Saturday, August 15, 2020

Q&A with Breena Bard

Photo by Weeno Photography
Breena Bard is the author and illustrator of Trespassers, a new graphic novel for kids. She also has written and illustrated the books Hey Baby and Picket Line. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Trespassers, and for your characters Gabby and Paige?

A: The idea for Trespassers grew out of real events and memories of my family's summer vacations at the lake, and my tendency to get lost in my imagination.

Gabby is based on me as a kid: a tomboy, somewhat sheltered, and a bit of bookworm. I wrote lots of stories as a kid, and wanted Gabby to have that same hobby be the thing that eventually pulled her out of her bubble.

Paige was inspired by a neighbor girl that I knew, and re-imagined as an agent of change (albeit a snarky one) who challenges Gabby to take risks and push beyond her comfort zone.

It was really fun writing scenes for these two girls, with very different backgrounds and worldviews, and seeing how they grew and changed together. 

Q: As you were working on the book, did you create the text and the illustrations simultaneously, or focus on one before turning to the other?

A: I started by drawing the characters in my sketchbook enough times that they felt real to me, and then began my writing process.

For me, this involves loosely drawing the scenes out in my sketchbook, and writing as I go along. In this first pass I try to keep things very open and free, and indulge any idea that comes along, knowing that I can and will edit much of it out in later drafts. Some of my favorite scenes emerge when I am in this stage of writing, more at play than at work.

Q: Did you know how the book would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?

A: I definitely did not know how the story would end before I started (I rarely do), which can be nerve-wracking at times! It's easy to start a number of storylines, it's much harder to tie them up in a way that is both satisfying and earned.

What was especially challenging with Trespassers is there are multiple storylines within, ranging from large family drama (if the family will have to sell their beloved cottage) to lighthearted shenanigans (finding a pregnant cat living in their garage) and of course the stories of Gabby and Paige's adventures throughout.

With this many layers, it was a real challenge to figure out which order to resolve each plotpoint, and it definitely took some serious reworking to get things to a place I was happy with.

I had already been through four or five drafts of the story when I was selected by Scholastic for their "Get Published by Graphix" contest (which resulted in my book deal for Trespassers) and then working with my editor there, the story went through a few additional rounds of edits, some of them substantial.

All that to say, it was quite a wrestling match between me and this book to get things just the way I wanted them! It will be interesting to compare this with my next book, where I will have a much clearer sense of the complete plot before I even begin. 

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?

A: I hope that young readers can see some part of themselves reflected in one of the characters in this story, whether that's the more cautious yet determined Gabby, the worldwise and jaded Paige, or any of the supporting cast.

I hope that wherever they see themselves, readers recognize our tendency to stick with what is comfortable, and see how certain adventures are only unlocked when we dare to step outside our comfort zone.

I think this applies to people too--Gabby and Paige are very wary of each other at first, but if they had left it at that and gone their separate ways, they would miss out on the rich friendship that grows over shared experience. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm mostly in the ideas stage right now! Which works out well during this pandemic, since I'm the primary caretaker for our two young kids and my writing time is limited. But I'm working on some ideas for a possible sequel, and developing a few ideas for other books as well.

One project I've been working on that is just for fun is a sci-fi comic I've been serializing on my Instagram page, called MAYDAY76.

It imagines a future where humanity is battling a new strain of COVID, and a crew of six astronauts has embarked on a mission to save humanity, while remaining quarantined from each other on their ship. It's part drama, part humor, part suspense, and of course part sci-fi.

It's been surprisingly therapeutic, as it's given me an outlet not just to continue writing and drawing, but also a place to work through some of the issues that the pandemic has raised, particularly around social isolation and mental health.
Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I think you covered all the big stuff! Thank you for the questions and sharing me and my book with your readers!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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