First, a brief history of Vikram Madan: He grew up in India where he really wanted to be a cartoonist, but ended up an engineer. After many years of working in the tech industry, he finally came to his senses and followed his heart into the visual and literary arts. When not making whimsical paintings and public art, Vikram writes and illustrates humorous poetry collections, including the brand-new‘A HATFUL OF DRAGONS’ (Wordsong, 2020), which officially in April, and the Moonbeam Award winners ‘THE BUBBLE COLLECTOR’ and ‘LORD OF THE BUBBLES’.
Welcome back to the ol’ Triple-R, my friend! It’s been a long time since you’ve been here…7 years, to be exact, which was when your self-published “The Bubble Collector” came out. How do you feel you’ve progressed or changed in these past 7 years?
Thanks Matt! Wow those 7 years went by pretty quickly. I’m definitely older, but probably not much wiser! 🙂 Back in 2013 I was still enrolled in an art school. Since 2014 I’ve been working as a full-time visual artist focused on whimsical studio-painting and public-art. On the writing and illustration side, I feel I’ve grown more by going through the process of publishing A Hatful of Dragons than working on my own. Superb editors create many learning opportunities!
What did you learn from “Bubble Collector” or its follow-up, “Lord of the Bubbles,” that helped you with this book?
Self-publishing the ‘The Bubble Collector’ gave me a healthy respect for traditional publishing. It is extremely difficult, uneconomical, and time-consuming (for an author) to also distribute and market a physical self-published book (e-books are much easier to self-distribute). My experiences with ‘The Bubble Collector’ convinced me that if I wanted my work to reach a broader audience, I really needed to try and get my poetry traditionally published.
One has to admit, “Hatful of Dragons” is a pretty fun title for a book. What were some of the other potential titles you considered? (feel free to make these up, if you’d like – it’s just for fun!)
My working title was ‘I Met a Man With Twenty Heads’. That poem never made it into this book! Other titles we considered and rejected over time included:
- The Panda and the Pangolin: And Other Funny Poems
- Duel with a Mosquito: And …
- The Slobberly Slobs: And…
- There’s a Dragon in my Wagon: And…
None of these felt right, unique, and/or marketable.
Ironically, I was putting together my sequel to ‘The Bubble Collector’ in the background and had planned to call it ‘A Hatful of Bubbles’. ‘Hatful’ felt like a strong title so I decided to sacrifice/repurpose it and offered it up as ‘A Hatful of Dragons’. Everyone liked this new title, but now I would have to write a new poem for the book, worthy of being a title poem – talk about pressure! Thankfully this turned out to be a fun poem to write and illustrate. (And I retitled the sequel collection as ‘Lord of the Bubbles’).
This book is very different from most of the poetry collections out there these days, not just in the tone of your poems, but because you include a lot of visual cues – like a poem missing its all of its center words, or a poem that includes a one-page cartoon strip! Did you have a plan for how you wanted the book to look, or how you wanted the poems to be constructed?
As a kid, I loved treasuries and books with variety, so I like adding variety to my own collections. And as a visual person I am always pushing the words and images around to create interesting visual experiences. When Rebecca Davis, my editor, distilled my raw manuscript into a smaller collection, the visual variety became more ‘concentrated’ and turned into a distinctive feature of this book. I hope the variety will keep kids engaged and have them reading and re-reading.
One of my favorite poems is THE BAND-AID AND THE CHEWING GUM. Where did the idea come from?
One day I felt something sticky under my shoe, looked down and said to myself, “Oh, it’s a band-aid and a chewing gum?!” And I really liked how that phrase rolled off the tongue and thought to myself, “Hey, that could be the title of a poem!” (The rhyme pattern pays tribute to an old favorite featuring another unlikely duo, “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” by Lewis Carroll.)
Well, I’ll have to re-examine that poem! What’s one of your favorites?
So what surprises did you encounter as you worked with editor Rebecca Davis to put the book together?
My initial surprise came when Rebecca sculpted my 150-page manuscript into a chiseled 64-page book proposal! Even then I really wanted to cram as many poems into those 64 pages as I could, but she convinced me that ‘less is more’. Over the course of this book she has been a wonderful coach, holding me to a high standard, and gently (but firmly) prodding me to ‘do better’ and exceed my own limitations. This book would not be what it is without her vision and guidance.
Indeed, Rebecca is wonderful, isn’t she? You know, back in the day, the great Jack Prelutsky was told he should give up illustrating and focus on writing – and the rest, as they say, is history. Do you feel you’re a writer first or an illustrator first?
Jack Prelutsky’s first submission to an editor was a set of illustrations, with accompanying verses he had jotted down at the last minute just so his illustrations wouldn’t look bare. The editor loved his “natural gift for verse”, took the words, and rejected his drawings. I always thought of myself as an artist/illustrator first, but last year, when my agent, Rosemary Stimola, submitted an ‘early reader graphic novel’ project to an editor, they loved the stories and took the words, but rejected my art(!). I had my own ‘Jack Prelutsky moment’ there. 🙂 I’m still trying to figure out if I’m a writer or an illustrator first, or if that matters at all.
I ask that question because you are an artist, as well as an illustrator – and I do draw a distinction between the two. Art, though, is what got you into this business, and art plays a big role in your professional life. Where do you see these two halves of your life going?
When I paint, I use a variety of mediums: oils, acrylics, watercolor, ink. Popping up a level, I guess writing, drawing, painting, public art … are all mediums I use for expressing myself. At the end of the day I’m just trying to create some positivity in the world – if people/kids enjoy my work, and it gives them a sense of delight, a moment of levity they can share, a bit of inspiration, a rekindling of innocence… I think that’s more than I can ask for.
So what can we expect next from you?
I have an Early Reader Graphic Novel series, titled ‘Bobo & Pup-Pup’ releasing in 2021, illustrated by Nicola Slater and published by Penguin Random House. Books take a long time to cook up, land, and publish so I get my shorter-term ‘creative fix’ by making humorous and whimsical paintings. I invite readers to follow my work on social media: @ArtByVikram (instagram, facebook, twitter) or visit my website www.VikramMadan.com .
Well, thanks for visiting, Vikram, and good luck!
Thank you for featuring me Matt– it’s always a pleasure!
My pleasure, my friend!
And to my readers: we have a GIVEAWAY!
Just leave a comment below and you’ll be entered in a drawing to win a free copy of A Hatful of Dragons, courtesy of publisher Boyds Mills & Kane. Good luck!
It’s Poetry Friday – so if you’re looking for more poetry links & fun, stop by Tabatha Yeatt’s little home on the web, The Opposite of Indifference, for the complete roundup and an entreaty for “Acceptance.”
For some time now I’ve been wanting to help my educator and parent friends with educational videos geared to understanding poetry, and now my “Wit & Wordplay” videos, as I call them, are available on my YouTube channel! These videos focus on poetry: how to write it, how to appreciate it, and tips on having fun with it. There are several ready for viewing, and more are on the way – so be sure to subscribe or check back often!
You can view them all on my YouTube channel, and I also have several downloadable activity sheets at my website. If you think any of this information might be useful for someone you know, I hope you’ll share.
I’ve teamed up with several other children’s authors to promote our upcoming books this year! And there are a LOT of them, too – including SEVEN in March!
Ordering personalized signed copies online?
Oh, yes, you can!
Just click the cover of whichever book you want and send the good folks at MainStreet BookEnds in Warner, NH a note requesting the signature and to whom I should make it out to. (alternatively, you can log onto my website and do the same thing) They’ll contact me, I’ll stop by and sign it, and then they’ll ship it! (Plus, you’ll be supporting your local bookseller – and won’t that make you feel good?)
- NY Public Library’s “100 Best Book for Kids 2017” AND “Staff Pick!”
- KIRKUS Starred review!
- Kansas NEA Reading Circle Recommended Books!
- “Best Reads of 2017,” Unleashing Readers
- Finalist, 2019 New Hampshire Literary Awards
- Positive reviews from Horn Book, School Library Connection, School Library Connection, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and Shelf-Awareness!
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