A Peek at the Creative Space of Stephen Emond

Happy Monday, everyone! This Monday we’re stepping inside the creative space of author and illustrator Stephen Emond. Steve’s debut young adult novel, Happyface, was published in March by Little, Brown and Company. Have you heard about Happyface yet? I just finished it this weekend and thought it was so, so good. I’m not alone on that opinion either–the novel has received a starred review from both Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus, and has blurbs of approval on the back cover by authors Scott Westerfeld, Adam Rex, Michael Buckley, and Hope Larson. Happyface is told through the journal of an artistic, shy, funny teenager. His writing and drawings combine to narrate the events of his sophomore year which begins with him pining for a girl, worrying about his parents arguing, and wishing he was more like his older brother until about 30 pages in, on a nearly blank page, all he writes is: “Today is the day the world changed, and that is all I will say because I don’t ever want to think of it again.” The story shifts completely from there–the art, the tone, the character’s circumstances–as the narrator resolves to put on a happy face and adopt a new persona to push himself past the painful events that have happened which are slowly revealed throughout the book. I thought Adam Rex’s blurb completely summed up my reaction to the book as well. He wrote: “Emond will put a smile on your face. Then a grimace, another smile, a wince, two more smiles, sort of a horrified stare. . . . He’s written a funny, honest, at times painfully familiar book.”

You can read a fun Beyond the Book account by Steve’s editor Connie Hsu about Happyface’s acquisition and development at the Blue Rose Girls’ blog.

Prior to breaking into the young adult literary world, Steve created the comic Emo Boy of which he wrote 12 issues, published by SLG Publishing. (I haven’t read Emo Boy, but the concept Steve wrote on his website cracks me up: “What if this emo kid had superpowers, but they were completely destructive and he was too emo to use them anyway?” Emo Boy is currently in the works to become a movie with director Kyle Newman (Fanboys), and while Steve was working on Happyface he was also busy writing a draft of the screenplay for Emo Boy.

To learn more about Stephen Emond and Happyface visit his website. And now, let’s learn a little about how and where he works. . .

Describe your workspace.

I’ve tried setting up art desks and “creative corners” but I have a tendency to turn them into piles of etcetera before long. In high school I did most of my art and writing hunched over on my bed. In my first apartment it was the couch. Now I divide my time between my computer and my couch. My art and sketchbooks are all filling up storage cabinets, I keep all my paints in a few plastic bags by the couch and the rest of my art materials are on my coffee table.

Describe a typical workday.

I make the most I can out of the few hours I can steal away for writing. I’m not a morning person in the least, so I’m at my day job until 5, I come home and eat and take care of any errands I need to catch up on. I tend to draw or work on side projects around 7 or so, anything I can do with the TV on. Usually around 9-11, the TV goes off and those are my prime writing hours. By 11:30 I stop and make my lunch, shower, and start winding down. I go to bed around 1, which may or may not be why I’m not a morning person. Weekends are a crapshoot, if I can keep a night or 2 open I can get a lot of work done, but some weekends just fill up too easily. In general I strive to keep at least one weekend night open, because I can double my productivity. And there’s so much to be done!

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

I do like to have candles around. I find it relaxing and somehow it just helps me concentrate.

Water, keeps me hydrated!

Comfy pajamas? I don’t know if they count as things in my workspace, but I love to be comfortable while I’m writing!

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

The music I listen to and the candles, I try to recreate an experience each time I work. So it gets to the point that I associate these things with brainstorming and writing. Once I have the iTunes playlist going and the candle is lit and the TV is off and the lighting is just right, I know it must be writing time!

What do you listen to while you work?

I listen to anything without lyrics or singing while I work. That gives me something to distract myself with, and that’s no good. I like indie movie scores, I love Jon Brion (I Heart Huckabees, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Punch-Drunk Love), jazz, I listen to Miles Davis, Dave Grusin, and The Weather Report. Vince Guaraldi. I’m working on a Christmas-themed book right now and have a lot of Christmas music playing. This will only get harder as summer rolls around. Also some video game or anime soundtracks, like Evangelion and Final Fantasy scores. Each project has an iTunes playlist, and the music I listen to is tailored to that specific project.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

I tend to stick with water; I eat before or after writing. Food would just be another distraction for me.

What media do you use and which is your favorite?

I’ve only just started playing with paint, so I’m most comfortable as a cartoonist. I prefer smooth non-toothy paper, whether it’s loose sheets or in a sketchbook. For finished pieces, I use Paris’ “Paper for Pens” which is a sturdy bristol board-like paper that’s great for holding ink. I like hard pencils; they make a nice light line that I can use as a guideline and still feel like I’m innovating a bit as I ink. I used to ink with a Winsor Newton series 7 brush, but have since found the Pentel Pocket brush to have a very similar quality with less mess, so I ink with that now. Details or any thin lines I need to make, I use a Micron for.

What aspect of illustrating do you find most challenging and why?

I suppose my biggest hurdles are finding reference for everything, which can be time consuming and difficult, and also my impatience – when I start a drawing, I rush to see the finished thing. Sometimes in my need to have it finished and done with, I let mistakes stay that are really inexcusable. Thus, most of my art pieces have at least one thing in them that causes me to cringe, which is a shame.

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

I write almost the way I draw – instead of penciling and inking, I write longhand in my sketchbooks to find all the main points I want to hit, and then I embellish and finesse as I type at my computer. I much prefer writing in my sketchbook, but I think there’s a speed that my hand moves at that doesn’t quite match how fast I think. So what sounds great in my head, I’ll often read back and find it has a rushed quality. So it’s good for me to give each chunk of writing a few passes this way.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

I’m a heavy outliner, especially since I started working with a major publisher. I work very closely with my editor, so I need to really have everything in place more or less before we bring these projects to editorial directors and acquisitions meetings. They want to know what the book definitively is before putting a lot of time and money into it. That said, you have to be free to let the story twist and turn where it will, which it inevitably does.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Focus is the hardest thing. Especially after working a day job all day, I pretty much want to just veg out for the evening. There are so many books I want to read and shows and movies to watch, and the internet is the worst of all. You’d think I’d know Facebook doesn’t need to be refreshed every third minute but somehow I keep refreshing it. The BEST program for the Mac is called “FREEDOM,” and it basically shuts off your Internet for whatever amount of time you specify. So I can say I do NOT want internet for the next 90 minutes, and voila. It sounds like any reasonable person could just walk away from the internet for that long but it really can be addicting, especially when you’re sitting right at your computer to write.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

Well, it would have to be someone productive. I’d say Stephen King in the hopes that his insane productivity would rub off on me, but I have a feeling it would be all loud rock music and crazy tapping noises like machine guns.

What is the best piece of writing/illustrating advice you’ve heard or received?

I’m a terrible person for this but I am completely blanking on great advice. My editor gives me golden advice culled straight from heaven routinely and here I am trying to think of a specific one that’s applicable to anyone and coming up dry. How I hate to let her down. BUT–to make up for it, here are two of my favorite books on writing. These are the ones I go back to routinely with each project. 1. Stephen King’s On Writing (I keep dropping his name, but it’s just a good book.) It’s very conversational, and informative, and hearing the story of his rise to fame in the writing world is very inspiring. 2. John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story. This book has really good logic on why ideas work, and how one idea can lead to another, and really helps you flesh out your stories in a way that makes good sense.

One Response to “A Peek at the Creative Space of Stephen Emond”

  1. LadybugSF

    This is such a terrific and inspiring look at a great writer! i'm off to go find the Anatomy of a Story book….