Holly and Cari are tickled pink to introduce to you Aaron Zenz, author and illustrator of book The Hiccupotamus. Our Double Scoop review of Hiccupotamus is here. Aaron has illustrated several books including Beware the Tickle Monster, Nascar 123 and an Early Reader series with Howie the Dog. He and his three oldest kids also do a weekly post at Bookie Woogie where they discuss books and then share their fan art. Bookie Woogie also happens to be one of our ‘favoritest’ blogs so without further ado here is the fun, the zany, and really cool guy . . . the Hiccupotamus . . . um we mean Aaron Zenz.
Aaron please tell us a little about yourself so our readers can get to know you?
Hello, readers. How are you? I’m just fine, thank-you. My name is Aaron Zenz, and I am many things. Husband to Amity. Father of 5. Lover of fruit. My working life has included stints as a graphic designer, computer game designer, toy designer, graphic recorder, elementary & high school art teacher, college instructor, and lawn mower. But you are probably most interested in my role as Author/Illustrator. I’ve had the pleasure of working on 10 children’s picture books. For nine of those books I illustrated other folks’ wonderful ideas, and for one I was author and illustrator. That book, “The Hiccupotamus,” was both my first book AND my most recent… that is, it was picked up by a new publisher for re-release this month, and we’re celebrating that here at “Book Scoops” today – hooray!
Glad you could be here today at Bookscoops – where did you get your idea for The Hiccupotamus?
It all started out with an actual case of the hiccups. I was at my parents’ house — home from college over a weekend — and had the hiccups. I am known for random punning; the word “hiccupotamus” popped into my mind, and I was trying to think of a riddle in which to use it as a punchline. But instead of a riddle, a poem just fell out of my mouth: “There was a hiccupotamus who hiccupped quite a-lot-amus, and every time he got’emus he’d fall upon his bottomus.” After my first reaction (which was “where did that come from?”) my second thought was, “that sounds like a children’s book.” So I jotted it down into a sketchbook. I didn’t think about it again until a year or so later when I was taking a college class for teachers about using children’s books in the classroom. At the end of the term the professor had everyone take a shot at writing their own story. I thought back to that snippet and figured I had a good start, so I pounded out additional verses over the weekend. And thus my first draft was born. Over the next 8 years I tinkered with the rhyme, trying to get it right. Very little of that initial draft remains in the finished version — except for that first verse which is virtually untouched.
Who knew the hiccups could be so inspirational – annoying sure, but inspirational not as much. We’ve really enjoyed how well the text and illustrations work together in your book. Do you have a preference for writing or illustrating?
It’s hard for me to distinguish the writing from the illustrating. When I’m crafting my own ideas, everything comes at once. Characters and their worlds float around in my head, and I simply have to get them down onto paper – sometimes that requires words, sometimes it requires pictures. For me, the two actions feel very similar. The part of the whole process I most enjoy is the conceptualizing. When it eventually comes to solidifying actual words or forming the final art, then it feels like work. I love the dreaming, the plotting, the hatching, the designing.
We love learning how artists put their work together and what a fun work room! What audience do you enjoy writing for most?
I really enjoy working for kids. And working with kids. My tastes have never evolved with age. I still love Sesame Street. I still collect toys. My parents joke during the holidays because they can shop for me and my children in the same aisles.
The Hiccupotamus uses rhyming and not in a way one might expect, can you tell us a little about your experience in writing a rhyming text?
Rhyming in general isn’t much trouble — but for this PARTICULAR book, it was a hideous battle. As I said earlier, it took eight years to get this rhyme to work. The first verse came so naturally. Effortlessly. Almost accidentally. Deceptively easy. But in reality, it was a very difficult scheme, and nearly impossible to find other words that would fit the pattern. The first line of each verse had to end with a word whose emphasis fell on the third to last syllable (hip-po-POT-a-mus) and there aren’t that many in the English language. I went through a dictionary and got them all to fit on one sheet. Then that magic syllable had to have three rhyming words. So even if I found a good start, like, e-lec-TRIC-i-ty, what’s going to rhyme? “Bliss”… uh, “swiss”… um, “abyss”??? And if I did manage to find three, they all had to make sense in a storyline together. Swiss abyss? I think not. Folks will have to check out the final story to judge whether I managed to pull it off…
Wow what a lot of work! Can you tell us about your path to publication?
Over the eight years of working on the story, I showed that college mock-up to lots of different people. Years later, a couple of those people happened to be starting their own publishing company. They remembered my draft and contacted me to see if I would “let” them publish it as their first book. I had to think about that for all of two seconds and said yes! So unfortunately I don’t have woeful tales about shopping it around for years and years — rather I had a publisher come looking for me. The book came out in 2005, however the company didn’t last long at all. Years later, a fellow from Marshal Cavendish who loved the book was trying to get a hold of that first publisher to obtain rights to release it as a board book or a paperback. The original publisher was gone of course, but he finally tracked me down, and I let him know there was actually still real interest in the initial hardcover version. So here we are in 2009 with a wonderful re-release!
That’s a story you don’t hear every day. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors/illustrators?
Wait for publishers to come to you. Noooooooooo… of course not. But there is something to say for being well-connected. I myself am not “WELL” connected, but of the opportunities I have had, many have come about because of the few personal ties I do have. So take lots of jobs. Do good work. Leave good impressions. A low-paying, non-glamorous assignment may not have much reward in itself, but when done wholeheartedly it may kick-off something spectacular later on down life’s road.
Definitely seems like your hard work is paying off with the re-release of Hiccupotamus. We both want to check out Beware the Tickle Monster as well. It seems like most of us have people that inspire us, are there any authors or illustrators that you look to for inspiration?
Oh lands. Oh mercy. I could go on all day. I’m inspired by so many talented folks. N. C. Wyeth, Winsor McCay, Glen Keane… those are some big ones. As far as children’s book authors and illustrators who do consistently good work, I look forward to every new release from David Wiesner, Eric Rohmann, Adam Rex, Peter McCarty, and P. J. Lynch to name a few…
We know from following your blog, Bookie Woogie that your kids are waaaaayyyy into books do you have any advice to parents about building a life-long love of literacy?
Love books yourself. Model it. Have books around — in every room of the house. Make trips to the library into “an event.” Go for a walk and start in such a place so the library can be the big surprise destination. Read to your kids daily. Talk books. Draw books. Eat books. Wear books. In our house we went to the extreme of throwing out the television. Set it right out there on the curb and watched the garbage man haul it away. Best thing we ever did.
Wear books! Hah, not sure we have heard of that one before, but we like the basic premise about surrounding kids with books and opportunities to go the library. We heard a rumor that your family has quite the book collection as in 3,000 books. Obviously you have a passion for books, where did your passion come from?
That 3,000 consists of just the children’s books by the way. We have countless books beyond that as well. A friend of mine and I have talked about this often: one of the saddest things ever is a house without books. There are people you’ll visit, and when you look around there’s not a single book in sight. Our house is far from sad! Full of stories. Reading a book is a peek into another person’s head, into their heart. Books are rich, diverse experiences — slices of people’s lives tucked between pages. Through books you connect in intimate ways with people you’ll never meet otherwise. And books are long-lasting. If you watch an hour of television, after that hour the program is over with nothing to show for it. If you spend 20 bucks on food, you eat it and it’s gone. But a book is a physical treasure — you can hold in your hand. You can turn to it repeatedly. It’s something that can follow your travels for the rest of your life… both on your shelves and in your personal make-up. Not many things in life can do all that. Books are pretty wonderful. It’s an honor to have had my hand in making some.
If we could only make sure all children had books in their homes, we wonder what this world would be like? Happier that’s for sure. Speaking of children, as you know at Bookscoops we like to talk about our childhood memories with the books we review for our Double Scoop feature so we wondered what is your favorite childhood memory involving reading?
I really only have one specific memory of reading: I vividly recall the first time I realized you didn’t have to speak out loud while reading — that people could read in their heads. That was quite a revelation. The rest of my memories are vague in detail but strong in emotion. I remember a sense of magic while reading the Chronicles of Narnia. And I’m not referring to the magic contained in the storylines. But rather the giddy awe of falling into the story. It was thrilling. It was a very particular emotion, one I don’t think we have a word for, but an emotion that I remember perfectly. The characters and worlds seemed so alive. I think it’s one of the few times I really felt transported to another place through the pages of a book. And being the Chronicles of Narnia, that’s rather fitting. The Phantom Tollbooth was the first book that I just couldn’t put down. I read it all in one sitting and was shocked at myself afterward. I also adored The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Time Machine. But it was Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles that had the strongest hold on my imagination. I lived in those books. They had a huge effect on my lifelong tastes and tendencies, and they shaped my writing style as well.
It’s been marvelous fun as an adult to now knock these off one by one, reading them all over again with my own kids.
What fun memories. We are both big fans of the Chronicles of Narnia as well. Thank you, Aaron, for spending time with us today. It’s been fun and we’ve enjoyed getting to know the creative personality behind The Hiccupotamus.
To see other stops on the blog tour visit Bookie Woogie for full details and another fantastic giveaway done by Aaron (no really it’s good as in 10 books good and the blog is excellent too so please go visit).
Bookscoops Giveaway Details
The lucky winner will receive, not one, but two signed copies of Hiccupotamus, one for you and one for a friend. This giveaway ends on September 19, 2009 at 11:59 pm, mountain standard time and is only available to people living in the United States.
To enter the giveaway you may:
- Leave a comment about your favorite memory regarding hippos or hiccups for one entry
- Write a blog post about our author interview and giveaway and tell us about it in a comment for one entry
- Leave a comment about what you like most about our interview with Aaron Zenz for one entry
- Leave a comment about your favorite rhyming book on our Doublescoop of the Hiccupotamus for one entry
- If we made you laugh at any point during out interview or Doublescoop tell us for another entry.
*****Please note that all pictures in this post are used with permission and are copyrighted in other words you can’t usethem without Aaron’s permission.*******