Vance Bessey brings penguins to Maine
I’ve known Vance Bessey for years. He has provided illustration in a few books over the last several years. We’ve talked about his writing. In addition to his children’s books, he writes young adult fantasy. I was very happy to consult and cheerlead his publishing efforts for his Orphans of the Storm soon to be published by Dreaming Big Publishing. Vance is a fine illustrator, an enthusiastic teacher of script writing, illustration, cartoons and more. We have become friends. We talked about Awk the Awkward Penguin for a couple of years before I said, “Oh, Vance, let’s do this book through Just Write Books.” Now Awk the Awkward Penguin is published and Vance and I are marketing it while Vance is on the road with little Awk.
JWB: Tell us a little about Awk?
Vance: Okay. Awk the Awkward Penguin is a story about being different — that is something I think nearly every kid feels at some point. Little Awk is born with flippers that are too darn long and they hamper his swimming (very important for a penguin) as well as causing him to trip as he waddles along in his penguin world. His community notes his clumsy nature and dubs him: Awk the Awkward Penguin. Awk tries to deal with his awkwardness despite some criticism and bullying. He has a good friend and that helps but eventually he begins to wonder just how he is supposed to fit in.
His adventures begin as he gets separated from his penguin colony and meets some friends along his journey. They help him to see that different isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes different can be wonderful. Awk discovers great benefits to his extra-long flippers and returns home to save the day, finding his place in the world at last.
Vance: I love the Redemption theme, but many of my stories are about honor, sacrifice and doing the right thing. Classic heroism. I believe these themes, although a bit out of vogue, still echo as good and true in most of us.
JWB: What is one event that has shaped your children’s book writing?
Vance: Becoming a dad. I have always loved storytelling but when I became a father it really took off. I used to read a lot to my kids but what they liked best was when I would weave a story for them directly from imagination. I did that a lot with them. And parenting opened up a whole new world of experiences to draw from, no pun intended. Having children helps you to remember how it actually was being a kid. How the world appears to fresh eyes. This is a gold mine of ideas and inspiration both for children’s books and young adult novels.
Vance: Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss, Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak and The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg.
Vance: Yes. Go out there and live a lot. Have experiences, take risks. Learn first-hand about all the things you are interested in. Pay attention to your inner growth. Hold on to your awe and amazement as you get older and really think about the people in your life. Try to understand them and know them as you do yourself. Write about what you know but dig deep into your experiences and feelings and write about what matters to you. Make interesting well-constructed stories with amazing characters and plot twists but put in themes underlying all that that will create pathos in your readers. To do that, the themes have to move you as you write them. That’s all there is to it.
Vance: Like with any story, the ending. Character development, story construction, pacing - It’s all relatively easy in a children’s book. Bringing all the storylines together at the end so that you have a neat tidy package with a solid moral, that’s a trick.
Vance: I like penguins, they’re funny. People like them. They stand up on two feet, like us. They congregate together, like us. They are easy for kids to relate to, I think. Plus, they are fun to draw.
Vance: That’s easy. This was my whole reason for writing “Awk”. Different isn’t a bad thing. Different is good. In fact, different can be a marvelous and beautiful thing. There’s a lot of intolerance in our world – about skin color, religion, cultural differences, sexual affinity and gender, appearance, and even physical and mental challenges. I hope to reach children at a young age with the idea that differences of all kinds are not scary or somehow ‘wrong’. Everyone is different, in some way, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It can be a source of curiosity and wonder if not looked at with distrust or preconceived ideas. That is my message and when I read my book to grade schoolers, they all get it easily.
JWB: What are you currently working on?
Vance: I am putting together an Anthology of short stories written by the students in my Advanced Storytelling Class. These are all written within the genres of: fantasy, science fiction and mild horror and all have their roots in Maine. I am very impressed with the caliber of work done in this class for this project and look forward to getting this book published. I am also submitting a short story of my own within this collection and all stories will be fully illustrated.
Vance Bessey is a published author, illustrator and cartoonist as well as an inventor with registered patents. A graduate of the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Narrative Art, he learned much of what he knows about storytelling from industry greats like Joe Kubert and Greg Hildebrandt. Bessey is the author of the young adult novel, Orphans of the Storm, soon to be released by Dreaming Big Publications. He authored Only in Maine and the comic strips The Edge and Only in Maine as well as comic books that he illustrated. In addition, Bessey, an award winning graphic designer, teaches courses in script writing, narrative art and storytelling. For more information about the author and his works go to Vance Bessey's website.