University of Arizona author and alumnus Chris Gall talks inspiration and work for upcoming Tucson Festival of Books
*This interview and article was produced before the festival was canceled on March 9, 2020.
Chris Gall Tucson Festival of Books Profile profile
The Tucson Festival of Books was canceled due to authors pulling out last minute amid concerns over COVID-19. However, the stories are published online for the journalist that wish to use these as clips.
Author, illustrator and University of Arizona alumnus Chris Gall drew from his childhood experience, literally. Gall sat down with the Daily Wildcat to discuss his inspirations, work and speaking engagement at the upcoming Tucson Festival of Books.
Daily Wildcat: As a Tucson resident and UA alumnus, how does it feel to see the Tucson Festival of Books grow and see its success in the past decade?
Chris Gall: It’s been fantastic. I've been to a lot of book festivals around the country and other cities. I’m not sure how big they are now, they’re like the third or fourth or second largest in the country. To see it not only go from nothing to this great book festival, but to keep going every year because that’s the real thing — to keep these things going. I’m very proud of that. To be in a city where you have this book festival every year is great.
DW: What attracted you to Tucson and made you want to stay besides going to college here?
CG: I really just loved the town. After I graduated I could’ve gone to many other cities to find work, but I was a freelance illustrator at the time and I could live anywhere. So why not live here? Because it’s great and there’s so much to do outdoors, and I don’t mind the heat. The culture has grown so much since I was a student at the [UA].
DW: You switched majors in college, you started as an architecture major to a more artistic major, right?
CG: I spent two years in architecture. I had drawing talents and a number of professors kept pointing out to me that if you’re not really in love with architecture, you probably have a career somewhere in the arts if you wanted it. I started thinking about that, and I didn’t really have a game plan but I went over to the fine arts department and settled in with fine art and graphic art and graphic design and illustration.
DW: What made you want to switch to an artistic career path?
CG: It just felt like it was going to give me a lot more expressive and creative freedom which is what I really wanted all along. I realized pretty quickly that it’s difficult if not impossible to be another Frank Lloyd Wright where you get to do whatever you want and make great houses and buildings. I thought that in the arts I would have more personal control over the things I was doing.
DW: You’re doing a nonfiction workshop at the Tucson Festival of Books called “Telling Real Stories — With a Twist” and your last book was a nonfiction book called “Go For the Moon” about the Apollo 11 launch. What made you want to do nonfiction in the first place?
CG: I like the sciences and I have a lot of interest in how things work and machinery and technology and so forth. I’ve been doing fiction for a long time. I knew the Apollo 11 anniversary was coming up and about two years later down the road when I thought of it. I’d always wanted to do a book on the Apollo program and so the stars just aligned. It was my chance to do it. In regards to the twist part of it, I didn’t want to do another book that did a retelling of the Apollo 11 landing because there are other books that so that. My twist was that because I was eight years old when the moon lander landed and a man walked on the moon and I actually watched it on TV. I wanted to do a book that paralleled [his experience] that showed my journey watching them as they were actually doing all that they were doing and then explain the science along the way.
RELATED: Raymond H. Thompson’s legacy
DW: In general, why do you think it’s important to tell true stories in a creative way?
CG: I think true stories can be very, extremely interesting on their own and certainly the Apollo 11 story is interesting all on its own, but I think its good to provide a gateway for children so that they can identify more with that experience. It's a gateway to the story itself because seeing it through my eyes as a young person I think that then they can go forward and see other events that are happening around them and become excited by them.
DW: What made you want to get into illustrating and creating children’s books?
CG: About 15 years ago I decided [to become a children’s book author]. I had a long love for writing when I was in grade school and in high school. During that time I thought I would grow up to be a writer for sure, even though I was drawing at the same time … I was told that artists don't make money and they can't support themselves, and so I thought I was going to be a writer. I always had that in the back of my mind that I could probably write books, too. I was looking for other ways to do my own thing — to make my own creations, my own projects, my own stories. And so about 15 years ago it all just kind of came together.
DW: What are the most important themes or elements when you’re creating books?
CG: The most important thing to me is that it has to interest me. If it interests me and I remember what interests me when I was a young boy, then it’s probably still going to be valid today for children. I always try to think of what I was interested in when I was that age.
The Tucson Festival of Books will occur March 14 to 15 from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Gall will be a panelist at “Telling Real Stories — With a Twist” will occur on March 15 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Education building, room 351.
Follow Daily Wildcat on Twitter