I’m thrilled to bring you my latest Simply 7 interview with one of my favorite picture book authors. Ryan T. Higgins is an author/illustrator who lives in Maine and has three picture books published so far. You can learn more about him at his website.
Thank you so much for stopping by my blog today Ryan. I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am about “Hotel Bruce.”
“Mother Bruce” was my favorite picture book last year. I showed it to everyone who would let me. As an Alaskan, we all cracked up over how Bruce went shopping for salmon in the river with a grocery cart.
I’m delighted to see some of these same visual gags in “Hotel Bruce” like when the soup has gone bad or the depressed moose is walking away on two legs. Not to mention the gems hidden under the paper cover. Priceless!
Ryan: Thank YOU for having me on! I’m so glad you like my grumpy old bear and the crew that tag along with him!
Me: I understand your background is actually in ecology. So what got you started in illustrating and writing kids’ books?
Ryan: I’ve always wanted to be a cartoonist, but I realized that wasn’t a likely job option. I needed a backup plan. Aside from drawing and writing, one of my passions is studying animal science and behavior. I figured, if the cartooning thing didn’t work out, I would be a field biologist and write about my exploits chasing animals around in the wild. I went to a school (College of The Atlantic) where I could study animal science AND also writing and art — so I could keep my options open. After a year or so, one of my biology professors pulled me aside to tell me that, even though my research papers were quite good, they really shouldn’t be so humorous. He suggested I keep taking biology courses, but he also pushed me to focus more on my writing and art. Funny that my biology professor is possibly the one who nudged me to become a writer/illustrator.
Me: As both an illustrator and a writer, which part of the process comes first for you: writing or illustrating? Or do they go hand in hand for you?
Ryan: It’s almost always the story that comes first for me. But usually that story is in the form of an animated movie that plays in my head and I write it down as best I can.
Me: How did you discover Bruce and his adopted goslings?
Ryan: I’ve given so many different answers to this one that I don’t exactly remember how it happened. I’m sure some of the story came from an injured little duckling that I tried to rescue (even though they’re goslings in my story). Also, there’s a doodle in my sketchbook of a bear being followed by little birds. I believe these two things mixed together in my brain to become the story of Bruce and his goslings.
Me: When you first wrote “Mother Bruce” did have a sequel in mind? Do you plan on any future stories with Bruce after “Hotel Bruce”?
Ryan: I didn’t start Mother Bruce with the idea of making more stories, but while I was working on it, I grew rather fond of the characters. By the time I finished Mother Bruce, I had loads of ideas for other stories about my grumpy old bear. I plan on making many more Bruce books!
Me: Yeah!! That’s awesome news! I noticed the mice in “Hotel Bruce” are also featured prominently in your next book due out next year (“Be Quiet”). Coincidence?
Ryan: “Be Quiet!” is the final draft of a story I wrote BEFORE I made Mother Bruce. I wanted to tie the two stories together. So… the mice from “Be Quiet!” found their way into “Hotel Bruce.” Consider it cross promotion.
Me: Any advice or insight for other picture book writers or illustrators?
Ryan: The biggest obstacle for me starting out was putting too much emphasis on each step of the book-making process and getting hung up along the way. I found myself worrying that each sentence had to be the best sentence ever! Or that each draft had to be perfect. All that pressure I put on myself didn’t make my work any stronger. It probably made it worse. I’m sure this isn’t true for everyone , but I’ve found that no single part of making stories needs to carry that much weight. Some sentences are good. Some aren’t. Some drafts are only good enough for the rubbish bin. It’s the cumulative story in the end that counts. The most important part in story-making is to just keep plugging along.
Me: I live in Anchorage, Alaska. You once said that if you weren’t writing and illustrating books that you might live in Alaska so you could study Kodiak bears. Have you ever visited Alaska? Are there any other animals that you’d like to study here?
Ryan: I’ve never visited Alaska. I’d like to, though. You have so many interesting animals up there. In college I did a fair bit of research on the behaviors and ecology of carnivores. I find wolves, mountain lions, wolverines, and brown bears fascinating.
We certainly do have a lot of wild up here in Alaska to explore: mountains, woods, and animals. I imagine it’s a lot like Maine in some ways. Thanks again for stopping by Ryan!
Readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet to read “Hotel Bruce” you HAVE to track down a copy. Ryan’s books never cease to make me laugh with absolute delight. I look forward to reading many more Bruce books in years to come.