Today we are very excited to share a special interview with author Alan Barillaro (Where the Water Takes Us)!
Read on to learn more about him, his book, and a giveaway!
Meet the Author: Alan Barillaro
Alan Barillaro is the Academy Award–winning writer and director of the animated short film Piper and has been supervising animator on many other popular theatrical releases, including The Incredibles, Incredibles 2, WALL-E, and Brave. He began his career in animation at the age of sixteen and spent more than twenty-five years at Pixar Animation Studios. Alan Barillaro lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.
About the Book: Where the Water Takes Us
Ava’s mom is about to have twins, and the pregnancy isn’t going well. All Ava wants to do is stay by her mother’s side, but instead, she is sent away to stay with her grandparents. Normally, spending time at the lake with Nonna and Nonno is wonderful. But everything is different now. While her mom’s hospital visits are getting serious back home, Ava grapples with anxiety. As summer storms rock the island, electricity goes out at the cabin, and an annoyingly cheerful boy named Cody seems determined to pop up everywhere she goes. Ava can’t be distracted from the feeling that something terrible, something irrevocable, is going to happen to her mom while she is gone.
When a bird dies in front of her, Ava is sure it is a sign that she is cursed—the last thing she, or her family, needs. But if a curse has been placed on her, there must a way to break it. So Ava makes a deal: If she can take care of two orphaned bird eggs, she will have paid off her debt, and her family will be alright.
With everyone she loves on the line, Ava will do everything in her power to make sure that her mom, her twin baby brothers, her birds, and even Cody all come through the summer safely.
Debut author Alan Barillaro delivers a stirring story about a sensitive, shaken young girl who must face that growing up means coming to terms with the things you cannot change—and taking responsibility for the things you can.
YABC: What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
Well, I wanted to write something that considered a young person’s anxieties. This topic matters and was something I felt a story could be built around. The setting was always on a lake in Canada, where I spent so many summers growing up. That experience left a strong impression on me, so it was the starting point for the book.
YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book?
Yikes. You’re asking someone who still can’t pick their favorite color. I don’t have a favorite song, or a favorite painting, or a favorite book. I have a large collection of things I absolutely love, but they’re all important to me for different reasons and this question is like a puzzle I can’t solve. Terrible answer, I know.
YABC: How do you know when a book is finished?
When I’m finished communicating what I believe is essential to the story. For instance, if I’m confident on what a chapter has to achieve, I just try to focus on what’s the strongest way to express that idea to the limits of my ability. I don’t mind rewriting if I feel I’m getting somewhere and ultimately distilling the scene down to its strongest version.
In the end, I’d like to think that each word or illustration has earned its place on the page. It’s frightening to think I’m wasting a reader’s time by going on about something that doesn’t pay off later or is absolutely necessary to the story.
YABC: What research did you do to write this book?
Without giving the story away, I’ll just say there was a good amount of work learning about some specific species of birds. I have a friend who heads up an Aviculture and has spent her life with birds. She was absolutely instrumental in this book, pointing me to the proper reference. If I can, I always check with an expert to gain their personal experience on a topic. If I dig deep enough into research, I always find some small, but amazing fact that I didn’t know about and I could never have the imagination to make up for the story.
YABC: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I always wanted to be a writer, but in school, I was “that kid who draws” and that fit me fine. Not to mention I struggled with writing and with mild dyslexia and even started out reading right to left instead of left to right.
When I started animation college, my teacher once repeated a quote from the famous Looney Tunes animator, Chuck Jones. “Every artist has thousands of bad drawings in them and the only way to get rid of them is to draw them out.”
It took me a long time to realize that the same sentiment applies to writing. I have to get through years of bad writing and have to put in the time and effort. I once met the author Richard Ford at a book signing. He was nice enough to ask me if I was a writer myself. I turned red and wanted to crawl under a rock and hide. I quietly answered, “Maybe in 10 years,” feeling that being a writer was a million miles away. Ford smiled and responded, “Well, that’s not bad at all.” His answer changed my perspective on the time and work you have to put into things. Strangely enough, I later did the math. 10 years after meeting Richard Ford I got a publishing offer from Candlewick Press. I always wanted to write to him and say thanks, but I’m too embarrassed.
YABC: How do you keep your ‘voice’ true to the age category you are writing within?
Maybe this is where my film experience comes in. A good animator should be a good actor, which means you have to learn to play the scene as honestly as possible if you want the audience to care for the character. We all check out from the story the moment we stop believing what’s happening or feel the author is talking down to us overexplaining something. I try my best to keep out of the way and let the characters say what they feel they have to say.
YABC: What type of scene do you love to write the most?
In this book it was definitely scenes between Ava and whatever ridiculousness Cody MacDonald was bringing to the situation. I’m guessing we all have a “Cody” that somehow barges into our lives, whether we like it or not. Someone we could never imagine being friends with at first, but later wonder if a friendship might grow. A scene feels more emotional to me if I can manage to write it in a way that feels true to what I’ve experienced in my own life.
YABC: What word do you have trouble overusing?
It’s not a word, but a punctuation mark! I overuse it, especially when writing emails! It’s a terrible habit that I wish I could break!! Thanks so much for asking this question! Really!!!
YABC: What is your favorite writing space?
I’m a wanderer, so I have several favorite places. I have a chair I like and little spots around the house I’ll move to. Sitting up in bed and writing doesn’t get enough praise. It’s very comfortable! No matter where I am, it’s usually somewhere relatively quiet. It’s a bonus if there is a dawn chorus of birds outside my window.
YABC: How do you plan to celebrate the launch of your book?
I plan to walk into my local bookstore and look for Where the Water Takes Us on the shelf. If I find it, I honestly don’t know what I’ll do. Most likely stare at it for a while and leave in a panic. After that, I think I’ll need an ice cream. No matter where I live next to my local bookstore there’s been an ice cream parlor no more than a few doors down. I don’t know who’s responsible for this, but it’s wonderful and much appreciated! This is a tradition in my family. Buy a book and get an ice cream. Imagine reading Where the Water Takes Us with an ice cream and without an ice cream. I know which one I would choose.
YABC: What hobbies do you enjoy?
I usually draw. If I’m bored, I draw. If I’m excited by something, I try to put that idea down in some way in a sketchbook. If I’m nervously sitting in the doctor’s office, I really draw. If you sit next to me on a plane be warned that I might ask you to draw. Sketchbooks are everywhere in my house, in every jacket I own, next to my bed, stuffed in old backpacks and in every drawer. Leaving the house without a sketchbook is like leaving the house without any clothes on. I don’t recommend it.
YABC: What’s your least favorite word or expression and why?
Monday. The weekend is over. It’s Monday. The pronunciation of Monday is suspiciously close to the word, mundane. Mundane. Tuesday. Wednesday. It’s not a great word in any sense.
YABC: What do you do when you procrastinate?
I’m that annoying person that still uses a phone to call people instead of texting them. Not a good friend to have. Don’t become friends with me. I won’t text you, I will call you out of the blue when you least expect it.
YABC: What kind of animal would your main character be and why?
Ava has to be a bird. Why? It’s all in the name. Also, have you seen a young fledgling try to fly from its nest? It looks so terribly dangerous and at the same time it’s remarkable how it suddenly soars through the air. That young bird has no choice in the matter. At some point they have to learn to fly, no matter how dangerous it is and how far they might fall.
YABC: What fandom would you write for if you had time?
I have no idea! When I really love someone’s work, there’s a jolt of creative energy from that which inspires me to get back to my own work. I remember I went to a concert once, and after one song, ended up sitting in the back of the theater trying to write a story. It wasn’t a good story, but the music put a scene in my head that I really wanted to write down. I was always terribly embarrassed that I’d do something like that, but in art school I learned that my friends all did the same thing. They’d pull out a sketchbook to draw something they found interesting or just write down a thought that came into their head. So, I like to hang out with those types of people, so I don’t feel so self-conscious about it.
YABC: What other age group would you consider writing for?
At the moment, I’d rather contribute to the idea that adults should read more middle grade novels. I grew up being allowed to read almost anything on the shelf, so stories like, The Red Pony, and The Old Man and the Sea, were all middle grade in my mind. These books had the same truthfulness and honesty (let’s call it) that I loved in my favorite Roald Dahl stories. Adult readers shouldn’t overlook the amazing middle grade novels that are out there simply because these books are categorized as middle grade. Adults have a lot to learn, per usual.
YABC: What’s up next for you?
I’ll be completing my second novel this year. I don’t want to give away what it’s about, but I can say that it’s been in the works for eight years. All that time is needed when I’m writing and illustrating something and hopefully that translates to a unique story that a reader can somehow feel the moment they pick up one of my books.
Title: Where the Water Takes Us
Author & Illustrator: Alan Barillaro
Release Date: 7/4/23
Publisher: Candlewick press
Genre: Middle grade Fiction
Age Range: 8 and up
~ Giveaway Details ~
Five (5) winners will receive a copy of Where the Water Takes Us (Alan Barillaro) ~US/CAN Only!
*Click the Rafflecopter link below to enter the giveaway*