Jon-Erik Lapanno & Byron Eggonschweiler
talk about Song for the Snow and keeping a cold world.
Jon-Erik: At what moment when you were reading the manuscript did you know you wanted the job?
Byron: With this one I knew I wanted to be part of it right away. This story has a really wonderful modern fable vibe and I loved the idea of tackling a big issue like climate change in this magical way. I also remember being really drawn to how quiet and thoughtful it felt. Those moments were fun to play with and explore. On my first pass reading it I was already scribbling ideas. Playing in the snow during winter was such a huge part of my childhood, we spent so much time ripping around, up and down on toboggans or climbing in the giant snow plowed piles.
Byron: How was the character in your imagination different from the one I created? Jon-Erik: To be honest, you captured Freya almost exactly as I pictured her while writing, which was a little spooky, I'll admit. As a writer, it's always exciting to see how an illustrator will bring your imagination to life on the page, and when I saw the character sketches for Freya and some of the preliminary outlines for the book, I immediately knew that you were going to elevate the story to another level. Byron: Can you name a nice surprise or two in what I added to the story? Jon-Erik: Definitely the way you captured the dream scenes that take place in Freya's imagination -- baked goods having a snowball fight and sledding down frosting, Freya soaring over a barren landscape as a knitted bird ... such a fun surprise. Overall, I was taken by the cinematic framing of the illustrations, which gave such a strong sense of scenery and wonder to the piece. The colour scheme of mauves, pinks, purples and blues exactly matched the tone I was hoping for, in terms of a kind of child-like melancholy that comes with a quiet waiting. It also so wonderfully pairs with the feeling of early winter ... the tilt of the sun that makes those beautiful December skies.
Jon-Erik: Do you like or not like hearing an author’s opinion of what might be in the pictures?
Byron: In the beginning I typically lean toward not hearing too much from the author. I like to let my mind wonder and explore the images on my own first. Part of what makes it fun for me is to bring my own spin to the story and go directions they hadn't thought of and add a few layers of the unexpected. I imagine it can be scary from the authors perspective waiting to see what has become of their words but in the end when the book becomes two voices working together it hopefully turns into something richer for the reader. And of course if there is an element really important that the author wants to included I am happy to make it work. I have also had some really great suggestions that worked better than anything I could have thought of.
Jon-Erik: Have you ever wanted to write your own text?
Byron: I like the idea of writing my own story someday, I jot down ideas here and there when they come to me. But writing is a skill set that I really need to work on... whenever I try to actually sit down and dig into my ideas I tend to just panic and draw instead!
Byron: And you? Are you tempted to pick up a pencil and start drawing?
Jon-Erik: Oh, definitely! All the time. While I'm certainly not going to publish any illustrations anytime soon, I often sketch in the margins of notebooks, on old receipts, envelopes, scrap paper, urgent tax notices, whatever I have on hand. Drawing and painting has been a go-to pastime of mine since early childhood ... at one point I even considered pursuing the visual arts in post-secondary studies, but I ultimately chose to live a life of words. I think it's why my writing tends toward the visually descriptive, and I often have to pare that way down before a manuscript is finished. In picture books, it's important to let the art do the talking! And I talk too much. I am still talking! I'll stop now.
Byron: What is your favourite spread in the final book? Jon-Erik: It's so hard to choose, because I love each turn of the page, but when I saw the wordless spread with the Aurora Borealis, it gave me chills. The breakfast scene, with coffees and jam on toast, and the dad munching on blackberry jam on toast made me laugh because it reminded me of my own childhood. I also particularly like the image of Freya staring out the window at a cold, grey, winter morning, which is really the low point in her own journey. The single leaf clinging to the tree, the pattern on the drapes, the depth of field ... the mood of that point in the story was so well captured.
Jon-Erik: Where and when do you do your best work?
Byron: I pretty much do all my work in my studio room. I like the separation of having a defined working space so when I leave my room I can close the door and walk away for a bit. I think the mornings with a fresh cup of coffee before noon tend to be the best for thumbnailing out concepts and thinking of ideas… the more I can get done before lunch the better I feel about the day. The afternoons work better for more of the grunt work of cleaning up drawings and coloring things.
Byron: How about you? Where do you do your best work?
Jon-Erik: This is really changing for me, so in many ways, this answer is just a moment in time. I used to think I worked best late at night, that I was at my most creative in the witching hours ... but now, I think that I write at night only by necessity (day job, children, no one steals my chips, etc.). Mostly, I write at a desk in my dining room after our several daughters are in bed. I push myself to get words on the page, but usually feel as though death is imminent by midnight, and most of what I have written will be decisively destroyed the next night. Then, I start all over again. But then once a year, thanks to the good graces of my wonderful wife, I take a few days away from it all, to hunker down and write or dream of writing, and I've noticed that in those times, I am at my best between breakfast and dinner. Throw an after-lunch walk in there, and I will really hit the flow for a few hours between two and four pm. So, I suppose my answer is becoming clearer: I do my best work while secluded in a cabin in the woods, for four to five days of the year, completely free from distraction, between the hours of 2 and 4 pm, provided I have had an enjoyable walk. This is why I am not what you'd call a prolific writer.
Byron: What was the hardest part for you in making this book?
Jon-Erik: It was really hard to strike the right balance in both capturing the wonder and magic of winter in childhood, but also getting the melancholy across that is kind of wrapped up in what is eroding as our climate changes. Having the undertone of climate change was something I wanted, but I didn't want it to dominate the story, or for the story to be like "this is what we need to do to solve the problem." It's not meant to be a rally-cry, or a call to action on climate (though I firmly believe in this and take action in my work and life to this end)... instead, I wanted it to be a quiet reflection of how a child might perceive change. And how a child's belief and hope can then inspire others to remember why we need to care ... to rekindle our own connection to the natural world and the things within it that give meaning to our lives.
Jon-Erik: What was the hardest part for you?
Byron: I did most of the work for this book when the pandemic was just getting started. Being an illustrator is a pretty quiet solo job so my day to day didnt really change but it was hard not to be distracted and glued to social media as the virus was changing the world. I had to set limits on how much I was allowed to check the news and social media or time just slipped by on me.
Jon-Erik: Who wrote or illustrated some of your favourite books from childhood?
Byron: I have a terrible memory so this sounds really bad but I don't remember too many specific titles I read as a child. One that does stick out is “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales" written by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith. I remember a friend showing me it at the school library and I checked it out repeatedly. The storybook riffs were hilarious and the way the text and art mixed together on the page to become part of the story was so revolutionary and exciting to me.
(Published by Groundwood Books, Fall 2021)