This month Austin SCBWI welcomes wacky, witty, wonderful Emma Virjan to our interview series. Read on to learn about this child spy who became the creator of the Pig in a Wig series, a woman who thrives on deadlines and, apparently, cheese. Five kinds.
Where did you grow up, and did that place shape your work? If so, how?
I grew up in San Antonio, Texas. Back then, as kids, we were encouraged to be outside, especially during the summer. We rode our bikes, built forts, staged talent shows and musicals, deputized ourselves as Texas Rangers so we could spy on neighbors, climbed trees (easier to spy from atop a pecan tree), played baseball in the middle of the road and patiently awaited the arrival of the ice cream truck. We used our imaginations daily and we were rarely bored. If we were bored, reporting said boredom to any adult was never a good idea so we’d make up more stuff to do. It was freedom and it was great fun. Being able to use my imagination certainly helped shape what I do today as a writer and illustrator.
Did you always want to be an author/illustrator, or did that come later?
Yes. I also wanted to be a major league baseball catcher, a doctor, an actress, a court reporter, a detective and an opera singer. In school, I was the one always drawing during class. It helped me listen. I was also a voracious reader, which helped me become a better writer. I started my career as a graphic designer and illustrator, all the while, studying creative writing and illustration.
If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
They would first have to be OK with being followed themselves, by a 56-pound Golden Retriever named Bella. Then they’d see me freak out by being followed around. Left on their own, they would find a relatively tidy studio, a patio and driveway covered in oak pollen, photos of my family, 3-5 different types of cheese in the refrigerator and a Dyson vacuum cleaner that is used twice daily to suck up all the hair Bella sheds.
How does your everyday life feed your work?
My everyday life – walking my dog, reading a book, looking at a friend’s portfolio, working in the garden, enjoying a cup of tea or a glass of wine (just never at the same time), listening to music, talking with family or friends – are all part of my daily inspiration, which in turn, feeds my work. All those years of being a kid spy taught me to keep my eyes and ears open to all sorts of inspiration.
Tell us about some of your accomplishments that make you proud (work and/or otherwise).
I don’t consider my relationships accomplishments, but they are what I am proud of the most. I’m also thrilled beyond words to have an early reader book series with HarperCollins.
What surprises you about the creative life?
It surprises me that I am most creative and imaginative once I have a production schedule and deadline for each project. Oddly, the tighter the deadline, the more creative I can be. (I sure hope my editor doesn’t read this.)
Your work is like a gift for your readers. When they open it, what do you hope they find?
I hope they fine something fun and funny.
Author Bio: Emma J. Virjan lives in Austin, Texas and shares her studio with Bella, her Golden Retriever. She (Emma) loves breakfast tacos, likes to sing, even though she can’t carry a tune and can operate a forklift, but sadly does not own one. Emma is the author-illustrator of the Pig in a Wig Book series – What This Story Needs is a Pig in a Wig, What This Story Needs is a Hush and a Shush and What This Story Needs is a Munch and a Crunch. To learn more about Pig in a Wig, visit www.emmavirjan.com.