Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Struttin' Their Stuff: Meet Marge and Lola

Week of April 1, 2012—BAWK & ROLL WITH TAMMI & DAN
Wednesday, April 4, 2012—Struttin’ Their Stuff: Meet Marge and Lola

This is the third installment in a five-part series with author, Tammi Sauer, and illustrator, Dan Santat, in celebration of the release of BAWK & ROLL.
Today we’re learn about the origins of Tammi and Dan’s CHICKEN DANCE, learn about the creation of those cool chicks Marge and Lola, and discover how Tammi and Dan’s work relationship evolved.

Rob: Tammi, where did the idea for Chicken Dance come from and how did you cook up those wacky chickens, Marge and Lola?

Tammi: My sister used to live in Massachusetts. One summer, I visited her there. I quickly learned something about Massachusetts in the summertime. The sun comes up very early in the morning. Like 4:30 in the morning. That first day, 4:30 happened, the sun came up, then I heard a really terrible noise. Cock-a-doodle-doo! Cock-a-doodle-doo! It turned out that next to my sister's beautiful neighborhood was a teeny, tiny farm. And on that teeny, tiny farm was a really annoying rooster.

Day after day, it was the same old thing. I got so fed up with that rooster I decided I would show him. I planned to write a story in which the rooster was the bad, bad guy. Then something happened. The name Elvis Poultry came to me. And Elvis Poultry sounded a lot like the name Elvis Presley. And since Elvis Presley was the King of Rock and Roll, I knew Elvis Poultry had to be the King of Bawk and Roll. So, instead of being the bad guy, the most annoying rooster in the state of Massachusetts became a rock star.

As for Marge and Lola? I needed characters who were a little flighty and uncool. I wanted a couple of goofy underdogs and these two birds were the perfect fit. Marge, by the way, is named after my favorite teacher—Dr. Marjorie Hancock.

Rob: Dan, What made you decide to accept Chicken Dance as a project? What attracted you to the project? How did your images of Marge and Lola develop?

Dan: Elvis Poultry was my real motivation behind the whole thing. I immediately saw the book as an album cover and bluegrass/rock themed book and I loved the old period design covers of that time. It was an interesting part of my life because it was at this time I had been illustrating picture books for about three years and I had realized that I wanted to stop working my full time job and really focus and step up my game in my publishing work. I feel as if Chicken Dance was the first book I did where I completely gave it my 100%. This isn’t to say that I’m not proud of my previous books but Chicken Dance was a title which I learned what I was capable of because I wasn’t afraid to experiment.

Rob: Did you know each other before Chicken Dance? Did you communicate after Dan accepted the assignment? Was there a collaboration between the two of you on text changes, illustration ideas, etc?

Tammi: Dan and I didn't know each other pre-Chicken Dance. When our editor shared Dan's early sketches with me, she asked if I had any input. I was gah-gah over the art and had only a couple of minor suggestions.
Dan: I didn’t know Tammi at all, but literally, the day I agreed to do the book I think she wrote a comment on my blog telling me how happy she was to work with me. At the time I think it was her second book and I could tell she was really excited and was getting out the word about the book with a real fierce desire to see it succeed. It’s one of those attitudes that can charge up an illustrator and really make them do better work because you don’t want to let that person down. In terms of notes it was fairly straight forward for the first book. There was much more communication in the second book because the publisher wanted a particular look for the title page which tied the first and second books together story wise. The end result was a title spread which I think is one of my favorites.

Rob: Tammi, what was your reaction when you saw Dan’s sketches for Chicken Dance?

Tammi: My reaction? Well, I was so crazy about the art, I initially carried those sketches with me EVERYWHERE. When Dan and I met by chance at the SCBWI Summer Conference in 2008, I actually had his sketches in my purse. He was like, "You carry my sketches in your purse?!" This was probably one of Dan's first clues that I am not 100% normal.
Rob: Dan, the cover of Chicken Dance is unique. Tell us about your creative process for that cover.

Dan: The Elvis sequin jumpsuits are iconic and the first and ONLY choice I was going to approach. At the time I was working on the project Sterling’s art director had left and I was on my own so I simply took control of the entire project and made it an opportunity to make this a project which could serve as assort of portfolio piece demonstrating my book design skills. I personally prefer when a publisher leaves me to my own creation. This is not to say that I am a control freak but there is a seamless-ness between the art and design that makes a book stronger.

Rob: You all seem to have a great rapport. I’ve seen you together at conferences, seen Facebook posts to and from each of you about the other, and more. Tell us how you have worked together since the release of Chicken Dance.

Dan: I’ve never had a better relationship with an author like I’ve had with Tammi. From the beginning I felt as if we both approached the marketing of our books with a strong desire for it to get exposure. Now that we are both busy with various projects I find that it’s a bit tougher for us to get out the word but we still have that same energy to try to promote a book. We’ve become good friends over the years so it’s easy for us to just write a post or share a link to an upcoming book release. We hang out all the time at SCBWI conferences.

Tammi: Well—here's a secret—Dan's a bit of a diva. He expects me to serve him umbrella drinks and nachos, so I do. I mean he is DAN SANTAT. I have no choice, really. I just smile and nod and happily ride his coattails.
Rob: What suggestions would you give to other authors and illustrators as they forge working relationships on picture book projects?

Dan: Don’t be pushy. Give equal amounts of effort. Have fun.

Tammi: I suggest telling the illustrator stuff like "I'm not worthy" and "How did you get so awesome?"
Visit the official Chicken Dance website:

Follow Elvis Poultry on Twitter:

View the reaction of the staff at Sterling to Chicken Dance:

Coming tomorrow: Something to Crow About: Bawk & Roll


Penny Parker Klostermann said...

Excellent post. Rob, thanks for the great questions. Tammi & Dan, thanks for your genius creations.

Valerie said...

love learning the background on how such a formidable pairing was formed. gotta remember the nachos tip for the future. thanks, tammi.

Tina Cho said...

Another great interview! Great tips to remember about making your illustrator feel #1! And the video of the Sterling staff is hilarious!
Thanks, Rob, Tammi, & Dan!