Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Writer's Block Interviews: Gary Bernard

1) Tell us a bit about yourself and where you live and work. How did you become an author/illustrator?

I have been interested in illustrating stories since I was a child; Frank Frazetta probably the biggest catalyst in this. I had many Frazetta posters on my bedroom walls and absolutely loved comic books/graphic novels. There were many illustrated album covers that I tacked up among the posters, some being more interesting than the music itself. It wasn't until college that I decided to focus on illustration as a career path. Rhode Island School of Design had a huge amount of talented artists, all who inspired me one way or another. While taking a class with Chris VanAllsburg, he brought in a book that he was currently working on that really put my dreams into place.

2) Do you gravitate toward specific genres in your writing? Who is your ideal reader?

Since I have just begun writing, I'd have to say that I don't gravitate toward any one specific genre. I tend to be more influenced by and drawn toward the older fairy tales. The main reason for this is that they can be enjoyed by all ages due to the more mature writing style. In this style, they can be interpreted in more than one way. My ideal reader is anyone who can enjoy and benefit from my words and illustrations.

3) Tell us about Pemba Sherpa.

Pemba Sherpa is a true story of the first female sherpa (porter and guide in Nepal) who saved her brother from a fall when they were children. It was a great gift to be able to begin my publishing career with a true story of strength and character and such an empowering story for little girls. It received a nod from the Junior Library Guild which was an honor and was recently included into the Amelia Bloomer Project (a feminist reading list). I had just come back from climbing Mount Whitney in California when the manuscript landed on my desk. The trip was fresh in my head and it really helped a great deal when interpreting mountains and surrounding areas.

4) What is Ollie and Tugg about? What inspired you to write it?

Ollie and Tugg is about a not too smart dinosaur (as if there were any really smart ones) and his desire to swim. He meets a pelican that becomes a reluctant friend and the story builds into a meaningful friendship. I wrote the story for my son when he travelled abroad with my wife. Before leaving we were having dinner and he asked me if Allosaurs could swim. I incorrectly answered that they couldn't, and the day that he left I began writing with the idea of a dinosaurs' quest to swim. Being a father for the first time, I wanted to incorporate a few important life lessons into the story, so when reading it to him, he would get a bit more out of it. Some of the lessons are, not to let go of your dreams, be persistent; it pays off, ignore those who laugh at your aspirations and that you can always try to right your wrongs. My daughter, who was practicing her alphabet with a brush and some watercolors, created the font that was used on the cover. I had gone back and forth with the publisher on what the best font would be, and when I saw what she had done by my feet as I was working on the finishing touches, I thought that it fit perfectly.

5) How do you promote your work? What methods have worked best for you?

The most that I have done to promote my work has been to travel in the US and abroad to speak at schools. My last trip was to France, where I spoke to over 400 children in 3 cities. I think that I get much more out of it than the children sometimes. The feedback is similar, but always has slight cultural differences. When reading and speaking to the children in the Los Angeles school district, most of the children were coming from a Mexican background. When discussing my books afterwards, their culture came through as they would impose their surroundings and familial situations upon my stories. It's still the same message, but seen with a twist of something else. This, to me is working best. I have done a handful of book signings/appearances, but as far as promotion goes, I believe that it's not the best avenue unless you are well known.

6) Who are your favorite authors? What is on your reading list right now?

My favorite children book authors books are, Maurice Sendak, Tomi Ungerer, Edward Gorey and a handful of others. I need to include 6 illustrators, Lisbeth Zwerger, Frank Frazetta, NC Wyeth, Howard Pyle, Arthur Rackham, Jessie Willcox Smith, just because without them, the stories would not have been nearly as good. As far as what is/has been on my reading list now, it has been, Stieg Larsson, Cormac Mccarthy, Iain Pears and the most recent (yes, I did like it) Suzanne Collins (I stopped after the Hunger Games because Catching Fire lost my attention.)

7) What are your views on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing?

Traditional publishing is a good avenue if you have never been published before or you have a great agent who can make it work for you. To have the clout of a "real" publisher behind you in the beginning, I believe, is very important for other future publishers to take you seriously. If you have a great agent, as I have met some who have one, having a traditional publisher can work very well. Promoting your work is necessary (as I am quickly finding out) for both self and traditional publishing. Self-publishing is a very interesting avenue for those who have the drive and the resources to get the work out there. Ebooks have already surpassed physical books on Amazon and if you can handle the idea of your book never being in a physical form, I would encourage any author to try it out to see where it takes them.

8) When you are not writing, how do you spend your time? Describe a typical day in your life.

I am an Art Director and designer working in both digital and print media. I bought a burnt out shell of a home 5 years ago and it's not quite finished (my wife and I have done 95% of the work), and being a father pretty much take up my days. I have done some editorial illustration and I am still working on paintings (both large and small scale) and new book ideas. I am always looking for an opportunity to secure new illustration projects/books to do for others.

9) What projects do you have in the works?

I am currently working on an ebook (picture book) and another idea for a YA book that I hope to put out within the next 2 years. I will definitely say more when they are ready.

10) What advice would you offer to aspiring authors?

Don't quit, listen to anyone, but don't hear the negativity. Stay positive and believe in your project. If anyone tells you that "it won't work", "you are not good enough" or no publisher will take your book see this link:

For my first book, it took me 15 years, thousands of mailings (postcards with samples), phone calls, emails, networking and one day I met someone who knew someone. Just keep going.

Thank you Raychelle for having me!

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