Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Zachariah OHora

h1 June 11th, 2013 by jules

How Zachariah OHora’s son inspired the character Nilson from his latest book
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No … wait just a second here …
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This morning I’m making lots of room at the 7-Imp breakfast table for Zachariah OHora and Nilson (pictured above), the tantrum-throwing star of Zach’s latest book, No Fits, Nilson! (Dial, June 2013), what Kirkus calls in their starred review an “amusing modern fable” and Pamela Paul at the New York Times describes as a “charmingly original take on an evergreen concern.” It’s a tight squeeze here at the table, and he nearly throws a fit about it, but Nilson just manages to fit. Plus, I gave him a gorilla eye lock, and he calmed down.

But it’s just Zach I’m going to chat with; Nilson’s busy eating some choco-banana ice cream. Zach says his breakfast-of-choice is a Dutch Baby. “Okay, that sounds weird,” he adds. “By ‘Dutch Baby,’ I mean the pastry made of eggs, flour, and butter in a skillet. Not the human.”

Zach’s debut picture book—Stop Snoring, Bernard!, which he both wrote and illustrated—up and won him the Society of Illustrators’ Founders Award (for new talent) in 2011. (That happened to be the year I juried for the Original Art award. The Original Art jury does not pick the recipient of the Founders Award, but I wholeheartedly cheered their choice that year anyway.)

Zach saw two picture book releases this year, which you’ll read about below — one written by the talented Lisa Wheeler. (This is the one book of his I’ve yet to see, and I must remedy this.) I loved Zach’s art as soon as I met it, and I’m pleased he’s sharing lots of it today over coffee. Let’s get to it.

* * * * * * *

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Zachariah: Both! I’ve been a freelance illustrator in the editorial field for the past decade. No Fits, Nilson! is only the second book of mine being published, so I’m still not comfortable with calling myself an author.

Jules: Can you list your books-to-date?


Jules: What is your usual medium?

Zachariah: I usually paint with acrylics on Stonehenge printmaking paper.

Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Zachariah: I live just outside of Philadelphia. In a little village called Narberth. It’s like The Andy Griffith Show. Prior to that it was Brooklyn, San Francisco, Berlin, and I grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Jules: Can you tell me about your road to publication?

Zachariah: An eight-year slog in the wilderness where I made every wrong move imaginable.

“It’s all fun and games, but sometimes all it takes is a tiny bump…”

“and Nilson throws the biggest, most house shaking-est fit ever!!”

“So big, they BOTH get a time-out.”

“Nilson is perfectly behaved at the grocery store. But he is ready to burst while they’re waiting in line at the Post Office. ‘No fits, Nilson,’ whispers Amelia
as she hands him her favorite froggy coin purse.”

Pictured above: Spreads from No Fits, Nilson! (Dial, June 2013)

Jules: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?


Jules: If you do school visits, tell me what they’re like.

Zachariah: I do! And I love them. I work out of my house, and probably like most illustrators, I’m a bit of a shut-in. It’s nice to go to schools and see the kids get excited about books and being creative. My presentations include video clips of otters holding hands, lots of drawing demos, and sometimes dancing and puppets. I’m working on a cardboard gorilla costume, so a kid or myself can act out a few of Nilson’s fits.

“I did [this] when I was 4. I show it as an example that it’s okay to make mistakes. And uh … it’s a hot dog-cooking chef with three legs.”

Jules: If you teach illustration, can you tell me how that influences your work as an illustrator?

Zachariah: I had the privilege to co-teach a class at UArts in Philly this spring with Greg Pizzoli and Matt Phelan. It was inspiring to see the students’ work, and it helped me verbalize ideas that I have about the picture book-making process. Somehow explaining that to a class helps you understand it more yourself.

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Jules: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Zachariah: I’m just finishing a book for Abrams, written by the talented Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, called Tyrannosaurus Wrecks! Guess what it’s about?

I’m super excited to be starting on a book by Ame Dyckman, called Wolfie and Dot (Little, Brown). It’s a hilarious story about a bunny family that adopts a baby wolf. I love Ame’s humor. She’s a great writer; plus, she has blue hair.

And there’s another one she wrote that I signed on for. I can’t say what it is yet, but it’s horribly funny.

I’m working on another book with the brilliant team of Nancy Conescu and Lily Malcom at Dial, called My Cousin Momo. Momo is a flying squirrel, who visits his no-flying squirrel cousins and it’s pretty um …nuts. But not the kind that anyone would be allergic to.

I’ve also been meeting in an undisclosed underground bunker with Bob Shea, but I don’t have clearance to reveal the content of those meetings.

Spreads from Lisa Wheeler’s The Pet Project (Atheneum, April 2013)

Mmm. Coffee.Okay, we’ve got our coffee, and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with seven(ish) questions over breakfast. I thank Zach again for visiting 7-Imp.

1. Jules: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?

Zachariah: It’s all about character for me. I usually make a silly card or something for my wife. Pick the cutest animal I can find to draw and add some glasses or a hat or something that immediately gives you a personality.

Early Nilson study

Character study for Nilson

After a long time staring at a character and drawing them over and over, a scenario or story line starts to form. Then I’ll go back and forth between typing a manuscript and thumbnailing little scenarios.

Thumbnails for Nilson
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When I get the manuscript to a pretty finished outline state, I thumb the whole thing out. Many of the jokes and action are visual, so I flesh them out to explain the text. Repeat that process about ten or fifteen times, and I have a book.

Cover ideas for Lisa Wheeler’s The Pet Project (Atheneum, April 2013)
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Final cover
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2. Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.

Zachariah: My studio is currently in the middle bedroom on the second floor of our house. It’s filled with books, records, and objects that inspire me. My two sons are often drawing on the floor next to me.

We are moving next month, and I will have a studio in the attic, more or less with a crawlspace and a little door. I’m thinking I can put some cushions in there and have a Japanese business man-style nap pod.

Home-made advent calendar
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3. Jules: As a book-lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Zachariah: We grew up without a television, so we read lots of books.

As an illustrator, Richard Scarry has the most influence on me. Syd Hoff and Margaret Bloy Graham are people that I channel all the time, too.

Getting into chapter books, I loved stories where the kids were smarter than the adults. Add a little occult or magic, and I’m hooked. The “Trick” series by Scott Corbett I read over and over. The Great Brain series (illustrated by Mercer Mayer). Anything by Beverly Cleary. Harriet the Spy, Encyclopedia Brown, and Choose Your Own Adventure books.

From there, it was Narnia, Tolkien, and comic books.

4. Jules: If you could have three (living) authors or illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose? (Some people cheat and list deceased authors/illustrators. I won’t tell.)

Zachariah: I’ve been lucky to have had drinks with many of my favorite illustrator/authors (Bob Shea, Ame Dyckman, Greg Pizzoli, Jon Klassen — to name a couple), and I would do it again!

I would like to have a glass of wine with Eric Carle. Go on a bender with Laurie Keller and end up in a donut shop in the wee hours of the morning.

And I would like to have a cup of coffee with the ghost of Roger Duvoisin.


Spreads from Stop Snoring, Bernard! (Henry Holt, 2011)

5. Jules: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Zachariah: I listen to a lot of music, NPR, and Marc Maron’s WTF? podcasts while I paint. When I’m writing, I usually need quiet, but sometimes I’ll put on some jazz or other wordless music if it’s too quiet.

Looking at the amount of song plays on my iTunes, it looks like the three most played albums lately have been Alain Goraguer’s soundtrack to La Planète Sauvage; Madlib’s Beat Konducta, Vol 5 & 6; and the Paul Chambers Quintet. But I wouldn’t have picked any of those if I had to guess.

6. Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Zachariah: When I’m in Key West, late at night I tell people I’m Shel Silverstein. You will be amazed how many people will buy you a drink.

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Zachariah: “Yes.”

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Zachariah: “Whatever.”

Jules: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Zachariah: People who are funny.

Jules: What turns you off?

Zachariah: People who are drones.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Zachariah: “What the cabbage?!” from Adventure Time is one of the most used by everyone in our house.

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Zachariah: B3 organ.

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Zachariah: Leaf blowers.

Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Zachariah: Ocean’s 11.

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Zachariah: Anything in a cubicle.

Jules: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Zachariah: “Hey! Jerry (Garcia) is playing over on cloud nine. Why don’t you head over there!”

* * * * * * *

All artwork and images are used with permission of Zachariah OHora.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, © 2009 Matt Phelan.

21 comments to “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Zachariah OHora”

  1. I love this interview. I especially love his answer to his road to publication: “An eight-year slog in the wilderness where I made every wrong move imaginable.”

  2. SO WONDERFUL – I love his work!

  3. Now I have my #bookaday for today. It’s the Pet Project! This interview and art is the best.

  4. sigh

  5. Hey Zachariah – I think you, Bob Shea and I should make that bender/doughnut shop thing happen soon. I’m IN! I love your work!

  6. I’m a little afraid of Momo the Flying Squirrel, but LOVE that bear with the NPR mug and honey bear. Cool interview!

  7. The art takes me back to being a kid! Great interview!

  8. What a fun post. Can’t wait to check out these books.

  9. Oh, HA. Poor Jama, yes, you’ve had your share of squirrel problems. Oh my. I’m laughing. We’ll keep Momo away from you, I swear.

  10. […] Look at the one Zachariah OHora created from his own story. Fun, yes? Many thanks to Zachariah OHora and Julie Danielson for sharing […]

  11. Golly gosh! JUst my cup of tea, why had I not heard of this man before? Love the chevrolet…and the stuffed Lowly Worm, and and and… Zachariah OHora lived in Berlin? Interesting!

  12. LOVE Zachariah’s work!. I think Momo is in my yard tormenting the cat & dog. Thanks for the wonderful interview Jules!

  13. Another WTF listener! I haven’t seen Zach’s books yet. Time to place some holds for sure, and I’ll have to keep an eye out for Momo. I love that cover.

  14. […] of rules, most beginning with “never,” and I just read an email from author-illustrator Zachariah OHora, in which I told him that, sadly, I will not be at next weekend’s wonderful children’s […]

  15. […] Children’s Festival of Reading, but fortunately I did have time after all. I had a Zachariah OHora sighting (no, that’s not the ghost of Shel Silverstein) […]

  16. […] got a review over at BookPage of Ame Dyckman’s Wolfie the Bunny, illustrated by Zachariah OHora and released this month by Little, Brown. That review is here, and today—with thanks to […]

  17. […] trying to find excuses to work with some of my kid-lit chums, like Zach Ohora and Drew Daywalt. We’ll probably get something going after they get back from vacation or […]

  18. […] Zachariah OHora visits 7-Imp today to talk about his newest picture book, My Cousin Momo (Dial, June 2015). Momo is […]

  19. […] Zachariah OHora visits 7-Imp today to talk about his newest picture book, My Cousin Momo (Dial, June 2015). Momo is […]

  20. […] OHora told me in his 7-Imp breakfast interview that sometimes late at night he tells people he’s Shel Silverstein and that we’d be […]

  21. […] of the characters from Ame Dyckman’s upcoming picture book (coming in April), illustrated by Zachariah OHora. I love this girl’s shock of red hair. She’s welcoming you all to a sort of […]

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