An interview with author and illustrator K.J. Kruk discussing Kruk's debut novel Leo Gray and the Lunar Eclipse by Emily Felson on February 1st, 2019
This is your first novel. How exciting is that?
It's very exiting. I feel tremendously honored that such an amazing publishing company actually wanted to work with me; but, more over, I can't wait for this book to get into the hands of kids who need it!
So tell us a bit more about Leo Gray!
Leo Gray is your typical science-loving eleven-year-old, however, his parents are anything but modern in the year 2113. They don't drive a self-flying car. They don't wear ozone protective clothes. And they certainly don't let Leo ride around on airboards or hoverskates! This, naturally, causes Leo to long for escape, and the moon's new luxury city, Luna City, proves the ideal candidate. But when he finally gets there, Leo's greeted with a world of mystery and surprises!
And what about yourself? Where are you from?
I know I started off somewhere in the dark vastness of the universe. Where exactly, I can't say. I then came to this planet like most humans do—through a time portal—and I've been hopping around the globe ever since. I've lived in Florida, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Texas, Hawaii, Colorado, New York, and have had a stint in both Italy and Poland...My home base is always in flux and I honestly can't tell you why. (Maybe Ms. Furtado might have better insight to that?)
That is a lot of places. What did you do before publication? Did you always want to be an author/illustrator?
I never planned for it, that's for sure. Though it makes perfect sense. I was very fortunate to attend a boarding school for the arts during my last two years of high school where I studied fine art; but my focus then was on classical oil portraiture. So I never set out to become an "author" or an "illustrator" with conscious intent, as many in those professions do. I went to college in the hope of one day teaching art and language to children, but somewhere along the line money got tough and I had to get tougher. So I put my dreams aside, got a job that involved running around with ridiculously heavy signs and jangly keys, and half a decade later, I hadn't drawn or painted a single thing. I became enormously depressed by that fact, and it was then that a sort of fire burst out of me and I threw my once beloved pencil back to paper—only this time, the graphite was producing words instead of figure sketches!
So what inspires you to write and draw?
I think it's just the internal need to "create"—to produce something that brings someone else happiness and/or a deeper sense of self. Where my inspiration comes from, however, is beyond me. I'll look at something, like the moon, for example, and envision a happily plump housewife daydreaming about living inside its luxury city. I won't look at anything at all and will overhear a jabbery little gnome shouting at a weed wacker inside of my head. My imaginings are ceaseless and writing generally flows rather effortlessly. Drawing, on the other hand, is something I now have to work at, as I only just started to draw on the computer this past year.
Can you walk us through your typical day as an author/illustrator?
Well, let's see...I generally wake up close to noon...I visit the loo...Then I head to the kitchen for something that resembles a Mad Hatter tea party. I get to work on the business side of things, such as emails, conference calls, updating social media pages, editing the websites, creating advertisements, etc. Lunch usually consists of a semi-palatable blast from the past. It's not until after four or five when I free myself up to do normal people things such as groceries or laundry (or, if I'm lucky, a walk at the park). Then I attempt to whip up something spectacular like Mr. Ramsay, but it's nearly always a complete fail. I'm a terrible cook. I don't know why I even try. I might then read something to the tune of Don Quixote or watch a boring documentary to unwind, but I don't typically write or draw until the witching hour. I also don't always write or draw, as a rule. I don't give myself a schedule or force myself to muster up something without motivation or a minor dose of positive energy. I'm then in bed to recharge around three.
How did Leo's story come to you?
I was stuck in a really crumby vacation rental after moving to Waikiki, when, while staring out at the moon glimmering over Diamond Head (the dormant volcano) Mrs. Gray popped into my head. I found her fascinating and instantly wanted to know more about her and why she was stuck living such a non-modern lifestyle in the future, so I began to write out her story. Eventually, I realized she had kids, and that her longing to go to the moon was actually for the benefit of her son. Thus, Leo's story began!
There are so many characters from different countries in this book. How did you decide that?
I'm not sure that I consciously "decided" that. It was just how characters came. Our diversity, as a species, is one of the most beautiful things we have—yet many struggle to comprehend that. Many books fall flat on portraying our world as diverse as the one we actually live in, so it was natural for me to include characters from around the globe: Leo's from the U.S., Pavo's from Brazil, Grus is from Australia, Andromeda's from Canada, Phoebe's from France, Scotti and Ume are from Japan, Izma's, Abu Dhabi; then there's characters from India, Ireland, China, Poland, Germany, Italy, and Sweden. But I think what's important in that is that Leo's story is able to show kids what a world looks like undivided. And I believe that's what the future is!
And where did you get the idea for a school with specialized groups that focus on a kid's natural abilities/talents?
This came from the format of school that I had gone to during my junior and senior years of high school. The mornings were dedicated to basic studies (science, english, math, history, etc.), and the rest if the day was reserved for my "talent," art. However, the school I went to was strictly for students gifted in the arts (music, literature, dance, media, or theater). I always thought about how such a system would prove beneficial for all genres of educational interest, especially more complex interest like coding, engineering, and robotics!
Yes. I wish I had gone to school like that! Tree patrol and a flying go-kart are really cool ideas. How did you come up with them?
Hmm...I suppose it was the thought that yards with trees will one day become scarce, especially as we expand our cities; and, given that rare and desirable things always have a need for security, tree-patrol was born. A flying go-kart simply seemed a more practical tree-patrolling vehicle than a flying car, especially as its driver, Mr. Dawgspat, is a something of a garage tinkering sort of fellow.
Gravital is also a pretty unique sport. Can you explain the game to us and how you invented it?
It's like tennis, but in antigravity, only the players' goal is to knock out little robots that are inching away on the other end of the court, which are being controlled by a goalie with a remote. I was in nearly every sport while growing up, but I was never any good at them as I had scoliosis and juvenile arthritis. I always dreamed of a sport where I could use my smarts instead of my non-athletic body, so I instantly knew that Leo's school would need a sport that praised both congruently.
And what are Mleckorgs and Lunalings?
Mleckorgs are a highly unpleasant alien species that consume time. The first part of the name stems from the Polish word for milk, and the later, a blend of orc and ogre. Lunalings, on the other hand, were the moon's original inhabitants, but (after a Mleckorg invasion) there's only one left: Grimlu, who just so happens to be a 10,000-year-old baby who enjoys eating cotton balls and boasts a glowing little belly.
I love that! And you're being published by GreenLeaf. Why did you choose them as your publisher?
After a few conversations with various agents, I knew that going the route of a big five publisher wasn't for me. I wanted full creative control of the project (especially with my background in the arts); and, further more, I wanted to hold my rights, which is what attracted me to GreenLeaf.
So when and where can we get a copy of Leo Gray?
Leo Gray and the Lunar Eclipse hits shelfs March 19th, 2019, but you can pre-order your copy at leograybooks.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BookShout, Book Depository, (or easily see Baker & Taylor or Ingram if you're a librarian or retailer). Big news, B&N will be giving it shelf placement, so you'll be able to pick it up in store there as well! (And, if you're traveling, you can find it at Newslink and Trofie airport bookshops.)
Sounds great! One last thing, can you tell us what you're working on now?
A blog, for one. I wasn't keen on starting another "Here I am! Here's my life!" blab session, but I've come to realize that someone out there might get use or encouragement from me elaborating on my writing or illustration or business process, so it's in progress. I'm also working on an online gathering place that will offer free educational material to teachers and librarians, which can be paired up with the book, in addition to—possibly—another book! Well, we'll see if words continue to "flow" out of me. Either way, be sure to follow @leograybooks for updates.