Hello and Happy New Years Readers!
I’m so excited to be kicking off the new year with an author interview! Today I’ll be chatting with author/illustrator David Ostow. As you know I recently read The Devil and Winnie Flynn written by David sister Micol Ostow and illustrated by David himself!
BookBandit (BB): Can you tell a little about yourself, and about your path as a writer/illustrator?
David Ostow (DO): My path into books and illustration certainly wasn’t conventional. I’m trained as an architect. I attended the University of Virginia, where, at the time, they still placed a lot of emphasis on hand drawing even though in the professional world of architecture the drawing process had long been computerized.
So when I graduated and began working in an office I missed having opportunities to draw by hand. My sister Micol was, at the time, already a published author and I approached her half in jest about doing an illustrated project with me. To my surprise she was interested and — even more to my surprise — so was her agent. We came up for a proposal which eventually became the book So Punk Rock (and Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother). It’s a book about a group of Jewish Day School students who try to start a punk band and it drew a lot from both my and Micol’s teenage experiences.
Ever since that book was published I’ve been looking for more opportunities to publish illustrations and cartoons and it’s sort of a double life doing that and still practicing architecture.
BB: The Devil and Winnie Flynn was written by your sister, Micol Ostow and illustrated by you – who came up with the idea to create this book told through words and images?
DO: The credit for that goes primarily to our editor, Dan Ehrenhaft who is also a writer. When he founded Soho Teen (which is the YA division of Soho Press, a NYC-based mystery press) he started reaching out to authors whose work he like, in order to solicit proposals. He was a big fan of So Punk Rock and the prose / graphic style in which it was done so he approached Micol and me as a team. So with me on board there was never a question that the book would be illustrated. It was just a matter of making sure that the pictures and the prose worked well together and told the story effectively.
BB: For you, what was the most difficult part of illustrating The Devil and Winnie Flynn?
DO: Winnie Flynn really challenged me to come out of my comfort zone. With So Punk Rock, not only was the material closer to home, but the tone of the book was fairly light and it was ok — possibly even ideal – that my drawing style be crude and cartoonish. Also, the concept in So Punk Rock was that the protagonist, Ari Abramson, was a budding cartoonist and the drawings in the book were “Ari’s” doodles. Since my teenage experience approximated his in many ways, I had a lot of ideas right off the bat about what he would draw and what readers would find funny.
Winnie is a supernatural mystery. It’s definitely a book with a sense of humor but the drawings were never intended to be comics as they were in So Punk Rock and the question of what drawings and what types of drawings would be most effective was trickier for me. Also I knew that stylistically, I needed to push myself to a new place. I wanted the drawings to be dark and austere and detailed in a way that would compliment the creepy factor of the book.
BB: What kind of research went into creating this book?
DO: We decided early on to base the book around the legend of the New Jersey Devil. From there we sought to familiarize ourselves with other pieces of Jersey supernatural lore, and books like Weird New Jersey were helpful in that regard. We took a weekend trip to Asbury Park where we visited the Paranormal Museum and went on a ghost tour (full disclosure, we spent some time on the beach as well). We read up on “haunted” locations like the Overbrook Asylum which is close to where we grew up. I had never heard of it and was bummed to learn that it had long since been razed to the ground by the time we began the book.
Much of what we learned about was fictionalized to suit our needs or tastes as we worked out the story and there is a note to that effect at the beginning of the book.
BB: From your bio, I read that you and your sister grew up in the Garden State (so did I!) do you have any paranormal/Jersey Devil stories of your own that you would share?
DO: I love a good ghost story but to the best of my recollection I’ve never personally had any experiences that left me convinced of the existence of ghosts or anything like that. Like Winnie, I’m a skeptic.
The closest thing I could describe to a “paranormal” experience would be passing through the Meadowlands which I did on many occasions as a young kid with my family on the way to New York or to see my grandparents in the Bronx. I never saw ghosts but I was mesmerized by this strange landscape and I’m sure part of me was convinced it had been left behind by aliens. It had creeks and ponds and things growing out of the water but there were also smokestacks and buildings in various states of decay and ribbons of concrete highway soaring overhead, some in use, some derelict. It was all the more mesmerizing because it was always a place we passed through and I would experience it from inside the comfort of a car. I always wondered what it would be like to actually get out and walk around.
BB: what was the biggest difference between writing/illustrating this book in comparison to your other books?
DO: The only other book I’ve published to date is So Punk Rock and I guess I spoke to this question a bit in my answers to some of the previous questions. So Punk Rock’s illustrations could fairly be called comics and even today I think of myself as a cartoonist as much as an illustrator. The illustrations in Winnie are largely standalone pictures. Finding a style for the book was largely a process of moving beyond the cartoonist shorthand I relied on heavily in So Punk Rock.
BB: If you had to describe The Devil and Winnie Flynn in three words, what words would you use to describe your book?
DO: Jersey is haunted!
BB: If The Devil and Winnie Flynn were being made into a movie or TV show who would you like to see cast as the main characters?
DO: I’ve actually gotten this question at a few book events and I should really have some solid answers worked out. Most of the actors who I think of as teenagers were actually teenagers when I was a teenager so you’ll have to give me the benefit of some kind of time machine in dreaming up this cast. I could imagine someone like Patricia Clarkson doing Maggie. I’ll stick with Six Feet Under as a talent pool for a moment and say that Lauren Ambrose might make a good Winnie. A young Jared Leto could play Seth. I know he was a hunk on My So-Called Life but he’s shown range since then so I’m confident he could geek it up. Kristen Stewart as Casey, hope that doesn’t seem like a cop out. Jonah Hill would’ve made a great Ivan in his younger days. Aida Turturro of Sopranos fame as Genie,
BB: Can you tell of any upcoming projects?
DO: I’m working on a proposal for a collection of stories that I’m hoping to pitch as a graphic novel early in the new year. The ideas for these stories come largely from recent life experiences and so I’d say they’re geared toward a general audience, relatable (I hope) to teens and adults alike. Micol recently released the first in her series of Louise Trapeze chapter books and there are more to come. As for her YA work, I’m sure there will be something coming down the pipeline soon enough but I don’t know what it will be.
BB: What advice can you offer to aspiring writers and illustrators?
DO: Since I published my first book social media has taken over culture which presents opportunities to share your work with wide audiences but it’s also this big messy thing with artists and writers of all sorts vying for attention. I think it’s helpful to have some sort of online presence but don’t wear yourself out trying to churn out content for the sake of “exposure”. Media is so fast now and personally I often feel a lot of pressure to produce and to keep up. One thing I’m finding is that, if you feel that pressure, it’s good to try to let go of it and take your time working on your craft at a pace that is comfortable and enjoyable.
Seek out writers / illustrators / artists who have achieved some level of professional success and ask them to share their stories and advice. Take time with your work and your professional relationships, treat them both with respect.
Make friends with similar artistic aspirations and share ideas and inspiration.
Also, everyone has the imposture syndrome so when it hits you remember that.
A big THANK YOU to David for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions!
Readers, make sure you check him out! For more information check out his website at: http://www.davidostow.com