Little Iffy Learns To Fly Blog Tour: Aaron Zenz Interview

I’m pleased to be kicking off the Little Iffy Learns to Fly blog tour with an interview with the author/illustrator of Little Iffy, Aaron Zenz himself! Enjoy!

Hi Aaron! Thanks for stopping by my blog!

Thanks for having me over!  I appreciate all you do for the Kid Lit world, Dylan.

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Tell us a little bit about your new book, Little Iffy Learns to Fly.

Little Iffy is a bitty griffin.  Griffins are half lion and half eagle, and most of them are big and strong, tough and brave.  But Iffy Griffin is a bit more scaredy cat than lion.  And he’s a bit more chicken than eagle.  In Little Iffy Learns to Fly, Iffy’s friends want to see him use those spiffy wings he’s got.  But flying means “up,” and “up” is a little scary.  Iffy much prefers “down.”

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Tell us a little bit about your writing and illustrating process.  

I keep stories in my head for a very, very long time before I write them down.  Sometimes for years.  Kept in my brain, story ideas change and grow, evolve and flourish.  Once I commit something to paper though, I have a very hard time ever thinking of it any other way.  For me, that thing has then become cemented.  So I live with ideas in my head for as long as I can.  This happened with Little Iffy.  I can remember honing in on his personality during long walks.  Landing the perfect name while in the shower.  Developing gags on the way back from the beach.

Once I do decide to get things down on paper, it’s fast and furious.  All in one big brain dump.  Everything comes out in chicken scratch, a mishmash of words and doodles that I’m sure makes sense only to me.

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Then I play with character design, work up model sheets, and plug the story into an actual dummy.  Everything is still in loose sketches at this stage.

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Once editors and art directors got on board, then we began nailing down the actual style of art.  For this book, that took quite a while – first being pushed one direction, then an about face and pulled in a completely different direction.  People were even weighing in on the shape of the blades of grass!  It was kinda nutty 🙂  Eventually we found the look, and final art could be produced fairly quickly from there.

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Have you always been into writing and illustrating?

I came into the world, colored pencils in hand!

As soon as I was able, I was drawing and making stories.  My parents have lots of little books I made from as far back as 3 years old.  We’d come home from a walk and I’d start drawing pictures, dictating to my mom what to write: “We saw a stick. We saw a feather. The puppy followed us.”

My elementary school had an annual “Fine Arts Festival.”  I would enter stories every year and was encouraged by ribbons I won.  It’s funny looking back at the titles of my stories: “The Great Crayon Escape” or “Pencil Pete and the Penawatomis” – I was using art supplies to tell stories about art supplies!  No way I wasn’t growing up to be an artist.

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What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Crafting stories and creating art is very fulfilling.  But “exciting” is not a word you would apply to very much of that process.  School Visits on the other hand – those are a blast!  Full of energy and enthusiasm — speaker and students volleying inspiration back and forth at each other.  I LOVE visiting schools.  I love sharing that what I do is an actual job – that a life of creativity is within their reach as well.  I love getting kids pumped up about reading and writing and creating.  Just this past Thursday, I visited K-3rd graders – and I was mindful of how blessed I am, listening to a gymnasium full of kids, howling in laughter.  The day before, I visited a college class – I was only supposed to share for about an hour – but the Q & A time took off and before we knew it, almost 3 hours had passed, romping around the wondrous world of kid lit.

What inspires your creativity?

I love collaborating.  I’m inspired by connecting with people.  Some examples:

My oldest son is 19 years old now – but from the time he was 3, we’ve snuggled down together reading through classics like Treasure Island or the Chronicles of Narnia.  The number of kids has grown to six, and we continue to read through chapter books at bedtime to this day.  For seven years my kids and I collaborated on a book review blog called Bookie Woogie (www.bookiewoogie.blogspot.com), diving deep into our favorite books, studying the craft of our favorite creators and making art together.

In 2011 our family began painting and hiding rocks together in our hometown.  The activity connected with people around the world – a German children’s magazine wrote about us, Ripley’s Believe it or Not featured us in one of their books…  You can trace the steps directly from that first activity as our project snowballed into the current “City Name + Rocks” global Facebook Group rock-painting-craze currently in full swing, boasting over 1,200,000 members.

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This summer I collaborated with kids all over Michigan, making monster artwork together.  I invited kids to send me monster designs, and 3,000 drawings showed up to my house.  I picked out my favorites and made around 100 full-blown professional-style illustrations based on their designs.  Then for 18 days, I camped out at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids and invited kids in attendance to submit their own monster designs as well.  Another 7,000 designs came in, and I illustrated 50 more monsters while sitting right there on the sidewalk as I chatted with kids and families about monsters, art, and creativity.

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What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

One of my childhood heroes is Winsor McCay.  When I was young, I wanted to become an animator, and Winsor McCay was all over animation history.  Then in college, I wanted to become an illustrator, and Winsor McCay is all over illustration history.  19 years ago I moved to Spring Lake, Michigan for a job.  After living here for about 5 years, I randomly found out this is Winsor McCay’s hometown!  He seems to be following me wherever I go.  His childhood home was across the street from the very library where I’ve illustrated entire books on my laptop.  I helped found “McCay Day” here in town, and now I share the story of his life and art with kids every year in a special presentation at that library.

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If you weren’t writing and illustrating books, what do you think you’d be doing?

I don’t know… but I’m sure whatever it is, Winsor McCay would have done it first.

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What can readers expect from you in the future?

If Little Iffy Learns to Fly does well, hopefully many more Iffy Griffin books!  I’ve got the next two stories already written, and there’s a whole mythical world to explore.

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Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

If people would like to keep following along, today is the first blog stop on the Little Iffy Tour!  You can read more about Iffy, his friends, and what readers think in the coming days here:

Mon Dec 4  :  Mile High Reading  :  https://readingwithmrteut.wordpress.com

Tue Dec 5  :  Seven Impossible Things  :  http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings

Wed Dec 6  :  100 Scope Notes  :  http://100scopenotes.com

Thu Dec 7  :  Everead  :  http://www.evereadbooks.com

Fri Dec 8  :  Librarian’s Quest  :  http://librariansquest.blogspot.com

Sat Dec 9  :  Amanda’s Pile of Books  :  http://amandaspileofbooks.blogspot.com

Sun Dec 10 :  Kids Talk Kid Lit  :  https://strohreads.blogspot.com

Tue Dec 19  :  Nerdy Book Club  :  https://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com

Mon Jan 1  :  Picturebooking Podcast  :  http://www.allthewonders.com/podcasts/picturebooking

Thanks so much Dylan!

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