Hi, Everyone! In order to mix it up a bit, today I would like to introduce a Children’s author, Mike Allegra, whose first book, Sarah Gives Thanks, will be coming out in September.
Welcome, Mike! Please begin by telling us a bit about yourself.
Well, I’ve supported myself as a writer for the past 15 years, which still sort of amazes me. I’ve done a little of everything. I’ve written for newspapers, magazines and have gotten a few of my plays on stage. This fall, my first children’s book, Sarah Gives Thanks, will be published by Albert Whitman and Company, which has me giddy beyond words.
I don’t blame you! 🙂
The bio on your blog tells a pretty good story about how you started writing. Would you please share a bit of that with my readers?
First off, I was (and am) a voracious reader. I attribute this passion, at least in part, to the hours upon hours I watched The Electric Company. That show not only taught me to read, it taught me that reading was cool. (Seriously, was there anyone on TV in the 1970s cooler than Easy Reader? Don’t even bother pondering it. The question was rhetorical and the answer is “No.”)
I soon wanted to write stories of my own, so I began noodling around with my parents’ electric typewriter. I would usually start writing at about 6 am on Sunday mornings, as there was nothing on TV at that time except Davey and Goliath, which was a cartoon but a profoundly boring one. So I typed.
My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Snelback, was probably the first person to notice that I had a real talent for writing. During a fateful parent/teacher conference, she told my mom, “When a sixth grader tells me he wants to write a funny story, I usually roll my eyes because ‘sixth grader funny’ is not funny.” Then she said this: “But your boy writes funny. Your boy writes well. Your boy will be a writer.” It was almost a command. Mrs. Snelback was emphatic like that.
She was not a very popular teacher, Mrs. Snelback, but I was crazy about her. So when my mom told me what she said, I became more interested in writing than ever before.
How wonderful to have that kind of support from a teacher! 🙂
What’s it like to be a reporter?
Working for a newspaper is exhausting. The hours are crazy, the pay is lousy, and you have to writes stories about traffic easements, ordinance waivers, and other subjects that are about as boring as a Davey and Goliath cartoon.
That said, it was also a wonderful experience. You meet great people, you develop a loyal readership, and you will never learn more about the process of writing more quickly. I worked at a paper for two years and those were the two most important years of my professional career. Nothing else comes close.
I recommend newspaper reporting to anyone who claims to be serious about writing. (I even wrote a blog post about it: http://mikeallegra.com/2012/06/24/paper-trained/).
You mentioned writing plays in college and that some were any of them produced. What types of stories did you tell?
I still write plays. My latest short play, The Buffer, was recently performed in Minnesota and in my home state of New Jersey. It was also just purchased by JD Drama Publishing, which is pretty cool.
That IS very cool! 🙂
My plays tend to have very small casts and simple stories. I’m mostly interested in how the characters interact with and relate to one another. I enjoy finding those small, familiar moments that make an audience nod with recognition.
My theater pals wish I would write for the stage more often, but playwriting will always take a back seat to children’s books.
You mentioned that your first book is about to be published and that you were “giddy beyond words”! 🙂
Please share with us why you became interested in Sarah’s story.
I stumbled upon Sarah’s story. It was a happy stumble, to be sure. I had heard that Albert Whitman was on the lookout for Thanksgiving picture books so started scrambling to find a subject that might interest them.
When I discovered Sarah’s story, I was awestruck. Sarah was an incredible person. Not only did she lead a 36-year grassroots 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 very first to condemn slavery in a novel. (She beat out Harriet Beecher Stowe by about 25 years.) She was a tireless and highly influential advocate for women’s education. She led large, successful fundraising drives to turn both Bunker Hill and Mount Vernon into national landmarks. She even wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb!”
The more I learned about her the more of a Sarah Hale geek I became. (And if you need any evidence of my geekdom, by the way, I have a Sarah Hale bobblehead on my desk. So there.)
She definitely sounds like the sort of person that would make a great role model for kids, especially young girls. 🙂
On your blog, I read a couple of fantastic reviews of Sarah Gives Thanks that I’d like to share with my readers:
Here’s one from School Library Journal:
“More of a biography about Sarah Josepha Hale than a holiday book, this well-researched, engaging read-aloud offers youngsters a glimpse into the lives of women and families in 19th-century America as well as to the history of how Thanksgiving became a national holiday.”
And Kirkus gave you a Starred Review!
“Amusing and perfectly chosen anecdotes highlight the qualities that made Hale such a success—curiosity, thirst for knowledge and determination… Readers will look forward to more from this talented author, who has penned a perfectly paced, rousing biography.”
Those are fantastic reviews! You must be absolutely ecstatic!
It was a “Holy cow!” moment. Up to this point, I had never really wrapped my brain around the idea that critics would be reviewing my book. I knew they’d review it, my editor told me so, but it was still an abstract idea. I couldn’t even bring myself to think about what they might say.
Now I can’t wrap my brain around what they said. It’s amazing. The Kirkus Review, in particular, floored me because the reviewer made a point to single me out in such a thoughtful way. I’ve been writing for so many years, but I’ve never gone down this road before. It’s very exciting and I’m very happy. I’m a little nervous, too. It’s a new adventure.
What was the manuscript-to-published-story process like for you?
Long. Longer than most stories of this kind. The original editor and illustrator assigned to the book drifted off to do other things and Sarah Gives Thanks was delayed for a year while the publishing house looked for replacements. Once my new editor, Kristin, was in place, the process was wonderful and very collaborative. When Kristin selected David Gardner as the illustrator, I knew this book was going to be something special. He is a wonderful artist.
Sarah Gives Thanks sounds like a wonderful story illustrating how one woman can make a difference. Do you often make strong women the focus of your stories?
I do. I am researching another picture book biography about a strong woman as we speak.
Strong characters are generally more interesting than weak ones; they act instead of being acted upon.
What other types of stories have you written? Were they all for children or do you also write for a more mature audience?
I’ve wanted to write for kids for many years, but my professional writing (read: the writing people paid me for) was almost exclusively for the adult market. That said, I had written a number of children’s book manuscripts before Sarah Gives Thanks and I plan to write many more in the future. I found my calling.
And we’re glad you did! 🙂
One thing that piqued my curiosity – what is it about goats that you find so fascinating?
What’s not fascinating about goats? Goats are the complete package.
They are friendly, curious, whip-smart, independent, and have an ornery streak that commands respect. (All the animals I really like, with rare exceptions, are ornery herbivores.)
Have you ever scratched one of those buggers under the chin? I could do that all day.
I can’t say that I have ever scratched a goat under the chin. My mother was butted in the butt once by an ornery goat so I’ve tried to keep my distance! 🙂
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I am also fond of guinea pigs. And that talking porcupine on YouTube. And have you ever seen the video of the otters holding hands? Adorable!
Oh, and one more thing: I find the internet very distracting.
I don’t think you’re the only one, Mike! 🙂
Would you like to share with us some links so people can find you?
My blog is at www.mikeallegra.com and I mostly write about writing and the creative process, but non-writers follow it, too, because I’m silly. So stop on by and chat me up in the comments section. I will welcome you with open arms.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us, today, Mike! 🙂
Please pay Mike a visit. (All links are in red.) I’m sure you won’t be disappointed! 🙂