illustrator Aaron Becker wakes up every morning and has to pinch himself to make sure he’s not dreaming. His first book, Journey, flew off the shelves from the very beginning – something he could never have anticipated happening when he decided to write the book. The instant success of any book is very rare – not to mention the even rarer success of a first time author. Journey was on the New York Times Bestseller List for 36 weeks and won a slew of awards including a Caldecott Honor, New York Times 10 Best Illustrated Children’s Book and was an ALA Notable Children’s Book, to name a few.
Last year, I interviewed Aaron about Journey, and that interview remains one of the top posts on this website, with many views every day of the year. Loyal fans just want to know how this talented author does what he does. Today I was able to catch Aaron before he embarks on a tour for the second book in his trilogy – Quest, and before his own journey to Spain, where he and his wife and daughter will be spending the next glorious year .
Did you ever imagine your first book would have as much success as it did?
I can remember when my big hope was that the book would last on the shelves for more than a month or two, so to say it’s gone beyond my expectations would be an understatement.
Did you find it daunting or intimidating to create Quest, knowing it would be a tough act to follow, and were you ever concerned that it would not be received as well as Journey?
Actually, books take much longer to produce than many people realize. The artwork for Journey was completed a full year and a half before it published. I didn’t want to just rest on my laurels, so I went ahead and developed the idea for an entire trilogy. The artwork for Quest was finished in early June of 2013, a few months before Journey published! That said, I did feel some pressure when working on the series’ finale (Return, due Fall 2016), not so much because of the success of its predecessor, but because I knew it had to do justice to the character arcs I had been developing. Like Quest, it had to have its own beginning, middle, and end, but unlike the 2nd book, it also had to finish the entire tale. I spent probably nine or ten months on the story alone, and am just now starting to finish the artwork for it.
I am impressed that you managed to make Quest so it stands on its own, separate from Journey and is in no way formulaic. Can you describe the process you went through to create Quest‘s original story line, and did you ever experience writer’s/illustrator’s block during that process?
I knew that the middle chapter of a series can be the most dangerous for an author; you’re not beginning anything or finishing anything, so there’s a real potential for aimlessness. I knew right away that I wanted to use this 2nd book to just have fun with the worlds and characters I had created in Journey; to expand the mythology a bit and just put adventure in the front seat. It’s a much more action-oriented book; the characters emerge from the architecture as the major players. Sometimes I need to create a sense of place before this can happen, so it was only a natural progression I suppose. I stumbled a bit, but not with writer’s block. Instead, I think I wanted to do too much with the story, and ultimately scaled things back in the editing process. Ironically, the nice thing about this is that many of the characters and sequences that ended up on the cutting room floor found their way into background details that hint at a larger story to the curious reader. Take a look and you might see some of these clues yourself!
© Copyright – Image from Quest Courtesy of Aaron Becker
I am going to do just that! Your use of color in Quest is extraordinary. Can you describe how you decided what colors to use where, and was that challenging for you?
I was worried that the tone of the book would come off as a bit too gloomy for most readers, but I think that was necessary. The challenge, I think, was to allow the world to be overcast and a bit forlorn without losing the readers’ attention. If I wanted there to be a contrast when the kids turn things around, it was necessary to keep a foreboding mood till the very end. The color and saturation of the rainbow’s reveal (spoiler alert!) wouldn’t have worked if I’d kept things a bit more colorful earlier on.
It was a most clever way to use color. I am smitten with the way your map was illustrated. What was your inspiration for that?
I looked at old maps and found bits and pieces that just intuitively felt right to me. There couldn’t be any language on the map, so I had to rely on symbols only, which meant everything had to read very clearly.
“I’m glad I was naive going into it. The success I’ve had is very rare, and I think if I knew what my odds were going into it, I wouldn’t have taken the leap!”
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about being a children’s book author you wish you knew before you got started?
I’m glad I was naive going into it. The success I’ve had is very rare, and I think if I knew what my odds were going into it, I wouldn’t have taken the leap!
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