Going Batty with Illustrator/Author Brian Lies
Author and illustrator, Brian Lies‘ has been busy as a… bat. Mr. Lies’ most recent book, Bats at the Library, observes the humorous hijinks of young bats exploring a library-a rite of passage guided by an older and more bookish bunch. Bats at the Beach is the first of the batty series and the band of bats continue their recreational haunts in Bats at the Ballgame, due out the end of 2010. Mr. Lies is also a prolific illustrator ranging from such titles as See the Yak Yak by Charles Ghigna to the sly sleuth series, Flatfoot Fox by Eth Clifford.
1) What was the first story that you recall writing?
We’re going WAY back here, probably to second or third grade. I think the earliest one was about a snake and a cricket who invent a sort of flying boat/car and go on great adventures together.
2) What do you love about illustrating (and writing) children’s books?
My favorite thing is imagining a new world or a twist on a familiar one, and trying to make it feel as though it could really exist. I sometimes have young readers ask, “Do bats really go to the library (or the beach)?” That’s a great question to get!
3) How did you first get discovered as an illustrator?
I started off as a political illustrator, but my childhood dream was to write children’s books. One day when I was getting started, I was in a store and talking with an acquaintance about illustration when the woman in line ahead of us turned around and asked if I’d ever done children’s illustration. It turned out she was the Art Director at Houghton Mifflin Children’s Books! We set up a portfolio review, and a month or two later, she offered me my first book to illustrate. The amazing thing is that I had her contact information in a sketchbook, and was already planning to send her some of my work to look at!
4) What inspired you to use bats as your main characters and what are your “band of bats” up to next?
I didn’t grow up thinking I’d ever write a book about bats! My then 7-year-old daughter saw a frost pattern in one of our guest room windows one winter morning and said, “Look, Daddy–it’s a bat, with sea foam!” Sure enough, the silhouette on the window looked like a happy bat with wings outstretched, waist-deep in foamy ocean waves. I thought “That sounds like a book,” and once she was on the bus, I started writing notes of what I thought bats might do if they went to the beach. I’m doing another bat book right now, Bats at the Ballgame, due out at the end of 2010. It turns out that bats love baseball, and have been playing and watching it as long as humans have.
5) What advice would you give other illustrators and writers seeking publication?
A lot of people want to be published authors, but aren’t quite so keen on the writing part of it. It’s much more important to focus on your craft–the writing and illustration skills–than to focus on whether or not you’ll get published. You may be able to get somebody to publish your book, but If your skills aren’t strong, the story won’t be strong, and no amount of great marketing is going to make your book successful. If you’re dedicated to your craft, though, you’ll constantly improve, and at some point someone will be willing to publish your work. I think it’s also a great idea to join the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and learn as much as you can about the children’s book market BEFORE you start submitting your work. It’s important to make your presentations as professional as you possibly can–and not knowing the submissions guidelines can really hurt your chances of getting published.
6) What other projects are you currently working on?
I normally focus on one single book at a time, although I collect ideas and bits which might go into other stories later. I don’t know what will be next after the book I’m illustrating now. I have a number of ideas, ranging from picture books to novel-length things, but it all depends on which idea calls to me the strongest.