Interview with Bestselling Author & Illustrator Michael Garland

tractorGet to know Michael… 

Best Selling author and illustrator Michael Garland’s greatest success has been for writing and illustrating children’s picture books. Garland’s Miss Smith’s Incredible Storybook won the California and Delaware State Reading Awards. He is author and illustrator of thirty children’s picture books and illustrator for more than forty books by other authors. 

New books include Tugboat, Car Goes Far, Fish Had A Wish published byHoliday House. Fish Had A Wish was a Star Review of Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Top Twenty Five Picture Books of the Year.

New this year From Scholastic is Where’s My Homework?  Also from Scholastic, Oh, What A Christmas!

Grandpa’s Tractor, Boyds Mills was selected for the Original Art of Children’s Book Show at the Society of Illustrators in NYC.

Garland’s recent book, Miss Smith and the Haunted Library made the New York Times Best Seller list. New from Dutton is Miss Smith Under the Ocean

Michael Garland has illustrated for celebrity authors like James Patterson and Gloria Estefan on best selling picture books. Michael Garland’s illustrations for Patterson’s SantaKid were the inspiration for Sak’s Fifth’s Avenue’s Christmas holiday window display in New York City. Garland’s Christmas Magic has become a season classic and is currently in development as an animated Christmas special. 

His work has won many honors and is frequently included in the Society of Illustrators and the Original Art of Children’s book show as well annuals from Print, Graphis and Communications Arts magazines. Recently, Michael Garland was included on the list of the top one hundred Irish Americans by Irish American Magazine.

Michael Garland is frequently asked to speak at schools, literary conferences and festivals across the country. Call or email for information.

When Michael Garland is not illustrating, he paints traditional oil paintings for sale in galleries. His paintings have been featured in two issues of American Artist Magazine. His art hangs in many private and corporate collections. Garland has also earned a reputation as renowned portrait painter. He is available for commissions for portraits and landscapes. 

You can learn more about Michael Garland by visiting his website or on Facebook.  

car goesQuirky Questions

Would you mind sharing an embarrassing moment?

I was a young alter boy, holding a huge candle, leading a Stations of the Cross procession on Good Friday. Musical prompts from the church organist were my signal to proceed to the next station. At one point, near the entrance to the church, the procession was supposed to stay in the same place twice, but I forgot. When the music started again, I turned and marched solemnly, by myself, toward the next station. It wasn’t until I turned the corner and looked over my shoulder that I noticed the scowling priest and the other alter boy frozen in place. I sheepishly scuttled back to my place, to the great amusement of the smiling congregation. 

What world-changing event would you like to take credit for?

I would like to have been one of the Wright brothers, so I could take credit for invention of the flying machine. 

Where is the worst place to be stuck waiting?

The doctors office. 

If you were to start a new trend and be famous for it, what would it be?

Underground children’s picture books. 

What great idea did you come up with, but never followed through on?

Underground children’s books. 

What is the worst movie you’ve ever seen? 

I never sit through a bad movie, so I don’t know. 

What odd habit or quirk do you have?

I’m like a dog with a bone when I get an idea that interest me. Sometimes I obsessively pursue artistic endeavors that I know won’t amount to any finacical or critical success. I can’t stop myself.

If there was a national holiday in your honor, what would that day be like?

Take off from work and dedicate your day to having fun. 

Where is the most beautiful place you’ve ever been?

Although I love the Hudson Valley, some of the National Parks: Yosmite, YellowStone and the Grand Canyon are beautiful beyond anything you could imagine. 

How do you feel about small talk? Love or hate?

I generally like small talk. You can learn a lot about other people and yourself through unguarded chatting. 

What celebrity—past or present—would you trust the least with a spare key to your house? Why?

J Edgar Hoover. I would be afraid he might get into my wife’s closet. 

What is the oldest thing you own? Where did you get it?

The oldest thing I own is a small watercolor painting that belonged to my grandmother. She emigrated from Ireland when she was fourteen to work as a servant in Manhattan and Raquette Lake NY in the summers. She bought the painting in a second hand shop in the city because it reminded her of home. I found the picture while looking through some old books with my father. He gave it to me and I framed it and hung it our home. It reminds me of  my father and my grandmother. The painting is signed JH Clare 1874.

A few years ago, on a family vacation to Ireland, we came a upon a spot that looked exactly like the scene in the painting. I felt as though I had been there before(maybe in a dream). If you looked closely at the finely detailed picture, you will see a thatched cottaged, with a mother and child sitting on the lawn by a lake with a rowboat waiting for a rower.

When I look this painting, I imagine JR Clare sitting by the rocky shore of a sunny, Irish lake, painting away, hoping someone will like his work. 

What do you consider your worst feature?

My bad temper is my worst feature. 

Would you ever consider living with a tribe deep in the Amazon? Why or why not?

Yes, I would consider living with a tribe in the Amazon to escape cellphones and cable TV. (Do they have golf courses deep in the Amazon?) 

If you could be a spokesperson for any product, what would it be? Why?

I would like to be the spokesperson for Artistic License, the product that lets you do anything you want. 

If your life had a soundtrack, what would it be? 

My life does have a soundtrack! It’s a constant stream of Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Loudon Wainwright, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Chuck Berry, BB King…. 

What do you get most enthusiastic about?

Seeing family and friends would come first. After that, it would be my work. I love what i do. I don’t ever want to retire. 

If you went to a psychiatrist, what would he/she say you suffer from?

A psychiatrist would probably say that I suffer from being too modest. It’s true. I am very good at being modest. In fact, I’m great at being modest. Really, I’m the best at being modest. I rule at being modest. I… 

What would complete your outfit right now?

My golf shoes. 

What makes you uncomfortable?

Church (See first answer). 

If you were a farmer, what would be your most abundant crop?

Potatoes. I have a photo of my great-grandfather, with dirty knees, standing in his potato field. I would grow mountains of potatoes. 

garlandfish20had20a20wishWriting Questions

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

I don’t often have creativity blocks, but if I do, I’ll switch to something else. For example, if I’m tired or bored with a writing project for the moment, I’ll start illustrating or painting. If I’m tired or bored with both, I’ll go for a hike or play a round of golf or go fishing.  When I return, I have refreshed enthusiasm and any problems will seemed to have resolved themselves. 

Can you visualize a finished product before you begin a book?

I have a vague, unfocused vision of any project before I begin. By that, I mean I have a general notion of the beginning, middle and end of the storyline. As I work, it is as if  I reveal the details of the story to myself. 

Do you feel that you chose your passion, or did it choose you?

My passion chose me. It started with crayon drawings and supportive and appreciative parents, then teachers, then clients and editors, art directors and publishers and finally my readers. I was just never as good at anything else. There was nothing to compete or distract me from what I do. 

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

No, in fact, the more boring and mundane my circumstance, the more I retreat into my own creative space. I have a beautiful studio with views, a soaring ceiling and skylights. I happily create there, but I could just as well be in waiting in an airport or hold up in some hotel. I break out my sketch pad or my laptop and start my next book that is based on an idea that occurred to me as I was getting my teeth drilled at the dentist or pretending to pay attention at my account’s office. 

Who or what has helped you to persevere and not quit?

First it was my parents who believed in me, then my wife Peggy, but ultimately I had to believe in myself.  The is no roadmap for a career in the arts. Other writers or artist lives seen from a distance are an illusion. They may serve as inspiration, but not always as a practical model. 

If you were no longer able to write, how else would you express your creativity?

Since I am a painter and illustrator as well as a writer, I suppose I would just make pictures. Fortunately, no one is making me choose. 

What has been your greatest sacrifice that has enabled you to become the author you are today?

My greatest sacrifice, would be spending many, many long hours doing various freelance jobs that I would rather not have done, but the income from those jobs allowed me to remain a freelancer and work toward projects that I really love doing. Even the with the most tedious, routine assignment, there is something there to be learned. I never just “mail it in”.  I always aim for artistic quality and client satisfaction. 

What words of inspiration were given to you that you would like to pass along to others?

In life, as in art and literature, there always room for improvement.  The next story can always be better.  The next picture can be better. Reevaluate your work. Look for deficiencies and improve them. Innovate. Take chances. Tear it down and start over (regularly). 

If you knew that you had only one last opportunity to express yourself creatively, what message would you want to convey to others?

I would try and resist the impulse to be too preachy, considering the finality of the event, but he last creative thing I ever did would express the happiness I have at having spent a lifetime doing creative things. 

When did you realize that you had a gift for writing?

As a child, I liked to write, but I didn’t thing of it as a gift. It was just something I enjoyed doing. My vocation as a visual artist took priority. It wasn’t until I was offered the chance to write my first picture book, My Cousin Katie, that i rediscover how much I liked writing. It was as if i crossed over some threshold into a new world. 

How do you balance your personal life and your creative endeavors?

My life is a mix of time spent with family and friends, hard, but satisfying work, relaxation and exercise. 

What is your typical day like?

I get up early. I work until late in the day writing or illustrating or painting, then go off  for a hike or to play golf. My routine is broken when I do authors visits or lectures. I travel all over the country. 

How much of your own life is reflected in your work?

My life is reflected throughout my work. I won’t write anything unless I’m interested it or it amuses me. My first three books (My cousin Katie, Circus Girl and Diner At Magritte’s) feature each of our three children as models for the protagonists. In my newest book, Tugboat from Holiday House, I used myself as the model for the tug captain. 

Do you have family members who like to write too?

My father was a New York city policeman, but he wrote verse. It seemed like a natural thing to me. Of course, we are Irish, so my father being a policeman-poet was no surprise to anyone. 

What was your childhood like? Did your upbringing influence the way you write today?

Reading was alway important around our house. Both my parents were alway working on a book.  Before I could read, I look at books from our bookcase like Robinson Crusoe, illustrated by the Read brothers or Moby Dick illustrated by Rockwell Kent High. Those sam books sit on my bookshelf now. High standards in school were expected. 

Which of your books gives you the most pride or satisfaction?

I am most fond of my first three books because of the connection to our children, but the most satisfying book is alway the book I am working on at the monument, because while I’m working on it, I always believe it will be my best book yet. 

How do you think you differ from other creative people in your genre?

I am more similar than different. Most creative people work hard in a place where the odds of success are overwhelming stacked against them, but they can’t help themselves from toiling away. 

Has your creativity changed stylistically as you have matured? If so, in what ways?

Both with my writing and my illustration, I feel more free to break with convention. 

When do you feel the most energized?

I keep a good work schedule, so when I get up early, I’m ready to go. Occasionally, I’ll  walk into my studio in the middle of the night and start to work and before I know it two or three hours have passed. 

Does your writing reflect your personality?

Yes, my writing always affects me personally. As it should. If something works, I’m happy. If it doesn’t, I’m frustrated until I can make it work.