Robert’s Snow: Interview with David Ezra Stein

Nobody is allowed to bid on this snowflake. It’s mine, I tell you. All mine. I know. I’m being selfish. But seriously. I want this snowflake. Not because the artist, David Ezra Stein, is one talented guy. Which he is. And not because he’s on Fuse #8‘s HMOCL list.

And not even because David Ezra Stein wrote two books starring a character named Ned. Though I think the snowflake should weigh heavily in my favor since my husband’s name is Ned. And while I’m at it, how about the coincidence that David’s middle name is Ezra and that’s the first name of the man who founded my alma mater.

Okay. I know I’m stretching the reasons why I deserve this snowflake. But, seriously. Look at this snowflake! David used acrylic and black ink…simple materials for a beautiful snowflake that has my name all over it…all because it reminds me of a cute version of the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz and all that he wanted…Courage. Pure and simple. Courage.

David has written and illustrated four picture books: Cowboy Ned & Andy, Ned’s New Friend, Leaves and Monster Hug! His illustrations and books are joyous, sweet and charming. Perfect for hanging out with your little one(s) and reading out loud. And congratulations is in order for David–Leaves was recently awarded the New York Public Library, Best Books of 2007.

David was kind enough to agree to an interview. Little did he know what he was getting into. Without further ado…I’d like to welcome David Ezra Stein.

HWM: What made you realize you wanted to write and illustrate children’s books?
David: In senior year of Parsons, where I was studying illustration, I had a teacher named Pat Cummings who was a real, live children’s book author and illustrator. Meeting someone who makes her living that way put the idea into my head that I could do the same. She told me she loved my class work and I had a good shot at getting published. During that semester, I suddenly remembered how I’d loved books a child, and how I’d always written stories for pleasure, and it all fell into place. Well, not right away; it took four years before I sold my first book.

HWM: Which came first, the illustration or the writing? How did this all come about?
David: Well, if you go back to the age of three, I was already drawing. Writing had to wait until I could read, of course. I remember in school we had special time set aside to work on our own books. This was in first or second grade. My friend and I collaborated on a 100-page book about Charlie Brown. It was all pictures, and I don’t know if we ever made it to 100, but it was ambitious. I also drew more than my share of spaceships bristling with guns.

I kept on drawing and writing all through school. It came from a very personal need, not from any real outside source. When I finally published my first book, it was like the public tip of a very big personal iceberg of work…if you catch my drift.

HWM: Your website is wonderful. How involved were you in the design of it?
David: Thank you! I created it all on my own. I have been building my own websites for about 5 years now (i.e., as long as I’ve had one). I hope folks come visit me and my books there. There’s a cool book-making project up, and I will soon be selling prints of my artwork there, among other things.

HWM: The picture book market is tough to get into nowadays. What do you think sets your work apart from the other picture books out there?
David: I don’t quite know the answer; Maybe you should ask my editors and art directors! All I know is that the picture book form is very close to my heart, and when I look at the bookshelves in the store I just know there’s room for me up there. It’s like there’s a big conversation going on, and I have something to say that I need to add to it!

HWM: How do you come up with the ideas for your books and artwork? Tell me about your books and any new projects you’d like to share.
David: I have ideas every day. I believe everyone can. The “trick” is to listen to and honor those ideas. Write them down. Draw them. Edison said something like, “The best way to have a great idea is to have a lot of ideas.”

Some of my books start as words, some as pictures, and sometimes (like with the book Leaves) the words and pictures come all at once. When an idea meets up with an emotional impetus–a need–a story is born. I believe a story has to need to be told. The way I tell stories is in the picture book format. It is one of my native languages. (After all, my parents and grandparents read to me very early on.)

HWM: Tell me about the snowflake you designed. What inspired you to design “The Mane Event”—I saw a picture of it on the Robert’s Snow website and it’s awesome. It reminds me of the Lion in the Wizard of Oz.
David< /strong>: “The Mane Event” was inspired by the shape of the snowflake I was given. It was kind of the first impulse I had on viewing that shape. The mane seemed to be gathered in bunches, hence the bows. I imagined someone had tied the lion’s mane in ribbons (while he was sleeping perhaps), and this was his first reaction on looking in the mirror.

HWM: Why did you get involved in Robert’s Snow? Have you created other snowflakes in the past?
David: This was my first time participating in Robert’s Snow, mainly because I’d never heard of it before this year. It was a good chance to be part of a community of artists and help a good cause. It is all the more important to me because I lost someone close to me to cancer a few years ago.

HWM: What has been the biggest surprise of your career?
So far, that achieving a dream is only the beginning. There’s always more work to do, more learning, more decisions to make. Enjoy the process!

HWM: If you could share any unique tip to aspiring illustrators/writers, what would it be?
David: Work, work, work! Don’t wait for someone to invite you, pay you, or beg you. While you’re waiting to hear about one manuscript, work on another. Welcome your ideas, be a good host to them. And always keep a sense of joy in what you do.

HWM: What was the best illustration/writing advice someone ever gave you?
My drawing teacher always said: Look at what you’re drawing, not at the paper.

Hipwritermama’s Curiosities:
HWM: Will you be posting more on your blog?
Sure, I plan to post news regularly on my blog. Sometimes I even post pages from my sketchbooks.

HWM: What makes you laugh?
Not a what, but a who: my wife. That’s how I fell in love with her.

HWM: If you were a superhero, what powers would you want and why?
The power to know the truth no matter what distractions are around.

Thank you David!
Here are today’s featured snowflakes:

Juli Kangas at Sam Riddleburger’s blog
Ginger Nielson at Miss O’s School Library
Margot Apple at Jo’s Journal

For more information on the master schedule of the featured snowflakes, head on over to 7-Imp. Please think about bidding for a snowflake in the Robert’s Snow auction for yourself or a loved one. Treat yourself to some creative goodness and help raise money to fight cancer. Come on, let’s make this the year!

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Vivian Lee Mahoney

Consider yourself warned: I write books about rebels. I'm also a postergirlz for readergirlz, a literary advisory group for teens. Who knew going back to the teenage years would be so rewarding?

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