Spring 2018 Publishers' Preview: Five Questions for Brian Lies

Publishers' Previews: Special advertising supplement in The Horn Book Magazine
This interview originally appeared in the March/April 2018 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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We think that The Rough Patch is going to be a picture book about a fox named Evan and his dog who enjoy working together in the garden, but the “rough patch” of the title reveals itself to be a rough one indeed.

1. Why a fox?

Evan originally appeared as an old man. But generally, children don’t understand their grandparents to be emotionally complex beings. I felt that if Evan were human, it might be challenging for some young readers to engage with his emotional journey. So I tried him out as different animals (including a rhinoceros), but something about foxes’ lines and colors best echoed the long, lean New Englander I imagined Evan to be.

2. Quite a surprise there ten pages in! Did you mean for us to be as unprepared as Evan? (I’m not crying, you’re crying.)

Yes. What Evan experiences often comes unexpectedly, out of the blue. A page-turn seemed like the best way to make it feel as genuine and surprising as possible. It wasn’t my intention to be manipulative, but to be real. Without us experiencing strong emotion at that point of the story, what happens with Evan later on wouldn’t feel earned.

3. Which state of Evan’s garden is yours most like?

At our first house, I had a vegetable garden in which everything seemed to flourish without effort. My current one has been tougher — less fertile soil, issues with light, tomato blights. I’d begun to drift away from gardening, but after two tall pines fell on our house within three years, we had thirty-six more removed. Now I’ve got great light, a new critter-proof fence, and the garden is coming back, as I expect Evan’s will.

4. You made some smart decisions here about white space. How do you decide where to use it?

White space actually makes me uneasy! But with this book, the starkness of the white space felt important. Especially 
on the page you mention, it encourages you to focus on the emotional content 
of the image.

5. That picture of Evan wielding pruners is very Stephen King. Just how dark are you?

Ha — this book isn’t Cujo for Kids! We all experience rough patches in our lives: loss, disappointment, and darkness. I wanted Evan’s story to provide readers with a safe way to experience those feelings and know they can come back from them. Ultimately, I see this as a book about hope!

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