Monday, September 9, 2013

Q&A with author and artist Ursula Vernon

Ursula Vernon is the author and illustrator of the Dragonbreath series, Digger, Nurk, Black Dogs, Irrational Fears, and Little Creature. Her latest book is Dragonbreath: The Case of the Toxic Mutants. She lives in North Carolina. 

Q: How did you come up with Danny, the main character in your Dragonbreath series?

A: Well, there's the good answer and the true answer...*grin* The good answer is that I started thinking about characters who don't fit in at school, and what sort of school would be fun to draw. I thought about a dragon at a school for mythical creatures, but he wouldn't stand out if everybody else was mythical too. So then I thought "What about a school for lizards?" and Danny's the only dragon, so he'd look like everybody else, but he wouldn't quite be the same...

The true answer is that my agent said "Write a comic for this age range and I said "Yes'm." And took a walk to think about it, except it was August in North Carolina and I nearly got heat stroke and have no memory of the walk except that I had Danny in my mind when I got back. I have attempted to reconstruct the process above, but for all I know, I saw an interesting dragon-shaped rock.

I don't suggest this method to anyone, but if you try it, drink plenty of fluids.

Q: You've created books for kids as well as for young adults and adults. Do you have a favorite age group to write for?

A: Honestly, no. I write books that are...err...the books I write. (This is not helpful, I realize!) Usually my editor or agent tells me what age range they're "for" when they're done.  A few times I've written a book where the voice is somewhat young but the events are too weird or gory or whatever, so they can't figure out what to do with it!

I never thought I'd be a children's book author, it just sort of happened. The books I was writing just came out as children's books. I think that's actually helpful for me--there's a tendency, when people write for children, to try to dumb everything down to meet their perceived "level." Kids look at that with their beady little eyes and know exactly what you're doing and will drop the book and never pick it up again. Nobody likes to feel patronized.

Q: Of the various creatures in your stories, do you have one that you feel especially fond of?

A: I really enjoy the sentient potato-salad in the Dragonbreath books. It's something of a fan favorite, too

Q: As someone who is both an artist and a writer, do you consider yourself more one than the other?

A: depends on what hat I'm wearing that day! When I'm getting ready for an art show, I'm an artist, when I'm writing books, I'm a writer. (When other writers are annoying me, I'm an artist...*grin*)

These days, so much of the art is production art for the books that I enjoy the writing more, but sometimes I like to just do a painting and have a moment frozen in time, without having to set up fifty thousand words on each side of it. They're both great mediums, and if I haven't done one or the other for awhile, I get itchy

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Everything! (Well, that's what it feels like...) I'm doing art for Dragonbreath 10, editing a novella for adults called Nine Goblins, (to be released under the pen-name T. Kingfisher) and waiting to hear back on a middle-grade book about a girl who wants to be a Wicked Witch. There's a lot on my plate!

It doesn't help that I keep starting new ideas, writing a few thousand words, seeing if they go anywhere...The only way I can tell if a book is “live” or not is to start writing it. Usually they don't go anywhere, but sometimes I'll get ten thousand words in and it's still going and I'll go "Yup, got a live one!" Then I usually send what I've got to my agent and say "Can you find someone who will pay me to finish this?" It's not a terribly efficient process, but it works so far...
Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I have a beagle. I mention this only to solicit pity from fellow beagle-owners.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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