Welcome to Port Jericho!
Megan, where are you from?
I was born and raised in San Antonio, TX. It is a city that I now appreciate in hindsight so much more than when I was growing up. It was a really fantastic place to be a kid.
Tell us a little about yourself:
I am the youngest child with two older brothers, so I grew up tough – and with a strong support system! My parents are retired – one an accountant and the other an English teacher. The combination of those two sums up my disposition fairly well.
After growing up as an artist in my school years, I decided to study Architecture in college because it seemed like a solid mix of left and right brain, and it involved drawing (which is important to me). Fast forward through 5 years of university and 6 years working in an architecture office, and I changed course to focus full-time on writing and illustrating picture books.
Who is your favorite author? What really strikes you about their work?
When it comes to adult fiction, I don’t tend to read tons of books by any one author. I am someone who craves a variety of perspectives and styles. Authors who I have really enjoyed are Yann Martel, Jonathan Safran Foer, and the inimitable Stephen King. Martel uses allegory masterfully, and Foer’s books make me cry (which I think is a good thing?). King needs no introduction – his books are, in a word, interwoven. It’s amazing to fall into 50 or 60 pages of a story-within-the-story, only to see that fold in at a later point in the narrative. It’s fascinating, and his sense for place and setting is so strong.
I actually tend to read more nonfiction than anything else. I suppose that’s the best way I can continue my education beyond formal schooling, and I get lots of glimmers of inspiration for my own writing by studying nonfiction.
Naturally, these days I read more picture books than any other genre. Comes with the territory, I guess!
Do you recall the first book you ever read?
I’m not sure if I remember the first picture book I ever read (my memory doesn’t extend to that youngest age). Probably my mom’s vintage copy of Yertle the Turtle or one of the Little Golden Books. I do remember reading what I considered a “long” chapter book for the first time, called Five Children and It.
What book(s) are you reading now?
The Once and Future King (again, my mom’s copy). A friend had shared this excerpt from the book, and it felt like a timely book to read:
“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. […] Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”
I’m also splitting time with Wild Ones by Jon Mooallem, which is a journalistic account of vanishing animal species and the meaning of animals in our current culture. I’m always looking for new themes for my writing.
What’s your favorite word? Why?
Phonetically, “tube” and “pouch” are pretty adorable.
Are there any words you absolutely loathe? Why?
I’m not particularly into swear words, especially in writing. They can be used for emotional effect, but they usually dumb things down. There are always so many better ways to phrase something thoughtfully.
In a thematic sense, I don’t like the word, “futile”. It is one of the heaviest words in our language, and for me, one of the scariest because it implies a loss of control. I’ll admit that I am a control freak who is convinced that I can steer my ship. Of course, this is an unrealistic notion, but I find that it allows me to hold on to hope in most situations.
Do you have a mentor who has shepherded or encouraged your creativity?
This honor definitely belongs to my mother. I think it’s just in her blood to encourage creativity in all its forms. She ensured that I was well stocked with books growing up, and has always supported my artistic endeavors. She taught high school English, a class on “Heroes, Myths and Legends”, and was the Journalism sponsor for her school. I practically grew up in her classroom as she coached students to create newspapers. She also got me into Ready Writing district competitions in school. Full disclosure, I still send her my writing for editing and proofing.
What inspired you to write your first book? What inspired you to write children’s picture books?
It was a huge decision to break from my career in architecture to write my first book full-time. Looking back that need for control was definitely a factor. Getting a project built takes a huge team, with the input of clients and others. Writing a book can be done by one person if it’s self-published. To me, that is creative bliss to fully conceptualize, organize and realize an artistic project.
Writing children’s picture books is specifically rewarding. With both of my books thus far, I have laced in pieces of myself and interests. Not only do picture books “stay with us” as we get older – they also educate, inspire or otherwise shape the children who read them. There is so much meaning in that and I feel that it helps to spread a little good in this world.
What challenges do you face in your writing?
So many. The first basic challenge is to create a cohesive storyline that appeals to children (who read the book) and adults (who buy the book). That is incredibly tricky, and I tend toward heavier themes that I have to lighten up and bring back to the realm of a child’s optimistic outlook.
Finding the best words when speaking is much more difficult for me than when writing. I guess there’s a more natural connection between my brain and hand, than my brain and mouth. I often say the wrong things. Still with children’s books, there are certain limits on sentence structure and vocabulary that pose unique challenges.
My greatest challenge is always to move past self-critique to the point that I can call the work “finished”. I will work long hours to make a drawing or sentence feel just right – to me.
What writing craft books are your most treasured resources?
I typically learn by doing or by studying precedent – both holdovers from my architectural career. I keep a few packed shelves of children’s picture books that I regularly dissect and diagram, to get a general feel for what works and doesn’t, or how the pace and flow of children’s writing should feel. The term ‘treasure’ does describe how I categorize a good picture book, and each can be an invaluable resource.
I’m also slowly making it through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and Stephen King’s On Writing is on my “To Read” list.
You do illustrations for your books as well. What prompted the drawing talent?
Drawing has always been at the core of who I am. I’ve always doodled, especially in inappropriate places like the 2nd pew at church growing up, or during my college lectures, or on the phone with clients at work. Drawing is my most natural state.
I actually decided to self-publish rather than send out manuscripts to publishers, because drawing and sketching come first in my writing process. With traditional publishers, your illustrations have to be absolutely stellar and fit the story, or a different illustrator is sought out. I could not take that chance!
How did you come up with the title, Little Moon?
There was a great synergy that came together when crafting the story, and the title was inevitable. That is a phrase from the architecture world – that a design is “inevitable” and could be no other way to suit the site, clients or program.
The actual moon was an inspiration in the book’s early stages. I was reading Carl Sagan and thinking a lot about space. I can also trace the path of the moon from my bay window at night, so it is a “guiding figure” to me, at least when the San Francisco fog subsides.
In the story, the little squid does not gain her confidence until a special realization clicks for her regarding the moon above and her special ability to light her own path. This was figurative for sure, but also very literal because her particular species of squid uses counter-illumination to glow at night.
What would you like your readers (any age) to take away from Little Moon?
There are several layers threaded throughout the story. It is a story of perseverance against odds. It is a story of finding inner strength and discovering your own talents. It is a warning against trying to fit in, and a glimpse into the effects of man on the ocean environment. Ultimately, it is also a story of facing abandonment and standing on your own.
That’s a lot, but in 48 pages, I had lots of room to explore ideas!
Why a squid? What prompted your interest in these fascinating creatures?
The squid was kind of a funny happenstance. I was researching characters for an underwater setting, and came across some info about cuttlefish. They are bizarre but so cool. Unfortunately for a children’s book, they’re a little terrifying, too!
I liked that cuttlefish have all these unique abilities, so I did more research and found that the Hawaiian bobtail squid has similar traits and also happens to be really cute. Once I discovered the connection to the moon, which was something I was a bit obsessed with at the time, it seemed like a perfect fit for the story of self-discovery.
What was it like drawing the artwork for Little Moon?
The illustration style is very different than my first book, because I felt that the underwater vibe would not be conveyed without using watercolor. I had not touched watercolors in many years, so I had to re-learn the medium. The majority of my writing process is spent creating and revising the illustrations, and the text is finalized only toward the end of the project. That may seem like a strange method, but it works for me because I conceptualize better through images.
Did you learn anything about yourself from working on Little Moon?
I learned some of my vulnerabilities, and that I just need to push through emotions to thrive on the other side. Writing this story was strangely emotional and I guess a little personal for me. I don’t want to say I bared my soul or anything, but that little squid has a lot of me in her.
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