Friday, November 04, 2005

Author Walter M. Mayes and Illustrator Kevin O'Malley on Walter The Giant Storyteller's Giant Book of Giant Stories

Walter The Giant Storyteller's Giant Book of Giant Stories by Walter M. Mayes, illustrated by Kevin O'Malley (Walker, 2005). Those colossal lies about “evil” giants are all just a gigantic misunderstanding. You’ve heard all the stories of mean and bloodthirsty giants: David and Goliath, Jack and the Beanstalk, Gilgamesh. Imagine you found an unconscious giant on the shores of your tiny ravaged village—what would you do? Walter the Giant Storyteller is that unlucky giant, shipwrecked by a violent storm at sea. He awakens to find himself tied down and on trial for his life. He knows he’s a good giant, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the mob of tiny people holding him captive and responsible for the crimes of all evil giants in history. He has to use his best storytelling skills to convince the crowd that good giants do exist—because if he doesn’t, he’ll become a giant of legend himself. In this tour de force of storytelling and illustration, Mayes and O’Malley turn the giant genre on its ear.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

Walter's answer

I get asked all the time if I am a giant who tells stories or if I tell stories about giants, so I approached this project as a way of answering the question. In actuality, I am both! I was approached by Emily Easton at Walker to do a book and I dithered and dallyed about committing for so long that my agent, George Nicholson at Sterling Lord, finally said "Oh, for God's sake, write the book!" Honestly, writing this book daunted me. But I brainstormed with Emily and George and very early on in the process requested Kevin to be my illustrator, so he was very much a part of the shaping of the project.

Kevin's answer

I really was interested in trying to draw in several different styles.

I've never really tried it. Walter and Emily Easton [editor at Walker] liked the idea and gave me the okay.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

Walter's answer

This took nearly four years and what felt like fifty drafts but was really only five. I hate having to write--it feels like homework. I am a performer, with a performer's need for an audience response. My computer was strangely silent as I wrote, offering me no feedback. It got lonely and depressing, and I wasn't doing a good job of communicating that to my editor. It's hard to interpret silence, and that was all I could come up with a lot of the time. She and Kevin took me out to dinner at a particularly low point and really bucked my spirits up. Kevin drew a portrait of me as a slug about to cross the finish line that was strangely inspiring. I could not have finished the book nor would it have been anywhere as successful a finished product without the two of them and their support and encouragement.

Kevin's answer

Walter, of course, is a wonderful storyteller. He cares about words and how to use them.

This makes Walter is a very deliberate writer. The book took time. More time than I'm used to.

The real major event for me was when I got the final Manuscript and the go ahead to start the art.

I honestly can't remember when Walter told me he's like to do a book and asked if I'd be interested in illustrating it.

I do remember flying from Baltimore MD to San Francisco and getting into a rental car accident heading down one of those steep, steep hills.

I swear it wasn't my fault!

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing this book to life?

Walter's answer

At one point I received a note from my editor saying "You do realize this is a book for children and not a doctoral thesis on giants, don't you?" Research was a trap and an incredibly convenient reason not to write or revise. And I find I got passive-agressive about revision--I actually responded to one draft that was sent back with a ton of notes by producing another draft with even more of the stuff that needed fixing in it. Kind of like, "Oh yeah? You hated it, huh? Well, let's see how you like this!" I learned a lot about my process and Emily's process and am just thankful that Kevin was extraordinarily patient as this book kept getting pushed further back and he had to arrange his schedule repeatedly to accomodate me.

Most of my writing problem concerned making sure that my storyteller voice, which is a kind of second skin to me, translated to the page. The Finn M'Coul story that ends the book is a story that takes me forty-five minutes to tell live. I handed in a first draft that included a near full-length version of the tale and a total word count of over 6,000! Cutting my words caused me to fear I was losing my voice, and the book didn't make any sense to me if it didn't sound like me. Luckily, we were able to come up with an edited version that sacrificed none of the momentum of the telling and I think it makes an excellent last story.

I have learned so much about myself and how this process works for me. I know all about picture books and can easily deconstruct what makes one work or not, but to actually apply that knowledge to my own work was one of the hardest thing I've ever done.

Kevin's answer

Jeez...psychological challenges. The only mental issues with this or book or any other are whether or not you should have listen to your father and listened a bit more in math class.

Research is always a good time.

Digging up old art style, fashion changes and tricky computer design, it's all good to me.

The hardest part is starting with illustration 1 and hoping the last drawing and the bits in between are satisfying.

The computer is an amazing tool.

Emily, Walter and I were able to do most of the work thousands of miles apart through the powers of e-mail.

Since I'm an old data punch card guy, that still impresses me.

Cynsational Notes

Listen to Walter tell a story from his new book!

Where Is Walter This Week? Read Walter's blog!

Cynsational News & Links

Big thanks to Jennifer L. Holm who sent me a Babymouse card and T-shirt in thanks for my having interviewed her brother and Babymouse co-creator Matthew Holm for cynsations! Read the interview!

Thanks also to D.L. Garfinkle for her comment on the cynsations recent Norma Fox Mazer interview and to Tanya Lee Stone and Debbi Michiko Florence for the question about the poster of me being released in conjunction with the U.S. federal government's "Building a Brighter Future for Our Children and Our Community" campaign this month. Unfortunately (?), the posters aren't available to the general public, only to federal workplaces. (I was sent one). I'm looking forward to seeing Tanya and Debbi in January!

The Importance of Not Growing Up: An Interview with Ellen Jackson by Diana Boco from Vision: A Resource for Writers. Ellen is the award-winning author of more than 50 books.

Summer Reading Loss and What to Do by Richard Allington of the University of Tennessee from CBC Magazine.

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