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Brian Lies

In-depth Written Interview

Brian Lies, interviewed in Duxbury, Massachusetts on January 11, 2012.


TEACHINGBOOKS: You are the author/illustrator of the popular Bats books, and now you have illustrated the 2012 Collaborative Summer Library Program elementary level program materials.

BRIAN LIES: Yes. I was incredibly flattered when I was asked to do the illustrations for the CSLP because I've seen the posters from past years in many libraries I've visited, and I was excited about the possibility of having my art be as prominent as those posters.

I was given two themes: "Dream Big—Read!" and "Night." That worked really well with my bats for the poster, which was the main element of the project. I used other nocturnally active animals for the smaller illustrations, such as an octopus cooking on a stove that's really an enormous open book, a raccoon driving a race car that is a book with wheels, and others who have these great, aspirational dreams—not literal nighttime dreams, but dreams of what they might do once they're grown up. All of their aspirations grew out of their reading experiences.

For the poster, I illustrated what many kids dream of: being a rock star. I ended up with a rock star bat band, with one bat on electric guitar, another bat clutching a microphone as it sings, and then, in the background, a very determined bat on a drum kit. Down at the bottom of that illustration, there are two bats reading a book. If you look, you'll see that they are younger versions of the bats that are up on the stage in the poster. They're reading about being rock stars, and if they read enough, and if they study and practice enough, maybe someday they will be rock stars.

When I'm writing and illustrating a book, I'm thinking about a single story spread out over 32 pages or more, and the process takes more than a year. It was fun to be able to step to the side and spend time on a thematic project with numerous elements, like the CSLP, because each of those little illustrations can becomes its own freestanding story. And each of those stories is about something very important to me—reading!

TEACHINGBOOKS: Did your dreams begin in books?

BRIAN LIES: A lot of the aspirations and dreams that I had as a kid came out of my weekly trips to the library. I grew up in a small town in New Jersey, and from that library I was able to learn about the bigger world. Through reading biographies, I was able to meet people who had lived hundreds of years ago. I could travel into the future in science fiction books. The library was a gateway to the universe for

TEACHINGBOOKS: You have said, "There are very few people that actually get to do their childhood dream as a real-life job." What do you love about what you do?

BRIAN LIES: Students often ask me whether I like writing or illustrating books better. I really can't make a choice, because it is all about telling stories. I've always loved making stuff up, whether it has been in words or in pictures.

So, the great thing about being an author and an illustrator is that I get to make stuff up all day long. I get to write stories, and draw pictures to go with them. For me, there's absolutely nothing better that one could do for a job.

TEACHINGBOOKS: Were you one of those children that wrote stories and then illustrated them?

BRIAN LIES: Yes, when I was young, I wrote and drew a lot. When I was in fifth grade, author/illustrator Harry Devlin came to visit our school. He and his wife Wende created books that you can still find in school libraries, such as Cranberry Christmas, Cranberry Thanksgiving, The Old Black Witch, and others.

Having him come to my school made me realize that this was a real job, so from fifth grade on, it really was my dream job. But I was not one of those kids that everybody pointed at and said, "This is a really talented kid. He is going to grow up and be an author and an illustrator." I never really believed I would get to do my dream job.

TEACHINGBOOKS: What kind of kid were you?

BRIAN LIES: I always believed I was a good kid. But going back through my school reports, I've discovered an awful lot of comments saying, "Brian could do very well in this subject if he only applied himself." I think that I was always a very curious kid who asked a lot of questions—and I'm sure I talked too much.

TEACHINGBOOKS: What was your childhood like?

BRIAN LIES: In many ways it was very much a Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn kind of childhood. I had a best friend, and the two of us used to spend countless hours in the woods building forts and tree houses, damming up streams, and getting into various kinds of mischief.

I come from a family of readers and started off as very much a strong reader. But around third grade, suddenly I couldn't find any stories that I liked anymore. That was kind of a terrifying thing for my family. So, my mom and our local children's librarian intervened and got me back on track. I realized that if you really look, you're guaranteed to find stories that you like.

One of the tricks that my mom taught me was, give every single book you pick up 30 pages. And if after the first 30 pages, the author hasn't grabbed you, you're allowed to put the book down because now, it's the author's fault, not yours. The funny thing was, after I'd invested 30 pages in a book, I always had to find out what happened. So I almost never put a book down. As a grown-up, that number has risen. I still use that rule, except the 30 pages has risen to 100 pages.

One of the other things my mom taught me was to go into the library and, at random, choose a bookshelf then read the title of every single book on that shelf. When I used that method, I was guaranteed to find a book that I was interested in. As a third grader, standing back and looking at this enormous room full of books was daunting. But when I boiled it down to one shelf, it became doable.

TEACHINGBOOKS: What did you do to become a professional author/illustrator of children's books?

BRIAN LIES: I got into the field of writing and illustrating children's books in kind of a roundabout way. I never believed that I could do it for real, so when I went to college, I studied to become a psychologist.

A lot of the students around me were no smarter than I was, but during the summertime, when I was going home and working in a convenience store, they were going off to the Middle East and doing archeological digs or writing plays and actually getting them staged off-off-Broadway. It kind of dawned on me that I ought to raise the bar a little bit, and the thing that I had always loved doing was drawing and painting.

So I thought, "Okay, I am going to do something with art." I had been doing illustrations for my college newspaper, The Brown Daily Herald, and that quickly became the best part of my week. During my senior year of college, I applied to 140 major metropolitan daily newspapers across the country, and I received rejection letters from every single one.

Many letters said, "We like your ideas, but your drawing is weak," and it made me realize that I had never had formal art training. So I moved to Boston and attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. After two-and-a-half years there, I started getting some of my editorial illustrations published in The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor and I gradually built up a larger client base.

Then, the dream of doing children's books, which had pretty much lain dormant for 15 years, suddenly rose. I thought to myself, "If I'm getting published, why not try to do a children's book?" So I started working on a very bad alphabet book, which was never published.

Then one day, I was standing in a line in a gift store in my neighborhood of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The woman in line ahead of me turned around and said, "Excuse me, did I hear you say that you're an illustrator?" And I said, "Yes, I am." She said, "Have you ever done any children's work?" And I said, "Well, I'm working on a picture book right now." And she said, "I'd really like to see your portfolio. I'm the Art Director at Houghton Mifflin Company in Boston."

It turned out that the Art Director, Susan Sherman and I lived in the same neighborhood. We did a portfolio review a couple of weeks later, and about a month and half after that, she sent me my first manuscript to illustrate. It was Eth Clifford's Flat Foot Fox and the Case of the Missing Eye.

So suddenly, I had gone from being a kid who never believed that he could do something like making books, to somebody who was actually doing it for real.

TEACHINGBOOKS: What was most memorable for you about getting your first job in children's books?

BRIAN LIES: The most exciting thing to me in getting started was the day I walked into my apartment and there was a blinking light on my answering machine. I pushed the button and heard a voice say, "Hi, Brian, this is Susan Sherman from Houghton Mifflin. I've been keeping you in mind, and I think I found a manuscript for you to illustrate." That, to me, was one of those really pivotal moments in life, where you feel as though the Earth has changed its axis under your feet. It was just a wonderful, wonderful moment.

TEACHINGBOOKS: It seems that you illustrated a number of books, and then, suddenly, there was one that just seemed to take off and make a name for you.

BRIAN LIES: I had illustrated seven or eight books by the time I wrote my first one in 1994. Bats at the Beach was the first book that really took off for me, and it was the 19th book that I illustrated.

My daughter was born a year after my first book came out. As a stay-at-home person with a home office and a baby in the house, my ability to write completely vanished. I found that I really needed to have a lot of selfish hen time to be able to write, but I could keep on illustrating. It wasn't until my daughter was in second grade that the idea for Bats at the Beach came, and it was my daughter who actually was the spark.

TEACHINGBOOKS: What was the spark for Bats at the Beach?

BRIAN LIES: We were trying to get her ready for school one morning, and things were not going well. I went upstairs to make sure that she was going to get on the bus in time, and she grabbed my hand, dragged me down the hallway, and pointed at some frost on the guestroom window. There was a bumpy shape of frost, and she pointed at the shape and said, "Look, Daddy, it's a bat with sea foam." If you looked at it with imagination eyes, you could actually make out the shape of sort of a happy bat with its wings stretched wide and playing in the ocean.

We got her on the school bus, which was good, because if I had had to drive her to school I probably never would have written Bats at the Beach. But as I was going back up to my office, I saw the ice pattern again and thought, "That sounds like a story."

TEACHINGBOOKS: A lot of your books have really fun, playful animals in them; they have a whole variety of creatures. They have terrific expressions, and their bodies are so well illustrated.

BRIAN LIES: When I do animal characters, I don't want to just do human bodies with animal heads and paws coming out of the sleeves. To me, one of the really interesting things about drawing animals is that they're all hinged differently. The front and back legs may work very differently from another species of animal, and I like them looking like they could be real.

I do clothe animals sometimes, and my bat characters look a little bit more like mice with wings than bats, but at the same time, there is enough of realistic anatomy in them that have had people tell me that they really like the fact that there is so much science in my Bat books.

TEACHINGBOOKS: Please talk about Bats at the Beach.

BRIAN LIES: When I wrote and illustrated Bats at the Beach, I never planned to do a series. For me, it was very much a freestanding book. I live about five miles from the Atlantic Ocean in Massachusetts, so a lot of what happens in Bats at the Beach is simply what I have done or seen at the beach: toasting marshmallows, flying kites, going bodysurfing. It's really just a batty twist on human activity.

TEACHINGBOOKS: How did you come to write Bats at the Library?

BRIAN LIES: Bats at the Library was sparked by one of my local librarians. Shortly before Bats at the Beach came out, I was at the library. The librarians knew that I had this bat book coming out, and one came up to me and said, "I probably shouldn't tell you this, but we had a bat here in the library once." That instantly clicked with me, and I realized that I had to at least explore the idea of my bats going into a library.

The problem was, when I started writing it, Bats at the Library was really didactic. It was saying, "You should love libraries because you can find all these different things there," and it was leaden and dull.

Then, I had a little bit of an epiphany. I love library buildings, and when I'm traveling to different parts of the country, if I pass an interesting-looking library and I've got time, I will go in and just wander around to feel the character of that particular building. My father had died shortly before Bats at the Beach came out, and I remembered my very favorite library building in the world, which was in the town where he grew up in Riverside, Illinois. I hadn't been to that library in 27 years. I had forgotten a lot of what it was like, but I had a memory of dark wood and beams stretching across the ceiling, stained glass windows, and deep red, leather chairs. I thought, "I've got to go back there. I have to see whether this building is as cool as I remember it. And, if it is, I think that's the key into my story."

Then, I had one of what were several really freaky occurrences. I had not been to the library in 27 years, since my grandmother had died, and as I was walking up to the front steps to the building, a mother and her little girl bounced out of the library door, and the mother had an armload of books. Staring me straight in the face was Bats at the Beach—the very first book that I saw coming out of the library that I'm planning to do this book about. . .was my own book. That was another one of those strange moments for me, when I felt as though somehow I was on the right path.

I went in, and the library was even better than I remembered. Instantly, the library itself almost became one of the characters of the book for me, because it was a place where, as a kid, I had wandered around, taking out strange books that weren't in my library. I actually spent some time sitting at the desks in that library as a kid, trying to do some serious writing. So suddenly, the book was a lot easier to do, and I was able to get rid of all of these "shoulds." In many ways, the book became kind of an homage to my father.

TEACHINGBOOKS: One of the fun things about bats telling a story is it changes the visual perspective. Your normal, top-to-bottom view doesn't work for an animal like that.

BRIAN LIES: Yeah. One of the really fun things about doing the Bat books has been playing around with upside-down and right-side-up, and kind of trying to see whether you can almost get two distinct pictures in the same piece of paper, two different things that you will notice, depending on how you hold the book.

I think that's especially true in Bats at the Ballgame. There are a couple of pages where you have to turn the book upside-down to see the fans who are hanging by their toes. All of a sudden, because of the upside down perspective, the grass on which the bats are actually playing baseball suddenly stops making sense to you, and you focus in on the fans. But then, you turn the book around again, and the fans don't make sense and the ballgame becomes incredibly clear. It's been very interesting to do and a lot of fun to work with.

TEACHINGBOOKS: What artistic media do you use to illustrate your books?

BRIAN LIES: My Bat books are all done with acrylic paints. In high school, I used oil paints, but oil paints aren't terribly good working on a deadline.

I've really found an artistic home in acrylics because they dry quickly and allow me to do lots of layers of paint. I've discovered that the more layers and glazes I put on, the easier it is for me to capture a feeling of real shadow cast by a real object or character, and real brights. For example, I try to make a lamp look like it's really turned on.

I've been rewarded for that effort because I get a lot of kindergartners who will ask me, "Do bats really do that?" I know that my favorite stories when I was growing up were all ones that I sort of knew couldn't really happen, but while I was in the book, it was definitely happening. It's magical to me now that I might be on the other side of that equation, creating something that feels so real to kids when they're looking at it that they have to ask.

TEACHINGBOOKS: Please talk about your process for designing a book.

BRIAN LIES: When I start writing and illustrating a story, it doesn't come to me in just words or just pictures first. Instead, I get a series of images in my head, and I sketch them into a sketchbook. I'll also hear some words and write them down on yellow pads of legal paper. For me, making a book is kind of stitching together all these little bits of images with all these little bits of words.

I find that when I write, I picture things and am prompted to start sketching, and when I'm sketching, I hear the words that go with the sketch that I'm working on. Very often in my sketchbooks, there will be little marginal words to go with the picture that I'm drawing.

I start out with free writing and free drawing, just trying to get as much stuff down on paper as possible. For Bats at the Ballgame, I ended up with six whole legal pads filled with scribbly, bad rhymes.

Then, I start working on a very small dummy for the book, perhaps no more than 2.5" x 4". What I want to do is see what happens when you turn the pages. I ask myself, "Do the images work well together? When you turn the page, does something happen?" You can set up a joke on one page, then turn the page and see the punch line. Or you can build up tension as you turn the pages, depending on what's on them. I find it very helpful to create a small dummy.

Then I'll make a large dummy, with the same little images. I'll just scan them into the computer and blow them up to the finished book size. If I still like the images at that size, then I'll go back and redraw each one of those images, adding details and removing things I don't like, until I think they are ready to go.

In the thumbnail stage, I'll often come up with four, five, or six completely different ways of showing the same image. One reason I like doing that is to try to shake myself out of my first line of thinking. Sometimes the very first thing I think of is the best, but a lot of times, it's when I get uncomfortable with my first drawings that I do better. I look at them, and they almost feel a little bit too easy, or I kind of see them from a boring perspective. I find if I force myself to try three, four, five other ways of showing the same thing, it breaks me out of that initial direction.

TEACHINGBOOKS: Please talk about the origins of Bats at the Ballgame.

BRIAN LIES: While I was working on Bats at the Library, I started hearing this pun rattling around in my head, "Baseball bats, baseball bats, baseball bats." Even though I didn't grow up a baseball fan, I was really intrigued by the idea of taking a look at how my bats would watch and play baseball. I liked the idea that in one picture you could show three different meanings of the word "bat" just by having a bat, at bat, with a bat held in its wings.

So, I sat down and started working on Bats at the Ballgame. That book took probably more research than any other book I'd ever done, because I had to learn about how the game was played.

TEACHINGBOOKS: What kept you from knowing the game of baseball until now?

BRIAN LIES: I had a miserable baseball experience in fourth grade. I had never played baseball before, and I had just gotten glasses. Anybody who wears glasses may remember when you first get them, when you turn your head, the world swims a little bit. As a new glasses-wearing baseball player at home plate, the little, hard ball that was being thrown looked as though it was taking a weird swoop straight at my head. Over the course of the entire baseball season, I ended up with a zero batting average.

I had to do a lot of research for Bats at the Ballgame so I wouldn't make any mistakes, because rabid baseball fans know absolutely everything about the game, and they will write you letters if you put the toes of a bat in the wrong position. I had the book vetted by several friends and they found mistakes that I was glad to correct.

TEACHINGBOOKS: It seems like research is very important to you.

BRIAN LIES: Research is really important to me, even with a fiction book. I want experts at whatever the subject is to be able to look at it and not have the fabric of the fantasy ripped by a factual error.

I tend to be very detail-oriented in my illustrations, but I am also a very detail- oriented movie watcher. It really upsets me when I notice a continuity error in a movie or something that really couldn't have happened, like in the great movie, A Christmas Story. The mom's haircut is not 1930s. It's a 1970s haircut, and that really bugs me. The problem with errors like that is that they destroy the truth of the story, or at least the potential truth.

TEACHINGBOOKS: Your Bat books have unique rhyming schemes.

BRIAN LIES: With each of the three Bat books, I've tried to change the rhyme a little bit. I didn't want to be doing sort of a plug-and-play way of writing. To me, that seems lazy.

So I tried to create a little bit of a different rhythm, and a different chorus structure. In the books, there is a chorus where the meter changes for a couplet. I never actually meant the Bat books to be rhyming books in the first place, but the very first lines that I wrote for Bats at the Beach were, "Quick, call out to all you can reach/the moon is just perfect for bats at the beach." I had thought it was going to be a non-rhyming book, but the more I worked on it, the more my words started marching in a kind of a rhythm. My goal was to make sure it wasn't really bad rhyme. I didn't want to add to the canon of bad children's rhymes.

TEACHINGBOOKS: What do you do to keep your rhyming fresh?

BRIAN LIES: I think a lot of people who work on rhyming books are so focused on that last word that they end up kind of hitting people over the head with the rhymes, and it becomes a very heavy-handed kind of a thing. I try to pull the reader's ear away from the last word in the sentence.

I love language, I love words, and, in these books, what I try to do is create what I call "chewy" language. In other words, if you're reading it out loud and you're being lazy about it, you're going to have a hard time. I want you to almost be able to chew on the words as you're reading them—make your mouth work a little bit.

For me, that's been one of the big challenges and one of the great joys, because I discover these little ways of sort of dragging the ear away from that last word by using alliteration or assonance or something like that deep in the heart of that sentence, and I can kind of slip the rhyme past people without beating them with it.

TEACHINGBOOKS: Please talk about illustrating More. It looks like it's got a really fun theme about when enough is enough. It also looks like the paper you used was very textured.

BRIAN LIES: More, written by I.C. Springman, was a very interesting book to work on. The illustrations for it were actually seventeen years in the making. Back in 1995, I filled a sketchbook with a whole series of drawings of a bird with a hoarding problem. In those sketches, the bird ends up having to build more and more nests in a tree to hold its collection.

The problem with the story, as I had written it, was that it was a very heavy- handed message. Because I couldn't get the words right, I left all these sketches in my sketchbook; I always wanted to go back to the story because I wanted to do those pictures.

Then, two summers ago, my editor e-mailed me, saying, "I know you said you didn't want to illustrate anybody else's stuff anymore, but this wonderful manuscript came out of our slush pile, and I think that you could have a lot of fun with it."

At first, my heart fell a little bit, because I felt as though somebody had beaten me to the story that I had always wanted to tell. But once I read the manuscript, I realized that the spare quality of I.C. Springman's text was better than anything I'd written for the story. It consists of a series of quantitative words: nothing, something, a few, more, and more, and more. The sparseness of the text is a clever way of sneaking the message by you, because it never says "the bird went out and got more and more things, and pretty soon, he had way too many, and that's bad." That's a preachy book, which is why I had been unsuccessful with it in the first place.

I realized it was a great opportunity to use the author's words and dovetail that spare text with the pictures I had planned for so long.

TEACHINGBOOKS: Please talk about the art treatment in More.

BRIAN LIES: I put the bird all by himself with no background and no shadow or anything on sort of an invisible surface, and I realized that if I painted him on white paper it would look too stark. Then it dawned on me that I could actually use handmade papers with little inclusions of leaves and other organic debris in them.

I worked out a kind of a crescendo and then a decrescendo of the color and the texture of the paper. The imagery and the paper starts out very simple at the beginning, but as the magpie in the book collects more and more stuff, the paper itself starts to get darker and has more and more stuff included within its actual surface until the peak of the book, where the paper that I used almost looks like a blown-apart nest. The paper really became one of several visual story arcs within the illustrations.

TEACHINGBOOKS: Do you have any other kinds of books in the works?

BRIAN LIES: I recently completed illustrations for a wonderfully-written middle grade novel called Malcolm at Midnight by W. H. Beck. It's about a group of classroom pets at McKenna Middle School who get out of their cages at night and keep the school running smoothly.

Malcolm is a rat who's mistaken for a mouse because he's very small. The poor rat gets beaten up, thrown through windows, and flushed down toilets. There's a mysterious being up on the fourth floor of the school, and there's intrigue. It has a very classical kind of a storytelling feel and just wonderful characters.

For the illustrations, I broke away from the acrylics and painted with powdered graphite, which feels, in many ways, like a strange cross between drawing and painting. I had tremendous fun because these characters are just so compelling. I think it would almost be impossible not to have fun with them.

TEACHINGBOOKS: What kind of art did you create before you became a children's book illustrator?

BRIAN LIES: I started off my career as an editorial illustrator, so I spent a number of years doing illustrations for magazines and newspapers. I've also done quite a few illustrations for the Cricket Group magazines: Cricket, Ladybug, Babybug, and Spider. Outside of that, I also do a little bit of fine art painting, but I'm so busy with the book illustrations and writing now that I find very little time to get out my oil paints and paint again.

Oil painting is something that I plan to do a little bit more of in the future, because it's something that doesn't have a deadline and does not have to be reproduced, so I don't have to worry about keeping a character or an object looking the same in 20 different illustrations. Oil painting is a great relaxation; a pressure release. There are no expectations—it's not my job, and it's not likely to ever be my job, and it's very important to have hobbies.

TEACHINGBOOKS: What do you do when you get stuck?

BRIAN LIES: When I get stuck, most of the time what I do is keep going. If I'm getting really trapped on something and it's not working, my assumption is that I'm just not thinking about it the right way.

There are times when I'm working on a story and I don't know what a character wants to do next, and I will write a note or a letter in the voice of that character, basically berating myself. I'll say, "How is it that you can't understand what I'm going to do next? Look at me. I don't have thumbs. How do you think I'm going to handle this situation? I've got to use my teeth." Then, suddenly, I break in and say, "Well, wait a second. Of course! This character is going to be using its teeth." Then I'm able to find my way forward.

There are occasional times where I get blocked because I've been facing something too long, and I find that simply going to sleep and picking it up the next day can help. Sometimes doing a mind-clearing exercise, like a 20-mile bike ride or going out and pulling weeds in the vegetable garden will help. I have a lot of different tricks for breaking myself out of a funk.

TEACHINGBOOKS: What's a typical workday like for you?

BRIAN LIES: One of the great things about my job is that I don't ever actually have a typical workday. When I'm working on a book, I go through phases where I'm focusing on words. I go through phases where I'm working on pictures. And then, I have phases or days when I'm not in my studio at all, but traveling somewhere and working with students in schools. I very much like the fact that it's not like factory work and that what I do on a day-to-day basis changes.

But when I'm working on a deadline, my workday is at its most routine. Depending on how close I am to the deadline, I'll wake up between 5:00—6:30, go straight into my office, sit down at the drawing table, and start working.

I'll take a break for breakfast then paint straight through until lunch, take a short lunch break, and go back to the drawing table until my daughter gets off the school bus. I'll talk to her for a little while and if I need to drive her somewhere, I'll do that, get back to the drawing table, work until dinnertime, and stop and either make or eat dinner. After that it's back to the drawing table, to work until 10:00 or 11:00 at night.

On really bad deadlines, I may end up with 17-hour workdays. And typically, on book deadlines, I am working seven days a week. Sometimes, those seven days a week run to four months of seven days a week. That can be pretty tiring and pretty grueling.

But it can also be good, because I get so completely immersed in the world of the characters that I'm drawing or painting that a lot of decisions become almost automatic. I know the characters because I've been with them for so long that I really don't need to stop and consider.

TEACHINGBOOKS: What do you like to tell students?

BRIAN LIES: When I'm working with students in schools, the thing that I really like to focus on is the idea that practice makes better, rather than practice makes perfect. I was a kid who did not show any kind of obvious talent for writing or drawing, beyond a strong interest in doing it. I was also one of those kids who believed that you had to be born talented to be successful at something as a grown-up.

I like to show kids one of my early drawings—something that I did when I was in second grade—so that they can laugh at it and realize that I was not born doing the kind of drawing that I do now. I think it's very important for kids to hear that you do not have to have been born brilliant; that it's about what you are putting into it that really makes it yours and makes it better.

TEACHINGBOOKS: You started out determined to become a children's book creator, despite your many rejection letters, and it paid off.

BRIAN LIES: For me, making stories is about determination and trying to focus on craft. My career really echoes what I tell kids in schools: that practice makes better. After years of practice, I've finally gotten to a place where I'm starting to do the kinds of stories that I think I would have liked when I was a kid.

If I had been really timid about trying, I probably never would have succeeded. I think it probably helped that I had that typical college-age arrogance to believe that you can kind of waltz out and do something. At some point, I smartened up and realized that it was going to take a lot of effort.

TEACHINGBOOKS: How do you say your name?

BRIAN LIES: My name is spelled like lies, but rhymes with cheese. My great-great-grandfather came over from Luxembourg and brought the name with him.


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