It is my extreme pleasure to share an interview with author, artist, father, and all-around super guy, Abraham Schroeder. Abraham is the author of Ripple Grove Press’s first book, The Gentleman Bat, which was published in 2014. I had the honor of being one of the first reviewers of the book right here on Frog on a Blog. (Take a moment to read the review HERE.) Abraham is also a talented artist with an eclectic style and a unique body of work.
I have no idea why it took me so long to ask Abraham for an interview, but you’ll discover by reading his very thoughtful and detailed responses, that it was well worth the wait. Enjoy!
You are the author of Ripple Grove Press’s first book ever, The Gentleman Bat. How did that come about?
Around 2003 I wrote my first picture book and made rough sketches. The pieces all clicked together for me, and it was the first time as an adult that I saw how the picture book format would be a perfect, fun package to share some art and ideas, so I kept writing little stories. Around 2005 or 2006 I started The Gentleman Bat, working on it over months and years with the vague notion to someday find a publisher or self publish. By 2011 I had accumulated a small pile of stories, manuscripts, rough drafts, and sketches, which was starting to feel less like a side hobby and more like something I wanted to see to fruition. I’d tentatively shared drafts with friends and a few publishers, encouraged by positive murmurs, but had no solid leads.
Over the next couple of years I worked toward the goal of either finding a publisher or really learning how to make great books myself. I did more writing, more research about publishing, and spent a few months working at a small publishing company where I updated my skills in editing and layout. I gained some insight into the process of getting books from idea, to print, and to market, including a few big things to avoid.
When I heard that a friend/former colleague was starting a publishing company and was looking for submissions, I was ready. Within a few days I sent a packet of manuscripts. The advantage of being early in that first wave of submissions was that I was guaranteed fresh, undistracted consideration, eyes on the page, but they got a lot of early submissions, so if my stories didn’t resonate with their vision for the company and the catalog, the books would not have been picked. I was thrilled some months later when they wanted to move forward with two books. I was also surprised by which books they declined, including one of my favorites, that first one I wrote (which, by the way, if any publishers or agents are reading this, is still super awesome, wholesome, inspiring, and just a great read overall). Even now, having two books with them, they don’t play favorites or give me any free passes if they don’t see a fit.
(Elmira (on the left) and friend posing with The Gentleman Bat | Photos 2017, Lubee Bat Conservancy, Gainesville, FL | http://www.facebook.com/LubeeBatConservancy http://www.lubee.org/) Note: These photos are not upside down, the bats are.
The Gentleman Bat is a rhyming picture book and is very poetic. Do you consider yourself a poet?
I don’t consider myself a poet, and I have mixed feelings about poetry in general, but as long as I can remember I’ve always loved rhythm and rhymes and music and word play. I often get little rhymes and phrases stuck in my head, and sometimes they grow. That’s what happened with The Gentleman Bat. The first few couplets were rattling around for weeks or months before I wrote them down. Once I had a basic premise and structure I tried to maintain a regular meter while keeping natural speaking language, and of course telling a story. The rules I put in place for myself were a little arbitrary, but with massive effort I stuck pretty well to them, and I hope the process made it easier to read and follow. I have several more rhyming stories in the works, a few songs I’ve been tinkering with too, and I do my best to not get lazy and try to sneak something sloppy in for lack of better solution. When I have the head space for it (rarely), I read up on poetic systems, but it’s mostly about sound and feel, counting out the syllables on my fingers, trying every possible arrangement of words I can think of. It’s often brutally slow, tedious work to make something feel effortless.
Having two young kids, I read a TON of books out loud, over and over and over and over, so when there’s a bad rhyme, an uncomfortable pattern of stresses, or something that just doesn’t fit with the rest, it only gets worse with repetition and can sour the whole book. In contrast, the good rhyming stories, even ones that have really weird structure or breaks, when they work, they really work. I hope mine don’t fall into the painful side for anyone, though I put in some tricky tongue twisters that make you slow down. No complaints so far, knock on wood.
What was the inspiration behind Too Many Tables, Ripple Grove Press’s second book?
It started as an idea that I nearly dismissed as too silly to write down, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. I wrote the first draft maybe just a few weeks before I submitted it, and was thrown for a loop when Ripple Grove Press liked it more than stories I’d labored over for years. Something I was not conscious of – Micah, the illustrator, pointed it out way later in the process as one reason he signed on to the project – was that the story has an underlying sentiment of unquestioning generosity and the spirit of working together as a community to help build wonderful things. My subconscious writing mind set that up nicely, even if I was the last person on the team to notice.
Seeing the books that Ripple Grove Press has published since then helps put their choice in context. Your book, The Peddler’s Bed, for instance, has more of that unquestioning generosity and kindness in a story that is silly and sweet (Squeak, squeak, squeak!). Mae and the Moon, Salad Pie also, the unselfconscious play … hmmm, maybe all of them now that I look at the catalog … As they add new titles you start to get a sense of the vision for the world that Ripple Grove Press is trying to build and share. Mr. Tanner and Graduation Day add a certain beautiful sadness and hope to the mix.
Did you collaborate with the illustrators on either of the books?
Piotr Parda and I were in art school together, and I’ve always admired his skill and diligence in drawing, painting, and sculpture. We’ve worked on lots of little projects together over the years, and I knew he’d have good ideas for The Gentleman Bat. I showed him the early drafts and he came back with amazing sketches right away. His enthusiasm helped me keep writing, and his patience through draft after draft helped us build the book up to what we have today. He was part of the package when I pitched it, and it would not have happened without our partnership throughout. Photoshop, email, and Skype allowed us to communicate visual ideas quickly from opposite sides of the country over the final year of production.
Micah Monkey https://www.micahmonkey.com/ is an accomplished artist, illustrator, filmmaker, and animator, who has done several picture books. We are also cousins. Rob Broder at Ripple Grove asked me if I had any illustrators in mind for Too Many Tables. I asked him if he’d take a look, he liked it, and he signed on. After an initial series of discussions where we all looked at character designs and style, I put in a handful of special requests (and sent lots of pictures of tables I liked), then he and the publishers took over completely. I didn’t see any images until the book was nearly off to the printer many months later. That was nerve wracking, especially after being so closely involved in every page and detail of The Gentleman Bat, but I put my trust in the team and did a lot of deep breathing. It was amazing to see the finished book, so many wonderful surprises on every page, and Micah does really expressive and beautiful work.
You are an artist as well and your style is very eclectic. Can you tell us a bit about your art?
Art and artsy things are a big part of my daily life and identity. If I’m not actively making something or looking at other people’s art, I’m usually running some project or notion through my head, taking mental notes for later.
Many people consider a lot of things I make to be more than a little creepy or dark, lots of anatomy and bone stuff, but I usually think of it as new ways of looking at the materials that make us, the substance of people, questions about bodies and body image, nature and technology, gesture and context, what’s gross, what’s exciting, what’s beautiful.
I like to take things apart and build new things from the parts, rearranging and repurposing. Photography, clay, metal, collage, electronics, digital manipulation, and other media are fun in and of themselves, and also the means to experiment and explore and share deeper ideas. Words and language are part of the same big tool kit.
In the past couple of months I started working with 3D modeling software, adding some new dimensions to older ideas. A slow learning curve, but I’m seeing some huge potential.
What are your thoughts on the picture book as a work of art?
Making a whole series of cohesive images that illustrate a story within a book format is a really different process than making single, stand-alone artworks, or even a series around a theme. The format has certain major challenges and constraints, the images have to work together, and together with the text (if there is text), and there are also usually more people and opinions involved. It’s way harder than it might look. Again, so much hard work to appear effortless.
The first art many people are exposed to is in picture books. Some of the worlds that books create for us and our imaginations are absolutely magical, and certainly can shape how we grow as people. Even before writing my own books or buying books for my kids I’ve collected picture books for myself. They’re all mixed in on the same bookshelves as my other books for reference and inspiration. My mom recently sent me boxes of some of my old favorites that I remember looking at for hours on end as a kid, and now I can share them with my family.
Are you working on more picture books? Would you like to illustrate picture books too?
I’ve got a growing pile of stories in varying states, from penciled notes to finished manuscripts, some that rhyme, some that don’t. I keep tuning up my older ones. I have several new stories that I think are really solid, and I’ve been working on a few sequels and spinoffs of the first two books.
A few of the projects I would really love to illustrate. I have lots of sketches but few finished images for any of them. It’s intimidating when I start comparing myself to artists who might spend more disciplined time focused on drawing and painting. As you said before, my style is eclectic, I rarely stick to a consistent body of work for long, but I have some thoughts about how to play to my strengths and style to get some of these books done.
Where can fans go to learn more about you?
For a whole bunch about bats and The Gentleman Bat, I’ve put together a family friendly site, http://www.TheGentlemanBat.com, with lots of resources and links about bats, bat conservation, awesome videos and science, the inspiration and illustration process for the book, a guide to some hidden details inside – all that and more. I don’t update http://toomanytables.com/ as often, but have some fun future plans, so please check that out too.
My Facebook author page is here: http://www.facebook.com/TheGentlemanBat/. I post readings and events, sometimes cute bat links, Ripple Grove Press news. I plan to do a book giveaway or two soon, but still haven’t figured out how all of that works. Questions, comments, or if you want to schedule an in-person or virtual school visit, please feel free to contact me there, and, as they say, please like and share.
My art page has some creepy, spooky, grown-up stuff on it, plenty of not-so-creepy stuff mixed in too, but best to poke around without kids looking on until you get a sense of what’s there. http://www.AbrahamSchroeder.com
Thank you so much for having me on the blog, and for all of these great questions! It’s been such fun reading all the responses from other authors and illustrators.
Thank you, Abraham, for sharing so much of your life and work with us!
To learn even more fascinating facts about Abraham, click HERE.
Stay tuned, friends, for a special upcoming interview. Abraham will be interviewing me, right here on the Frog!