First off, congrats! We adored Roller Girl. Can you tell us a bit about how you came up with the idea for the book?
Thank you, and thank you for the honor of a Cybils award! I am so thrilled and humbled by the support.
Roller Girl was born out of my love of roller derby. If you know anyone who plays the sport, you probably know that they’re a little obsessed with it. It’s an exciting and welcoming community, and I soon knew I wanted to write a book about it. At the same time, junior roller derby was (and still is) growing in popularity, and I began coaching one of our junior teams. The parallels between roller derby and real life in middle school practically wrote themselves.
How much did your own personal experience (either as a kid or skating/coaching roller derby) inform Roller Girl?
I never played a sport seriously as a kid, so all of my derby experiences in the book happened when I was an adult. I did draw heavily from my own life, however. When I was 12 years old my family moved from Pennsylvania to Florida, and I moved away from my best friend of many, many years. Although we tried to remain friends through letters (before the days of email- gasp!), it was difficult, and we found ourselves drifting apart. This was a really sad experience for me, and I could feel us drifting apart, but I didn’t know what to do to stop it. I tried to include some of the sadness of losing your best friend in Roller Girl.
We’re curious: what’s your derby name, and why? And what’s your best/worst derby injury?
A good derby name is very important! I wanted a derby name that had something to do with children’s books, and some of the obvious choices (Hermione Danger, Malice in Wonderland) were already taken. My derby name is Winnie the Pow. Cute, yet don’t mess with me!
I would say there is no “good” derby injury… but then again, most derby players are happy to drop their shorts to show you their awesome bruises. Luckily I never sustained a break or a strain, which are pretty common. Well, actually, in retrospect I MAY have broken my finger- it sure hurt a lot, but at the time I thought I had just jammed it. It was on my right hand in the middle of a big illustration deadline, so that was probably my worst injury. The worst part? I got it by slamming into the penalty box too hard.
We know a lot has been made out about the derby side of the book, but can you talk a bit about your approach to illustrating?
I tend to think of myself as an illustrator first and an author second. I went to art school and studied illustration, but I never took any formal creative writing classes. I really, really love working with images and text together. You can say so much with an image, and I love playing with what is said (or left unsaid) in tandem with an illustration.
The illustration stage of a graphic novel is what I consider the fun part. I find writing to be grueling and somewhat tortuous, but I get to play around when I’m drawing. I like to draw from life when I can- both the figures and locations.
If you don’t mind telling us, what are you working on next?
My latest graphic novel, The Great Pet Escape, was released in February 2016, and I am currently finishing up the art for the sequel. I’m also working on completing a manuscript for my next middle grade graphic novel. I can’t wait to dig into the art for that one- it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Thanks so much!