Author Interview with Jason Chin

gravity coverGet to know Jason…

Jason Chin is the author and illustrator of the acclaimed books Gravity, Island: A Story of the GalapagosRedwoods and Coral Reefs.  His other work includes illustrations for Where Do Polar Bears Live? and Simon Winchester’s The Day the World Exploded.

Jason grew up in a small town in New Hampshire, and studied illustration at Syracuse University.  In 2001 he moved to New York City and found a job at a children’s bookstore in Manhattan.  It was through co-workers at the store that Jason found his way to his current publisher, Roaring Brook Press.

Jason’s latest book, Gravity has just been published.  His previous book, Island: A Story of the Galapagos, won the 2013 Gryphon Award from the Center for Children’s Books.  The New York Times called it “a remarkable introduction to the Galapagos,” and said that the “science is gracefully combined with superb illustrative art”.  Island has also received starred reviews from The Horn Book, Publisher’s Weekly, School and Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews. For more info, visit his website.

Quirky Questions

What aspect of the “good old days” do you wish could make a comeback today? 

I wish there were more independent book-sellers in business. 

Why would somebody choose not to date you? 

I’m married. 

What one thing have you kept over the years for no good reason? 

A two dollar bill.  I’ve had it in my wallet for twenty years, and I’m not really sure why. 

If you were the boss at your job, what incentive or perk would you offer your employees? 

A nap room. 

What unhealthy habit will you never give up? 

Ice cream. 

What one thing is unfortunately true? 

Global climate change caused by human activities is destroying life all over our planet, and it will lead to increased human suffering in the future.  The tragic thing is that we could mitigate the damage, but so far we have chosen not to. 

What one rule do you frequently disregard? 

Ending a sentence with a preposition. 

What do you never leave home without? 

My pants. 

If you could pass along a piece of wisdom to future generations, what would it be? 

Practice empathy every day. 

What concept or product has surprisingly never been invented? 

A singular gender neutral third-person pro-noun. 

What is the most interesting piece of trivia you can think of? 

There is an animal called the water bear that can survive in the vacuum of space. 

islandWriting Questions

How do you know when a book is finished?

When the deadline arrives (or has passed). I usually revise and revise and revise until it’s time to hand the book in. Then I resign myself to the fact that I’ve done the best that I can in the time allotted.  I’ll never hand in something that I don’t think is good, but there’s always something that I wish I had done better.

When I get the book in hand a year later, however, I’m able to look at it with fresh eyes and usually the things that bugged me don’t bug me so much anymore. When I handed in GRAVITY, I was really worried that the art wasn’t good enough, but now I’m quite happy with it.

What impact (good or bad) do you think the media has had on your work?

I’m not sure how it impacts my creative process, but I’ll tell you a little story about GRAVITY. When I was making the cover, I mocked up a design to show my publisher. After I painted the cover, my editor decided to use the same typeface that I had used in the mockup.  A few months later I was sent a picture from my editor with the message “Have you seen this?” It was the movie poster for a new movie starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney called Gravity!  The similarities were uncanny: an astronaut floating above the earth with the sun rising in the background – and they had used the exact same typeface (or something extremely similar)!

I don’t know how all the media surrounding the movie will affect my book’s chances (if it affects them at all), but I’m pretty sure I’ll spend the rest of the year explaining that my book has nothing to do with the movie.

When did you know for certain that you wanted to pursue a career in writing? Have you ever questioned that decision?

I’ve always known that I wanted to pursue a career in art, and I was drawn to children’s books for a variety of reasons. The biggest reason is that I had a mentor in high school who was a children’s book illustrator. I didn’t think I would be an author, too, but after illustrating several books I decided to try writing my own picture book. Luckily, people liked REDWOODS, so I was given the opportunity to do more.  CORAL REEFS, ISLAND and GRAVITY followed and I’m not planning to stop writing any time soon.

Do you ever feel that you have to censor your creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone?

No.  If I want to tell the reader something, I won’t take it out of the book for fear of offending someone.  An example is at the end of CORAL REEFS, where I talk about how the burning of fossil fuels is destroying reefs.  This will probably make readers sad, but I felt I would be doing a disservice to the reader if I didn’t include it. That’s not to say that I don’t consider my audience when I make my books.  I think a lot about the reader and this informs the creative process.

Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing?

I read a lot, which tends to help and I always think about my books while exercising.  I never know when a good idea is going to arrive, so I just try to be ready to catch it when it does.

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?

Read a lot and write every day.  The same goes for illustrating: look at a lot of art and draw (or paint, or do whatever you do) every day.

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Philip Pullman.

What obstacles have you had to deal with in your career?

All things considered, I’ve had an easier time than most. That’s not to say it’s been easy, but I’ve had a lot of help along the way and have had a lot of lucky breaks.  I wouldn’t feel right talking about obstacles when mine have been small compared to what so many authors have had to overcome.

What are the biggest challenges you have had in the realm of your art?

The biggest challenge is overcoming self-doubt.  Luckily, my books have been well reviewed, so that helps a lot.  But when I’m making a book, there is always a point where I’m frustrated and I think I’m doing a terrible job.  It happens every time, and it’s just something that I have to work through.

How did you pick your writing genre?

I just write about what I like to read about. I wrote my first book after reading an article that really captured my imagination and I thought it would be cool to share what I had learned with kids.  REDWOODS was a success, and I’ve been writing about science and nature since then.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

I mentioned before that I had a mentor in high school who was a children’s book illustrator.  Knowing her was transformative.  She showed me what the life of an illustrator was like, she taught me about art and about being an artist.  One of the most important things she told me to do was to read, and that changed my life and my art.

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