Interview with Eric Fan and Dena Seiferling, NIGHT LUNCH
Inside the Night Owl, a feathery cook works the grill, serving up tasty dishes for shift-workers and operagoers alike. Mouse, a poor street sweeper, watches as the line of customers swells, ever hopeful that someone will drop a morsel of food — but Owl’s cooking is far too delicious for more than a crumb to be found. As the evening’s service winds down, weary Owl spots trembling Mouse. Has he found his own night lunch, or will he invite this small sweeper inside for a midnight feast for two?
Max's Boat Pick:
Written by Eric Fan and illustrated by Dena Seiferling
Published by Tunda Books (September 27, 2022)
Eric, can you tell me the origin story behind Night Lunch? EF: "Thanks for interviewing us, Ratha! I started writing Night Lunch while attending the Bologna Book Fair. I’ve always wanted to write a story about food, since I love to cook and I love going to restaurants. While attending the Book Fair - and enjoying a lot of amazing food - I happened to read about the horse-drawn predecessors of diners and food trucks, which were called night lunch carts. They served very simple food, and catered mostly to the working class. It struck me how opulent the carts themselves were. There was a kind of aesthetic generosity to them. That got me thinking about other kinds of generosity, which ultimately became the main theme of the story."
Eric, as an author/illustrator, I’m curious how the idea of having someone else illustrate Night Lunch came about? Is this an idea you’ve always wanted to explore? EF: "It’s definitely something I’ve thought about. I always felt a little envious of authors who get to see their story brought to life through the vision of an artist. I like the transformational aspect of that, from word to image. Maybe it’s because for a long time I used to write screenplays and I always dreamed about seeing one of them turned into a movie. I didn’t want to direct the movie myself, per se, I wanted to see someone else bring it to life. There’s just something magical about that."
Eric, you’re known as one-half of The (legendary) Fan Brothers. How did the idea for collaborating with someone other than Terry (or Devin) come about? EF: "When I was writing Night Lunch I realized that the images I was seeing play out in my mind’s eye were all kind of in Dena’s style - luminous and mysterious, but also with a bit of shivery spookiness. It just seemed like a fun idea to collaborate with another artist I admired, and I was very fortunate that she wanted to illustrate it as well."
Dena, at what point did you come onboard? What was your initial reaction upon reading the text? What most drew you in? DS: "I had just started working with Tara Walker (Tundra/Penguin Random House Canada) on Bear Wants to Sing, written by Cary Fagan, when she asked if I would be interested in illustrating for Eric’s story. It was exciting for me because of how much I admire Eric’s work and also because, being fairly new to children’s books, this was subject matter I hadn’t had an opportunity to illustrate yet. I loved the combination of so many different animals being part of the story. It was my dream cast – all nocturnal animals. And throughout the process it ended up being a lot of fun to balance realism with fantasy in regards to the characters and their environment. I also really loved how Eric came up with the story idea, what inspired him, the fact that it had a twist and that it had this subtle message about paying it forward /generosity."
Dena, can you share how the illustration process unfolded? Did you discuss your vision with Eric beforehand? How did it feel like to show your illustrations to another illustrator? And to Eric, no
less?! DS: "To be honest, I was feeling a little intimidated at first. I greatly respect Eric’s opinion as he is a master of narrative, character and environment. I was basically just really hoping that he would be happy with it, of course. I never spoke with him directly until a little later in the process but the feedback I received through our editor was so positive that the fear quickly disappeared. This was great and I think essential in providing me with the freedom to explore my ideas with confidence. Eric is such a professional and I’m not surprised that he has a wonderfully open minded philosophy on being an author collaborating with an illustrator.
It began with Tara Walker, our editor, handing me the manuscript along with some of the articles that Eric had found while developing the story so we shared some of the same initial inspiration. I also knew that he wanted the cart to be very Rococo-esque and lavish so I had a great jumping off point overall.
In regards to my process, I sat with the manuscript for a little bit. I had just finished The Language of Flowers, a book project of my own with Tara Walker and I basically began Night Lunch right after finishing that. Researching differing eras and décor helped with creating some studies of what the characters and food cart might look like. There were a few objects I knew Eric wanted to see in the illustrations, like the accurate representation of the late 1800’s espresso machine that we see inside the food cart. That was interesting to research as they are pretty epic looking! I drew environment studies and colour studies to get a feel for the world and then a storyboard of rough thumbnails to show how the images would work together and pace out. I added detail to the next round of roughs that were translated into the final full colour drawings. This is the first time my artwork in a book was fully digital and I had a really fun time exploring how to draw in a different way and see how things might change - be easier/harder etc. compared to doing the drawings all with a traditional pencil first. The act of drawing is extremely important to me. I feel like this is where I can communicate a great deal of emotion in the characters, etc."
Eric, I know you were already a huge fan of Dena’s work. At what point did you first see Dena’s illustrations for Night Lunch? Did you already envision the art in your own head? And if so, what
was it like seeing someone else’s take on it? EF: "Like I said, when I wrote the story I had already been envisioning it in her style, so when I saw the final art it was a wonderful fulfillment of that initial vision. It was almost a magical feeling - like something purely ephemeral had crossed over from the land of imagination and taken on a tangible physical form."
Eric, what most surprised you about Dena’s illustrations? Did you provide any feedback? EF: "As someone who has illustrated other author’s stories, I was happy to take a backseat and not interfere with that process at all. An illustrator is an equal collaborator who is bringing their own sensibility and imagination to the story, and I don’t think it’s the author’s place to intrude on that process."
Eric, what do you think Dena brought to the book that perhaps originally wasn't there? EF: "Early on she made the decision to make the owl a barn owl, which surprised me. I had always imagined a more clichéd picture book owl, like a great horned owl. I think it was a wonderful choice, since there’s something so mysterious and dignified about barn owls. It’s decisions like that that helped elevate the story. As much as I tried to suggest the mood and atmosphere of the story through the writing, I think Dena manifested that in her art beyond what I could have ever hoped for."
Eric and Dena, for those who love Night Lunch, are there any other titles that you think they might also enjoy ? EF: "What comes to mind for me are the quiet, mysterious picture books of Akiko Miyakoshi like The Way Home in the Night, I Dream of a Journey, or The Tea Party in the Woods. I love the dreamlike quality of her books, and I think that mood would resonate with anyone who enjoys Night Lunch. Another book I can think of is The Midnight Fair by Gideon Sterer and Mariachiara Di Giorgio. It’s gorgeous and magical, and also has a cast of animals."
DS: "I think readers might like the moody and conceptual vibe of Emilia Dziubak’s illustrated books. She is very unique. I have recently ordered a book that she illustrated called, Horror, written by Madlena Szeliga, about vegetables which are framed in a humanistic light. It’s a picture book… but maybe not for very young children. I also think the surreal atmosphere of The Queen of the Cave, written and illustrated by Júlia Sardà, might appeal to Night Lunch readers. It’s a lovely book that is slightly abstract and could be translated in different ways. I see it as a coming of age story of a girl who, through an adventure with her sisters, finds her wild and authentic self."
Eric and Dena, what are some forthcoming books you’re most looking to getting your hands on? EF: "I confess I’m not completely on top of all the books that are publishing this year, but from what I’ve seen on social media, and books coming out from some of my friends, I’m excited to read Mina by Matthew Forsythe, Walter Had a Best Friend by Deborah Underwood and Sergio Ruzzier, My Self, Your Self by Esmé Shapiro, Strum & Drum: A Merry Little Quest by Jashar Awan, Patchwork by Matt de la Peña and Corinna Luyken, Big Truck, Little Island by Chris Van Dussen, The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, and Kumo: The Bashful Cloud by Kyo Maclear and Nathalie Dion."
DS: "Shaun Tan has a new picture book coming out in November called Creature (he illustrates picture books but this one is a book of his paintings). I love his sensibilities and storytelling. He’s very cross-disciplinary and it’s inspiring to see how his voice and imagination are expressed in different mediums. I’d like to get a copy of Still This Love Goes On by the incredible Buffy Sainte-Marie and Julie Flett. This is their second collaboration together. I’m also really wanting to read Kumo: The Bashful Cloud by Kyo Maclear and Nathalie Dion. Natalie’s cloud world and characters look stunning and Kyo’s stories are always magic."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? DS: "I have many favourite picture books of all time and most are woven into my childhood memories: Little Fur Family, by Margaret Wise Brown and Garth Williams, is about a little fur character exploring the world outside its home as if for the first time (it even has a tiny fur jacket cover), and Bedtime for Frances by Russell Hoban and Garth Williams. Williams is one of my all time favourite illustrators and this book is precious. Lastly, Lizzy’s Lion, by Dennis Lee and Marie-Louise Gay, a rhyming story about a girl with a lion who eats a robber that breaks into her room one night. It’s a little dark but also charming and funny."
EF: "I’ll just name my two of my favorite picture books: Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak, which my parents read to me a hundred times when I was little, maybe a thousand times, at my insistence. Then there’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and basically anything by William Steig. He’s such a brilliant writer, and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble goes to some unexpectedly dark places for a picture book; there’s genuine existential dread in the story, which gives it a lot of punch and emotional resonance."