Reading and I didn’t have a great start.
Writing and I have an even more complicated history.
I wasn’t a big reader when I was a kid. I know…when I tell students this at class visits they usually give their teachers a look like, “You’ve been lying to us! This guy doesn’t like reading!” That’s not what I said. I will explain.
I grew up on the St. Croix river in central Minnesota. I grew up on a farm of sorts, better described as a hobby farm. My father grew up in the city and this escape to a 20 acre farm was a dream he’d always had. He sometimes worked with Como Zoo so we had some very cool ‘cast off’ animals that ended up on our farm. I grew up with horses, cows, chickens, goats, geese, guinea hens, pigs, sheep… and 20 acres of waterfalls and pristine wilderness. Adventures were available and I took advantage. I also loved to draw and sculpt and made animated films. I was always busy. Reading was not my go-to activity until – I found THAT book (It was actually given to me by a teacher!). As librarians I bet you know many, many THAT books.
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In 8th grade Ms. Krupa gave me The Wizard of Earthsea by Usual K. Le Guin. It stopped me in my tracks. It kicked-off a love of books and a desire to write. I became a reader when I realized adventure awaited me by simply sitting down and reading.
Writing, that’s another story.
I always wrote stories. I clearly remember the first ‘real’ one I ever wrote, (That is with dialogue, a plot, with a voice.). A ghost story. Influenced by the horror films I watched with my dad. It was a short story about a teenager who wandered in a dreamlike haze through a warped version of his small town, not realizing he was dead until he made it back to his crashed car. Pretty cliched I learned later on.
But I never felt that the stories I wrote were very good. They had plenty of spelling mistakes. I shifted my POV and tense. Characters seemed less than real. By the time I was in high school I decided that if I was actually a ‘good’ writer it should be much easier for me. So I turned away from it.
I also enjoyed drawing. Which was equally as difficult and I made slow progress so after college I went into marketing and graphic design and did well. I had all kinds of jobs and enjoyed many of them. All the while I drew and wrote for myself. Sometimes taking a small step into a freelance assignment or two, but I was rarely satisfied with what I produced. I felt I didn’t have the talent to be a professional writer or work in commercial art.
Through the years I started meeting ‘real’ writers and ‘professional’ commercial illustrators and I learned – it’s difficult to do good work. That writers don’t just sit down on Monday and have a finished, flawless novel on Friday. (Well, most of them!). And slowly, through many years I realized that revising, starting over and letting the story take me where it wants to go before making it work on the page are the job. My first drafts suck. So do my second and third and fourth sometimes.
I pretty late in my life that the process is what makes you a writer or an illustrator. Doing it again and again and again – until you can’t or don’t want to. Only for rare people does that first draft sing. For me, it’s the day-in and day-out of it that creates anything worthwhile.
My new graphic novel series has been stalking around in my head since I was a kid on the farm. Those dark nights, the scary basement in our 100 year old farmhouse, the stories about ghosts in our attic are still with me. The series kicks off with Welcome to Feral. It’s a collection of stories presented by Freya, a middle schooler in the town of Feral. She shares stories passed down and around the town. The tales told around fires late at night, shared with younger siblings or whispered at sleepovers. The stories your parents tell you not to believe. But you still do, sort-a.
Freya believes that the stories in Feral should add up to something more. She and her besty Monica learn to trust their instincts and they (may) eventually discover secrets about their town they never imagined. Feral is a small town, much like the one I grew up in. A place that’s recognizable almost as myth in this modern world. It’s a wink and a nod to riding bikes down dirt roads on too hot summer days, dark forests that you never enter after dark, hearing an ice cream truck where there shouldn’t be one and places locals know to stay away from. I believe it’s as fun to read as it is scary. And I hope it inspires students to think about capturing their thoughts and feelings in original stories.
When I teach or visit schools I always stress student’s ability to make their own entertainment. Hey, I’m not trying to NOT sell books, but the joy and meaning that comes from the creative process and the sharing of what you create is a highly underestimated positive influence. It’s grounded me in my life through challenges big and small. The small town I grew up in lives on for me in these adventures. And so does my love of hearing and telling stories.
I’ve illustrated or authored/illustrated over 27 books in my career and Welcome to Feral has a very special place in my heart. It’s scary, it’s funny, it’s mischievous and intriguing. I was attracted to horror early in my life because of adjectives like those. I see so much more in the genre as I’ve grown. So many flavors and directions it can take. There is something very primordial in the sharing of stories about our fears. There’s also great joy in experiencing unexpected twists and turns. Laughter and screams are close cousins. I hope my newest book becomes THAT book for a student the way The Wizard of Earthsea inspired me. That it provides an adventure while just sitting down and reading it.
Meet the author
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Mark has illustrated many books including: Great, Now We’ve got Barbarians and The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot. He’s written and illustrated a few too including: Earthling!, Giant Pants and The Great Thanksgiving Escape.
Mark grew up in rural Minnesota but now lives with his family in Oregon along with two fluffy German Shepherds and two black cats. He has too many books, he knows this is a problem and is working on it. Really. He likes chocolate chip cookies hot from the oven.You can see more of Mark’s work at: www.markfearing.com.
About Welcome to Feral
How many kids will go missing before this town admits it’s haunted? Find out in this freakily fun new graphic novel series!
Feral has everything a small town should have: Main Street, City Hall, a population just over sixteen thousand . . .
But Feral also has secrets. Mysteries. Unexplained disappearances.
In five spooky stories, an intrepid young resident invites readers to look a little closer at this scenic rural town. Are you game to investigate what’s going on in Feral? If you pay attention, you might notice something where it shouldn’t be.
Be careful, though. whatever you do, do not go into the messner mansion. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
With vibrant art, clever humor, and heaps of unsolved mysteries, animator Mark Fearing conjures a fearsome saga out of small-town terrors. The first entry in this inventive new series is sure to scare young readers silly.
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 11/22/2022
Series: Frights from Feral #1
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post