DEAR NERDY BOOK CLUB, HAPPY DEAR DRAGON TRAILER PREMIERE! YOUR PALS, JOSH FUNK & RODOLFO MONTALVO
The following letter exchange occurred over email between the dates of August 15 and August 27, 2016.
So, we’re premiering the book trailer for DEAR DRAGON on the Nerdy Book Club and I’m supposed to write a post to go along with it, but I’m not sure what to write. Do you have any good ideas?
Well, since the book is about letter writing, we could ask each other questions over email and share them on the post. What do you think?
[The following exchange has been edited to appear in interview format for ease of reading.]
Josh: That’s a great idea! I love it! It’s kind of like the Stead’s Number Five Bus! Since the ball’s in my court, I’m just gonna dive in. As soon as I got the email from Leila Sales, my editor, saying that Viking had found an illustrator, I went straight to your website. I immediately knew you’d be a good fit, but I think it was the alligator (or is it a crocodile?) image that made it clear you were perfect for both humans and reptiles. My daughter also read THE CONTAGIOUS COLORS OF MUMPLEY MIDDLE SCHOOL and really enjoyed it. What were your first thoughts when you saw the manuscript for DEAR DRAGON? What’s the backstory of how you got involved in the project?
Rodolfo: It’s a crocodile, by the way. When I first read your manuscript, I could see and feel the world that you had created in your story. Reading your manuscript was like getting a glimpse into a narrative playground where I could jump in and explore many sides of my illustration work. It was amazing to see how you were able to bring so many fun elements into one story. I knew that there would be a lot of challenges ahead, but felt very fortunate and excited about being the one to take on the task. I got attached to the project by going to the 2014 Winter SCBWI conference in New York. There, I got to display my portfolio in the conference showcase and one of the judges, coincidentally, also liked the crocodile piece. That judge was Denise Cronin from Viking Children’s Books, and she became my art director on DEAR DRAGON.
What sparked the idea for the book? Was it inspired by an actual pen pal relationship? What was the most challenging part of writing DEAR DRAGON? Were there any unexpected things, findings, or “happy mistakes” as you were writing the story? If so, what are they?
Josh: Wow! That’s such a cool NY SCBWI Conference success story! Narrative playground? You should totally write books yourself!
The idea came by combining the fact that my wife’s 8th grade social studies students were part of a pen pal exchange … and my son was really into dragons. Originally, Blaise (the dragon) knew he was writing to a human, even though George (the human) did not know. When I brought the manuscript to one of my critique groups, EVERYONE thought the misunderstanding went in both directions – so I decided to reinforce that and build upon it.
Was it your idea to split each spread so the left side was what the letter-recipient imagined and the right was what really happened? Or did that come from Denise & Leila? I love the design of the spot illustrations on the left and the full bleed on the right! Do you have a favorite pairing spread?
Rodolfo: The idea to split the spreads did come in collaboration with Denise and Leila. Your manuscript also had a big part of that idea. In the beginning we tried a couple of different ways to tell the story but the rhythm and back-and-forth between the characters and the letters was not matching the pace that you had created in your manuscript. Working with Denise and the Viking team was such a great experience that it made it easy to come up with new ideas, try new things, and scratch things out when we had to. Eventually we found the pace we were looking for.
As you probably figured out by now, I love working with pen and ink. The spot illustrations are some of my favorite parts of the book and I had a lot of fun trying to create a balance between the black and white of the ink work and the watercolors. I guess if I really have to choose one, it would have to be the spread with the volcanos. The imagined volcano vignette was the first piece of final art that I completed. Once I finished that piece, a clearer picture of the book came to mind, and it was very exciting to see the work come together.
I’ve never asked you about how you got started in picture books. When and why did you start this journey? Did you always want to be an author?
Josh: To be honest, I didn’t start writing until I had kids – and spent a lot of time reading picture books with them. There were so many great ones that I loved; I was inspired to try writing my own. The short answer is that in 2011, I stopped playing fantasy football and started writing. The medium answer is that I took an evening class through the local adult education department, found SCBWI, started going to conferences (in the New England region), worked on my craft, networked a bit, had a LOT of luck, and five years later … here’s DEAR DRAGON.
Note: Neither writing picture books nor playing fantasy football is or was my day job (I’m a software engineer).
How about you – what’s your story? How long have you been illustrating? Do you do any writing?
Rodolfo: I had an early passion for drawing and a talent for keeping at it. I have always been able to appreciate all kinds of art, and narrative images such as comics, children’s books, figurative paintings, and animation always made a bigger impression on me.
After earning my BFA in 2011, I started building a career as an illustrator with two goals in mind: one, finding work as a background painter/designer for animation, and two, breaking into the children’s book industry. The more time I spend getting to know the children’s book world, the people in it, and its craft, the more it feels like the right fit. But I’d certainly be open to exploring animation again one day.
I’ve always enjoyed writing. I love the similarities I feel it has with the creation of images. Currently, I’m working with a writing partner, my wife, René. We bounce story ideas off each other constantly and have been working on several picture book drafts over the years. I feel confident that one of them will be ready soon.
Should we show the trailer now? Where did you shoot all that footage?
Josh: Oh, yeah. That’s why we’re here, isn’t it. I shot it at nErDcampMI last month and … well just watch!
I should probably send this over to Cindy Minnich so she can get the post ready! It’s been great chatting with you!
Rodolfo: You, too! I can’t wait to see DEAR DRAGON out and about on September 6th!
Special thanks to Suzanne Gibbs (@Suz_Gibbs), Melissa Guerrett (@guerrette79), Jillian Heise (@heisereads, @CustomeduLit), Don Miller, Erika Victor (@ErikaMVictor), Cindy Minnich (@CBethM), Melanie Roy (@mrsmelanieroy), Jen Vincent (@mentortexts), and nErDcampMI (@nErDcampMI)
Always the quiet shy kid at heart, Rodolfo Montalvo spends a lot of his time drawing, painting, and looking for new story ideas. He loves living near the ocean and waking up early in the morning to a clean sheet of paper. He created the illustrations for the middle grade novels, THE CONTAGIOUS COLORS OF MUMPLEY MIDDLE SCHOOL, and it’s sequel, THE AMAZING WILMER DOOLEY, by Fowler DeWitt. DEAR DRAGON is his first picture book project. Find out more about Rodolfo Montalvo at www.rodolfomontalvo.com.
Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as picture books – such as the Award-Winning LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST (Sterling), PIRASAURS! (Scholastic), DEAR DRAGON (Viking/Penguin), LP&SFT: THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH (Sterling, 2017), IT’S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK (Two Lions, 2017), and more. Josh is a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA and the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences. Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________. Find out more about Josh Funk at www.joshfunkbooks.com and on Twitter at @joshfunkbooks.