Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Emma Steinkellner Interview - The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow

Photo Credit: Cheri Steinkellner

Emma Steinkellner is an illustrator, cartoonist, and writer based in Los Angeles, CA.

She is the author and illustrator of the middle grade graphic novel The Okay Witch (Aladdin, Fall 2019). The Okay Witch tells the story of 13-year-old Moth Hush, who learns that magic is to be expected when you're a Hush in an adventure that spans centuries, generations, and even worlds as Moth unravels the complicated legacy of witches at the heart of her town, her family, and herself.

She is a graduate of Stanford University's department of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, where she created, wrote, and illustrated her thesis It Gets Weird.

Working in print and webcomics, Emma has illustrated projects with her radiant sister, writer Kit Steinkellner, including the teen rom-com webcomic Aces and the Eisner-nominated superhero coming-of-age story Quince (also with creator Sebastian Kaedlecik, published by Fanbase Press) and is the creator of the comic diary Pow Slam Sparkle.


What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
I think school made me value knowing the right questions to ask, which I find more helpful than always knowing the right answers (which is just sort of impossible).

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
It must be pretty important because humans have been telling stories forever. Anthropologists and sociologists (who have better answers than I do) suggest that stories help us explain things to each other and make sense of the way things are. I don’t know if I can get to the nucleus of it the same way, but I know how it feels to be experiencing something hard or confusing in real life and remember when someone in a story went through something similar. It makes me feel a little bit better and that’s something.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Visiting schools and libraries, whether that’s been in person or online. I love answering students’ questions and having conversations about writing, illustration, and making books.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
The coronavirus lockdown kept me inside most of the time, which was pretty good motivation for just sitting down and cranking out pages. But I also love hanging out, watching movies and cooking with my roommates. So, often, I’d rather be doing that than staring at my screen waiting for an idea to come. But it’s good to take breaks and live your life, that truly helps me come back to my work fresh.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
There’s not much I can share yet, but I want to make things with plenty of comedy, fun characters, and a little bit of magic.

Can you tell us when you started THE OKAY WITCH AND THE HUNGRY SHADOW, how that came about?
I think a good sequel should really take a look at the first story and go “Okay, what would be next for them? What do they still need?” In Moth’s case, she’s had this whole new magical world opened up to her and it was so exciting to discover that part of herself. But, it doesn’t address a lot of the stuff that bothers her the most in her life: bullies, the rigid standards and culture of her small town, her insecurities about growing up and who she’s going to be. So I wanted to put Moth in a story that spotlights those problems and see her learn to face them.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I want them to understand why Moth makes the choices she does all throughout the book, because it’s pretty natural to be a kid and wonder what it would be like to be someone else. Moth wonders that a little too hard and ends up in a bad situation because of it. And I want them to see how she powerfully accepts and loves herself to conquer that evil magic.

What part of your characters did you enjoy writing the most?
The Hungry Shadow herself was a really fun character to write because she’s just kind of a good old-fashioned villain, so her manner and her speech can be a little over-the-top. And I found it pretty interesting to write all Moth’s loved ones giving her different advice on how to handle her problem. Because it’s all valid but they can all only advise from their own points of view, so Moth ultimately has to put it all together and trust herself the most.

  • 1. Laszlo’s favorite show Can You Believe I Go Steady With a Witch? is a little nod to the old sitcom Bewitched.
  • 2. When Moth has the dream about the Hungry Shadow, you can spot lots of details from earlier in the book.
  • 3. Moth can make clothes from patterns and alter clothes, too, so she made the dress she wears to the Valentine’s Ball and Laszlo’s little sweaters.
  • 4. Mr. Gorski-García’s Jekyll and Hyde action figure pays tribute to those old Power Rangers action figures who had two different heads you could switch between by flipping them around.
  • 5. A lot of the same kids are in the background of many big scenes, so you might see the same kid in Moth’s gym class, in the lunch scene, at Pike’s party, and at the Valentine’s Ball. Most of them have their own names and backstories.
  • 6. Moth’s big song and dance in the cafeteria is a shout-out to cafeteria musical numbers in movies I liked as a kid (The Other Me, High School Musical, Fame, Bring It On: All or Nothing)
  • 7. Shadow Moth’s long ponytail is modeled on the famous ponytails from some of the most glamorous stars and style icons of all time: Ariana Grande, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Barbara Eden, Zendaya, Barbie etc.
  • 8. The story of The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow takes place one winter break after The Okay Witch and lasts from January 6 to a little after February 14.
  • 9. Both Peter Kramer and Sarah Hush come from the 17th century and fall in love with modern snack foods they never got to try in their time. Sarah loves microwave popcorn and Peter can’t get enough of Oreo-type cookies.
  • 10. Because the story is about Moth meeting her double, I tried to put a theme of doubles and duality all throughout the book (Moth and Mr. Gorski-García accidentally wearing the same outfit, the Jekyll and Hyde action figure, and the episode of Can You Believe I Go Steady With a Witch? Laszlo’s watching where the witch makes a copy of herself so she can go on two dates on the same night)
If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I might introduce Laszlo to the Glass Cat from the Oz books, the one who says “I’ve got pink brains. You can see them work.” They’re both kind of smartmouths and I guess Laszlo would just fit right in in Oz, since he’s already used to witches.

Tell me about a favorite event of your childhood
In the springtime at my elementary school, we used to watch caterpillars in the bushes at recess. We would check on them every day, even when they went into their chrysalises and we would wait and wait until they became butterflies. That was very rewarding.

What is your greatest adventure?
Truthfully, I don’t feel like I do a lot of adventures. So anytime I do anything, like go to the park for a couple hours or go on a road trip, it feels like a very big deal.

What was your favorite book as a child?
I liked the Wayside School books by Louis Sachar the best.

If you could live in any period in history, where would it be and why?
It’s probably for the best that I live now, but I would like to visit the 70’s or 80’s and hang out with my mom when she was my age.

What was your favorite subject when you were in school?
Art, Social Studies, Theater, and English. There was a bit when I assisted in the school library a period each day and I liked that, too.

If you could do anything OR wish for anything that would come true, what would you wish?
I’ve seen too many stories where wishes go pear-shaped to ever really want to wish for something to come true.

In this hilarious and heartwarming sequel to the bestselling and critically acclaimed graphic novel, The Okay Witch, half-witch Moth Hush uses magic to boost her confidence with disastrous results—perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier and Molly Ostertag!

Moth Hush is starting to settle into her newfound witch heritage and powers, but life at school continues to be rough. Even her best friend, Charlie, doesn’t entirely understand what it’s like for her to always be the one who gets mocked, and things only get worse when Moth’s mom starts dating one of the dorkiest teachers in the school! Then Moth gets hold of a mysterious charm that can unleash another version of herself—one who is confident, cool, and extremely popular. What could possibly go wrong?

You can purchase The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow at the following Retailers:

1 Winner will receive a $10 Amazon Gift Card.