From concept, to sketches, to an iPad, to the iTunes Bookstore, author Kris Mastracchio provides some wonderful insight into how he went about creating his multimedia ebooks from scratch.
A few years ago, I was working an overnight job. As time went on and I became more accustomed to being awake at night, I would find it impossible to sleep on my nights off. I had become nocturnal. Working by myself and being asleep during the day, when others were awake, I also became very solitary.
On my nights off, I would quietly sit outside alone. I would look around in the dark and listen to the subtle sounds of the night. I would stare at the stars, the trees, and the wooden fence that surrounded me on three sides.
Sometimes hours would go by. But, often when I realised how long I had been sitting there, an opossum would walk through the yard. I started seeing him every night. And, since he always visited while I was quietly pondering life, I named him Ponder.
Ponder became very comfortable around me and would sometimes brush against my leg or sit near my chair. Like me, he was a solitary nocturnal creature wandering in the night. While Ponder wandered around the yard, I wandered around in my thoughts. It was nice to have him there and I began to look forward to seeing him.
Eventually, I began a new job, working during the day instead of the night. No longer nocturnal, I saw Ponder less and less. I have since moved away, but I periodically think about Ponder and imagine him still wandering around in the night.
I wanted to tell the story with the idea of showing children how much fun it can be to experience new things. So, rather than children reading a story about Ponder, they would be traveling along side of him while exploring his night-time world.
I began by putting myself in the role of Ponder and imagining some of the other nocturnal creatures and objects I would come across while exploring. I researched nocturnal animals and made a list. I then started writing five-line poetry stanzas for each item on my list.
Removing some of the stanzas entirely and revamping and combining others brought the story together.
I started with some simple pencil sketches of Ponder. I wanted him to look like an actual opossum , but with a cuter and more illustrated look. I didn’t want to make it look too realistic or, at the same time, too much like a cartoon.
For the backgrounds, I took photos of the actual yard in which I saw Ponder. I took photos of the trees and the fence, the environment in which Ponder lived, and worked from there. Pencil sketches of the backgrounds were next, which I then went over with a thick black marker. I then scanned my drawings to the computer where I added simple color fills. I completed many versions before I decided on the best ones to use for the book.
I uploaded my initial images to ArtStudio, an incredible app, on my iPad and began the digital painting of the backgrounds and characters. Using different layers, and airbrushed shadows and highlights, I was able to achieve a very striking visual style.
I then designed a simple transparent layer that looked like curved pages when a book was opened which was added to each page and wrote the text on top for a more illustrated look rather than using a set font.
When I first conceived the book, I didn’t imagine writing music for it. After all, physical books don’t typically have music. It wasn’t until I found Book Creator that I realised I could easily add another dimension to the story with music and sound effects.
I wanted the music to properly portray Ponder’s natural habitat, but also with the feeling of night and the intrigue of his exploration. With my 24-track recorder, I started with some simple organic percussion sounds like snapping my fingers, and clacking drumsticks together. Then, to add some tribal flavour, I recorded the didgeridoo. Next, I added baritone ukulele for the choppy rhythm, some muted plucking on the bass guitar, and a vibraphone keyboard sound. All of this was then topped with some improvised solo acoustic guitar.
I am very happy with the music as I feel it perfectly draws the reader into Ponder’s world. Without it, the story wouldn’t feel as alive.
I then decided to add sound effects that children can touch to add an interactive aspect for the reader. I used many household objects for the sounds, such as whistles, squeak toys, and rattles. For Ponder’s voice, I recorded my own voice and changed the pitch to have a higher and squeakier sound. I then recorded the narration for each page separately.
Thanks to Book Creator, the music, sound effects, and narration are what transform this simple picture book into a highly interactive and accessible world that the reader can dive into.
The finished ebook
Four years after writing the initial Ponder the Possum story, I was finally able to make the first book available to the public.
I am very thankful that I found the Book Creator app. Without money to market my books and the initial cost of physical book printing, they would otherwise have remained unavailable to the public. Now, this app has provided the means for me to publish my books on a digital device with many extra features.
What’s more, since Book Creator allows me to copy a pre-existing book, it was amazingly easy to create more!
For the next books, I simply copied the first book and, using the same formula, replaced the images, sounds, and text with new ones. I now have 3 books on Apple iBooks and others in the works to be released in the near future.
I created a website for Ponder (www.PonderThePossum.com) where I share links to the books, as well as artwork and music from the books that can be viewed for free and a guestbook for visitors to share their comments.
I also created for Ponder his very own Facebook page where I share interesting photos as if they were taken by Ponder.
Ponder has taken on a life of his own and, in my house, he is spoken of as a member of the family. I am honoured to share his story.
Kris Mastracchio is a musician, artist, and independent game designer. Between playing with various bands and musicians, he recorded two solo instrumental albums, and composed music for video games.