Today’s Simply 7 is with debut author, Vivian McInerny, and one of my favorite illustrators, Ken Lamug.
Vivian McInerny is a journalist, fiction writer, and children’s book author. Her contemporary adult & YA fiction is published in several literary journals including 805 Lit+Art , Fresh Ink and Light Bringer Project. About 45,000 adults read her writing on ello. She’s a Fishtrap Fellow and a Best of the Writers Project selection of Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon where she lives. She has more children’s books in the works. You can learn more about her on Twitter & Instagram.
“The Whole, Hole Story” is Vivian’s debut picture book. It’s about a little girl named Zia who has a hole in her pocket. She loses things through that hole, including herself. This book is a zany trip into imagination akin to Alice falling down the rabbit hole. Every page has a new adventure and you’re never quite sure where the story is going to go. This is the perfect book for fostering creativity and inspiring young storytellers.
Me: You come from a journalism background. What is it then that draws you to picture books?
Vivian: I didn’t fully appreciate picture books until I had young children and found myself reading the same few books over and over. Some drove me bananas and I’d find myself bargaining with a four-year-old for a different choice. Others interested the adult reader but not the kids. My favorites were ones that engaged both kids and the adult reader, and had pictures with inside jokes or little extras for the kids to discover over time.
Like most journalists, I would happily write a long, blabby, pontificating, article that went on forever but typically needed to write to fit the printed page. The standing joke was: Is it worth killing a tree for this story?
When the internet was brand new, I remember one particularly confident writer in the newsroom going on about this new medium where you could write as long as you wished and no editor could complain because no trees were sacrificed. Some smart mouth (ahem) said, “Yeah, but nobody will read beyond the first paragraph.” Brevity is not a bad thing.
Years ago, I heard a writer describe prose like beer and poetry as a distilled, refined and aged whiskey — or something like that. Picture books are like non-alcoholic whiskey.
Me: This is your debut picture book (yay) and it’s already receiving high praises from librarians, as well as being highlighted by Amazon as the best book of the month. Why do you think that is? What is it about your book that makes it stand out in the picture book field and capture readers’ attention?
Vivian: Thank you for appreciating how exciting it feels to have a first book published! I am thrilled with the reviews and the positive response from teachers and kid lit sites and book sellers.
The world is so chaotic now. Maybe readers feel ready for a whimsical escape?
When you put any writing out into the world, you hope it will touch people but you just never know. As a journalist, I wrote stories I thought had real value that barely made a ripple with readers, and other stories I considered silly toss-offs that people found entertaining.
Ken Lamug’s illustrations hit the perfect note. They’re lively and quirky and have little secrets for kids to find. I particularly love the picture of Zia digging a hole to the other side of the world. Ken buried treasures (literally!) in the earth and I think kids will get a kick out of finding them and imagining what else might be hidden underground.
I know the amazing team at Versify has a lot to do with the attention we’re getting. Kwame Alexander is a kid lit king! I’ve never met the publicity team, but I’m pretty sure I love them. They were enthusiastic from the beginning and got the book into the right hands
Me: I love this story and how imaginative it is. It just spins and twirls from one bit of fantastic nonsense to the next. It reminds me of one my current first graders who loves to spin stories at the end of every class to anyone who will listen. Was there some child you know personally who inspired the character of Zia? Where did this idea come from?
Vivian: You are so lucky to be around inventive kids! I love witnessing the way children think and see the world in new ways. That definitely informs the picture books I’m working on. That said, I was that kid who said, “Let’s play pretend!” We had imaginative games that went on for days. One summer three of us sat in cheap lawn chairs and pretended we were shipwrecked and floating around on life rafts. We didn’t go all Lord of the Flies but were quite cooperative as we climbed onto the back of a rescue whale.
We made it back home for supper.
Me: Awesome! This story allows readers to follow along on the fun roller coaster ride of imagination. Why do you think that’s important? Do you think imagination and play are something kids should read more about?
Vivian: I’ve always loved that Albert Einstein quote: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Maybe only because I have more imagination than education, ha!
Me: Ken Lamug’s illustrations in this book are absolutely perfect. Did you communicate with him at all during the creation of them? Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Vivian: They are perfect! He excels at all kinds of illustration styles. He’s really versatile! The editors at Versify paired up the two of us and I am so grateful. Ken did character sketches which he shared with the Versify team and me, then we all weighed in. I love how Ken drew things swirling around in the hole, gave the worm a “Whew!” expression when he escapes the fishhook, and how he bent the type in some places to make the words come alive.
Me: Any advice for other picture book writers?
Vivian: Probably nothing they haven’t heard before. Read and reread children’s books to better understand your own gut reaction to what works and/or doesn’t work in a book.
Me: Your dedication says “to tellers of stories, which is not the same as fibbers. But close.” Have you known some story tellers? Who are some of your favorite spinners of words and imagination?
Vivian: I know some great storytellers. I was the fourth of six kids and some of my fondest childhood memories are all of us gathered around the kitchen table blabbing about our day at school. Funny stories ruled! By the way, our table was an old wood door that my grandfather had outfitted with wrought iron legs. We kids thought it was hilarious to say, “The door is not ajar. The door is a table!”
I don’t know how many times my dad told a long, complex, serious, story over dinner about “a guy at work” that would turn out to be an elaborate joke! I fell for it every time. And when my dad and his eight siblings got together it was like some kind of story slam.
My mom and her sisters preferred creative non-fiction story-telling. They sat around that same kitchen table gabbing over endless cups of coffee. They spun mundane events into marvelous stories. Sometimes too marvelous! They once spun a tangled tale about my aunt’s boss and his probable involvement in a kidnap-for-ransom plot until the three sisters were wondering if they should phone the FBI.
My mother called this sort of thing “Irishing-up” a story.
They never wholly believed what they said.
LOL! That’s a most excellent beginning for a writer. Thank you for stopping by Vivian.
But wait, dear readers! There’s more! I was also able to interview illustrator Ken Lamug about his work on today’s book.
Ken Lamug is an author-illustrator who has created award-winning picture books and graphic novels. Growing up in the Philippines, Ken loved making up stories and drawing on scraps of paper. The grown-ups begged him to stop, but he just kept doodling anyway. Now he lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he is a professional dabbler and has tried everything from beekeeping, filmmaking, 3d printing, photography, coding, and race car driving.
Ken’s wordless graphic novel Petro and the Flea King was recognized as the 2020 Nevada Featured Title by the Nevada Humanities. His most recent books include the middle-grade graphic novel Mischief & Mayhem #1: Born to be bad, and the picturebooks The Whole Hole Story, and Ghastly Ghosts. He also teaches about graphic novels at Storyteller Academy and is a team member at #KidLitGN Pitch event. You can find out more about him at his website www.rabbleboy.com or follow him on Instagram and Facebook.
Me: What was your artistic journey? When did you start drawing? How did that bring you to where you are now?
Ken: I drew a little bit when I was a child back in the Philippines. But my growth really started when I took it seriously about ten years ago. My path was not as straightforward as it would seem because I really was not focused on artistic endeavors for a long time.
I worked in technology as a programmer for many years. That is when I met a good friend who introduced me to filmmaking. We made several independent films, and this pretty much started my journey back to storytelling.
I am a self-taught artist and I started with pen and paper, illustrating spooky or macabre art like Edward Gorey and Tim Burton. I had to relearn everything from scratch and there is no way around it other than drawing – a lot!
Once I was comfortable, I put my art online. I also did free illustrations for websites. This led to some serious projects and my very first agent.
Me: I love that you’re drawn to fairy tales, dark themes (like apocalypse ABCs), and the twisted and tantalizing parts of fiction. It certainly seems like a good fit for your illustration work on “Ghastly Ghosts.” Do you think it also helped to lead you to this book: “The Whole Hole Story”?
Ken: I do think that all my previous projects and books contributed to my overall growth as an artist. You made a connection between my spooky art and my picture book Ghastly Ghosts, which is correct. They are within the same genre, although for different age-groups.
In 2018, I also published a wordless graphic novel called Petro and the Flea King. It is a whimsical story based on a Filipino folktale about a boy who has to save the town from the Flea King and his minions. And if you look closely, you will see some inspiration drawn from that book that flowed into The Whole Hole Story.
Since Petro is wordless, the story had to be told through the artwork and the characters poses and reactions. I was able to use what I learned from that book and apply it to Zia’s character in The Whole Hole Story.
Our growth as artists is like building a house brick by brick and we build upon our previous work as we go up. So, I do not think my maturity level would be where it is without my previous books.
Me: You’ve worked in a lot of different genres, from comics to magazine illustration. What is it that draws you to picture books?
Ken: When I work on a project, there are two factors I take into consideration. First, is the story something that inspires or interests me, and second, is it something that will challenge me and help me grow. And my previous books have a little bit of both.
I love illustrating for this age-group because the stories and artistic style are the closest to my heart. Children’s books tackle such complex emotional concepts and ideas but bundled in a package that is easy to understand and relate to. They are often full of imagination, creativity, hope, quirkiness, humor all at once. Each time you open a children’s book it is like opening a gift.
So, whenever I create children’s art, I try my best to encapsulate all these emotions and wonder on each page. I do not want the stories to end when the book is closed, I want the child to keep the story going and creating their own possibilities of what could happen next. And I think we have achieved that with The Whole Hole Story!
Me: Your work is both fun and beautiful. Your bear graphic for our Alaskan Fall Conference was a favorite for quite some time. Is your preferred medium digital? Have you always been a digital artist?
Ken: Thank you for remembering that. Since I do not have any formal art education, I used what was already accessible to me at the time. It just so happens that my background is in computers and it was an easy transition to use it as a tool for creating art.
Of course, a lot of digital artists try to mimic traditional using computers which has its own challenges. But I think the benefits outweigh the challenges, especially for someone like myself. Most publishers require the final deliverables to be digital and it makes life easier when there are changes.
My setup is a desktop pc and a drawing tablet. I use standard programs such as Photoshop, Clip Studio Pro & InDesign.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in illustrating this book?
Ken: Initially, the book was slated as a standard 32-pager. But as I laid out the pages, it felt quite compact and cramped. There were so many things going on in the story that it seemed like we were not giving it the time and space it deserved.
But midway through the project, it was decided that we should add more pages. Normally in a situation like this where contracts are signed and schedules become an issue, adding extra work is typically not a good thing.
I accepted the new challenge and I think it really makes the story that much better. It also helps that the story is fun, and Zia is a great character.
Me: What was your favorite part (or illustration) in this book?
Ken: I have two favorites. I really enjoyed drawing the different poses for Zia and making her personality shine on every page. It’s also neat that her outfit transforms to suit the situation. And I also loved the elephant. It’s a fun character to draw and who knows, maybe it’ll come back in the next book!
Me: Any advice for other picture book illustrators?
Ken: My advice is simple. Make sure to keep improving your craft, do not be scared to put your work out there, and remember to take breaks.
Great advice. Thank you for stopping by Ken!
Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet to check out this book, I highly recommend it. I would have my 6-year-old student share her “chickens-to space-to swimming-to DEATH” stories with you too so you could see just how wacky stories can ramble in young creative minds! BUT this story so perfectly captures that same ramble. It’s quite a unique picture book that shows young readers just how far their imagination can take them and it does NOT have to make sense.