Polk Street Press, who is responsible for the lovely bedtime story app Goodnight Safari, recently asked if SAFK was interested in interviewing noted children's book author Deborah Underwood about her work on a soon to be released new app called Spatter & Spark. I volunteered for the job since I was pretty curious about the process myself.
Deborah Underwood is the author of The Quiet Book and The Loud Book!, both New York Times bestsellers, and A Balloon for Isabel. She co-wrote the Sugar Plum Ballerina chapter book series with Whoopi Goldberg, but wasn't too keen on discussing the details of that partnership. She has also written 28 nonfiction titles for children that cover everything from to peacocks to planets. Spatter & Spark is her first collaboration with Polk Street Press.
Deborah: It started with the idea of a female inventor: Spark. When I was a kid, I loved to invent things--most notably, a getting-dressed machine (actually a series of strings that conveyed my clothes to my bed so I could get dressed there and postpone getting out of bed until the last possible second). So I thought it would be fun to have an inventor and all the Rube-Goldberg-like devices she creates as the basis for the app. It seemed like a dreamy artist would be a good foil for Spark, and Spatter was born.
Is Spatter based on a real artist? I notice he wears a beret like Monet.
Spatter's wonderful appearance is illustrator Luciana Navarro Powell's creation. I'm not sure if she based him on any artist in particular. I didn't have anyone in mind when I was thinking about his
personality; I just felt that a dreamy artist would be a good complement to Spark's more focused, goal-oriented character. And the fact that Spatter is an artist opens up some great possibilities for artistic things kids can do as part of the app.
Why did you decide to create a story for an app instead of a print title?
I love print books, and I don't look at apps as some glorified form of traditional books; the app is a completely new medium, and everyone's trying to see what possibilities it opens up. It's exciting to be a part of exploring this new frontier. I think SPATTER & SPARK lends itself very well to the app format, because Spark's inventions are full of movement and causal relationships, and those features would be hard to present in a traditional book. Likewise, kids will be able express their creativity while helping Spatter with artistic projects. They'll be able to paint something differently each time they use the app, for instance. That's not possible with a traditional book.
Are there any book apps in particular that have inspired you?
Actually, I tried to isolate myself from other apps while I wrote Spatter & Spark. I wanted to come to the app form with as clean a slate as possible and not be influenced by what else is out there. Now that Spatter & Spark is in production, I'm looking forward to seeing how others are exploring this new frontier.
What do you think of some of the digital adaptations of famous works in the public domain?
I think adapting classic books into app form is tricky, because they weren't meant to be apps. Putting digital flourishes on something that was intended for print doesn't make a lot of sense to me. What excites me about apps is the opportunity to weave the possibilities that an app provides--the interactivity, the sounds, the movement--into the fabric of a story. My goal is to write books that wouldn't work as apps, and apps that wouldn't work as books--to figure out which format would best suit each particular story, then use that format to tell it.
How do you feel about the growing number of celebrities like Madonna that fancy themselves children's book authors?
Celebrities are not alone in assuming that since picture books are short, they must be easy to write. Sadly, this is not the case!
What has been most surprising about creating an app versus a print picture book?
Oh my goodness, the timeline! Picture books generally take at least two years from manuscript sale to publication. It's not at all uncommon to wait months--or years--to see sketches from the artist. With SPATTER & SPARK, I was seeing Luciana Navarro Powell's wonderful character sketches while I was writing the first draft! For a writer used to very delayed gratification, this has been an amazing experience.
You can visit our Kickstarter Campaign at http://kck.st/OTg8M4
Where can people learn more about you and your other projects?
They can find me online at www.DeborahUnderwoodBooks.com, and sign up for my mailing list via my home page.