what I want the book to look like. I rough out the book with loose thumbnail sketches. I then refine these sketches into a book dummy proposal to submit to a publisher. If the publisher likes the proposal and gives me a contract for the book, the editor will have input into the text and pictures and the art director will have input into the art and design of the book. Once we're all in agreement, I start on the finished art. When I turn in the completed art, I get more feedback, usually minor stuff. When I make those changes the art is done and ready for publication.

  27. Robyn Campbell says:

    *jumping up and down* Egad! Michael Garland! Susanna, this is totally cool! 5 or 6 projects that doesn't sell for everyone that does! That's amazing. I just realized that I have used an exclamation point in almost every sentence. And in front of a famous author. Sheez!

    Michael, thank you so much for giving back. I love your books. And your advice to us aspiring writers. *waving*

    Thanks for this Susanna!

  28. Erik The Great says:

    I love the illustrations for “Fish Had A Wish” Thank you Mr. Garland for telling us how you created them!! I don't care which book I get (I can't choose, they both look great)! This is a great interview Ms. Hill!

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