The author and illustrator Diane Goode was interviewed by Scholastic students.
What were your favorite books as a child?
I really didn't have many picture books or children's books. My mother was French and she told me stories, because they have an oral tradition. And when she read me stories, she read from an anthology that had no illustrations. So I can't say that I had a favorite book! But I liked fairy tales and folktales — she read a lot of those.
Do you have a favorite fairy tale or myth?
I think my favorite fairy tale is “Beauty and the Beast” because I love that she falls in love with a beast because he's so kind.
What was your favorite subject in school?
What was the first book you wrote and/or illustrated?
The very first book I illustrated was called The Little Pieces of the West Wind. I think that was in 1978. The first book that I wrote was I Hear a Noise. And I lived in the country, and we heard noises at night in the house, as you often do in the country. And in the morning, everyone had a different explanation for what the noise must be. Someone thought it was a raccoon, someone else thought it was a mouse — so that's what gave me the idea for the story. But it turned out to be a dragon — a baby dragon. And it flies across over the farm — it was a horse farm.
Do you study images about the topics you illustrate: dinosaurs, Japanese culture, etc., before drawing them?
Absolutely! In depth. When I did The Dinosaur's New Clothes, I started by reading about dinosaurs — the big bang, forming of continents, then dinosaurs. So those were real dinosaurs, although I took a little liberty with the different periods. I do a lot of research and then I play with it! I did a lot of research for the dogs; I did books that took place at Versailles. The last book I did takes place on board the Titanic. I do a lot of research, and I enjoy that.
Do you base the way you draw characters on real-life people or animals in your life?
Yes! A long time ago, I did do “Beauty and the Beast” and the beast was my husband. He had a full beard at the time. And my son is in my books. When he was small (he's 22 now), I used my son, cousins, relatives. I think every artist has themselves in the characters.
How does it feel when you've finished a book?
When I've finished the book, it feels very sad. Well, that's not entirely true. Some of the books take a year to do. It's every day for 12 hours. When you're done, you've invested so much in it, there's always that feeling that you should've done better. I just finished a book for the Blue Sky Press called Tiger Trouble!, and I used a different style, and it went really fast. And I was thrilled — it was exhilarating! So, I think it depends on the experience of making the book. It's fun, but it's also very, very hard work.
Have you illustrated any nonfiction books?
I don't think so. One of them — it's fiction, but it was based on fact. So, no, not really.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I like to play with my dogs. I have a yellow Lab — great big boy, and I have a Welsh corgi. I like to cook, and we live near the woods, so we go in the woods a lot with the dogs. I don't really have time for much else! My son is at school, so basically I do books — I illustrate books.
What advice do you have for kids who want to be illustrators?
Hmmm — that's funny, because my son is an editorial illustrator. I think to have a good general education, because whatever you know and experience, you bring to your work.
Who are some of your favorite illustrators?
Arnold Loebel, Maurice Sendak — I'll try to think of more — I like so many of them!
Do you have any favorite art museums?
Yes, I do!! I love the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York. I go there whenever I can — I'm a member. I've been going there since I was a little girl.
I also love the Louvre, in Paris. And the Musee d'Orsay, which is also in Paris.
It used to be a train station before it was a museum — I did a book called Where's Our Mama?, which took place in that train station. And when I visited the museum, they were selling my book! I had no idea they were selling it — it was fun and very unexpected.
Do you keep a diary or journal or a sketchbook that's like a diary?
For book ideas — I write them down. Sometimes I get ideas in the middle of the night, and I write them down, even in the dark. It might just be a sentence. I also draw things — like a little character might come into my head. And in my studio, I have a big architect's cabinet with files, and I keep drawings there. They never become a story in themselves, but they may inspire one or be part of one. Because when I start the story, I don't know what it will be — it changes.
Are there any authors you haven't worked with that you would like to collaborate with?
I wanted to do another book with Cindy Rylant — I've already done one. It's hard to think of, because I like to do my own books. That way, I have more freedom — you can change it anytime you want. If you get a book from an author, it's done, and I would never tell anyone to change anything.
Do you get to choose the authors you work with as an illustrator?
Well, only to the extent that a publisher sends you a manuscript, and you can say yes or no. I've never asked to work with someone in particular, so I don't know if that's a possibility. I think the editor does the choosing — I don't even think the authors choose their illustrators!
What is your next book going to be about?
Am I allowed to say?! My next book is with Blue Sky, part of Scholastic, and it's a book I wrote and illustrated. It takes place in Brooklyn, New York in the 1930s. There's an unusual character in it! You'll have to read it to find out more! And then I have another one coming out right after that!
Is it ever difficult for you to paint, draw, etc? If so, what do you do?
Yes! It is sometimes difficult to come up with ideas. Almost any idea is a good idea, but the trick is how to present it. How do you get what's in your head onto the paper in an interesting way? I used to do my books first through images, and let the pictures tell the story, and then add the text later. I don't have an idea that I just work on. But one of the last books that I did is one where I actually wrote the story first. Then I treated it like it was someone else's manuscript — and that was fun! I don't consider myself a writer — I work from images. I think my editor considers me a writer, but I don't!
Out of all the books you've illustrated, what are some of your favorites and why?
I think one of my favorites is Where's Our Mama? and a follow-up book that is called Mama's Perfect Present. Because it was something I did for my mother. My mother was French, and it takes place in France, so it's something that was very close to me.
How is illustrating and authoring different?
Since I do both and I've never written anything that anyone else has illustrated, it's sort of like the same thing to me. Except that the illustrating takes so much longer! I do hundreds of sketches for a book, and I do many dummies. The dummy is like a blueprint for the book — you make sketches of what the book will be. For me, illustrating is very very time-consuming.
Do you have any tips for kids wanting to do their own retelling of a classic fairy tale?
Well, yes — I think that if you study fairy tales, you'll see that most of them are very long and very detailed, and they sometimes begin with a very long introduction that takes place in the past — it jumps from the past to the future and it gets very complicated. They have to try to simplify the story. My first publisher told me that the story should take place in just a few days. So, when I rewrote Cinderella, for the dogs, I simplified it a lot so that younger readers could enjoy it. There's a lot of detail. And have fun with it! Play with it!
Do you have pets other than dogs?
No, I don't think Katie (my corgi) would allow another animal in the house! But, in our backyard, we have seven deer living there. They sleep in the backyard and there are lots of wild animals here.
Why is Cinderella is such a popular fairy tale to retell?
There seems to be many versions of it. My editor told me that Cinderella is the most popular fairy tale in the world, and we were trying to decide why people loved it so much. And we concluded this: everyone feels special and the idea that your prince is the man who sees that quality in you is what's so attractive about the story.
It isn't about the dress or the glass slipper, it's about finding your special mate.
Will the old fairy tales always be around to retell? I hope so! I was very nervous about retelling the Emperor's New Clothes and Cinderella with animals because I had illustrated both of them before with people — the real stories. I loved the originals. And it seemed pretty presumptuous to try to change any of it. But I think the old fairy tales will always be around — and there will always be variations. And the old fairy tales have always had variations, all over the world.
Did you daydream a lot as a kid? Do you think daydreaming helps in becoming a writer or artist?
Yes, but I called it thinking! Yes, I daydreamed, and I think daydreaming is very important.
How do you think that the Internet will affect the way we tell and record stories?
I have no idea! I just don't know! I know that I like to have a book in my hand, and the Internet is different. Let's see what happens — it's just so different. It's a different experience.
Has the Internet affected your career as a book illustrator? Do you use it as a tool for research?
No, I don't use it for research. It affects the way books are sold, but it hasn't really affected me that much — it hasn't affected my work. I don't use a computer to do my illustrations.
Do have a favorite saying or motto?
No, I don't think so! My mother always had a saying in French about how little by little, the bird makes its nest, but I'm not sure how it applies to me! It probably means something about having patience, which is good. But it's a good image of the bird building a nest stick by stick — like how you make a book!
Did you want to be an artist or a writer when you were a kid?
I always always wanted to be an artist. I was an artist! I drew all the time — from the time I could pick up a pencil. And then I decided that I wanted to do that for my life, when I was very little. I didn't know anything about it! And my son has done the same thing! He watched me and said that's how he got the idea.
What was your major in college?
I majored in Fine Arts — I started out with Art History, and then I switched to Fine Arts at Queens College.
What types of books do you enjoy reading?
I enjoy reading British books, but not only British books — I like Thomas Hardy, Edith Wharton (who's American). I don't read a lot of contemporary authors. I just read Angela's Ashes, though. I used to read all the time, but lately I haven't had the time to read as much as I'd like. Fiction, though, I like.
Would you ever collaborate with another artist to illustrate a book you've authored?
It's funny, I don't think of myself as an author. I hadn't thought of that yet! I think I'd like to illustrate the books that I write, though.
Have your dogs ever done something that is almost human in action?
Yes! My dogs inspired the Cinderella story. My big dog, Jack, is crazy in love with my little dog, Katie. There's a line in the story where she's at the ball, and he can only gaze upon her lovingly. And that's what my dog does — he moons over her. And gets as close to her as he can, and then she snarls at him and he backs off! But he's like the enamored prince. So, since he can never get close enough to her, I have him dancing on the back of the book, because that's something he would love to do — and never will!
How many hours a day do you spend drawing or painting?
Probably averages around eight to ten hours a day. It's not a hobby.
Did you look up to any authors when you were a kid?
I really liked romantic stories when I was young. I liked Jane Austen a lot when I was young — I still do!
Was there a time when you had to work another job while illustrating books?
Yes. Before, though. I graduated and I was a substitute teacher. And at night I put together a portfolio and I went to publishers with my portfolio. I taught anything that they asked, mostly in junior high school and high school in New York City. That was for one year, and then I got my first manuscript contract. And that's all I've done ever since — lucky, huh?!
How long does it take to illustrate a book?
It used to be a year — a solid year. But now that I'm working in this new style, it's taking me just as long to do the preliminary work — it's several months for sketching. But then the painting is very fast. The shortest time I ever spent on the actual painting of the illustrations was seven months. The last book that I did — the painting took me seven days! (Seven months was before I had the new technique.) Of course, I was working from 6 or 7 in the morning until 9 at night, but it's still amazing!
I used to spend weeks and weeks on each painting. It's a wash technique I use now, instead of the painting.
How do you get in the mindset of the characters you're illustrating?
Since I usually make the characters, they're already part of my mind. But if it's somebody else's story, I research the period.
Is there a particular character that is your favorite?
No, I like all the characters. I like the one that I'm doing at the moment, whichever that may be!
What were your favorite books as a child?
Wuthering Heights was a favorite — I read it six times.
Do you have a special place where you write?
I have a studio and an office that has a computer and my desk. But I like to write in the studio. Because I have a weird way of writing — I put each page on a wall, and then I use post-its and I put each sentence on a post-it and I put it on the page, so I can see how the words flow across the whole story all at once, for pacing. So, I think I like to write in the studio because that's where I can lay out all the pages on the wall.
Do you have any advice for aspiring young illustrators?
To read a lot. And I drew all the time — anything. I would always say to people when I ran out of ideas, “Give me an idea.” And I'd illustrate whatever they told me. And that's what you do when you illustrate a book. You tell a story through images.