Cyndi Marko puts the POW in Kung Pow Chicken — The book series, not the food (maybe also the food). She is a writer and illustrator. She started off her career hoping to sell picture books. Things don’t always happen the way we plan, but Cyndi did end up selling books. Just not the picture books she had planned.
Cyndi has now created a wonderful collection of superhero chicken books called Kung Pow Chicken. This was my son’s first chapter book. I read them to him when he was in kindergarten. It’s still on the top of my list for fun chapter book series! Cyndi’s new book Kung Pow Chicken: Jurassic Peck comes out in September. The Kung Pow Chicken Collection can be now bought as a 4 in 1 book!
Check out Cyndi’s Website here: https://www.cyndimarko.com/
Dani: Besides writing and illustration, What is your superpower?
Cyndi: Well, I’m actually pretty put out that I can’t fly or shoot lasers from my eyeballs, but I am a fairly decent cook. I love to put on loud music and just lose myself in the kitchen, and I always sing while I cook.
Cooking is a creative outlet for me separate from book work stuff. I’m particularly good at creating dishes from whatever’s on hand when there’s almost no food left in the house because I haven’t gone grocery shopping (which I hate doing), and I’m also good at recreating dishes I’ve had at restaurants. I hardly ever use recipes (except for when baking because science) and prefer to just go by instinct as I’m cooking. (Pro tip: there’s no such thing as too much garlic!)
I love to bake as well, and have been making sourdough from my own starter for about a year now. I think I most enjoy making soups (I save bones and make my own stock) and baking fancy cookies at Christmas time. I think this love of cooking comes through in my books because I almost always find a way to incorporate food into my stories. There are candy corn cupcakes in KUNG POW CHICKEN and stale jelly donuts in THIS LITTLE PIGGY.
Dani: How has your process changed since you first started creating books?
Cyndi: I’m much faster now, for one thing. It used to take me months to make a sketch dummy for a picture book, and writing was like pulling teeth. But now I can sketch a dummy for a picture book in about a week, and a book like KUNG POW CHICKEN in about two weeks.
The biggest difference is scale, I think. I used to sketch at full size and it led me to be a perfectionist. Over the years my sketches got progressively smaller. Now I sketch at thumbnail size and then enlarge when I scan. I can then edit the composition in PhotoShop, and print off and trace using my lightbox when I go to final art.
As for writing, I’m much more likely to start with a loose outline before jumping into a first draft, which has totally helped my productivity. Also, I found a writing partner who writes and illustrates the same types of books as I do and getting feedback from a peer has been invaluable. (Hi, Troy!)
Dani What’s it like writing your 5th book in a series? Is it hard keeping a series fresh so far into the series?
Cyndi: It had been about five years since KUNG POW CHICKEN 4, so it was interesting to jump back in with book 5 (JURASSIC PECK). I had to reread the previous books to make sure I got all the details right. It surprised me how little I remembered writing the words or painting the art!
But I had SO much fun working on book 5. We had more time in the schedule for each step of the book, and I found I was faster and more experienced. KPC 5 also has dinosaurs, and I have always wanted to do a book with dinosaurs so I was pretty much geeking out the entire time. I really love the end result and I hope we get to do many more KPC books. I don’t think I’ll ever run out of adventures for those plucky little chickens!
Dani: What is your favorite way to relax?
Cyndi: Reading a book while having a glass of wine and eating Sour Patch Kids (pairs nicely with merlot) or spending time with friends. During social distancing I’ve found ways to spend time with friends online: playing tabletop games on Roll20 or watching a series or movie at the same time and chatting about it over messenger.
Dani What are you working on now?
Cyndi: So many things!
First there’s SLOTH SLEUTH, a graphic novel series about a sloth named Paz who solves mysteries on the fantastical island of Winklefuss. The first two books will come out in 2021 and 2022, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I’ve also got BOO! HISS! (Aladdin, 2021), about a ghost and a snake who are roommates in a haunted (by them) house.
I also have a couple dozen (I’m not kidding) WIPs—works in progress for the layperson—on the go. I’m working on picture books, chapter books, graphic novels, middle grade novels, and maybe a humorous coffee table book for grown-ups. I am sometimes overwhelmed by so many ideas that I am dying to work on that I end up working on none of them and just drink too much coffee and share too many memes. But I am determined to prioritize!
Buy the Kung Pow Chicken Collection: https://shop.scholastic.com/parent-ecommerce/books/kung-pow-chicken-collection-books-1-4-9781338599213.html
Preorder Kung Pow Chicken 5: https://www.amazon.com/Jurassic-Peck-Branches-Book-Chicken/dp/1338596640/
Indiebound links to all of Cyndi’s Books: https://www.cyndimarko.com/my-books