Author Interviews

Tony DiTerlizzi Interview Transcript

  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Author and illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi was interviewed by students and teachers on Scholastic.com.

What made you want to start writing?

I love books, and I love to read, and I had ideas for books that I thought would be neat to read.

How many books have you written?
I've written two picture books, and I helped write the Spiderwick books with Holly Black, and there are five of those.

How is it different illustrating your own story versus illustrating someone else's? Which do you like better?
That's a good question. Well, if it's a story I've written, I can see the whole story in my mind a lot easier because I created it. The exciting thing about doing art for someone else's story is how I can translate their world through pictures, and that's always a pretty big challenge.

Which book is your favorite?
That's like asking which one of my family members is my favorite. I like different books for different reasons. Probably Ted is most near and dear to me.

What genre do you like writing the best?
I don't look at stories in genres. A good story is a good story, no matter what planet it happens on, whether the characters are mice or human or whatever. That's how I look at it.

When you were a kid did you have a friend like Ted?
I had a pet Tyrannosaurus Rex. I used to watch Land of the Lost a lot, and I wanted one.

Which do you like better: illustrating or writing?
I like both for different reasons. I think just the creation of the story, whether it comes through a picture or an idea for a chapter, is the most exciting part.

How long have you been writing/illustrating?
Not counting published books, I've been doing books since middle school. My mom kept a book I did of insects that I did back then.

What kind of books do you like to read?
I read all kinds of stuff. Obviously I read a lot of kids books because I want to see what other people are doing. But I do like any book that has a classic quest plot, like Tolkien, Watership Down, Redwall.

What book are you currently working on?
Right this second, I'm down in Florida avoiding the cold, and I'm getting ready to start the art for Spiderwick 5, and I'm writing a chapter book that will come out after Spiderwick is done.

Where do you get your ideas?
For me, it takes about a year.

What do you enjoy better, writing or drawing your pictures?
The metaphor I always use is that I'm a sponge. I get ideas from everywhere: movies, books, movies, nature - it comes into my brain, it sits there for a while, and it starts coming back out.

What was your inspiration for The Spider and the Fly? Was it the movie A Bug's Life?
Actually, it was Chas Adams, who created The Adams Family, and Edward Gorey. If I was inspired by any movies, it would have been Tim Burton's movies and old silent movies.

Where in Florida are you?
We're just north of Palm Beach, in my hometown of Jupiter - also Burt Reynolds' hometown.

How long does it take to illustrate a book?
It depends on what kind of book it is. If it's a picture book with lots of paintings, it can take me about a year. The Spiderwick books are just pen and ink drawings, so those only take a couple months at most.

How many pets do you have? Any frogs? Do all of your books have animals?
We have our dog, Goblin, who's a pug, and we have two pet mice named Humbug and Honey. (And probably about 30 other mice in our walls.)

How did you have the right people to contact? I know a lot of writers who just can't get published!
We moved to NYC about eight years ago, and I just went from publisher to publisher, visiting editors until I met someone I really connected with. And it took me about two years of rejection before I found someone who really liked my stuff.

If you had to say one thing to someone that wanted to become an illustrator, what would it be?
Draw every day. And never lose your imagination.

What medium do you use to create your illustrations?
For my paintings, I use watercolor and gouache, and for my drawings I use old-fashioned pen and ink.

What words of encouragement do you have for the young writers of tomorrow?
Believe in yourself. If its something you really want to do, don't take no for an answer. If you want to tell stories, keep telling stories.

Would you consider being a writing teacher for students?
No. It's so organic for me. I don't think I'm versed enough to be a writing teacher. Art yes, writing no.

Who encouraged you the most?
There have been a series of people. My parents encouraged me a lot when I was a kid. My family, my friends. Now that I'm grown up, it's my wife, my editor, and my fans. Kids who have told me they really like my stuff.

What do you like to do besides writing?
Eat, sleep, be out in nature - hiking, that kind of stuff. Playing video games, photography, birds, bugs, that kind of thing.

Do you have any children?
No. But my wife thinks I'm a giant 34-year-old child.

When you were a kid who was your favorite author?
I loved Roald Dahl and Dr. Seuss. I loved the Brothers Grimm too.

You may not want to teach writing but you are our writing teacher because we are using The Spiderwick Chronicles for learning how to show and not tell!

Have you ever taught art or illustration in general? Do you ever see yourself doing that?
Eventually, I'd love to teach art and illustration. Why spend your life learning a craft if you can't pass it on?

Did you always want to be an author and illustrator?
Yeah. Since I was a kid. I loved stories.

What was your inspiration for The Spiderwick Chronicles?
Well, Holly and I were contacted by the three Grace children, and they told us their story.

I read on your web site that some of your books might be made into movies. Which one do you think would make the best movie, and who would you want to have act in it or do the voices?
Gee, they're all so different. They talked about Jack Black being the voice of Ted. I hope just one of them gets made. It's really hard for movies to get done - and done well.

About how long will the series The Spiderwick Chronicles be?
There are five books, and the fourth and fifth books will be out this year. The actual Field Guide will be out next year.

What is the name of the fifth book you are writing?
I can't tell... It's a surprise!

Where do you live?
I live in Western Massachusetts, in a town called Amherst.

Do you work in a certain place in your house?
I work all over, but there's a bedroom that's been converted to an art studio.

Did you study art in school?
Yes, I did. Following grade school I took art classes, and I went to college down here in Florida, and I graduated from the Art Institute in Fort Lauderdale. In fact, I'm still in touch with a lot of my art teachers.

Do you have a schedule or just draw when you feel inspired?
My life is nothing but deadlines! I'm always on a schedule. But there's usually enough time for me to get inspired about what I'm working on

Do you find that there is a certain time of day that you are most productive/creative?
Night. I'm more a night person. The phone stops ringing, and it quiets down in the house.

Who are some contemporary illustrators that you're a fan of?
Brian Froud, Mark Teague, Alan Lee, who did all the design for the Lord of the Rings movies.

What is your favorite color?
It changes a lot. I don't really have a favorite color. I'd say right now my favorite color is green.

Do you like the Lord of the Rings movies? Have you seen all three of them?
I've seen all three, and they are excellent movies - best trilogy made next to Star Wars.

What type of adventure do you like better: inside a book or real life?
How about real life that INSPIRES a book?

How many times do you rewrite before you're happy with what you have done?
That's a good question. A LOT of times. I'm a perfectionist. I think Ted was re-written about seven times.

What is your favorite planet? Do you think you will get some ideas from the robot that landed on Mars?
That's an awesome question. Right now my favorite planet is Earth - that's the only planet I can breath the air on. But I am very excited about the Mars lander. I've always been fascinated by space exploration.

Are you ever going to go on tour and read books to schools? Like maybe in Des Moines, Iowa?
Holly and I are going to do two tours this year for Spiderwick. We're going to tour the UK in the spring, and then we'll do the U.S. this fall.

What is your process for completing an illustration? Are you a stickler with preliminary work?
I do a LOT of preliminary work, and a LOT of research.

Do you play a musical instrument?
Actually, when I was a kid I used to play saxophone. And I really love music. I always have music playing.

Are you ever going to write a limited edition book or draw a limited edition picture?
I have made limited edition books of my sketchbooks. And there is a gallery that sells limited edition prints: R. Michelson Gallery in Northampton, MA.

What is your favorite part in The Spider and the Fly?
When they get to Spider's parlor, and you see all his past victims.

Do you like spiders? We are studying them right now!
I like jumping spiders, and though they're not spiders, I think daddy longlegs are pretty neat.

Do you keep a writers notebook as part of your writing process?
Yeah, I have lots of journals that are half sketches and half drawings.

Do you write every day?
No, probably not. But I'm a ponderer, so I think about stories every day...

If you had to do something else besides writing and illustrating, what would it be?
Probably something involved with nature... marine biologist, entomologist - I love insects.

Why did you move from illustrating games to illustrating books?
I had all these ideas for stories that I wanted to tell.

What is your favorite food?
I do love lasagna. Popeye's chicken, pizza, peanut butter and jelly - all the stuff that's good for you.

Do you make up the titles yourself?
Yeah, but I ask a lot of people what they think.

Will you consider making The Spiderwick Chronicles into a movie series like Harry Potter?
The screenwriter who wrote the movie Elf has already adapted it, and it's in the early stages of POSSIBLY being made into a movie.

Do you like Harry Potter?
I love Harry Potter. Who doesn't like Harry Potter?

What gave you the idea to draw The Spider and the Fly in an old movie style?
Because the poem is kind of scary. It doesn't have a happy ending, so I instantly thought of old horror movies.

Do you have any brothers or sisters?
I have one brother, and one sister - both younger and artistically talented.

About how many pages do you write a day?
I don't know. A lot of times I'll write it out longhand and then type it on the computer, editing as I go. I write as much as I can, I guess.

How did you find the text for The Spider and the Fly?
Good question. Actually my editor, Kevin, found it. They originally wanted Fred Marcelino to illustrate the book. He passed away, and they were looking for someone else to do it, so they asked me.

Have your brother or sister been published?
No, but they're still in school.

Tony, do you have anything else you would like to add?
One last note: the great thing about reading is that it really excites your imagination in a way that you don't get from movies or video games. There's something special about a book.

You've made my third graders' and my day! As one of my students just said, "We're the happiest people in the world!"
Thanks! You made my day too!

  • Subjects:
    Literature, Visual Arts
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