Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tuesday Author Interview - Bobbi Miller

Shari: How long have you been writing for children? What age do you write for?

Bobbi: I am certainly a living cliché: I was reading and writing before I entered kindergarten. One of my favorite childhood toys was a typewriter, made with rubber bands! No kidding! Then there was this metal contraption that made a lot of noise. I wrote my first poetry in high school English courses, taught by Sister Alice Marie! It was my introduction into the emotive aspect of language. And, many of these poems were published in the local newspaper. My first short story was published after I graduated from undergraduate school, and Marion Zimmer Bradley was my first editor. It was my introduction into action/adventure fantasy with strong female protagonists!

Action adventure – pirate stories, hero tales, Robin Hood, King Author, James Fennimore Cooper, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and many, many more – was always one of my favorite reads. So, somehow along the way I realized that this is what I wanted to write for children: strong female protagonists with action adventures.

But, I also have a background in folklore (having studied it at the associates and undergraduate level), and realized that the best adventures are on our own landscape! The western frontier, the Mississippi, the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, New Orleans, Boston, Chicago, New York, the Midwest and the southwest, the coming together of many cultures, many languages and many stories – why, we have the BEST stories in our own front yard!

I went on to graduate school, first studying children’s literature at Simmons College (Boston), and explored this element – the folklore process in children’s literature -- in depth. I then went to Vermont College, and explored writing for children, using voice and perspective, engaging in the oral nature of tall tales, legends and myths. The organic nature of language really is enticing. I combined these studies to now investigate creating original tall tales and contemporary myths (can there be such a thing?) Vermont College (now Vermont College of Fine Arts) is an excellent program, and the faculty is wonderful. I studied with two masters, Marion Dane Bauer and Eric Kimmel, whom I credit for the direction my writing career has taken. Words are not BIG enough to express my gratitude for their continued friendship and support.

Shari: I understand you are a teacher. What do you teach? How long have you been doing that?

Bobbi: I began teaching as soon as I graduated from graduate school. While I have worked in book stores, and as an editor, proofreader, curriculum consultant (and everything else to pay the bills), this teaching of writing keeps me connected to language itself. I find that in the teaching of writing, I engage more in understanding and expanding my knowledge of writing. So, I teach composition for undergraduate and graduate level writers. I also teach undergraduate and graduate level online writing for children courses through LifeLong Learning at Union Institute (and for more information, contact Christine Linn Program Coordinator,
Christine.linn@myunion.edu). And, of course, on occasion I teach a folklore survey course, Origins of Story, through Lifelong Learning.

Shari: Your topics are so interesting. What inspires you to write?

Bobbi: Well, just about everything inspires me. I think I’ve been engaged in the process so long, that my mind just works in ‘story-telling mode’ all the time. For example: I just went to Mystic Aquarium (CT), and enjoyed a whale encounter program. It was up close and personal with a beluga whale! Along the way, we passed the shark exhibit, a huge tank. And swimming in the middle of these nurse sharks and rays was a green turtle, Charlotte. Apparently, this turtle was run over by a boat, the propeller damaging her hind legs and making it difficult for her to dive. The condition is called ‘bubble-butt’. She survived, despite the odds, and learned to find her own way. Now, is that not a cool story!
It sounds so cliché, that everything can be an inspiration, but that is also part of the wonder of children’s books. The key is to become engaged in the life and landscape surrounding you. Inspiration and motivation does not come out of the ethers, and is not created in a vacuum. When I’m not teaching, I spend my time exploring the American landscape and the grand voices that make up the American Story. The language that creates these stories is as big and grand as the landscape itself. It is this audacious, bodacious, just splendiferous landscape and language that inspire me to write.

Shari: I featured One Fine Trade on my blog some time ago. Was it your first book? Tell us about your latest book?

Bobbi: I have had many articles and a few short stories published. ONE FINE TRADE was my first book. It was part of my creative thesis while I studied with Marion and Eric at Vermont College. In fact, I sold four books after graduation. It has taken nine years for the books to finally be released. The wait was worthwhile, however, because Will Hillenbrand did such an amazing job at visualizing these characters and landscape. He made my visions realized. And, Meghan Lloyd, the illustrator for my second book, DAVY CROCKETT GETS HITCHED, created an equally powerful vision. This is the story how Davy Crockett meets his match in Miss Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind. One would think that Davy Crockett wouldn’t have any problem wooing a gal. But a chance encounter with a bodacious bit of nature has him acting more like a clown than the king of the wild frontier. Davy Crockett must gather all his gumption to whirl his way into Miss Sally Ann’s heart. Meghan is also the illustrator for my next book, MISS SALLY ANN AND THE PANTHER, in which Miss Sally Ann discovers what it means to be a great and glorious friend.

Shari: Did it take you long to write this book? Was it difficult to find the right publisher for your book?

Bobbi: I am extremely lucky to have Holiday House as my publisher. Holiday House was the first one that I submitted these stories to, and they accepted them. I just love my editor, Eleni. We – in my opinion – make up the perfect dream team. As the manuscript was nearing completion, and we had some final edits, I enjoyed discussing language and ideas with her. It is a collaborative process between three distinct personalities, illustrator, writer, and editor, the editor being the nexus of that wheel. I’m sure every writer says the same thing about their editor.

Shari: I am always interested to know about the setting where an author does his/her writing. Do you have a designated writing space? Would you tell us about it?

Bobbi: I live in the woods, in a 1830s reproduction log cabin, a perfect place to explore larger than life characters! A picture of my cabin will be included on the flap for DAVY CROCKETT. I write in two places: in my loft, which overlooks my gardens, and in my living room, which is a grand room with skylights and big windows. So, I am surrounded by landscape, literally.

Shari: How do you write? Do you outline? Do you do rough draft in pencil? Use the computer?

Bobbi: It takes me so long to finish a book, even a picturebook. I use to become so impatient, and then try to hurry up the process. Sometimes, because I teach many classes, I do not have enough hours in the day to complete what I want to do, so I rush it along. This became counter-productive, of course, and I have learned to slow down, and take the time needed to create the book I want.

I begin every project with research. I research extensively. I’ve discovered that I like to do research, so I probably do more than required. BUT, I like having the information. For DAVY CROCKETT, for example, I researched both the myth and the man. I researched the historical context, including gender roles, so I have a feel for Miss Sally Ann. I also read his books to get a sense of his language and personality. My tale is a combination of my tales, some of which he told, and some of which were told by others. I highlighted the recurring motifs, engaged in the language, and then created a story from that.

I am currently working on larger pieces, middle grade historical fiction and middle grade historical creative nonfiction. For these projects, research is even more extensive. One, the story of girls who ‘gone for a soldier’, disguising themselves as boys to enlist in the military, has taken me six years. I went through several drafts with one editor, and learned much about the process, and realized that I want to expand the story to include not just the Civil War but the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Spanish American War. This includes researching photographs and illustrations as needed to create visuals.

Another project, a historical fiction, combines element of tall tale and history as I re-imagine the story of Annie Christmas, coupled with the War of 1812, life on a keelboat, river pirates and natural disasters. So, research for this has been extensive as I recreate the times and landscape of the times.

I then outline extensively, even the picture, to make sure I integrate what I feel is necessary to create a character, or a landscape, or a scene. Then, I write my first draft, usually with pen and paper rather than computer. It gives me a more intimate connection with the story. Once finished, I type it on the computer, and edit as I type. I could go through several revisions before I am completely satisfied with the manuscript, especially now. Before, in my previous impatience, I didn’t pay attention to this element, and the results were a rejection. So, the moral of the tale is: We need to give the story the time it deserves for the characters to do what they need to do. Stories tend to be organic, and sometimes outlines need to be tossed as characters take over. In which case, I follow along for the ride! Always the adventure. As Mark Twain once said, “Explore! Dream! Discover!”

Book Information: Davy Crockett Gets Hitched, retold by Bobbi Miller, illustrated by Megan Lloyd
· Reading level: Ages 4-8
· Publisher: Holiday House (August 2009)
· ISBN- 9780823418374

While the book is not released until July/August 2009, it is available for pre-ordering at:

amazon.com (

Borders.com (http://www.borders.com/online/store/)

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