A conversation with Christian Slade and author Joni Sensel
Joni, you write everything from historical fiction to fantasy to goofball mystery. Do you have a favorite genre?
I’ve discovered that one of my recurrent themes is “things are not what they seem.” So all of my story ideas, from romance to ghost story, have some paranormal angle and fall into a broadly-defined fantasy genre. And I have to admit that fantasy is probably my favorite to read, too. The first book that really had an impact on me, and which is still my reigning favorite, was Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth.
Joni, many of your novels have a fantastical element to them, even the ones that aren’t true fantasies. Why do you think that is?
Oops -- there’s the answer above! I’ve always had a sense that, in Shakespeare’s words, via Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” -- and I like to explore what that “more” might be.
Joni, what inspired you to write Reality Leak?
I adore factories and assembly lines and complicated Rube Goldberg machines. And I’ve always wanted to tour the Acme factory that supplied dynamite (and odder equipment) to Warner Brothers’ Wile E. Coyote. Since I couldn’t find a real Acme factory to visit, I slid into the cartoon universe and brought one back here to play with instead.
Christian, what made you want to illustrate Reality Leak?
I knew I wanted to illustrate Reality Leak shortly after reading the first pages of the manuscript. By the time Mr. Keen stepped out of the wooden crate, I was sold. Later on, I read the complete manuscript and became excited about the possibilities for the artwork. I had more fun than a human should be allowed to have!
Christian, how did you approach the illustrations for this book?
After a few cups of coffee, I turned up some music and got to it. I also played movies in the background that I felt added to the scenes I was working on. Specifically for drawings of Mr. Keen, I played some of my favorite science fiction films that feature long gangly aliens like the man himself.
Joni, what were your favorite books when you were a kid?
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
The Borrowers by Mary Norton
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss (Theodore Dreisel)
The Whiskers of Ho-Ho by William Littlefield (an obscure Easter book that got lost among relatives, but I searched for it as an adult for years until recently finding and buying an old copy online)
Any book about horses, but especially The Black Stallion by Walter Farley
Christian, what were your favorite books as a kid, and who were your favorite artists?
My favorite books were pretty typical of young artists. I liked the Tolkien books, though I found the C.S. Lewis books a bit easier to read as a youth. I also enjoyed Roald Dahl and many, many comic books. I liked reading anything about folklore, animals, time travel, or outer space.
One of my favorite artists as a child, and still in my top 5, is Norman Rockwell.
Joni, have you always written?
I began writing in second grade with a short story about two puppies called Yip and Yap that’s still taped into my scrapbook. In junior high and high school I wrote some really bad, derivative sci-fi and fantasy, some of which I illustrated myself and most of which nobody ever read, but I had fun. And that’s still my main motivation. It didn’t occur to me that I might be able to write as part of my career until after college. I just hope kids enjoy reading my books as much as I enjoy writing them!
Joni, what’s next for you?
I’m looking forward to the publication of my next book, The Humming of Numbers, which is an historical novel for slightly older readers -- still involving a fantasy element, of course! In the meantime, I’m revising a middle-grade ghost story set in a house very much like my grandmother’s, which really is haunted. (Maybe that’s why I’ve always thought things weren’t quite what they seemed.) I’m also finishing another manuscript with an historical bent that involves a Depression-era ghost in a romantic mystery.
Christian, what’s next for you?
I have two other books I am illustrating now that will be available in 2007, and am starting a series of graphic novels that I have both written and illustrated called Korgi.