Dragon's Oath: Interview with P.C. Cast and Kim Doner

Dragon's Oath: Interview with P.C. Cast and Kim Doner

Posted by in Blog, Interviews

As our fledglings know, P.C. and Kristin Cast often work with the brilliant illustrator Kim Doner to bring the world of the House of Night to life. Kim has done the illustrations in The Fledgling Handbook as well as – wait for it! – the upcoming Dragon's Oath

Below is a sneak peek into P.C. and Kim's collaborative process, as well as one or two hints about what's in store for Dragon's Oath.

1. When and how did the two of you first meet?

PC: Kim's going to have to help me with this one! I think we met about fifteen years ago through our mutual friend, Teresa Miller. Tess is Director of the Center for Oklahoma Poets and Writers, and she is one of the reasons Tulsa has such a vibrant, well connected author/artist community. I can't remember which event it was. Maybe one of the Celebration of Books festivals? Kim? Help? I do remember having an instant connection with Kim, and we have been good friends ever since. *As a side note here: Kim has been helping me brainstorm my way through plots of my novels for more than a decade. I cannot count the number of times I've been stuck in a plot corner, or confused about how a story should go, and I've gone to Kim's house, poured myself a glass (or three or four) of wine, and just started talking with Kim about a manuscript. Kim gets visual images when I tell stories, and she'll say, "Oh! Oh! Wait, I have an idea!" and then she'll describe to me what she's seeing. Many, many times her artist's eye has helped me find my way out of an author's dead end!

KIM: Oh, I DO remember, and you're right – it was at the OK Celebration of Books! We met at a sushi restaurant, as you were helping Tess host Janis Ian by rounding up a group of Tulsa writers/illustrators to have dinner with her. We got to talking that night, as well as during the rest of the conference, and I don't think I ever laughed as hard as when you told me all about a scene in a book you had just finished titledGoddess by Mistake. It later became Divine by Mistake, and fans will probably start grinning about now when I mention a certain red-tressed-Broken Arrow-English teacher who is swept into another world where she is cornered into ruling as their goddess… and meets her future mate, who happens to be a centaur…

And yes, PC has always been enthusiastically welcomed at our home with a hug and a choice – red or white? – while we toast to her characters and play with plots.

2. What is the creative process like while you’re illustrating the characters? How do you determine what they look like?

PC: For my part all I do is talk with Kim about the characters. It's very weird that what she sees in her head is so much like what I make up in my head.

KIM: PC is an expert in description, whether it ends up in the text or not. Many times, we simply chat about a scene or character, since we're so often on the same page (okay, a weak literary joke, but an accurate metaphor for the moment). We discovered we enjoyed (and enjoy!) many of the same genres and titles as kids, sometimes to the point we quote passages to each other from favorite scenes. It's a good mix: PC combines our shared literary history with contemporary celebrities (and their more popular roles) then throws in classic archetypes. The result gives me instant visual inspiration and, as her fans know, provides very accessible characters.

3. How do you decide which scenes [from the book] are illustrated?

PC: Kim and I discussed this chapter by chapter. Some of them were easy to decide on, like the illustration of the dragon ship. Some went through several incarnations, like the chapter that has the magickal wine illustration. That one started with cats, didn't it Kim? And also the chapter where you see Anastasia dancing. Kim gave me several ideas/choice for that one, too. But, basically, I bow to Kim's artistic eye. She's a talented professional, and when she "sees" a scene, it's usually the perfect one to bring alive.

KIM: I read the entire text first, just taking notes when the story arcs. Each scene emerges in my mind as a keyframe, like they do in movies; I ask, "What's the one illustrative moment that visually enhances this chapter best?" Sometimes there are several, and PC and our agent, Meredith Bernstein, will process with me to choose. Sometimes it's a no-brainer, an "Ah ha!" sort of moment, and I have no question in my mind's eye: "That's it. That's absolutely it."

The "magickal wine illustration" began with a cat reaching up to bat one of the emerging roses as it bloomed from the glass, but PC and Meredith's feedback was right – too cutesy, and detracting from the mystery of the moment. There are many times when working alone is great, and many when it's a drag; I can lose perspective without a trusted mirror. PC is my trusted mirror!

4. Do you communicate regularly throughout the illustration process?

PC: Yes! (Well, we communicate regularly because we're girlfriends anyway!) Kim and I talk about the chapters and then she shows me little tiny rough sketches that to her look like stick figures. To me they're better than anything I could draw, so I always think it's cool to see the "rough" work. Then I pick one of the sketches and Kim redoes it bigger and better. Then she shows it to me when it's still at the point she can use it but make changes/additions. Sometimes I ask her to add a detail – like on the ritual illustration I asked that we can see a little more of Anastasia and Dragon. Then, like magick, she finishes and they're lovely pieces of art!

KIM: Yes! (Remember – red or white?) :)). I also like to sneak in little bits of PC and her life if I can. In The Fledgling Handbook, she had just gotten back from visiting Scotland and had a pair of rocks from an ancient queen's cairn, so I put them in the big illustration for the Dark Daughters. She also has a dragon tattoo on her back, and I used elements of that for Dragon's page at the end of Dragon's Oath. Those facts are for hard-core fans, but hey! They're fun to know, right?

As for beginnings, I do start out with these really rough, quickie sketches called "thumbnails" for my future finished pieces. I've always shared those embarrassing, amateur-looking beginnings with PC; she's such fun because she's totally behind me and enthusiastic and tickled, so I get twice as inspired talking it over with her. Then she claps and squeals and is delighted with the finals, so I think I've upped Leonardo or something. It's great.

5. How many iterations do you normally go through until the character looks 'just right'?

KIM: Oh, wow, that's a hard question. Sometimes I get lucky, and I nail the character the first sketch and can develop a second, more formal drawing, then transfer to the final. This happens, um, maybe once in a blue moon?

The rest of the time, it's usually 5-6 sketches before the final, but it's not unheard of for it to be 10 or more. If I'm illustrating a children's book and the character is seen in several scenes, I really work hard to keep him/her consistent; that's probably the greatest challenge.

6. Kim, how much research do you do before sketching the scenes?

KIM: I know it's unoriginal to say "It depends," but it really does. If my character is from another era, I research clothing and hair styles; if I am to represent them in a medium common to their time, I might study block prints or marble statues. I really like to have a sense of authenticity to a character – I'll download tons of images from the internet, just for studies; I'll kidnap friends and have them play dress up and take photographs (which I share with no one, so they don't have to worry). For backgrounds, I'll look at a country's architecture, history, and culture, which I did a lot in The Fledgling Handbook. For Dragon's Oath, I kept in mind that the vampyres slept during the day, so the scenes needed to be drawn as if they were happening at night or, at the latest, the very beginning of dawn.

Dragon's Oath is out in bookshops everywhere from July 12th!

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