Interview (in two parts) in the blog Radical Second Things:
Interview With Bay Area Catholic Author Stefan Salinas
I met Stefan unexpectedly last week while I was at the Bay Area Book Festival. I came across his two children's book - Catholic Churches Big and Small and A Muslim Family's Chair for the Pope - and instantly thought that both were a perfect match for Radical Second Things. I got copies of both and Stefan agreed to an interview. Hopefully it leads to more - he is perfect for this project!
- You told me when we met that you originally sought publication through Ignatius Press, a generally conservative Catholic publisher. What made you decide on self-publishing?
This was for my book on churches. They said, Hurray! They wanted to publish it, and they even sent me a long questionnaire to answer. I had a graphic novel for a much different audience out at the time, so I simply asked them if I could use a pseudonym for the kid’s book. The next day I received a cold rejection. “With the new information you provided to us regarding your other novels, our editors feel that your body of work does not match with our style here at Ignatius Press. Even with a pseudonym, they feel that your two different types of books cannot be separated from one another. Since your graphic novels are not in line with the perspective of Ignatius Press, it cannot publish Catholic Churches Big and Small.”
Furthermore, I was told they would not answer any questions about this. I thought this was a bit odd since the bios they do feature on their children’s book authors are very, very brief, and none have URL’s or links to more of their work. Some kid’s book listings on their sight don’t even mention the author’s name at all! Humf!
So after having sent the book proposal to quite a number of agents and other publishing houses, I looked into self-publishing, just so the baby could finally get to be born. The advantage of that was I have gotten to learn a bit about the nuts and bolts of the process, and it gave me full control of the final product. And hey, the Archdiocese of San Francisco purchased copies for all of their grammar schools, and it sells well at the Cathedral, and at fares and events.
The next book, A Muslim Family’s Chair for the Pope, was also almost picked up by a large publisher, this time Loyola Press. I knew this topic would be a harder sell, as religious children’s book literature is NOT the realm to bust out with any boldly new and potentially controversial ideas. I was happy when Loyola expressed initial interest, as they are one of the only Catholic presses with picture books that seem to have anything to do with the 21st Century. We were in dialogue for a year’s timewhile I was still working on the illustrations. In the end, the editors kept running into a question they could not seem to answer, “What Muslim or Catholic parents would actually buy this book?”
In the words of Tracy Chapman, if not now, then when? Rising tensions here and abroad compelled me to move forward with publishing. It has just been featured in a Catholic summer reading list by a contributor to Catholic News Service (it is not on their site yet, but has appeared on a few other sites). Of the nine books selected, mine is the only self-published one!
(A note from Orion - I had a really similar experience when working for a transcription company last year. Despite great ratings, so good I put them on a resume, I was informed I was fired abruptly and told that no response would get an answer.)
- Why did you call your imprint Camelopardalis?
Somewhere there is a photograph of me as a toddler, holding one of my first toys: a plastic giraffe. I have always loved them – so elegant and unique. They have become a sort of personal totem animal for me; a symbol of my highest self (ha-ha). When I learned that there is a constellation, Camelopardalis, in the shape of one, the image of a giraffe reaching up to the stars popped into my head.
- The art in both “Catholic Churches: Big and Small” and “A Muslim Family’s Chair for the Pope” blended the very simple with complex depictions of things like cathedrals. How did you balance this?
One of my influences is the Author and illustrator David Macaulay, who has built his career on creating very detailed, educational children’s books about buildings, houses of worship and cities. For my churches book, I didn’t want to insult the tots’ intelligence with simple, Hallmark card-looking cartoons of churches, nor did I want to present just generic architectural forms. My goal was to share with readers that which excites me about religious art and architecture, and that meant drawing from actual sources and depicting them with as much passion as I feel for them, if that makes any sense. And since they are made of all sorts of materials, I wanted the paint, ink and colored pencil to best translate this. As for the human characters and the rest of the settings, their duty was to charm us and lead us on this delightful journey, so I felt a playful approach would be more effectively endearing. Think of animated films throughout history, where the cartoon characters appear atop more realistically rendered sets.
For the Muslim/Chair/Pope book, my goal was to spotlight the Hajderovac’s craftsmanship, so I was a bit more conservative with my approach to depicting the people. They do have figures carved in their designs, and I wanted my figures to be complimentary to them. I imagined the drawings of the wood products to look like a carpenter’s drawings for such pieces to later carve. Penciling them in brown tones, while painting everything else with black lines and colors, the effect was to make their craftsmanship (as it is the focus of the book) stand out. And I have to admit, I love, love, love the miniature paintings from the Persian and Mughal courts in India. As they are the best example of representational (humans, in particular) art in Muslim paintings, I thought it fitting to give a nod in their direction.
- How did you become aware of the story of the Muslim craftsman who built a chair for the Pope?
Through hours of Google searches! After determining that the silly peace narrative I made up about Muslims and Catholics was too preachy and bland, I looked to the internet for a true and recent inspirational story out there. Something kid-friendly. They hit the international news when the chair was only partially complete, and I caught up with it in April of 2015 (the chair was finished that June). The Lord sure knows how to engage us.
As a lover of religious art, and a person who has been fortunate enough to have been able to make things to be installed in churches, finding this interfaith story about artists who make things for mosques and churches - well can you not see how it’s as if the Holy spirit thought, “Now this story needs to be told to younger generations to come, but who exactly shall I choose for the job?”
- Which churches were your favorite to depict in either book?
For the first book, I do favor modern churches, especially since they are almost never included in children’s literature. As the churches are all located in San Francisco, I have worshipped in some and often pass by others day after day, so they have become architectural friends and acquaintances.
How does one choose a favorite? I do so love the bold statement the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption’s form makes. The stained glass from St. Vincent de Paul was a pure joy to paint, but see I took RCIA and was baptized there, so how can I separate the window’s exquisite beauty from my fond memories of the space?
As for the second book, my choices were limited to the actual structures in Zavidovici and Sarajevo. There’s something positive, formal and approachable about St. Joseph’s church, so that would be my pick. Yellow churches are like sunshine to me. Think of St. Anne’s of the Sunset in San Francisco. Yes it is a tall, imposing structure, but the peach paint softens its personality, as if it is saying, “Hello, please feel free to step inside.”
- What was the reception like toward your work at the Bay Area Book Festival?
Being that it was my first BABF, I am not sure what constitutes a good year from a leaner one. The “Family Activities Zone” as Milva Street was named, featured mostly independent authors, and I think we did pretty well collectively. The experience was worth it.
- interview by Michael