Megan Padalecki spent years as an architect before becoming a children’s book author. The San Antonio native proves her talent as a writer and illustrator with her first book, Big Mo. Read our interview below to find out what Megan had to say about transitioning from architecture to writing children’s books, how she conceived Big Mo, her writing inspirations and what makes her “nerdy.”
When did you first realize that you wanted to write a children’s book?
“That’s a tough one to answer with certainty, but I know it was some time between learning to hold a crayon and leaving my job in architecture! I do think that my insides were dropping hints for years. Whenever I traveled abroad, I’d pick up a picture book in another language for “my future child’s bookshelf”, and I’d increasingly find myself in the children’s section of local bookstores, too. Keep in mind, I have no children, so that “future bookshelf” turned out to be my own.”
What were your favorite children’s books as a child?
“I had a full-blown obsession with Dr. Seuss. My mom taught journalism and for some reason had giant reams of butcher paper in her classroom. At one point, I brought a roll home and drew out life-size Seuss characters to hang on my bedroom walls. Of course, “life-size” was speculative, because who knows how large Horton or the Grinch really are? Seuss’s artistic style still speaks to me, and the heart of each story remains universally relevant after so many decades. Stories like The Zax and The Lorax are favorites.”
You were trained as an architect. Was it difficult transitioning from architecture to writing a children’s book?
“The two aren’t terribly different in my mind. I’m a calculated decision-maker, so the choice of writing over practicing architecture was not easy, although it did feel like a natural transition. Both deal with the complications of creation, sequence, and beauty. Buildings and stories are meant to be interpreted, and both are the result of rigorous attention to detail that results in something that only LOOKS simple. In the words of architect Mies van der Rohe, less is more!”
I spoke on the similarities between buildings and books, and a transcript from that talk is here: http://www.padaleckistudio.com/blog/2015/8/18/talk-20
“I had focused my efforts on an entirely different story about a raven for a couple months. That story was ill-fated and ultimately shelved, and less than two weeks later, I woke up with the idea for an insatiable pet that represents mankind’s global impact.”
Was it easier or harder to serve as both the author and illustrator of Big Mo?
“In my case, I feel I have to do both. I approach writing in a sort of storyboarding fashion, so I begin with sketches of scenes and sequences. The actual text of the story is ultimately distilled from pages upon pages of one liners, random words and research notes. It’s a real mess! There’s an important caveat here that revision and iterations are KEY to a coherent story.”
“That is so kind, thank you! I may have had some luck, because I know of some illustrators who spend years on one book. From conception to press, Big Mo took just over six months full-time. The illustrations are hand-drawn and then manipulated digitally with color. Thankfully, years in architecture gave me an intimate knowledge of editing software!”
Who is your biggest creative inspiration?
“Aside from Seuss, my inspiration is a what, and not a who. There is a surplus of free and constant inspiration from the nature around me. Living in San Francisco, I’ve got proximity to the ocean, bay, mountains, forests and farmland. There is a very pure complexity to nature’s lifeforms and ecosystems that inspires my initial sketches and ideas.”
In promoting Big Mo, can you share with us a few of your most memorable experiences?
“The presentation (previously mentioned) at my former architecture office was fantastic, because I could finally share my passion that had urged me to move onward. I have also spoken at several elementary schools, including my own, and that is so rewarding! Even though I am technically grown, I can often have a child’s curiosity. There’s some heavy stuff to contend with as an adult, but speaking at primary schools reminds me to think like a kid and explain the themes of Big Mo in their terms – it’s a fun challenge.”
Do you plan on writing a sequel for Big Mo or do you have plans for writing other children’s books?
“I’m in the midst of a creative pulse now, in fact! So many readers have responded positively towards the Mo character, that I’m drafting out his return. A huge goal of my transition to writing is to share meaningful ideas. I may not have answers, but I can hopefully inspire respect for those things that tend to be taken for granted; the things that we all share.”
What advice would you give someone considering writing a children’s book?
“Research! Before starting my own creative process, I spent dedicated weeks in libraries, bookstores and blogs. As an old professor told us, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Children’s books follow certain standards that are baselines for the industry – find out what those are, and then interpret using your own style and values. And, don’t underestimate the reader! Children have brilliant sponge minds and can fully engage with complex topics. Write for something you care about, and they will care about it, too.”
Tell us what makes you nerdy?
“Ha, I guess “nerdy” is a relative term, so I interpret it as having a quirk that makes you inconsistent with social norms. On a recent trip, it was mentioned that my chosen “vacation book”, Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, was not necessarily for adults. Although I don’t technically write in the genre, I have a great appreciation for fantasy for its vibrant escapism. For this reason, I also muse on scenery artists like Syd Mead and Eyvind Earle. Wait a minute, nerds are pretty cool.”