Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Interview with J. R. Krause, author/illustrator of POCO LOCO

I’m happy to have J. R. Krause, author/illustrator of POCO LOCO (available on April 30, 2013 from Two Lions / Amazon Children’s Publishing). John also happens to be an old friend and high school classmate.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Meet Poco Loco. He’s a very unusual ratón. He likes to invent wacky things. When Poco Loco’s Waffle Iron–Weather Forecaster predicts mal tiempo, Poco Loco runs to tell his barnyard friends. But it’s still sunny out, and the other animals don’t believe him. Then a roar of wind whips through the picnic, and Poco Loco and his friends fly up, up, and away. But never fear! Poco Loco will use his wits (and one crazy invention) to save the day!

John and I were in the same teen church group a lifetime ago. Somewhere in the depths of my basement, I’ve got a group photo of our confirmation class. We graduated together from Chelmsford High School—and no, I’m not going to tell you the year. I remember joking around with John in the church classroom and hanging out in the high school library during free time. I remember him as an amazing artist, and a funny kid. You knew you were going to laugh if John was around.

You may not realize it, but you’ve probably already seen John’s artwork. He has been a designer and design supervisor for the Simpsons  (yes, that Simpsons) for many years. So it doesn’t surprise me that he has teamed up with his talented wife Maria Chua to create an adorable picture book that kids (and parents) are going to love to read again and again. I’m so proud to introduce you to my friend J. R. Krause.

K: Welcome to my blog, John! This is your first picture book. Can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication?

J.R.: Once upon a time, Maria and I created a story titled POCO’S PRESENT. The response from publishers was, “We love the illustrations, but not the story”. In 2007, I joined SCBWI and attended their National Conference. I displayed my portfolio and Brenda Bowen from Harper Collins contacted me. She loved the illustrations from POCO’S PRESENT and requested a story. Maria and I began writing new Poco stories for Brenda. Mary Kole, an agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency (ABLA) came on board and polished our submission. Brenda eventually passed on Poco and Marilyn Brigham, then with Marshall Cavendish, made an offer. Marshall Cavendish was acquired by Amazon and Two Lions / Amazon Children’s Publishing and is releasing POCO LOCO.

K: SCBWI is a great organization, I love that they were involved in your journey! How did you and Maria come up with the idea—which came first the text or the illustrations? How do you work together?

J.R.: Ten years ago Maria wrote a story about a cat named Sam who worked in a tea house. I sketched drawings of Sam and added a mouse for kicks. We named the mouse Poco. He was so cute that we wrote a new story about him and that became POCO’S PRESENT. As I mentioned, Brenda Bowen took interest in the illustrations, but not the story. We wrote four new manuscripts. One had the phrase “¡Ay, Poco Loco! He’s one crazy mouse!”. We liked the read-aloud quality and only then started thinking about a bilingual book.

Poco means small in Spanish. In hindsight, a bilingual book seems like Poco’s destiny, even though it took many years to get there. I should add that Maria and our two daughters speak Spanish and we have many Spanish picture books. All of this helped inspire POCO LOCO. 

K: I love the idea of a bilingual book and I think it's wonderful that your whole family is involved. Have you teamed up on any other projects? Do you have any other books coming out?

Two Lions ACP made an offer for a Poco sequel. On my own I have two new picture book proposals. That being said, Maria sees everything at every stage and gives me vital feedback, even with my own stories.

K: Congratulations on the sequel! That's great news! I love that you guys are true partners--very cool!

My blog audience is mostly other children’s writers and they often like to hear about the different paths to getting a literary agent—I know you recently signed with Jennifer Mattson of Andrea Brown Literary. Can you tell us how you and Jennifer connected?

J.R.: For several years I submitted proposals on my own. I found the process so frustratingly slow I began looking for an agent. When Mary Kole of ABLA offered representation, I gladly accepted. She played a big role in making POCO LOCO a book. Mary left ABLA for another agency and we parted ways. We are still friends and keep in touch. Andrea Brown had several agents review my materials. Jennifer had a strong connection to my work and contacted me. She has been great!

K: Having an industry pro at your back is awesome. I wish you and your agent the best of luck together! Before I close out this interview, I’ve got to ask about The Simpsons. How does your work on The Simpsons impact your artwork? Working on the same subject for such a long time, how do you keep things fresh?

J.R.: Despite his stupidity, Homer J. Simpson has taught me much. Staging, storytelling and acting are vital parts of animation and these elements also apply to making picture books. That being said, I approach The Simpsons and my own illustration style differently. I don’t want them to look similar.

As for keeping things fresh after so many seasons, that’s something our crew strives for, otherwise the show will suffer. We’re always trying to create new situations and gags. I did leave The Simpsons for several years. I worked on other television shows and at several design firms. I was happy to have the opportunity to return as it’s a fun place to work. We’re like a family. Plus Homer still cracks me up.

K: Guilty pleasure question: 80’s music or music from today? Favorite band?

J.R.: I’m a nostalgic fellow, thus 80’s music gets a leg up. Today I love what The Shins and Janelle Monáe are doing, just as much as I loved Def Leppard back in the 80’s. Favorite band? This evening it’s Bob Marley & The Wailers. This morning it was… (cough)… Hanson.

K: I love your eclectic musical taste. :) I LOVE Def Leppard. Thanks so much, John, for joining me today! Best of luck to you and Maria with POCO LOCO and all of his (and your) adventures. 

As the credits roll, let's hear a little Def Leppard. This song is best enjoyed as loud as possible on a Sony Walkman. 


Laura Pauling said...

I love the cover illustration. Congrats!

Jonathon Arntson said...

I tried to post the other day from my phone, but it didn't work.

This is an awesome post! I love bilingual books, and this looks like a great one to add to my list of favorites.