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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Book Chat with Molly Idle: In Which the Poor Woman Gets Interviewed Doubly

There ain’t no rest for the weary. You know how it is. You go off and win yourself a Caldecott Honor and the next thing you know you’ve got video interviews and written interviews and who knows what all eating up your time. But if you’re someone who is as nice as artist Molly Idle, you probably don’t even mind.

In these COVID-laden times in which we live, I’m just hungry for any kind of human connection. Victoria Stapleton, Little, Brown’s Executive Director of School & Library Marketing, has appeared on this blog before with a video series called Book Chat. It’s nice. She does all the work and I just get to sit back and post. And it’s not like she makes bad choices. Let’s see . . . who was the last person she interviewed here?

*checks blog*

Ah yes. LeUyen Pham about Bear Came Along. Which, in turn, won a Caldecott Honor.

Darndest thing. Welp, it’s not just Victoria doing the talky talk today. I got to ask Molly a couple questions of my own first about her latest picture book, Coral. Take a gander at what came of it. I’ve got two words for you – Squid Wrestling:

Betsy Bird: Molly, I consider you a one-woman justification for having an Instagram account. Seriously, they should pay you for the amount of time I spend lolling all over what you post there next. You’ve sketched mermaids in various forms and poses and styles for a while. What, to you, is their allure?

Molly Idle: Well, for starters, thank you Betsy! I’ll definitely look into the possibility of lolling-pay with the folks at Instagram 😉

But seriously, I’m so happy you enjoy looking at those drawings because I  enjoy making them. I have alway, Always, ALWAYS loved mermaids. The mythology surrounding them fascinates me, and their flowing shapes make them endlessly fun to draw!

BB: How long did the plot of CORAL gestate in your mind before you were able to find the right way to tell the story? Or was it a bolt out of the blue?

MI: Oh how I wish it had been a bolt out of the blue! That’s how it was for PEARL. So, I thought, (in retrospect foolishly tempting fate), that it would be the same for CORAL. The exact opposite turned out to be true. I got stuck on some parts. Other parts were slippery, and I couldn’t get a grip on them. All in all, the process of writing this manuscript was the creative equivalent of wrestling a giant squid!

In the end, the only way I was able to get a hold of the story was to draw everything out first, then go back and write in what needed to be said rather than shown.  I’ve never worked that way before. It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time… again, like squid wrestling.

BB: I’m just enjoying the mental image of what squid wrestling might entail. Now, when creating a book like CORAL or PEARL, do you find the sudden lack of gravity that comes with swimming freeing or constricting?

MI: Completely freeing! Pesky gravity, constantly forcing me to figure out how to counterbalance my characters and compositions… 

BB: And how does swimming in a book compare to flying? Is one easier to illustrate than another? Do you have a preference?

MI: Oooo, that’s an interesting question! I love the variety of options that both flying and swimming scenarios offer, but I’d have to say that there are far fewer restrictions underwater. Flying – now that takes effort (again, pesky gravity). So, whatever else a character is doing in addition to flying becomes a secondary action, by necessity. Floating underwater however, is effortless. So, unless a character is purposefully swimming somewhere… there’s a lot more freedom to create a dynamic pose without constraints. 

BB: Part of what I like so much about this book is that you gave yourself leeway to make your mermaids similar to specific underwater creatures. There are aspects of manta rays and seahorses and more in their designs. On your Instagram there were even more versions, involving jellyfish and tentacles and seaweed. How on earth did you decide what to use in the end?

MI: Oh, the jellyfish belle was one of my favorites! Losing her really… I was going to say stung, but then changed my mind because that is an awful jellyfish pun… Now I’ve changed my mind again and decided it’s an awesome jellyfish pun. So here goes-

Losing her really stung

But ultimately CORAL is a story about a living reef and I needed to focus on the creatures that represented fundamental elements of that environment. So we have Coral- who creates the reef itself. Filly, a she-horse, who looks after the little fish who find food and shelter there. And Manta, who looks after the sharks and rays who feed upon the fish, keeping the reef in balance.

BB: Was there anything else you initially wanted to keep and eventually had to let go as the book progressed?

MI: Aside from the jellyfish? The biggest change I made from my initial draft was choosing not to have any grown up mermaids in this story. I’d drawn some designs that I really liked for giant Manta mermaids and She-horses, but in the end, three little mermaids working together made for a much better tale. 

BB: Finally, what’s next for you?

MI: I’m juggling a few new things- which would be easier if not for gravity. (Pesky gravity!)  And most of them I’m not allowed to say much about yet. But I can say that I just signed on to make another book with the folks at Little Brown! WITCH HAZEL – a story of memories and magic- made entirely of pencil sketches! I can’t wait to get started!!! See you on Instagram! 🙂

Let it never be said that these interviews don’t leave you wanting more.

And now, take it away, Victoria!

Many thanks to Victoria and Molly!

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.