With the illustrated stories of The Werewolf at Dusk (Liveright, Mar.), Small examines what he calls “the vestibule of old age.”

How did you pick pieces for the collection, especially the adaptations from prose like the title story?

I like the concision of short stories. I did have a theme in mind. I was going to call it The Beast Within, which my editor didn’t like, though it did end up being the title of my introduction essay. I wanted to include a story by the surrealist artist Leanora Carrington called “The Debutante.” It’s about a sheltered rich girl with no friends except for this hyena whom she’s teaching to speak French. I thought I had permission from the Carrington estate, and I illustrated the whole thing, and then the estate—which consisted of two estranged brothers—one of them said no. So, I lost that story, and I thought that was the end of my book. But during that difficult month, I spent part of my time scrolling the internet, until one day I stumbled onto Lincoln Michel’s “The Werewolf at Dusk.”

In the introduction, you write the stories are linked by a “dread of things internal.” But “The Tiger in Vogue,” which references Hitler, hints at external threats as well. How do you see the intersection of personal psychology and sociopolitical disaster?

The first two pieces in the book are individual stories, and the last one is about a soul sickness in society. That’s the link. We’re living through it again—I can’t even watch the news before I go to bed. The divisions in our country. The possibility of that man becoming our next president.

The psychiatrist in “A Walk in the Old City” is feeling burned out and cynical. How do you stay engaged as an artist?

I guess this book is my response to that question. Having an adult audience is encouraging to me, because I haven’t continued very strongly with children’s books lately. Neither am I getting any offers. My work is different from most—I started my career with examples like Roald Dahl and Tomi Ungerer. I doubt even Maurice Sendak could get published today.

Children’s publishing has changed radically. I don’t know who’s buying the “I Love You, Grandma”–type books coming out today, the self-help books for children. Children are acquainted with the dark. They learn to deal with it by creating metaphors. That’s what a good story does.

How is your process different when you’re writing a story vs. adapting or illustrating one?

It’s easier in some ways, because I get to write about what I’d like to draw pictures of. That was the basis for “A Walk in the Old City,” which was based on a dream. When it was revealed that the old man living with the spiders was blind, I thought, “That says something about old age that I think is true.” It takes a certain amount of denial to get through it with grace.