1. Where did the inspiration for The Stumps of Flattop Hill come from?
The Stumps of Flattop Hill was a culmination of ideas that have developed overtime. Growing up in the Philippines played an essential part in my interest in fairytales. The country has a very superstitious culture and a melting pot of local and foreign folktales. There were many stories relating to haunted houses, ancient objects, ghosts and various types of monsters. As children, we would often dare each other to venture into dark, unexplored places.
As I grew as a storyteller, I was also fascinated with the hero’s journey, the part where the protagonist must face his or her fears to find the existential truth about their desires or goal.
As I developed my skills as an artist I was also intrigued by the illustration style of Edward Gorey, which loosely influenced the art style and illustrations. The rhyming and storytelling was also inspired by the stop-motion film “Vincent” by Tim Burton.
Ultimately, I wanted to tell a story about Florence, a young girl who faces her fears and explores a mysterious house. Is it haunted or not? That’s up to the reader to decide.
There are clues sprinkled throughout that makes us think that Florence actually believes that the house is not as bad as others think it is. And even towards the end, her facial expression tells a different story than what the outsiders may believe.
For me, this book is only half of the story and there’s more that we don’t know which is part of what’s exciting about it. The mystery of not knowing is a beautiful thing.
2. Previous to The Stumps of Flattop Hill, you wrote and illustrated A Box Story. How did that come about?
A Box Story was an idea that came to me in a dream. This was during the infancy of my picture book writing days. I woke up instantly and sketched out the idea on a piece of paper and over the next few days started to really work on the details.
The concept is simple enough, yet also profound.
Everyone one of us has our own box... our own four walls. Our box can be a comforting place, a place of creativity, maybe it’s a place of safety. But for others, their box could be something that’s hindering them from succeeding and being happy.
And most importantly the book teaches us that we control and decide what our boxes do for us. I think it’s reflective of how I have decided to move forward with my own dream and sharing my stories and ideas. And I hope that the readers can also be inspired by the same message.
3. Besides children's books, you work in other creative mediums, such as film and photography. Can you tell us a little about your other work?
As a child, I’ve always had a passion for drawing and writing stories. But when my entire family moved to the US I had to find work and help out financially. I wasn’t able to pursue any of my creative endeavors.
It was only until a few years ago that I was once again able to explore storytelling and it was through filmmaking. I wrote and produced a couple of independent films and several short films. It was some of the best times I’ve had creatively.
Being behind the camera was exciting and it naturally transitioned my creativity into photography. The genre that I clinged to was called street photography, documenting moments and scenes that played out on the streets. It’s a genre that has been practiced by many of the great photographers of our time. Capturing candid moments allowed me to be dynamic and decisive. It was a rush and a very rewarding experience.
But filmmaking and photography required a certain amount of commitment and time, away from my family. Being a dad of three boys, I had to find a way to be creative while spending more time at home. This transitioned my storytelling through words and pictures.
I had to learn how to draw all over again - and I’m still learning. I still consider myself very much a student and an infant in a world of giants. But this is also what excites me and forces me to stay up all night to work on my craft.