Friday, April 25, 2008

Interview with Jim Averbeck, author of In a Blue Room

There's quite a buzz in the kidlitosphere about Jim Averbeck's new picture book, In a Blue Room (read my review here).

I recently had the fortunate opportunity to interview Jim Averbeck. Here's what he had to say.

Where did you get the idea for In A Blue Room? Did you base it on any of your own childhood bedtime memories?
You know, so much of writing happens on a sort of intuitive, subconscious level that it is hard to pinpoint when an idea is born, much less where it came from. I do know that with “In a Blue Room” I had decided to write a story that was a combination concept book (about colors) and a bedtime book. Then I threw in the concept of the five senses and story of a mother/daughter relationship. I tossed a few more things into the mix hoping that from all this complication simplicity would be born.Then, through multiple revisions, I somehow ended up with the 221 words that make up the story. If anything of my own childhood crept into the story, it was the love and care I received from my own mother. No doubt Alice’s patient mom finds her roots there. Of course, my mom had six kids, so I doubt I ever got the kind of time and attention Alice does in the story.

This is your first book. What inspired you to write for children?
The untold riches available to children’s authors… Seriously, when I was in the corporate world I realized that so much of your life is spent at work, that you better love what you do. I thought about what I spent most of my leisure time on: Reading! I thought it would be a coup if I could get someone to pay me to do that. Until I figure out how, I decided writing was the next best thing. I write for children because I am really just a big kid.

How long did it take you get published once you decided you wanted to write this book?
The oldest version I could find in my files was from September 2002. So, I guess that means it took 5-1/2 years from inception to publication.

Is Alice named after anyone in particular?
When I wrote In a Blue Room, I knew I wanted it to have the feel of a classic picture book - simple lyrical language about a timeless, universal experience -with a twist at the end. So when I chose a name for the little girl in the story, I chose a name from a classic of children’s literature. She’s named for Lewis Carroll’s Alice.It was probably pretty presumptuous of me. I also liked the soothing sound the name has.

What were your first impressions of the illustrations when you saw them?
When I first received the black and white sketches, I was blown away. Tricia had extended the original ending in a way that I found breathtaking. I don’t want to say too much, because I want people to experience it for themselves, but she leaves the reader with the idea that the blue room of Alice’s story is our shared “blue room” of planet earth, which helps explain why, even though Alice’s room is yellow at the beginning, the text saying Alice is “in a blue room” is correct. It’s really quite a remarkable interpretation.

Do you have another favorite book that Tricia Tusa has illustrated?
I teach a class on how illustrators can bring “more” to a picture book than the text shows without hijacking it. One way is for them to bring a broad, universal story down to a personal level. I use Tricia’s book “The Magic Hat” (written by Mem Fox) to illustrate this. I love the ending, where the great, powerful magician of the story, the owner of a magic hat that transforms those who wear it into something else, removes the hat and is revealed to be a little boy. I suppose Tricia does just the opposite for “In a Blue Room.” She brings a very personal story up to a universal level, literally.

What do you love the most about writing?
Too many things to name:Getting lost in the story… The way word choice can support what you are trying to say... The puzzle-like beauty of language… Oh! And then there are the hours, which are basically whenever I make them. Punctuation, however, I hate.

Did you have any favorite children's books when you were a child?
D'AULAIRES' NORSE GODS AND GIANTS was one I read over and over.I couldn’t pronounce half the names in it; Thor was always wielding his hammer mjolnir against Utgardsloki while Odin sat on Lidskjalf.What a bunch of jawcrackers! But I loved the stories.I also remember being moved (though I wouldn’t have called it that in the first grade) by The Giving Tree.

What authors have most influenced you?
Maurice Sendak and Ray Bradbury

When you're not writing, what can we find you doing?Mostly feeling guilty because I’m not writing.

What can we expect to see from you next?
That depends on the labyrinthine course of publication. I actually sold my first book, “Little Spoon-Ears,” in 2002. About once a year, the publisher contacts me to tell me they’re 100% behind the book. Maybe they’ll accidentally publish it in the next year or so.

What do you hope children get out of In a Blue Room?
I hope children get pleasant dreams and their parents get a good night’s sleep.

Thanks so much for your time Jim, and I wish you the best of luck!

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