Kory Merritt is an amazing author and illustrator with a creatively creepy book–NO PLACE FOR MONSTERS–that released last month, just in time for Halloween. We are so excited to host him on our spooky blog and learn more about his art and his writing.
What inspired you to write NO PLACE FOR MONSTERS?
I’ve always loved spooky stories. As a kid, my favorite book characters were always the creatures–Gollum from The Hobbit, the sea-rats from Brian Jacques’s Redwall series. Even as an adult, I still love reading books with strange and imaginative monsters: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Thee Jumbies series by Tracey Baptiste, numerous classics by legends like Stephen King and Tananarive Due. Now more than ever, it’s fun to escape to monster land.
So when my amazing agent, Dan, suggests I try writing and illustrating a spooky story, I was thrilled. I actually, originally wrote and illustrated a version of No Place for Monsters back in 2011, when I was an art teacher, and posted it on a comics syndicate website called GoComics. My agent suggested I take the basic concept of a memory-snatching monster and remake it as a middle-grade book.
Your previous MG title is The Dreadful Fate of Jonathan York. Why do you like to write spooky stories?
I do my own illustrations (I’ve illustrated more books than I’ve written) and I love drawing toothy, creepy characters. So it’s fun to build stories around the creatures in my notebooks.
What interesting things did you discover while working on your latest story?
My awesome editor and agent both convinced me to trim down the prose narrative and let the pictures tell the story when possible. There’s still test, but I think the writing and pictures work in tandem.
How did you transition from comics to MG stories? And how long dose it take you to create such a lavishly illustrated story? Please tell us how the process of mixing the story and illustrations comes together.
I broke into MG as an illustrator for a comic book/graphic novel series based on the online game Poptropica. I think No Place for Monsters could be considered a graphic novel even though there is a prose text, since there are many places where the pictures take over the narrative. It was an easy transition.
It took several months of rough drafts and talks with my agent before he accepted it and sold it. Then it took about four months to illustrate a fully inked draft of No Place for Monsters (summer and fall 2018), and then several more months for edits and revisions with my editor.
What books are you reading now or plan to read next?
Right now, I’m reading The Last Last-Day-of Summer by Lamar Gilese. It’s a zany romp that reminds me how creative great MG books can be. I also started listening to audiobooks last year (I can listen and illustrate at the same time, which is nice). I’m listening to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin, and the new audio-drama of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (which is one of the few Neil Gaiman books I’d never read before).
Who do you feel was the biggest influence on your becoming an author and illustrator?
I mean, of course my parents–both classroom teachers, both encouraged a lot of reading and exploration and creative pursuit. As for professional writers . . . tough one. Going to have to say the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett. Love his books. As for illustrator . . . Bill Peet, Bill Watterson, and Brian Selznick (who was kind enough to give me a quote). Also Gina Pfleegor, who I used to teach with, and who is one of the most talented artists/illustrators I’ve ever met.
How have you adjusted your marketing/promotional plans with the pandemic?
I’m being very careful and social-distancing, so that means no in-person festivals or visits. I’m about to start virtual visits with classrooms. I used to be a public school K-6 art teacher, so I have plenty of classroom experience. Some of the visits are workshops: Students write stories, and I try to illustrate parts of them. It’s fun, and since I don’t have to travel, I don’t have to postpone illustration work.
Can you share anything about a new story you’re working on?
I’m doing another book with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Fall 2021. It’s a follow-up to No Place for Monsters, with some of the same characters, and plenty of new creatures. It’s set in a haunted school. As a former art teacher, I find the school setting easy to write about. Much of it is told through “found footage”–illustrations seen through the view of cameras and phones. Sort of like an illustrated Blair Witch Project. It’s experimental. Hope it works!
What is your advice to aspiring authors and illustrators?
Read, write, and draw as much as possible! Read lots of books: prose books, books with lots of pictures, books with no pictures. Books by a wide variety of authors. Books outside your comfort zone. Write and draw and try to get things published locally. You’ll write and draw stuff that will be embarrassing in a few years, but hopefully you’ll have developed and honed your style. And have fun! You should love writing and drawing even if only a few people see it. If it’s a chore, or if you only want to write/draw for money . . . Well, that’s not a good sign. It could be years, or never, before you make any substantial money. Have a day job or a “Plan B.” Having a great career in a creative field can always be your end goal, but it’s very difficult to get there, so writing and drawing and making up stories should be fulfilling and fun no matter what stage you’re at.
Thanks so much, Kory, for sharing your thoughts and insights! I’m sure everyone will enjoy your entertaining monster stories! Please, keep them coming. 🙂