Saturday, October 20, 2007

Robert's Snow: Interview with Linas Alsenas

I have been so delighted this week to read all the wonderful posts about Robert's Snow featuring children's book illustrators and their lovely snowflakes. Robert's Snow is an online auction to raise money for Dana Farber Cancer Institute research. I am thrilled to be part of this Blogging for a Cure blog fest started by Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and inspired by Grace Lin and her fund raising efforts. Sadly Grace lost her husband Robert this past August to Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Grace and Robert started the Robert's Snowflake auctions in 2004 and it has continued to grow over the years. They have raised over $200,000 already! Read more about it here.

For my part, I have the great pleasure to introduce you to Linas Alsenas. (The photo here was taken by Ceen Wahren)

Linas is the author and illustrator of two books so far: Mrs. Claus Takes a Vacation was published in 2006. Click the picture to see a sample page spread from Scholastic's site.
Linas has painted a beautiful snowflake for the Robert's Snow auction with illustrations based on this book.

His second book Peanut
came out in 2007. Click here to read an interview with Linus at Monica Wellington's blog about the making of Peanut.

I have more about his snowflake below, and news of a contest you will want to pay attention to, but first you must hear a little about Linus and where he lives.

Interview with Linas Alsenas

Linas, you have written and illustrated two adorable children's books. What are your favorite authors or favorite kids' books ?

I am completely in love Maurice Sendak's work. From his early collaborations with Ruth Krauss, to WILD THINGS, to HIGGLETY PIGGLETY POP, to WE ARE ALL IN THE DUMPS, to BRUNDIBAR, I marvel at how Sendak has consistently pushed picture books in new, exciting directions. I'm jealous of Jules Feiffer's books, a favorite being THE HOUSE ACROSS THE STREET. I'm also a fan of Brian Selznick's illustration work, his picture-book biographies are a tremendous inspiration. But I guess I'm not picking anything off the beaten path, am I?

You know the best when you see it! What are your hobbies?

Does procrastinating online count?

Oliver, my black-headed caique, takes up a lot of time. He's generally very sweet, but if he doesn't get enough attention, he can get cranky. I read as many YA novels as I can, and I am very interested in urban planning and architecture. Otherwise, I bought a tiny cottage this summer with Jan, my boyfriend, on an island in the archipelago outside Stockholm. We spend pretty much all of our weekends out there, enjoying the landscape (--oh, yeah, and doing renovation work. Lots and lots of painting, sawing, hammering...).

That sounds delightful. Tell us more about your island house so we can daydream a weekend visiting you… What's the weather like in October? Is there a beach? Can you take us out on your boat or fishing off the rocks?

The house is actually kind of funky, it was designed by an architect for himself in the 1961, and we're now trying to bring out the "Jetsons" feel of it. The highlight of it is a huge round fireplace that looks very futuristic and retro at the same time--I'm looking forward to some cozy nights once the snow begins to fall. Actually, the weather has now gotten pretty chilly, so we've already been firing it up, especially after our walks in the countryside. The house overlooks a small valley, about 175 meters from the water. We spent a lot of time this past summer just hanging out on the rocks at the shore--I find the water to be too cold to swim in, even in the summer, but Jan is always trying to convince me otherwise. We used to have a boat that we kept in the city, but we decided to sell it this summer once we realized that we were spending all our time working on the house (our island has ferry and bus service, thankfully). Hopefully we'll have a different boat by the time spring rolls around, and then we'll be able to spend more time exploring all the other islands in our area—there are thousands of islands in the archipelago, so--happily--it's a never-ending project.

Wonderful! Tell us more about what it is like to live in Stockholm. What kind of house do you live in and where is your studio?

Stockholm is largely made up of islands, and we are lucky enough to live in Gamla Stan, the "Old Town" island in the very center of the city. Most of the buildings in Gamla Stan are from the 17th century, including ours, which was built in 1632 (!). Cars are only allowed on the edges of the island, which is made up of narrow cobblestone streets dotted with antiques shops, restaurants, and cafes. (And lots and lots of tourists, of course.) My studio is a ten-minute walk away, in the section of town known as Södermalm. That's where a lot of artists and musicians live, and hipsters galore. The space I rent is essentially just a desk in the basement of a clothing store, which is actually a cooperative of independent fashion designers (so all the people working for the store are selling their own designs). There are others who rent spaces with me: a photographer/designer, a product designer, and a writer/comics artist. It's a really laid-back, creative environment, full of social and fun people, so it's perfect for me.

That is so beautiful! Now I want to live in Stockholm. You just can't get better than living under a rainbow. Tell us more about your adorable snowflake. Where did you get your inspiration?

I was trying to come up with a way to use both sides of the snowflake equally, which made me think of my first book, MRS. CLAUS TAKES A VACATION, in which Mrs. Claus decides to travel the world herself instead of sitting at home in the North Pole all year. The book ends with Santa doing his Christmas Eve trip--but this time asking Mrs. Claus to come along, a sort of lesson in equal partnership in marriage, I suppose.

At the same time, I've also always been intrigued by cabinet photos from the 19th century, those small "daguerreotype" portrait photos you sometimes see in elaborate frames at antique shops. So I was thinking a double portrait of the Clauses, each with his/her own side (--but inseparable!), would make a nice snowflake/ornament.

That is completely charming! Tell us a little about Christmas in Sweden. Is this your first year there during the holidays? Will the Clauses be a big part of your celebration?

This year will be my third Swedish celebration of Christmas, and I'm very much looking forward to it. Every apartment window will soon boast a star-shaped paper lantern, and the city literally twinkles with light. (Which is particularly nice this far north, considering how short the days become in December!) Gamla Stan will be flooded with Swedes from all over the country, as it's a big tradition to visit the Christmas market there—you can get anything from reindeer furs and hand-crafted wooden toys to roasted almonds and "glögg," Sweden's traditional spiced wine, served piping hot.

Rest assured, there will be cookies laid out for Santa at our apartment on Christmas Eve, as well as a separate plate for Mrs. Claus.

What do you remember about holiday celebrations as a child? Did you look forward to Santa's visits?

I grew up just outside of Cleveland, Ohio, in a Lithuanian-American family during the 1980s, so our celebrations always involved a traditional 12-course Christmas Eve meal (which contains no meat) and a lot of heated grown-up talk involving "glasnost" and "perestroika"—certainly not the standard Christmas tradition in America. But Santa's visit was, of course, always the highlight.

Linas' snowflake will be up for the auction starting on November 26 to the 30th. Bookmark this site!!!

Don't forget to go back and take a good look at all the other snowflakes you might want to bid on as well. There are many others that haven't been shown on the more than 70 blogs planning features. Just to get you going I have a contest right here, right now.

Yes! You have a chance to win on of Linas' books. All you have to do is find one other snowflake at the Robert's Snow site that grabs your fancy and leave me a comment. Let me know which one (Besides Mrs. & Mr. Claus) catches your eye. I'll pick two lucky winners next Wednesday to receive one of Linas' books.

Here is the schedule of other Robert's Snow blog features for today and tomorrow:

Saturday, October 20

Sunday, October 21


Mary Lee said...

So far, DB Johnson's Henry is one of my favorites, but I really haven't seen a flake I didn't love!

Great interview! Loved all the info about Stockholm!

tanita✿davis said...

Ohhh, what a lovely charmed life this artist draws from to produce such charming artwork! Great interview, thanks for digging in to get all the details!! The daguerreotype of the Claus' is so cute.

Anonymous said...

Do you think he and Jan will let me live with them for, oh, about a week? Man, that sounds great.

I love his first book and was looking forward to this interview! I didn't know about the second one and will have to go find it.

Thanks, cloudscome! That is one endearing snowflake.

jama said...

I adore Linas' snowflake! And what a beautiful place to live and work. Loved this interview.

It's too hard to pick just one snowflake that I like, but I'll mention Diane deGroat's "Gilbert Says Hi" since I featured her this week :)!

Anonymous said...

I really want to move to Stokholm now, but I guess I'll be satisfied with this interview. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I swear, every day I find a new favorite snowflake! I've linked back to this post on my "contests" post:
Thanks for the excellent interview.

gail said...

These interviews are so much fun! Thanks for a great post. What a perfect snowflake.

I find a different favorite each day I visit the auction site. Today one of my favorites is:
"Wisconsin Snow" by Erin Eitter Kono

elysabeth said...

I have to say that mine will pretty much be the butterfly designs - saw two of them but the one that really caught my eye was Blue Morpho in week #3 - it really is gorgeous - so lifelike - E ;)

Charlotte said...

My favorite snowflake of the momment is Free Fall, by Brian Lies, but it keeps changing...

Thanks for the great interview!


Beckyb said...

I, too, keep changing my mind on my favorite - but I still go back to Grace Lin's snowflake - I think it is beautiful!!