Having taught writing for years, I found that it is very helpful for students of the craft to talk to actual writers. Hearing about how a writer made up a particular story, what their techniques, routines and thoughts on the craft is an invaluable learning tool. With that in mind I thought bringing other writers into my articles, interviewing them and discussing the craft with them would bring a lot of insight and help many of you.
Beginning this new series is an interview with award winning children’s author, Lori Calabrese. This mother of two took a risk and left an impressive career in media to stay home with her children and give writing full time a shot. Well, it worked out. Lori’s new book, The Bug that Plagued the Entire Third Grade, won Dragonfly Publishing Inc’s Children’s Book of the Year Award. I talked to Lori about her career, the risks she took to follow her dreams how she writes such captivating stories.
AuthorMike-You worked in television, writing for various outlets. What made you take the leap to writing full time? ?
Lori Calabrese– After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Communications from St. John’s University in Queens, New York, I worked in television for Lifetime, and the New York Mets. I later went on to become a managing producer at World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. where I wrote scripts for TV shows and DVDs and traveled extensively for ten years. After the birth of my two boys, it was important for me to spend as much time as I could with them. I decided to be a stay-at-home mom and rediscovered my love of writing. That’s when I made the leap to become a full-time freelance magazine and children’s book writer and haven’t looked back. It took two years of intense research and honing my writing skills to receive a contract for my first picture book, The Bug That Plagued the Entire Third Grade, which was named Dragonfly Publishing, Inc.’s 2009 Best Children’s Book. ??
AM– I come from a film making background and find it influences my writing style. Writing children’s stories, do you think your experiences in television help your writing? Does it influence your style in any way?
LC– I think as an author all your life experiences influence your writing style and contributes to finding your voice. Even though my experience writing scripts for television shows and DVDS was completely different than writing children’s stories, I think it’s definitely influenced my style and helped get me where I’m at today.
AM– You write articles in a vast area of subjects, is there one you like the most? ?
LC-That’s like choosing which kid is your favorite! Each genre and each subject poses its own set of challenges and rewards. I’ve had the most success, however, writing nonfiction articles for middle-graders (ages 8-12) and my publishing credits include Appleseeds, Odyssey, and Boy’s Life. I’ve written about everything from Ancient Romans washing their clothes in urine to peculiar penguins to animals that play dead.
AM– How did you end up writing children’s books? ?
LC-I’ve always loved picture books and remember having a bunch growing up. One of my favorites was and still is The Fly Went By, by Mike McClintock. I love the rhyme, repetition, and the nice little twist at the end. A lamb? Really? But only after reading tons of children’s books to my sons, did I find out I’m obsessed with them. After trips to the library, we used to (and still do!) come home with stacks of books and night after night we’d read story after story. Reading these books has been inspiring, so I set off to write my own. I realized along the way that writing is hard work, so I took a writing class with the Institute of Children’s Literature, joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and constantly try to soak up as much as I can when it comes to writing and the ins and outs of publishing. There’s so much to learn!
AM– I’m very methodical when it comes to my writing process. What is yours like? What is a typical day writing like for you? ?
LC-You’re my hero! I wish I was methodical like you, but to tell you the truth, none of my days are typical. With two preschoolers at home, any parent can attest to the fact that you never know what you’re in store for. But I love that. When I have the time, I write. As simple as that. Most of the time, it’s in the morning and at night when everyone’s asleep. But whenever there’s an opening, I bust out that computer and type away!
AM– Where do you come up with your ideas for your children’s stories? And what were the inspirations for Oh the Possibilities and your new book, The Bug that Plagued the Entire Third Grade?
LC-All of my writing inspiration comes from my two boys. They constantly crack me up and have such a fresh take on the world. In fact, the idea for The Bug That Plagued the Entire Third Grade came to me when one of my sons had the flu. When everyone asked how he was doing, I would say, “He caught the bug.” It made me stop and wonder why we say that. Something clicked, so I expanded on the play on words of getting sick and catching an insect. Hence… “The Bug” was born. “Oh the Possibilities” is a children’s book I wrote for John Hancock’s Back to School campaign. They were looking for a children’s book about that age-old question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Everyone always takes the time to tell me how my boys are “all boy.” And they truly are, fascinated by everything from super-heroes to dinosaurs to trucks to dragons. I was thinking about professions and thought, what boy doesn’t dream of being a dragon, right? I built off that, so when my character, Miles, realizes he only has human genes and must decide on something soon, he runs through all the possibilities.
AM-Your books are illustrated. When you write do you have a set idea of what you want the images to look like? Once the story is written do you have it illustrated before you try to sell it or do you let the publisher handle that. And lastly, can you tell us a bit about the collaboration with you and the illustrators? ??
LC-Every picture book writer, even if they don’t have an ounce of artistic ability in their blood, should have a set idea of what they want their illustrations to look like. But it’s the writer’s job to write and the illustrator’s job to illustrate (unless of course, you’re talented enough to do both). Once the story is written, a writer submits only the text to a publisher. If the manuscript is accepted, it’s the publisher’s job to pick the best illustrator. That’s the magic of a picture book. The writer writes the story then the illustrator adds his or her own vision to the book—more often than not, they don’t collaborate. It really is an art form in and of itself where the pictures and text work together.
AM– Are you a writer who writes every day, who has schedules or do you write only when inspiration strikes? Also, do you plan out your stories or let them come naturally to you?
LC-If you aspire to be a writer, it’s inevitable that you’ve had it drilled into you to write every day. It instills a discipline and helps build skill. You’ll often hear it compared to sports. If you want to be good at basketball, you should be on that court every day, drilling shots. It’s the same with writing. If you want to be good at it, you need to write every day. That’s why I make sure I do write every day. If I don’t, I get cranky! Even if it’s only for a little awhile, you’ll find me writing something, whether it be my work in progress, a magazine article, my personal blog, or writing for beepwire.com. ??
AM– Your children are a big inspiration for your books. As they grow older do you see yourself continuing to write in the genre? ?
LC-Absolutely! Like I said before, thanks to them, I’ve become obsessed with children’s books. I’m the crazy mom who sits in the library and reads the children’s books to herself! I’m certain I’ll be doing that years from now. ??I’m also fortunate that I like to write in different genres. Even though my children are toddlers, and I love writing picture books, I also enjoying writing stories for middle-graders and teens. I’ve written a middle-grade sports novel and I’m currently writing another. Just as my children grow, I hope my writing does as well!
For much more with Lori Calabrese, please read Part 2 of this article. Also, be sure to visit her website and learn more about her books!
To learn more about my writing, visit AuthorMike.com and be sure to check out my other articles on writing on my Examiner page. Also, don’t forget to add me to your MySpace, Twitter and FaceBook pages for instant updates on articles, short stories and more!