BBB: What inspired you to become a children's author?
FV: I’ve always loved Roald Dahl’s stories. Reading his books made me want to write. Bill Pete’s books have such fun characters and simple stories. He was a great Disney story artist, who went on to do his own thing.
I work at the Disney studio as an animator. Feature animation is a teamwork effort, involving hundreds of people. At times that means working on scenes I have disagreements over, (story issues, staging or dialogue interpretations.) I enjoy collaborating with other artists, but I also like having control over my own work.
When our son was born, I often sketched him. At bed time I made up stories to entertain him, and gradually the ideas for my first book, Jimmy Dabble, formed. Jimmy lives on a farm with his bland, stingy parents. Jimmy did his chores in unorthodox manners, which ultimately proved more successful than his parents’ ways, and saved the family farm. We had chickens in our backyard at the time, so a farm setting seemed natural, and our son’s mischievous play inspired me with plenty of ideas for the book.
FV: We have a large, very fat black and white cat, (27 pounds at one weighing,) who amuses us endlessly. He strikes the funniest poses when he lounges around the house. I’ve done hundreds of sketches of him. We live in the foothills of Glendale, in Southern California, with lots of wildlife close by. We often hear coyotes howling at night, so our cat stays mainly indoors. Undaunted, he tries to sneak outside every chance he gets, and since our backyard is fenced off, we let him play out there during the day. He’s so fat that he can’t climb the fence to escape.
He gave me the idea for Fuddles, the story of a pampered fat, delusional cat who seeks an outdoors adventure.
BBB: How many books have you written?
FV: After Jimmy Dabble, Fuddles is my second book. I also did illustrations for The Odd Ms. Bodkins and the Big Crunch by Brother Goose.
FV: This relates back to my animation work. My creative control frustrations in animation are rewarded with work on children’s books. I am fortunate in being able to visualize my own stories. Publishing children’s books is also teamwork with my editor and art-director, but on a smaller scale.
I picture the things I write in my head like a movie. Both in long form writing and picture book drawing/writing, I tend to put down too much. Then my editor points out the essential elements, suggesting cuts to get to the core of what the manuscript is about. We discuss this, come to an agreement, and I get to work refining the manuscript. Doing both the writing and illustrating allows me to go back and forth between the two, making adjustments as I go so the text and illustrations don’t compete or repeat, but work together in a satisfying way. It is very rewarding, and I consider myself very fortunate.
FV: Humor is clearly my strong point. I love making people laugh, and the funny stuff comes across the best when I read to kids at school or book store visits. I try to make characters believable, so even if the stories are somewhat outlandish, I want readers to be able to relate and feel for the characters.