Some people have all the talent, and Kevin O’Malley is one of them. He’s an amazing illustrator. He can illustrate other people’s stories or he can write his own. He’s even written books that other people illustrated. On top of that, he’s a fantastic presenter and a hit with the kids at school visits. He’s funny. He’s nice (as far as I can tell). You can’t hate him because he’s too much fun to be around. The only thing to do with people like that is hang out with them any time you have a chance.
Luckily, he’s coming to the James River Writers Annual Conference this year, which gives us all a chance to do exactly that. And, I had got the opportunity to interview him for the RCW blog, so we can do some virtual hanging out with Kevin O’Malley (KO, awesomest initals ever). Read on!
RCW: In your experience, how does writing compare to illustrating? Is one more challenging? Is the creative process very different for writing and illustrating? Or are they similar?
KO: When I illustrate, I have tried to satisfy the needs of a lot of writers. Writers always imagine. Their imagination is not not mine. When I get a manuscript I always try to imagine what the writer wants. But the text leads me to something different. Most of the time the author understands, but I have run into… problems. When I make my books I write for me, I imagine spaces for pictures and I see spaces for text. I’m a poor writer. I write to fill holes that I can’t express in in illustration.Writing is far, far harder.
RCW: I’m not buying that poor writer bit. Not for a minute. When you’re illustrating a book authored by someone else, how much interaction do you have with the author?
KO: I have done a lot of books. Sometimes the authors like what I have done. Sometimes they want to poke my eyes out with hot pokers. The truth is, illustrator and authors don’t talk. I am left to see what I see in the text.
This idea makes authors crazy. But I can say that I’ve never called an author and asked them to change a bit of text that I find lousy. You have to let the artist have their space. On the flip side, I always offer a piece of art to any author who is kind enough to work with me. Most of the time, truth be told, the writer wants a bit of art. Not sure how I feel about being hit by a dart in a club room basement.
RCW: Bonus safety tip: stay away from darts. So how do you get feedback on your work?
KO: I have lovely friends and relations. They love me. I visit a ton of schools. Kids like my work. That is feedback enough. Praise is wonderful. But being comfortably middle class in a brilliant industry is a joy. My first book got me banned and more ‘news’ than I was comfortable with. I quickly realized that what I want in kids books and what the biz wants are different.
RCW: How do you decide which project to work on next?
KO: I have been married for twenty plus years to a wonderful women. We have delightful children. When I’m offered a job I consider the pass and fail of the text. Most of the time I want the coin. I will bend over backwards to make everybody happy.
On the flip side… Many years ago my wife fell in love with The Police and the musician Sting. She said, “I would wash his dirty hair.” I told her if, on the off chance Sting should want me to do a book, she could have at him. Ten years later I was offered a book by Sting. I took the call while the wife was in the room. It was fish or cut bait. I told them I would call them back and explained the situation to my wife…. She said, “Oh my god, I’m going to wash his dirty hair!” I called the publisher and said no deal. To this day I lay in bed with one eye open.
RCW: So glad to hear your priorities are in order. So, tell us what your typical work day is like.
KO: I get up early and and finish the list of work I mapped out the day before. The muse is bull.
RCW: I’ll won’t tell the muse you said that. Your books cover a lot of different topics and genres. Is this true for you as a reader as well? What kinds of books do you like to read?
KO: I tend to read non fiction. I’ve tried so many other ways but true to the guy in me I want information not introspection.
RCW: What kinds of research do you do for your work?
KO: I write what amuses me. Research? Only when I need it. But if you don’t love going to a library and hitting the stacks and finding interesting stuff, you don’t know what good quality time is all about.
I have wanted to do kid’s books since I was in the fourth grade. But the truth is, I got lucky. I dreamed of this and by happenstance, it happened. My friends think it’s a hoot that it happened. And they are right.
RCW: One last question. What’s your favorite weapon for fighting off zombies? Just kidding, but we still want to know!
KO: Easy. “Shawn of the Dead.” I’d throw my lesser ancient records at them. Heck, they’re slower than me!
But don’t touch my first pressing ‘Gentle Giant’ albums man!
RCW: Wouldn’t dream of it! Thanks so much, Kevin for the interview.
If you’d like to join Kevin at the JRW conference, click over and register right now. Many of us at Richmond Children’s Writers will be there too, and we’d love to meet up. Look for us there!