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Sailor Twain
"Starred Review. Absolutely not to be missed." - Booklist
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Author Biography

Ask the Author a Question!

Created: 05/05/14

Replies: 12

Posted May. 05, 2014 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 444

Expert

Ask the Author a Question!

Mark Siegel will be joining us over the next couple of weeks to answer questions. So if you have questions you'd like answered about Sailor Twain, or Mark's work in general, please do post them here. Thank you!


Posted May. 06, 2014 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
AntoinetteC

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 10

How much of the story was formed when you started writing the serial

Q. I think Sailor Twain was originally serialized from 2010 – 2012. How much of the story was completely formed when you started, and how much developed over time? Since it was composed over such a long period of time, how did it evolve as you created each chapter? Did you make any changes to it when turning it into a book?

A. Yes, Sailor Twain was serialized online for a couple years before it came out in print. That was an amazing adventure in itself.

I was posting one page every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Below each one was a short blog entry, usually with left-over research about the 1880s, or New York, or the Hudson, or whatever anecdote or imagery related to the week's scene—Suffragettes, or African-Americans, music, fashion, art, poetry, industry, daily life or sex in the Gilded Age.

The blog itself became a little destination, too. And then below the blog entry, my favorite part: the discussions. A community formed up around Sailor Twain. They call themselves "Fellow Twainers." You can still see these discussions at sailortwain.com. Some of these people knew a lot about steamboats, or history, and they sometimes corrected my mistakes (like a piston in the engine room, or the width of the floorboards in a steamboat captain's cabin! I'm not kidding!) But the story was very much anchored before I started serializing it. I feel a storyteller owes it to their reader to hold the reins confidently to the end. So although some details did evolve from sharing the pages online, the core of the story had been my secret task of many years before I opened it up to readers.

Then when it was time to publish, I did rework a couple of scenes. There was one in particular, that nagged me for a while. The discussions around it suggested that something wasn't hitting the right note—that readers were focusing on the wrong thing, somehow the telling was clumsy. I never commented about the plot or the characters or the mysteries directly, but I did pay attention to comments, to see if the scenes were reading clearly and hitting home.


Posted May. 06, 2014 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
AntoinetteC

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 10

Which comes first for you - the illustrations or the narrative?

A bit of both, really. In this case, an image appeared first. A little watercolor doodle I did on a train ride to work one morning. A mermaid was in a river, talking to a captain at the prow of a boat. I had no idea where that came from at the time, but it felt like it related to the turbulence in my life at the time. This captain and this mermaid developed a conversation. Every morning in my commute to the city, another line of dialog would be there in my sketch journal, waiting for me. Then one morning, the captain made her promise NOT to sing. And that caught me… I felt like this might just be a story revealing itself. Then the doodles moved into lots of writing, then back to doodles any time I got stuck, and then I couldn't say which took the lead, drawing or writing.


Posted May. 06, 2014 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
kimk

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 118

Expert

Why did you choose to illustrate the novel with charcoal drawings? Do you draw/paint with any other media?

I love working in all kinds of media. Oil and watercolor paints, pens, pencils, sculpture, too. And in fact I did quite a number of pages for Sailor Twain in ink washes, but I kept thinking it wasn't the mood I was hoping for. It was a little too 'hard' and didn't leave enough to the imagination… It's in 1887, the age of steam, and coal smoke... From the moment the captain meets the mermaid, it's almost always raining… It's misty and cloudy on the Hudson River... I looked at 17th century Chinese painters like Shi Tao and Ba Da Shan Ren, two of my favorites. I wanted something like that, where a foreground might be very crisp and detailed, but then a steamboat in the background could almost vanish in the fog. It took one doodle with a piece of soft charcoal on a textured watercolor paper—and I knew Sailor Twain had to be drawn like that.


Posted May. 06, 2014 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
kimk

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 118

Expert

Do you consider yourself primarily an artist or an author & why?

Artist or author first? I used to think these were two separate lives, and I even worried that I'd have to choose between them. I love that I don't have to! In fact I've come to see story and dialog as a kind of painting, and drawing as a form of visual handwriting.

Dialog can be so impressionistic, hinting with dabs of language at what is really going on in a character or between two people. And drawing—I used to be much more impressed with clever tricks and showy technique; but now I'm much, much more interested in the unseen elements… The feeling of unspoken things between two people, the changing weather patterns of a face, a slight blush on a cheek that tells a whole story. And that, to me, is storytelling through and through.

And I think that's the underlying focus in both the visuals and the scripting. They're inseparable to me.

You know who's really good at this in drawing? Carter Goodrich. A master. Check out his book and character designs and his New Yorker covers (cartergoodrich.com) and you'll see what I mean. It's the thought that's behind every pose, every face, every composition. It's ideas, it's insight into human nature, it's story. Much more potent than just pretty pictures. Although his pictures happen to be amazing, too.


Posted May. 06, 2014 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
kimk

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 118

Expert

What’s your experience with graphic novels? Did you grow up reading comic books as a kid?

Yes, I grew up in France, where graphic novels are part of the mainstream reading diet… So I read everything I could, including a lot of comics, amongst lots of prose. Not so much the American superheroes, but the great European authors like Moebius, Hugo Pratt, Jacques Tardi, Goscinny & Uderzo, Hergé. In High School I was very lucky to meet Moebius, and over a number of years he coached me on my own projects—truly a blessing.


Posted May. 06, 2014 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
kimk

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 118

Expert

What are you working on now? Is there a sequel in the works?

No sequel for Sailor Twain. Even though it has a couple of challenges for astute readers—which I hope invite further reading, more than irritation—it is a self-contained, complete story.

I'm working on a couple of picture books, including one set in historical New York, which I'm very excited about. And a couple of graphic novel projects… One is a collaborative project, a mad epic adventure. The other is a solo endeavor, another one for adults, that needs quite a bit of historical research once again, though in a different time and place…


Posted May. 07, 2014 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
JuliaB

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 10

Do you write/draw every day? Which is easier for you? How do you juggle our time with working in publishing as well?

Q. I can't imagine how you manage to write words and illustrate at such a high level! Do you set aside time for writing or drawing every day, or work as the mood strikes you? And which is harder - pictures or words?
Also, how on earth do you fit in working in publishing as well?! I understand also editorial director of First Second Books, which published Sailor Twain (and talking of which, were there any issues with you being published by the same company that you work for?) Sorry for so many questions :)


A. Thank you for such kind words! As for my work habits… I do work days in an interesting and demanding field—publishing great talents. I realized early on that if I turned to my own projects after a day's work, there wasn't much left of me for it. And that was even before starting a family… So I took up some of the best advice I was ever given: "15 minutes counts."

I knew myself enough not to wait for a big eight-hour marathon session in the studio "when I get a chance" (which life never conveniently serves up, ever) for then, the years would pass me by and I would simply not produce anything much. Instead I set my alarm clock fifteen minutes earlier, and no matter what—inspired or not, rested or not, tired or hungover or whatever—I would show up and do some work…

And of course, after a week, two weeks, a month, it's amazing what you have to show for that small bit of time. And then fifteen minutes easily turns to thirty, then to sixty. Now I'm in the studio at 5am and it's time I look forward to every day. Of course it helps having no social life worth mentioning in the evenings…

And yes, there are issues when you publish your work under your own house. But I work with a very good editor, and don't give myself any special treatment… In comics, it's not unusual for people to edit and author as well. Thanks for asking!


Posted May. 08, 2014 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
cathyk

Join Date: 02/16/13

Posts: 17

I live in Poughkeepsie. Was the Mary Powell a "floating brothel?" Loved the book - my first graphic novel.

Thanks!

I came across several references along these lines, about various other steamboats. The Mary Powell was first and foremost known as the most beautiful steamboat on the river—the Queen of the Hudson. It seemed fun to put those deprecating words in the mouth of the self-righteous Ambrose Pike. That may or may not have been the case with the Mary Powell.


Posted May. 08, 2014 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
edie

Join Date: 04/05/12

Posts: 22

RE: Ask the Author a Question!

Apologies if this turns out to be a dumb question due to a quick reading. I was late in joining the discussion because I neglected to pack the book when leaving for a 10 day vacation and had to read it in one sitting on my return.

I was intrigued when Miss Camomille and Lafayette first meet on the Lorelei and, during dinner, she expresses an opinion about the bible that is identical to thoughts he shared with Twain in an earlier scene from "A Prayer Down Below," that the bible is penned by fallible men, not God and that His language is seen in creation. I took a quick look back to make sure I was not mistaken and noted another mysterious similarity. After Lafeyette tosses the bible overboard, the conversation changes to marriage and on Twain's insistance that he is happily married, Lafayette the womanizer becomes quite wistful and asks, "Happily?" with an out of character sadness. Returning to sarcasm, he warns Twain that he's tempting fate with such a boast as if his happy marriage was doomed by events beyond his control.
Did I miss some revelation that Camomille and Lafayette were husband and wife, a marriage interrupted by South's manipulations? She does reveal to Twain in the "Overture" that she's been married for fourteen years. OR, have I inadvertantly stumbled onto another hint of a sequel?


Posted May. 08, 2014 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
candaceb

Join Date: 03/30/14

Posts: 15

Why did you choose the name "Twain" for the main character?

Most of the names in the story are meant to evoke specific resonances in the American psyche. "Lafayette" still represents the idealized French. "Twain" is of course a very loaded name for anyone growing up in the US. There's no avoiding the reference to that Samuel Clemens fellow—and his "Life on the Mississippi" fed my imagination to be sure.

But that name kept growing as I discovered what this story was. A little spoiler for those who haven't read it: it's in part a doppelgänger tale, a man torn asunder. It's set in 1887, when R.L. Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" was all the rage in America…

Then there's more—the Hudson itself is a kind of Janus river. Where I live in Tarrytown, the water is salty half the year, and fresh the other half.

"Muheakantuck," the Algonquin name for the Hudson meant "The River that Flows Two Ways." So no surprise, when the story opens on the Captain's birthday, he has to be a Gemini. The name "Twain" is woven into every level of the story. There's more of course—someone ought to have fun chasing that down, I hope!


Posted May. 10, 2014 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
kimk

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 118

Expert

Do you have a preference regarding collaborating or working solo?

Q. You collaborated with Siena Cherson Siegel on "To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel" and with Lisa Wheeler on "Seadogs: An Epic Ocean Operetta." How does working with a partner differ from having total control of the end product? Do you have a preference?


A. Collaborations are great! They push you outside your comfort zone, into things you'd never ask of yourself. Then, going back to solo projects, you find you're enriched, your storytelling vocabulary has grown, you've made new mental muscles. In truth my solo projects also require collaborators, more invisible ones—it's vital to get some distance from one's one work, one way or another.


Posted May. 10, 2014 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
kimk

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 118

Expert

Do you listen to music to create an atmosphere when you draw?

Q. You published a playlist for Sailor Twain on your web site. Do you listen to music to create an atmosphere when you draw? Did any particular piece of music resonate with you while you were creating either the art or the narrative for the book?

A. I tend to listen to music separately from drawing. It's a funny thing, but there's already a soundtrack in my mind as I'm working. There was one piece that kept haunting me, though, for the mood I wanted on the Hudson river, grand, powerful, yearning—it's Wagner's overture for Tannhauser. Apparently the Rhine inspired him. And the Hudson it turns out was called "The American Rhine." But those cadences are grandly arousing. But there are lots of great songs about boats and rivers, too. Many Sailor Twain readers keep sending me some. My latest favorite is Agnes Obel's "Riverside."


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