Thursday, April 21, 2011

Diversion Press Welcomes Gregory Turner-Rahman

What influenced you to write Ellabug?

When my eldest daughter was very young she entered a daycare after many years of being taken care of at home by family. The poor kid had spent so much time with her paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather, me, my sister, and my wife's sister that she had a rather vast set of influences. My wife and I were in school and too poor to afford daycare but were very fortunate to have family that helped raise Aneesa. The mix of cultures (my wife's family is from Bangladesh and England, my family is English, Czech and Sicilian) had come together in this beautiful kid but that she had a hard time initially relating to the others in her class. It was heartbreaking as a parent to see the other little girls exclude her because they didn't really understand her background, her uniqueness. I worried that as she got older she'd be ashamed of those things that made her unique. But it all worked out and I am happy to say that she is a big, happy, well-adjusted tweenager with a thick skin and wicked sense of humor.

What is the message in Ellabug?
Our families make us who we are and regardless of what others think, we should celebrate and enjoy the craziness and uniqueness that makes us!

Tell us about the main character and the other characters that she encounters.
Ellabug is a rough and tumble kind of kid. She is curious and headstrong. Her family annoys her but deep down she knows they are harmless and fun loving creatures. The ants, though, are very different. To her they seem like they have got it all together. They are organized, orderly, and, ultimately, very focused on their work - everything that Ellabug's family is not.

In creating the characters I tried to create visual clues that'd let the reader 'get it' quickly. Her boots imply her rugged individualism. The ants are the antithesis of Ellabug and are therefore modeled on a stereotypical image of German performance artists. I saw them as somewhat stern and very alike, in their neo-beat black turtlenecks. The other characters in the family - the supporting cast - are all rendered in a scruffy yet (hopefully) lovable manner. I wanted them to be the visual equivalents of well-loved, well-worn stuffed animals.

The illustrations are beautiful! Were you formally trained as an illustrator?
I have been cartooning much of my life. But I am formally trained as an industrial designer and architect - both professions require gratuitous amounts of drawing and sketching. I started taking illustration seriously just a few years ago. After receiving some attention for a drawing I did for the New Yorker, my co-workers at the University of Idaho, who prior saw me as a serious, theory-drenched bookworm, were very positive and encouraged me to pursue it more vigorously. I love all forms of visual storytelling and I see how all my education and training have lead to this current obsession with illustration.

A lot of readers don’t know about your incredibly cute Youtube video. How difficult was it to create that and what has been the response to it?
I did some 3D animation in architecture school so I understood how it should work but this was really my first attempt at 2D animation. I took the original drawings and in the computer application Photoshop made multiple layers of certain parts then moved them in a crude, stop motion kind of way. Photoshop is not really meant for animation and it took forever to create with fairly mediocre results. I have since invested in actual animation software. I can't wait to do another video.

As far as reception, there have been over 650 views of the Ellabug trailer. For a YouTube video that doesn't include adorable (real) animals being tickled or extreme ironing, I think it has done well and serves its purpose.

My kids want me to add that they did the voiceovers and that my direction and the thousands of takes it took were not too damaging to their self-esteem (see what I mean about a wicked sense of humor).

Bonus feature! Here's an experiment that didn't make the final cut of the video:

(Note from Diversion Press: After you play the experiment video over and over and stop laughing, the next video is the actual Ellabug video. Check it out!) 

Do you focus mostly on children’s books or do you write other genres?
I am an academic in my other life so I write about my fascinating (*stifles a yawn*) research on creative communities. I am currently writing a book chapter on authorship in the digital realm, for example. With that said, I prefer visual storytelling. This summer I hope to get traction on a possible web comic or graphic novel and another children's book project.

What are the best and worst parts of being a published author?
Best part: Seeing the book on the shelf at a bookstore or at the library next to my heroes and childhood favorites.

Worst part: not having the time to travel and properly promote the book. I have enjoyed the few readings and school visits that I’ve done. The story resonates with kids and adults alike so it usually leads to good conversations.

What would you like potential readers to know?
About Ellabug: Readers can submit drawings of themselves and their family as animals. I like to post them on the Ellabug blog. You can see a few at:

They are very funny. One boy drew his mother as an atom. Another made himself as a cockroach!

About writing and children's books: have fun and write because you want to tell a story – not because you want recognition or wealth.

About stuff in general: don't eat from tin cans that are warped, buckled, or from a company called Botulism Farms.

Is there a question that you would like to leave up for comments or responses?
I am curious as to how many in your audience have Kindles, Nooks, and other e-readers.


  1. What a cute concept! Good job with the video. I love the velociraptor/snake/pup drawing on your site... though I don't want to know the story behind that one!

    As for your question, I think I'm going to wait until the dust settles on the e-reader wars... or at least, until Kindle comes out with an affordable color e-reader. I do, however, have a Droid and a daughter who loves audio books...

  2. Gregory, I love the idea behind this story. I plan to get a copy for my 6-year old Sophia. I can relate to your comment about not being able to travel and promote the book as much as you'd like.

  3. I have an iPad where I download PDF documents for reference reading. I don't put books on it, because I don't read books.

  4. Thanks for the kind comments, Estela. I agree that the kids drawings may provide much material for future psychotherapy sessions. But the kids had fun trying to outdo each other in their outrageousness.

  5. Katie, I want you to know that I am tired and grumpy today because I read through your blog tour stuff last night then, on a whim, decided to watch the pilot to Bewitched instead of sleeping. I can't wait to read BroomSticks. I think you've promoted it masterfully.

  6. Hi Gregory,

    I think Ellabug is a great book and my kids love it. They also love the YouTube video.

    You asked about the Kindle reader. I don't have one. Perhaps I am old school, but I feel like I do enough reading at the computer. I prefer my student papers hard copy and my books as paperbacks. Although I still might end up getting one, when faculty raises go into effect . . . on second thought, I probably will never get one.

  7. Hi Greg! I have to say that my 3 year old Sophia loves the book. Get it Katie--you won't regret it! FYI--my 5 year old son and 10 year old daughter were the beta testers for Ellabug, when we received the proposal. We printed out the big eye picture and had it on our board forever. Every time our children saw it, they said "that's from Ellabug".

    Greg, I don't own a book reader, but I also don't do texting. If I want to communicate with you live, I will call you. If I don't, I will e-mail. As a professor, I am on the computer so much that when I read, I want to do it technology free. :)

  8. Antonio, faculty raises...oh, don't make me laugh! I did buy an iPad recently because my laptop was so old the keyboard was in cuneiform. This was also my tenure gift to myself. It is a different experience. I love the way children's books look on it, I must admit. The color is quite vivid. I can see why it is popular in some circles. But, really, I prefer my little library and my stacks of books.

    Amy, I am glad your family has enjoyed the book. I have a friend with a very small son who is learning to speak. I was thrilled when I heard him say 'Ellabug' when his father brought out the book.

  9. Thank you for stopping by Greg! Feel free to hang out a while or stop back in later. We will continue to post comments as they come in. Happy Easter to all! I hope the big rabbit comes to your house!

  10. This was a lot of fun. Have a happy Easter too.

  11. For those of you on the Palouse coming from Facebook or Twitter I wanted to say that Bookpeople in Moscow carries the book. Bookpeople has been incredibly helpful and supportive, they deserve your patronage.

  12. I LOVE ELLABUG! I love everything about it, the story, the messsage, the artwork, the lay-out,... everything! it's a beautiful book! It was released before Broomsticks and I knew that when I received Ellabug in the mail, Katie & I made the right choice to sign with Diversion Press! (Katie, I thought I sent it to Sophia. I guess i kept it for myself. Sorry).
    I love the "worn-stuffed animal" description in your interview.
    To Answer your question... No! i do not have a Nook or Ipad, etc. I don't even have a cell phone. Heck,I'm lucky to even be able to post this. I'm not computer-friendly at all and the feeling's mutual. Computers hate me.

    Also, I can't look at Ellabug without singing the theme song to the early 70's saturday morning TV show, "The Bugaloos." Have you ever seen it?

  13. OMG, major flashback!! Sid and Marty Kroft! I haven't thought about that show in years but, oddly enough, can still remember the theme song. Sean, I think we had similar childhoods.

  14. I love the story behind the book. Great work. The illustrations capture my attention from the front cover onward. Beautiful story.

  15. Wow, Greg!Thanks so much for the vote of confidence! (Sorry, we kept you up late! LOL)
    No, Sean....Sophia never got a copy from ya! Ha! ha! And by the way, it freaks me out to try to read an e-book. It just doesn't feel natural.

  16. I'm just sorry I don't have any little ones around that I could give Ellabug to. The drawings are adorable. I have yet to own a Kindle or Nook or iPad. I like holding a book and turning the pages and falling asleep with a book in my hands, BUT, I DO want to try an e-reader one of these days. Technology is amazing and we need to keep up.

  17. Thanks for the kind comments Linda and Nancy!

  18. I love the Ella Bug trailer. The book looks darling. You have incredible creativity. What a blessing to children you are; they are going to love your book. In answer to your question, I don't own any e-reader. I love books and love to stuff my bookcases full of them.