Friday, November 17, 2017

Interview Session with Nicholas Gannon: The Doldrums and the Helmsley Curse

Two years ago, I read The Doldrums, a book that made me think of all the classic friendship stories that I read as a child. Now, with the second installment in the series, I interview Nicholas Gannon, author and illustrator of The Doldrums and the Helmsley Curse, available for purchase now.

Welcome to Twenty by Jenny, Nicholas!

Where are you from, and where do you currently live now?

I spent most of my childhood wandering the frozen tundra of Minnesota where the temperature once reached -63 degrees. I now live in Brooklyn where temperatures are more hospitable.

When did you start writing and illustrating books for children? What were you doing before that?

The Doldrums was my first book. I began creating the world in 2008. During that time, I worked briefly at an animation studio, was fired and moved on to a construction gig, building homes in upstate New York, and then finally, was gainfully employed as a production assistant for a law publisher in Manhattan. It’s amazing what you can do with an art degree.

In your own words, tell me a little bit about what The Doldrums and the Helmsley Curse is about, and what new characters we might be introduced to.

At its heart, The Doldrums is a story about friendship and family within the context of a peculiar world of explorers. Archer's grandparents, the renowned explorers who'd mysteriously vanished atop an iceberg in book one, are finally home, but there are many secrets to uncover and questions to answer.  

Book two has a slew of new characters. Most notably: Diptikana Misra, who you might know from the first book as ‘Girl Vanishes Down Wishing Well;’ Benjamin Birthwhistle, a budding young botanist whose father took over as president of the Society when Archer’s grandfather vanished (which doesn’t sound sketchy at all); and Darby, a Society Greenhorn, which is just a fancy title for a student of the Society and a future explorer.

What is the Society based on, and if you belonged to it, what do you think would be your field of exploration?   

The Society is based loosely on the Explorer's Club in Manhattan. It’s an active club (members include astronauts) in a fantastically old building filled with artifacts from old expeditions and taxidermied animals. During my first visit to the Explorer's Club, I saw an old lady stuffing letters into envelopes. I thought nothing of her at the time, but a few minutes later, my guide informed me that she was the first woman to cross the Sahara Dessert alone on camel back. She actually had two camels but was starving and had to eat one. It's an incredible place.

If I were a Society member, I would be in the jungles division. Rainforests are nothing if not magical.

What was your favorite scene to write in The Doldrums and the Helmsley Curse?

The most enjoyable scene to write was the uproarious holiday party at DuttonLick's sweetshop. The store is overflowing with sugar high students falling from balconies, dancing to music, and wreaking havoc on Mr. DuttonLick’s house of confection. It's a Yuletide blast. And that's to say nothing of the fact that some of the chocolates students are gobbling up have been secretly contaminated with Doxical Powder—a substance from the Society that will turn you into your opposite for a short time.

What illustration was the most fun to create in The Doldrums and the Helmsley Curse?

The most enjoyable illustration to create was the opening scene, where Oliver and Adélaïde are walking down Howling Bloom Street to mail a letter to Archer. It took a good deal of time make and while I wish the windows had a bit more detail in them, it's one of my favorite images in the book.

Howling Bloom Street

What is the inspiration behind the city of Rosewood?

During the early 1900’s, my great-great-grandfather (an Irishman) worked on a cargo ship that brought things from Ireland to New York. During one trip, my great-great-grandfather decided he wasn’t going to return to Ireland so he jumped overboard, swam across New York Harbor, and stood up on the shores of Brooklyn where he made his home and found work digging the NYC Subway system until he died of tuberculosis at the age of forty. I have the suitcase my great-great-grandfather arrived with and I now live in Brooklyn and the City of Rosewood was based on the early Irish immigrant community living here. Not overtly, mind you, but that was the origin.

Ok, tough question: chocolate snurple or twisted caramel?

I didn’t realize this was going to be a hit piece… Alright, well, to be safe, I’ll agree with Adélaïde. Snurples might sound too much like a disease so it’s a twisted caramel for me.

What are you currently reading?

Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell and my is she a talent.

What were some of your favorite books as a child? Any influential authors, illustrators, you name them.

The first book I ever read cover to cover was Matilda by Roald Dahl. More importantly, it was the first book that I ever loved. Other childhood favorites include The Chronicle of Narnia by Lewis (specifically The Horse and His Boy and The Magician’s Nephew), and everything by E.B. White.

What do you love about writing and illustrating books for children?

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of creating a world and filling it with characters. I imagine it’s not dissimilar for hobbyists who build those massive mini train worlds. You can do this with any kind of book of course, but I think it lends itself especially to works for children.

What is next? Any future projects for us to look forward to?

I’m currently working on an illustrated project for two other authors. And, the continuation of the Doldrums.

Thanks very much for stopping by Twenty by Jenny, Nicholas!

And for those of you interested in entering a GIVEAWAY of BOTH Doldrums Books, here are the rules:

* You must live in the U.S., Canada, or the U.K.
* The giveaway contest will end November 30, 2017 at 11:59 p.m. E.T.
* You must follow @doldrumspress and @20xjennybooks on Instagram.
* Tag a friend in the comments of this photo.
* There will be THREE giveaway winners! Three sets of Doldrums Books! 

Good luck!  

The Doldrums and the Helmsley Curse by Nicholas Gannon

Welcome back to Rosewood in The Doldrums and the Helmsley Curse, the sequel to The Doldrums, published in 2015. In Nicholas Gannon’s first novel for kids ages 8 to 12, the reader meets Archer Helmsley, grandson to two of the most famous explorers who lives a very sheltered, unadventurous life. Oliver Glub, Archer’s best-friend and next-door neighbor, whose father runs the Doldrums Press. Then there’s Adelaide, who was new to the street, a girl with a wooden leg. Her leg, it was rumored, had it bitten off by a crocodile. Now, their second adventure begins following “the tiger incident,” an escapade that convinced Archer’s parents to send their son packing to boarding school, where they believe he will be safe and far away from trouble.
In The Doldrums and the Helmsley Curse, Rosewood is getting colder by the minute, and the only explanation is the Helmsley Curse: as the Helmsleys approach Rosewood on their iceberg, everything gets colder, and the Rosewood Chronicle slanders the Helmsley name. So when Archer’s grandparents return to Rosewood, there are more rumors swirling in the air about whether or not they made up the story about being stranded on the iceberg. What might be closer to the truth is that the Helmsleys were banished, and Archer wants to help find proof.
However, the upside of the return of Ralph and Rachel Helmsley means that Archer and his friends are introduced to The Society, a large and mysterious explorer’s club. Archer and his friends are on the hunt for clues, which lead them to dangerous plants, such as Doxical Powder, narrow escapes with “the crooked man” who is most likely working for Mr. Birthwhistle, the president of the Society, and making friends with Kana Misra, a girl who vanished down a wishing well and now has prophetic abilities. Perhaps one of the most delicious parts of The Doldrums and the Helmsley Curse is DuttonLicks, a sweets shop that is “three stories of pure confection,” and filled with every chocolate imaginable. Hopefully, among the holiday melee and snow covered streets, Archer, Oliver, and Adélaïde will be able to help unearth the truth behind what really happened to Archer’s grandparents.
Those young readers who read The Doldrums will enjoy meeting the new characters introduced in The Doldrums and the Helmsley Curse, and they will hold their breath during the many close calls with danger that Archer and Co. encounter. What Gannon does best is write a friendship story, and his second middle grade novel follows suit. It’s funny, full of heart, and delicious chocolate.
Each of Gannon’s illustrations are intricately drawn, and there are multiple opportunities to discover hidden layers within the illustrations as well. Looking at these jewel box illustrations, readers will want to step through the page onto Howling Bloom street.
For children who are fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society and A Series of Unfortunate Events, Nicholas Gannon’s books are ones to get hooked on, featuring a new cast of characters, secrets, and mysteries to uncover in The Doldrums and the Helmsley Curse.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Interview Session with Gilbert Ford: How the Cookie Crumbled

Hi Gilbert! Welcome back to Twenty by Jenny, this time with HOW THE COOKIE CRUMBLED.

Where did you first hear of Ruth Wakefield & the invention of the chocolate chip cookie? How did that story inspire you?

I was trying to write a “sequel” to The Marvelous Thing That Came From A Spring. By sequel, I mean that It had to be about an inventor of something as iconic as the Slinky. I wanted it to be a female inventor this time, but I wrote several different non-fiction stories and the publisher rejected all of them. Then after a night of tossing and turning I awoke and “cookies” appeared in my mind. I remembered browsing over a female inventor of the chocolate chip cookie earlier that week so I pulled up my laptop and discovered it was Ruth Wakefield. I quickly sent the link to my editor and the publisher loved it.

In HOW THE COOKIE CRUMBLED, you explain that there are three possible ways the chocolate chip cookie could come about. 1. The Disaster, 2. The Substitute, and 3. The Mastermind. What version of the story do you believe?

In all likelihood, Ruth knew what she was doing when she first baked her chocolate chip cookies. But my research found differing stories that I suspect were fabricated during an era when people craved accidental tales that transformed a nobody into a somebody overnight. Some said the invention was a mistake, while others credited dumb luck. So I wrote several versions and my editor asked me to include all of them and to let the child decide what happened. Coincidentally, the whole fake news fiasco blew up after I turned the book in, so the story turned out to be rather timely.

How did you choose the color-palette when illustrating HOW THE COOKIE CRUMBLED?

It wasn’t a conscious decision. But I did consciously illustrate it three different ways: the regular story is straightforward, the intrusive narrator pages are graphic with a flattened perspective, and the three invention stories are illustrated as 1940’s comics with halftone dots.

Why do you think non-fiction picture books are important for kids? This is your second to write, (following The Marvelous Thing that Came from a Spring), and I know you’ve illustrated more.

I write and illustrate all kinds of stories. Right now, there is a need for narrative non-fiction, so that is what I am trying to produce. I think it’s important for kids to read about real people and real events so that they not only know their history, but they gain wisdom for accomplishing their own goals.  

What is your favorite cookie? Or better yet, if you had to invent a cookie flavor, what cookie would you invent??

I would want a cookie that was sweet and salty, like chocolate chip cookie with bacon bits.

Any other books baking in the oven?

I have two science books I illustrated coming out next year: ITCH and ROTTEN, by Anita Sanchez. One is 80 pages and the other is 96. They focus on difficult subject matter typically seen as gross, and break it down by chapter in a way that an 8-11 year old can understand. I combine photographed ephemera with multimedia illustrations inspired by 1930’s cartoons.

Thanks, Gilbert! For those of you reading this interview, go out and bake some chocolate chip cookies and eat them while you read this book!