Interview: Lynn Rowe Reed on ROSCOE AND THE PELICAN RESCUE

Lynn Rowe Reed is the author of seven books for children and illustrator of thirteen additional titles. An artist for the past twenty years, her art has been featured in numerous venues including The Wall Street Journal and has been featured at the Best of Book Illustration Show at the Museum of American Illustration in New York.

Lynn’s latest picture book release, ROSCOE AND THE PELICAN RESCUE (Holiday House, 2011) is the fictional tale of a boy looking forward to a summer vacation at his cousin’s Louisiana home, only to discover that the recent Gulf Oil spill disaster has reached Louisiana beaches where an alarming number of wildlife are suffering as a consequence of pervasive oil. The characters join in on the rescue mission, focusing much of their attention on cleaning pelicans and restoring them to health before releasing them into cleaner waters. The story pays tribute to the many real-life volunteers whose post-oil spill rescue mission saved countless animals.

How did the unprecedented Gulf oil disaster affect you personally? What
inspired this story?

Like all “observers” of the gulf oil disaster, I was appalled, sickened, and
heartbroken by the images of oil-covered animals shown on television. And I
was especially upset by the vulnerability of all wildlife, especially the
pelicans. When the horrible photos started showing up in late May, I
thought, “Someone’s going to do a picture book on this.” Then I immediately
thought, “Why not me?”

The book hit bookstore shelves one year after the tragic oil spill caused by
the explosion of Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico.  How did the
timeliness of the disaster affect the book¹s rapid path to publication? Please share your journey from initial idea to publication?

Right from the get-go, I pointed out to my editor, Mary Cash, that it would
be fabulous if we could get the work done in time for the spring list. I
never thought she’d buy the notion, as it was already June when she offered
the contract. A couple of days later, Mary called after consulting with
everyone there who would be involved in the process, and surprisingly said
“All systems are a-go!” I was shocked! Everyone at Holiday House  from
production people to marketing  believed in this project and wanted to do
everything possible to get it done as quickly as possible.

That decision meant that all text and art would have to be completed by
September 1; ultimately I would have just one and a half months to do all of
the twenty illustrations. I was in such pain by mid-July, I could barely
paint! It took three incompetent orthopedic docs and one fabulous physical
therapist to figure out that my overworked muscles had pulled my top two
ribs out of place, thus creating a dent in my upper back! Six therapy
sessions and lots of stretching and work on my part restored the position of
my ribs.

Your fictionalized approach with a first person point of view makes the story
very accessible to ages four to eight and your whimsical illustration style
seems so well suited for that age.  What inspired you to write about this
tragedy specifically for this age group?

I’d like to take credit for consciously making some decisions, but the truth is that I often use that first person point of view, and I seem to naturally
write for the four to eight age group. Having said that, I imagined as well
that many kids of that age were feeling great sadness by the images we were
all seeing on the news each night, and a story validating their sadness
would be a good thing.

Were your characters molded after real people and was Roscoe modeled after a
real dog?

I often use names from people in my real life for some of my characters, and
I did so with this story. I have a grown son, in fact, named Tony, and an
adorable great niece named Addison. My golden retriever and sidekick
Sam-I-Am served as model for Roscoe. Sam goes to the studio every day with
me, so it was great having a model for Roscoe by my side.

One of the most interesting facts about this book is that my publisher
brought in an expert consultant to check all text and art for inaccuracies.
Unfortunately, I was about 75 % finished with the work, so my first
inclination was to jump out my studio window (yes, it’s two stories high!).
Once I got over the initial shock, I realized what a great move that was!
The expert, Jay Holcomb, found lots of minor details  some in the text and
some in the art  that needed to be modified. Many of the changes had to do
with being very specific about the cleaning process  how it is done, who
can do it, etc. Some were little details, such as the pelicans could not be
babies as originally written, because babies are usually in nests on islands
away from the shore, and the trio (Tony, Addison and Roscoe) would not have
been off shore. So the word “baby” was dropped and the scale of the pelicans
was downsized. LOTS of little details like that.

What surprised you most, during the process of creating this story?
I was so used to creating books with a very determined sequence of events. First, the manuscript is revised until it is nailed down 100%. Then the dummy is completed 100% before moving on to the illustrations, and so forth. This book was definitely the exception to normal! There seemed to be no time to complete each step perfectly before the next stage began. Especially with the expert coming in at such a late stage and making changes. It turned out that the manuscript was not completely finished until the art was done. We needed every moment available, and since art has to get separated for printing, we got that out the door first. So I would say that the fluidity, and ever-evolving process greatly surprised me. It also provided an element of energy I’ve never felt before in the book making process.

As author/illustrator, which came first to you – the text for the story or the images?
As I described above, that would normally be a no-brainer. The text always comes first. But with this book, all creative steps were happening simultaneously, and it was great fun working in that fashion for a change!

I will say that often when I’m writing a story I do, in fact, “see” images during the writing process, and I sometimes do an occasional doodle so I don’t “lose that thought.”

What was your illustration process for this book?
This was the first book I’ve done in a long while that I didn’t incorporate photographed or digitally scanned objects into my art. But then this story is entirely different than any story I’ve ever written. With its strong and compelling message, I felt like the art should function entirely to tell the story. It somehow seemed wrong to distract from the message by embellishing the art unnecessarily. So I painted in acrylic on canvas, and called it a day.

Your art interests extend beyond book illustration. Would you mind sharing your other artistic endeavors?Well, with three books to my credit over the past year, I’ve had very little time recently to “play” with my art. I love to paint on large canvases, and my personal work looks nothing like my kids’ book art. I also dabble in clay (I have a kiln in my basement), and I have several large, boldly painted steel sculptures that I made for my yard.

I also illustrate for other commercial clients. I have a drawing on the npr website, and I recently did two illustrations for a Harvard alumni magazine.

What can we expect next from you?
I will soon be illustrating Robin Pulver’s next book with Holiday House. It will be another language arts concept – our fifth together! I LOVE illustrating Robin’s books. She’s really clever, and the work is truly fun.

I was so completely burned out after finishing Roscoe and the Pelican Rescue  seven months ago that I didn’t have an ounce of desire to do another book at that time. Those who know me would find that weird. I’m typically an energizer bunny, workaholic, maniacally creative, tireless artist! But I poured my heart and soul into Roscoe, and used them both up. Now that I’ve caught my breath, I feel like doing something completely off-the-wall crazy , and I just started working on the writing today. I won’t reveal the idea, but let’s just say I don’t think there’s a limit to how much flatulence one can put in the world of kids’ books.

One Response to “Interview: Lynn Rowe Reed on ROSCOE AND THE PELICAN RESCUE”

  1. carmenoliver

    Great interview! I love hearing the enthusiasm a publisher and editor shares in getting a project rushed onto their list. A lot of teamwork! Hoo-haw!