Thursday, December 17, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Carolyn Crimi

Learn about Carolyn Crimi, and visit her team blog, Three Silly Chicks.

Carolyn's latest book is Henry and the Crazed Chicken Pirates, illustrated by John Manders (Candlewick, 2009).

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

One of the joys of being a writer is being able to write wherever you want. Most days I write while sitting on the big red sofa in my living room.

In fact, I’m writing this from that very spot. I usually have my pug Emerson snoring by my side. I like to put fresh flowers on the coffee table. Sometimes I play a jazz CD—Miles Davis works for me. I always have a huge a pot of coffee brewing.

This is bliss. Absolute bliss. Coffee + dog + jazz + flowers = one happy writer.

Sometimes, though, I feel the need to shake things up, so I might bring my laptop to the café near my house. I live in a college town, so this particular cafe is frequented by over-caffeinated students writing furiously on their laptops. You don't go to this café to chat with friends.

Heaven forbid! I think they might even kick people out for that. If I'm between projects, I bring a book of writing exercises and try some of the jump-start ideas.

The smell of coffee brewing and the sight of these stressed out students makes for a great working atmosphere.

In the summer, I enjoy writing on my screened-in porch. I can see my garden and listen to the birds while I write.

Are you jealous of me right now?

Because if I didn’t know me better I’d be jealous of me right now.

I have also had great luck writing in airports. I happen to love airports. Such hustle! Such bustle! More importantly, there’s not a whole lot to do in airports except eat bad tortilla wraps and stand in line for the bathroom. So I flip open a notebook and get to work.

I have yet to drive to the airport just to work on a story, but perhaps some day I'll try that.

It's important to me that my writing space feels comfortable and inviting. I know some writers believe in writing spaces with no view—like a basement or a closet—but I'd feel like I was being punished if I tried to write in such an atmosphere.

I want my writing space to whisper, "Look, Carolyn! See how comfy this sofa is? Don't you just want to plunk yourself down and write here? Come on, it's eeeasy…"


As for time, well, anytime after 10 a.m. is okay with me. Early morning hours are for birds and paperboys.

What do you love most about being an author? Why?

You mean besides the boatloads of money? The Maserati, the yacht, and the manicurist on call? Hmm. I guess I would have to say that school visits are the cherry on my author sundae.

Yes, of course, I love the act of writing—the buzz and the hum of crafting the perfect metaphor or line of dialogue. That’s a high that I can’t get anywhere else.

But there is nothing like a fabulous school visit. When a school visit goes really well—and they usually do—I am apt to feel sorry for anyone who isn't me that day.

On those perfect days I find myself looking out into the audience and thinking, they’re paying me for this? I love making kids laugh. It’s addictive.

I love it the way I love chocolate and Bruce Springsteen.

During the first part of my visit I put on a silly "story-hunting hat" that always gets a laugh.

Then, a little later, I show my dog wearing his story-hunting hats. That's when I begin to worry that these poor children might have some sort of group seizure. They laugh so hard that I think, oh, my, is this even healthy? Can one actually die of laughter?

But then I think, what a great way to go!

So far I have not lost a student, but it's been close.

(I have considered doing a school visit that just features pictures of my dog in various hats. I'm not sure I can sell principals on this idea, though. Perhaps if I can somehow tie it in to the Six Traits of Writing? Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated.)

Now, if it were just about making kids laugh, I'd stop doing school visits and start hiring myself out as a clown. I'd probably make more money, and hey, I already own the silly hat. The laughter is great, but I also like to think that, in some small way, I'm making a difference in these kids' lives.

During that 45-minute session, I am showing them that books and writing are fun. That coming up with new story ideas is a laugh riot. That writing can be hard, but it's also worth the effort. That real people—not bleached, tanned, skinny supermodels—write books that they enjoy.

And then there’s that one student who approaches me after everyone else has gone back to the classroom. That one student who wants to be an author. We talk about writing and books for a while. I like to think these kids go home that day believing that they might grow up to be authors, too.

Here’s the thing--there’s always that one student. Even if there’s a fire drill in the middle of my session and there are five subs talking in the back of the room and the mic stops working and the building loses electricity, I can still count on making a difference with that one student.

That’s enough for me. It fills me up with all kinds of gooey goodness. Kinda like chocolate and Bruce Springsteen, only better.

In your own words, could you tell us about your latest book?

I was on a panel recently, and the moderator asked us which book was the most difficult to write. I held up my latest book, Henry and The Crazed Chicken Pirates. I went on and on about the difficulties with this book and how I almost gave up.

The audience was not impressed. I could see it in their faces. I know exactly what they were thinking.

How hard can it be?

For crying out loud, it’s just a picture book!

Maybe she’s a little…dimwitted.

Yeah, well.

Henry and the Crazed Chicken Pirates is a sequel. I have not read anything about writing the picture book sequel, and really, there should be a book on it. Or at least an article. Something.

If you are writing a sequel to a longer book--say, a middle grade novel--you have at least a page or two to catch the reader up with what went on in the first book. Actually, I’m sure some writers can weave this information into the first five chapters.

But I had a paragraph. One lousy paragraph. And I sweated it out.

I think I rewrote that first paragraph at least 15 times.

Another challenge with writing picture book sequels is that picture book characters are flat.

They are a distilled representation of humanity. Henry is a reader with every ounce of his little bunny self, and I wasn’t sure how much mileage I had out of that.

I didn't want to write another book about how Henry saved the day with his book smarts. That idea bored me silly.

So in this book I decided that instead of just having Henry love reading books, I’d have him write his own book, too. It seemed like a natural progression for a book lover.

These are just some of the challenges I faced. I wrote a billion different drafts, and each one was very different. In the end, I actually liked how it turned out.

In fact, many months later when I read my first hardbound copy I found myself laughing out loud. Who is this funny writer? She’s so clever!

Oh, wait. It’s me!

Cynsational Notes

The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children's-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.

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