Happy Monday, Everyone, and welcome to another fun-filled week!
Seeing as I’m here, I’m sure you’ve all surmised that I survived the Young Writers’ Workshop yesterday. Just goes to show that apparently you CAN teach an old dog new tricks 🙂 The first graders and I had a pretty good time learning how to make up characters… including a giant flying egg salad sandwich who goes by the name of Bob 🙂
Today I have a treat for you!
An interview with Mike Allegra himself!
And a giveaway of his fantastic book, SARAH GIVES THANKS! (Which, if you’re not familiar with, you can read a great PPBF review from Stacy Jensen HERE!)
You thought I meant a treat treat? Okay fine. How ’bout waffles in honor of Mike, who has a fabulous feature called Waffles With Writers! Let’s pick something healthful and nutritious to start our week off right….
A little chocolate ice cream never did a waffle any harm 🙂 YUM!
And speaking of waffles (probably with our mouths full of them) that is a perfect segue into our interview with Mike, who kindly answered all my questions except the ones that would have landed him in Witness Protection.
SH: Thanks so much for joining us this morning, Mike! Let’s start with what I would really have to call the most crucial question on today’s agenda: What is your favorite way to eat waffles?
MA: That is a crucial question, Susanna. I thank you for asking it.
My answer is: It depends. If the waffles are frozen, I like to use them as the bread for a toasty peanut butter and raspberry jelly sandwich. This turns out to be an excellent breakfast on days when I’m too sleepy to operate anything more complicated than a toaster. (Such a meal isn’t complete, by the way, unless it is accompanied by two ginormous mugfuls of Sumatra coffee.)
If I have more time on my hands to make the batter and pull out the waffle iron, my tastes change. All I need is a little pat of butter and some pure maple syrup and I’m good to go. It’s Heaven on a plate.
SH: What was the inspiration for your book, SARAH GIVES THANKS?
MA: I didn’t get inspired until later in the process. In the beginning, I was leaping at an opportunity. Over the years I had managed to cultivate a chatty relationship with an editor at Albert Whitman and Company. The editor had yet to give me a contract, but she liked my writing enough to give me the occasional lead. So one day she called me up and said, “We’re on the lookout for a Thanksgiving story. Do you have a Thanksgiving story?”
“Yes, I do!” I announced, eager to get my foot in the door. “Give me a couple of weeks to revise it and I’ll send it to you!”
Well, that was a little fib. I didn’t have a Thanksgiving story. So I had to come up with something fast to turn my little lie into a belated truth.
That was when I stumbled upon the story about how Sarah Hale led a 36-year grassroots effort to turn Thanksgiving into a national holiday. I immediately fell in love with Sarah’s story and researched as much as I could in the couple of weeks I had allotted for myself. I banged out a manuscript and sent it off. The draft wasn’t great, but it was good enough to make my earlier lie seem sort of plausible.
Thank goodness the editor liked it enough to ask for a rewrite. I was delighted; I now had time to conduct proper research!
SH: A nonfiction picture book such as this one must have required quite a lot of research. Can you describe your research process bearing in mind that some of us attended college in the last millennium and are extremely rusty and/or never learned proper research techniques?
MA: I did do a lot of research on Sarah. The first thing I did was buy books about her, including an excellent (out of print) book from the 1930s titled The Lady of Godey’s by Ruth Finely. The bulk of my research, however, was done at The Library Company, an archive in Philadelphia that had an incredible collection of Sarah’s writings. I found tons of information there that ended up in my story – information that no other author had used before.
The more I learned about Sarah, the more geeked out I became. Sarah Hale is one impressive person. Not only did she lead the campaign to turn Thanksgiving into a national holiday, but she also was the first female magazine editor in America. She was one of the first female novelists in America – and the veryfirst to condemn slavery in a novel. (Take that, Harriet Beecher Stowe!) She was a tireless advocate for women’s education. She led huge fundraising drives to turn Bunker Hill and Mount Vernon into national landmarks. She even wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb!” And she was influential – sort of the Oprah of her day. When she said something, America listened.
What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow? Do you have research or topic selection tips for nonfiction PB writers just getting started?
MA: Use the internet, but never trust it. If you look something up on Wikipedia, for example, be sure focus your efforts on the article’s sources. Then find those sources and read them yourself. Always check your facts. Then double check them. I discovered errors in just about Sarah Hale book out there – which, I must admit, made me feel rather smug and superior.
As for your first question, it depends on whether it is an African or European swallow.
SH: Was SARAH accepted by the first house you sent her to? Tell us about your path to publication…
MA: SARAH was accepted by Albert Whitman, which was the first and only house I sent it to. But the path to publication didn’t seem all that certain. After I submitted my revised draft, the publishing house didn’t communicate with me for a number of months. Things move slowly in publishing – but this felt too slow. I sensed there was a problem.
Eventually I contacted my editor who, rather candidly explained that Albert Whitman was having reservations about publishing SARAH GIVE THANKS. The editors had just discovered that Laurie Halse Anderson had already written a picture book about Sarah Hale titled THANK YOU, SARAH! The book was 10 years old, but it was still in print and still selling rather well. Albert Whitman seemed reluctant to go head-to-head with a more established author and a bigger publishing house. Even though the Albert Whitman editors had not read THANK YOU, SARAH!, they feared my book was too similar to Anderson’s to get a toehold in the marketplace.
Well, I can’t remember the last time I felt so frustrated. I worked so hard on this story. I wanted it to happen soooo badly.
So I went out and bought Anderson’s book; read it about a million times; made notes; and sent out a long, impassioned email to my editor detailing the many, many ways in which the two books were different. (And they were very different.) I then announced that Sarah Hale was awesome enough to deservetwo books (the presumptuous subtext being that Sarah Hale was awesome enough to deserve my book).
I was professional and respectful, but I let it all hang out there. This was my desperate, Sarah Hail Mary Pass.
Long story short, my editor seemed impressed by the email and took my talking points into the next AW&Co. editorial meeting. Shortly thereafter, they gave me a contract.
I then danced a jig.
SH: In an attempt to encourage your 3 yr. old son to read, you wrote him notes sealed in envelopes with his name and address and a hand drawn stamp. Phyllis believes (strongly!) that she is stamp-worthy and this interview will not be allowed to continue until she gets one. (She is very stubborn, so please humor her!)
MA: Well, we can’t have that! Whatever Phyllis wants Phyllis gets.
|Isn’t this awesome???!!! I have had it in my hot little hands for weeks
and have just been dying to show it off! And now finally I can 🙂
Don’t you love it? Admit you love it! Mike is such a talented artist!
SH: Are you agented? (Why or why not?)
MA: I am not agented. The reason is because I haven’t yet found an agent interested in representing me. But I will keep plugging away. Such is the writer’s life, eh?
SH: What kinds of things have you done for marketing/publicity? Which have worked well for you? Which would you recommend the rest of us not attempt ever if we wish to retain our financial viability and/or sanity and/or self-respect?
MA: When SARAH GIVES THANKS came out last year, I agreed to do anything and everything anyone asked of me. Some things worked a lot better than others.
The bookstore and library appearances were sparsely attended. I didn’t mind that much because I like hanging with bookstore managers and librarians, but those appearances didn’t do much for sales.
I prefer school appearances. I love to feed off of that marvelous gerbil-in-an-exercise-wheel energy that only a classroom full of kids can provide. And, if the event is put together by the PTO, the school will often pre-sell my book and pay me for my time. So it’s a win-win.
But I really attribute my book’s brisk sales to blog interviews. They got the word out in a big, big way. In other words, I’m very, very grateful for this opportunity, Susanna.
(Aw shucks, Mike, you’re very, very welcome!)
SH: You are the founder of H.A.C.K.S. (Humans Against Celebrity Kid Stories!) Can you tell us a little about what led you to create this important organization and what you hope to accomplish with it?
MA: I thank you for posing this important question. (You are just full of important questions today!)
The world needs HACKS, Susanna, because most celebrity-written books are across-the-board poopy. There are exceptions, of course; Jamie Lee Curtis, for one, keeps me from speaking in absolutes. In most other cases, however, poopy works just fine.
Unfortunately, unoriginal, didactic, awkwardly-rhymed nonsense sells very, very well once you put a celebrity’s name on the cover. A lot of book buyers see this name and think, “Ooh! I like this person!” And in the basket it goes.
This buying reflex creates a couple of problems, I think. First, it exposes kids to lousy, unimaginative writing. That, in my view, should be a crime—or at least a misdemeanor.
Second, bad writing by celebrity non-writers encourages non-celebrity non-writers to announce, “Hey, I can do that, too! I’m gonna write a book just like my favorite children’s book author, Madonna!” And so bad writing begets more bad writing.
My little movement is a way to say to the world, “Hey, let’s make this publishing thing a meritocracy. Let’s promote the good stuff written by unknowns. Let the kids out there see what a really good story looks like.”
I also created HACKS because I thought it would be good for a few laughs. So far so good!
SH: Can you tell us anything about your current WIPs? What’s next for Mike Allegra?
MA: I’m writing a YA book about zombies, which is about as far away from SARAH GIVES THANKS as one can possibly go. I have no idea if I’ll be able to sell such a book anywhere – the whole zombie thing has just about played itself out – but I’m having fun. And, as The Cat in the Hat once said, “It’s fun to have fun.”
And when I’m not writing, I’m sending out PB manuscripts with my fingers crossed.
And a few for fun:
Plotter or pantser?
Both. A blogger – whose name I unfortunately forget – coined the term “planster.” That about sums it up for me.
Laptop or desktop?
Mac or PC?
Day or night worker?
I prefer afternoons, but whenever I can carve out time, I’ll write.
Coffee or tea?
Coffee – but not while I’m writing. When I write I stick to water.
I’ve tried drinking hard cider while writing and the results were interesting. Not good, but interesting.
Snack or not?
Not. I can’t write with a snack nearby. It’s too distracting.
Salty or sweet?
Sweet. Donuts, white chocolate, and ice cream are preferred.
Quiet or music?
Cat or dog?
Travels with Charley. And, once again, I am reminded why Steinbeck is my favorite author.
Golly, that was fun! Isn’t Mike fun? I hope you all enjoyed that as much as I did! Thank you so much, Mike, for joining us here today!
If y’all have any questions for Mike, I’m pretty sure he can be prevailed upon to answer them in the comments so fire away! 🙂
Those of you who don’t already know Mike can find him on the web in the following places:
And now, as promised, we have a copy of SARAH GIVES THANKS to give away! All you have to do is leave us a comment by Wednesday or so and we will randomly select a winner. What we’d really like to hear is your most entertaining Thanksgiving story. But if that’s too much work on a Monday morning, you can just tell us something you’re thankful for.
I will get the ball rolling by saying that when I was 6 we got 14 inches of snow on Thanksgiving which was pretty much fun. Some kids might have built a snowman, or made snow angels. But not us. What better way to enjoy the gift of snow, we said to each other, than to go tobogganing down our very steep driveway? It might have been okay but for a small error in judgment… We forgot to account for the sharp curve… Alas, our combined weight wasn’t enough to turn the toboggan so we shot off the driveway, over a stone wall, through a dormant (but still prickly) blackberry bush and straight into a very sturdy oak tree. There was only a little blood (all of it mine) and no trips to the Emergency Room were required so it was all good. But we were not fast learners, so after dinner we tried it again… 🙂 As for what I’m thankful for, I’m thankful that all of you come to visit and read and comment and put up with my ridiculous stories about crashing toboggans and my addiction to chocolate 🙂
Have a marvelous Monday, everyone! 🙂