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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Surprise Party - Meet Steve Light and The Christmas Giant

Surprise Party: Meet Steve Light and The Christmas Giant

Surprise and Season's Greetings! It has been a while since I have broken away from the format of celebrating children's authors birthdays with a Surprise Party.  I am very excited to introduce you to author and illustrator Steve Light.  Initially, a few months ago, I had contacted him to find out his birthday so I could plan a celebration. I noticed he started a Facebook page for his new book The Christmas Giant and decided to follow the page even though his birthday wasn't until March. In October, Steve started posting sketches with brief descriptions each day chronicling his path to his published book.  I became fascinated with the development of the illustrations and started to look forward to what was going to be revealed next.  As days went on, I began to feel compelled to share my excitement about Steve Light and The Christmas Giant, a book I hadn't even read. I contacted him and thankfully he agreed to an interview.  By reading his responses to my questions below and by following his Facebook page, I am confident that you will be inspired by Steve's passion for drawing and storytelling.  And yes...I have now read the book and it is fantastic!

Happy Birthday Author: Tell us a little bit about the Christmas Giant and how it developed.

1st Drawing of the Christmas Giant
Steve Light: I had just pitched two book ideas to my Editor Joan Powers at Candlewick (one of my favorite people).  One was about a giant who adopts a human boy and one was about where toys go when children lose them.  She said how they both felt like Christmas and would I like to do a Christmas story?  I said how I actually had a story about a giant who delivers the christmas trees for Santa.  At this point the idea was just one or two sketches (about one inch by one inch in size) in one of my sketchbooks. I knew I had a great idea for a story and I just wanted to work on any project with Joan. We worked on I Am Happy together at Candlewick and it was the most fun I had on any book.  After MANY versions of the story the Giant became Humphrey (which means 'gentle giant') and the three elves became just one elf,  Leetree.  Humphrey and Leetree did not deliver all the Christmas trees to everyone but are asked by Santa to deliver one BIG tree to Christmas town.  Humphrey and Leetree make all the wrapping paper for Santa - that is how they know him.  The question of where does Santa get all the wrapping paper from was such a fun question to answer.

Happy Birthday Author:  You have published other books like I am Happy, Trucks Go, and The Shoemaker Extraordinaire, but what makes The Christmas Giant special to you as an author/artist?

Steve Light: Well, working with Joan as I have said was special, and working with the great art director Kristen Nobles, made Christmas Giant such a great collaborative effort.  All of my other books before this one were basically finished ideas when I proposed them to publishers.  With Christmas Giant I had these two other great people to bounce ideas off of and get feedback from, and I think it made the story and art so much better. The art in this book feels the most like "me".  I love to draw especially with fountain pens and this book is drawn with fountain pens and colored pastels.  I love the story telling and details in the artwork.

Happy Birthday Author: You have The Christmas Giant Facebook page.  I have enjoyed looking at all the sketches and the evolution of the book.  What type of feedback have you received from the daily posts?

Giant hands with spiral knuckles
Steve Light: Mostly I get people "liking" stuff.  I have had comments from well wishes to comments on the spiral knuckles I draw on the giant's hands.  Facebook and sites like this are amazing for a relatively unknown author and artist to get the word out about his work.  Even though The Christmas Giant is my eighth book it is very hard to let people know about a new book - we cannot be on Oprah or Ellen (although it is my dream to dance with Ellen!) I love sharing a sketch a day from my sketchbooks - I filled two sketchbooks while working on Christmas Giant. I carry a sketchbook and fountain pen everywhere and I am always drawing. The idea phase of doing a book where you are drawing any possibility for the story that comes into your head is my favorite part of doing books, so to share that part of the book process with people is so much fun for me.

Happy Birthday Author: How long did the book take to create? What was the hardest part?

Steve Light:  The book took about three years from first idea to a book out in stores.  The hardest part is always getting the story and text just right.  The pictures and finished art are pure bliss for me to do - I absolutely LOVE it! I teach Pre-K during the year and so I have the summers off to work on my books.  I wake up at 5am and work till 10 or 11.  Then my wife is also a teacher wakes up and we have lunch and spend the rest of the day together - those days are the best.  The hardest part was redoing some of the  art. Some spreads were too dark and some had to be redesigned.  Usually you or the art director catch these things before your go to finish, but these instances it could not be helped.  I was so glad I redid them because the book is 100% better for it.  I now look at as part of the process.

Happy Birthday Author: You have been at lots of book signings in the past few weeks and from your Facebook posts it appears to be quite an exciting time for you.  What is going through your mind at these events?

Steve and his wife Christine
at a book signing event
Steve Light: Excitement, joy, and a sense of accomplishment.  I love meeting all the people and sharing my art with them.  The hardest part is getting to the events, being there is pure fun.  My greatest concern is miss-spelling some ones name in a book - I carry post-its with me and have people write down the names for me now!

Happy Birthday Author:  We had already planned your birthday celebration for March 19.  So, we will wait until then to talk about birthday memories.  But, what about a favorite holiday memory?

Steve Light:  Well, growing up when ever someone would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would say "Santa Claus" - never policeman or fireman.  One year for Christmas I got a set of colored pencils, a big set, maybe 48-64.  I ran to my room and sharpened all of them and drew and drew all day. Christmas growing up was VERY hectic and crazy in my house.  We were always running to relatives and never had time to enjoy our gifts.  For a short while I really did not like Christmas because it reminded me of all that craziness.  Then I got married to my wife Christine and she showed me how to have a calm, quiet peaceful Christmas just the two of us.  Now it is my favorite holiday besides snow days!

Happy Birthday Author:  Any other thoughts, interesting things, funny stories about your journey to the published book, that you want to share?

Steve Light:  One of the fun things I did for this book was make hand-printed wrapping paper as gifts to my Editor and Art Director and some other people.  I will be posting pictures and step-by-step directions in The Christmas Giant Facebook page.  One of the funny things that happened on this book was the first finished version of the cover had NO SNOW! I did the art in the middle of summer and had Humphrey and Leetree decorating a tree with green grass and a blue sky!!  It was a total brain lapse on my part but here I was showing Joan and Kristen and they had to say, "Um, Where is snow? This is a Christmas book - it looks like spring time!" I of course redid it to the cover that is on there now. I laugh when I think about it.

Happy Birthday Author: Steve, it has been a delight talking with you about the The Christmas Giant. I can't help thinking about the collaboration you have spoke of with your Editor and Art Director and how it mirrors the teamwork of Humphrey and Leetree in your book.  The book is fantastic on so many levels. I feel the sketches you shared on Facebook show the tremendous amount of work it takes to publish a children's picture book.  I will be sharing them with my daughter, an avid picture book reader and one who sketches daily, to show her the connection between the work and the final product.

If you would like to know more about Steve Light, check out his website

We were inspired to make our own wrapping paper based upon the photos posted on Facebook.  It was super fun! My daughter kept saying, "I can't believe were doing this. This is so cool."  At bedtime, both of my children said it was their favorite thing they did today.

Note: Pictures used with permission from the author.


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