My son and I recently read a wonderfully creative adventure book, "Karate Dottie and the Treacherous Treehouse," written by S. F. Varney. As part of this series on creativity, I asked Sam a couple of questions about how he finds the time and inspiration to be so creative. You'll enjoy his responses below.
He also agreed to give away a special copy of Karate Dottie with a hand-drawn illustration and autograph on the inside cover to one lucky reader. To enter, just leave a comment to this post. I'll draw the winner on October 17, 2009.
HOW DO YOU COME UP WITH AND THEN DEVELOP STORY IDEAS? I spent a large portion of my childhood with no television in the house so I became a voracious reader of books and comic books which I feel helped spark my imagination. Inspiration comes from different sources such as a picture, a newspaper or magazine article, a conversation or an observation. It usually begins with the question "What if...". The story of Karate Dottie and the Treacherous Treehouse began as a bedtime story I made up for my boys one night. When some friends stayed over a few weeks later and they specifically asked me to tell them the story about Fluffy, I knew it was a hit with them.
As for the process, I work out the basic plot first. The first three books in the Karate Dottie series comprise the first complete story arc and it is completely worked out. Then I just start writing and try to tell the story that I see in my head. I will show my work to anyone who will read it even during the early rough drafts. The characters are well developed and I make sure they act and speak in accordance with their core values and motivations. Next comes multiple rewrites and the illustrations. I do all of the illustrations for my books so I know my vision is replicated faithfully but it is not without challenges. One illustration I was unsure of including was the scene where Fluffy steps out of the darkness. I debated on whether or not I should leave that scene up to the imagination or include it. I polled the neighbors and it was a split decision and then I put it in an online forum. The responses helped me make the decision to include it. There are some illustrations that did not make the cut.
I want to make the story as unpredictable as possible. When I made the decision to make one of the characters in the story have asthma, something I personally struggled with as a child and deal with as a parent, the obvious choice would have been Gordo based on the stereotype. Instead I chose Dottie, which in turn gives this fierce little girl a challenge much like Superman has kryptonite to contend with.
HOW DO YOU FIND TIME TO PURSUE YOUR CREATIVE WRITING AND DRAWING WHEN YOU HAVE A FULL-TIME JOB AND ARE SO INVOLVED WITH YOUR VERY ACTIVE FAMILY? I don't sleep much. My boys are still young so they go to bed at 8:30 PM each night allowing me to work on my creative pursuits from 9 until midnight or sometimes a little later if I let time get away from me. I rotate what I am working on so depending on what night it is I may be working on illustrations, commissions, website design or writing. I like to chat when I am creating artwork but not when I am writing. If I am traveling on the road for my job, I always take my materials with me so I can work on it in the hotel room at night. I really enjoy doing it so I do not consider it work.
HOW DO YOU EVALUATE THE QUALITY OF WHAT YOU WRITE AND DRAW? There are two components to art, one is technical and the other is creative. It is possible to have great technical skill but lack the spark of creativity that engages the viewer. I continually strive to improve the technical side of my art through studying the techniques of talented artists that I admire both past and present. I show my art to everyone who will look. I am very active on deviantART which is a website that connects artists and those who love art. The benefit of this forum is it gives me objective feedback from artists all over the world.
Writing is more difficult to get objective feedback on. First it takes a great deal of commitment and time for someone to read a manuscript and then give criticism on it unlike an art portfolio which can be evaluated almost instantly. Constructive criticism is extremely valuable but very difficult to get. Our neighborhood is full of children so the manuscript of Karate Dottie was passed around and read by several of the target audience and their parents. I also sent it via email to some professionals to get their feedback as well. I put a lot of weight on the feedback of the target audience (children) because they are typically unfiltered in their feedback and if they do not like it, they will tell you.
Leave a comment to be entered in the drawing for your free copy of "Karate Dottie and the Treacherous Treehouse."