The Uber-Talented, Amazing, Doreen Cronin

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A few weeks back, I met one of my writing superheroes.  Doreen Cronin is The New York Times bestselling author of many picture books, including, Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, a Caldecott Honor Book; Click, Clack, Splish, Splash; Dooby Dooby Moo; Thump Quack, Moo; Duck for President; Diary of a . . . (Worm, Spider, Fly); Rescue Bunnies; and M.O.M. (Mom Operating Manual).  She is also the author of The Trouble with Chickens and The Legend of Diamond Lil, the first two chapter books in the J.J. Tully Mystery Series. 

Born in Queens and raised in Merrick, Long Island, Doreen graduated from Pennsylvania State University and St. John’s University School of Law.  She is an attorney and mom to two children.  She lives in Brooklyn with her family.

Doreen, I cannot thank you enough for doing this interview. 

Let me start off by saying, I am your #1 fan!  I LOVE your books!!!! I technically buy them for my son (that’s what a good mother is supposed to do), but one by one, they seem to gravitate into my office until he notices that they’re missing, complains, and then they go back to his room for a short period of time until I miss them and then we start the process all over again.  It’s a vicious cycle that looks a bit like this:

DoreenCroninTales

Now without further ado, let’s start at the beginning:

Did you always want to be a writer?  What were some of your favorite childhood books?  What books have influenced you the most?

Growing up, it never occurred to me that writing was an actual job.  I loved to read more than anything and despite all those hours logged at the library it never once occurred to me that “authors” were responsible for all these great things I was reading!  Books seemed like an independent entity to me—like they just sprung to life!  My first grade teacher, Mrs. Cooper, encouraged me to write and told me I was a writer.  I started writing then (journals, poems, songs, stories) and never stopped.  I just assumed writing would always be something I did, not a real job that I could have.

My grandparents gave me a set of the Nancy Drew series (a whole set!) when I was in third or fourth grade.  Those were my favorite.  I also loved a classic Mother Goose book (with the black and white checked cover) that I used to read in the closet with a flashlight.

clickclackmoo_What was your inspiration for Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type?

I have no idea!  What I do know is that the sound of it came first.  I literally heard “click clack moo” in my head and wondered, “What on earth is that?”  Well, it’s the sound of cows typing, so I went with it!

It’s very rare when one’s big break is his or her first book.  Can you please tell us how Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type came about and ultimately got published?   

I wrote Click Clack Moo in one sitting (extremely unusual for me), at about 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning.  I sent it out to a list of publishers and got a bunch of rejections, as is the norm.  I then went about my business, went to law school, and got an acceptance letter!  Whoopee!  About a year later, I got another letter, the imprint was closing and they gave me the rights back.  Lucky for me, Betsy Lewin had an agent (I did not) who shopped it around and it landed at Simon and Schuster.  Through a stroke of luck (and so much of this is), Daniel Pinkwater read it on NPR— and then the book really took off.

In my fantasy world, I dream of getting that pretty gold seal on one of my books.  What was it like when you heard that Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type was selected a Caldecott Honor Book? 

I was still practicing law and was just happy to have the day off!  I had no idea that it was time for the ALA conference and honestly, when I got the phone call about it, I didn’t really understand the import.  I do now!

I keep hearing that authors and illustrators rarely collaborate.  Has this been your experience?

doobydooby_Betsy Lewin is both a powerhouse talent and an incredible human being.  We did not meet or talk at all when Click Clack Moo was published.  But that soon changed, we went on tour a few times together and now, although we don’t sit in the same room and “collaborate” we do talk about the books.  I have tremendous respect for her opinion and when she tells me that something in the manuscript isn’t working, I get out my red pen and get back to work.  Harry Bliss and Scott Menchin are also amazing artists and I always want to know how they feel about the text—I also want to stay out of the artist’s way!  These are picture books and the first thing that young readers are going to be drawn to are the pictures.  I do my thing and then for the most part, I go away while the artist does theirs.

diaryofspider1You are a super, funny lady with an impeccable sense of comedic timing.  Just the thought of a spider’s diary cracks me up!  Does writing humor for kids come easily?  

Ha!  It’s funny because during the writing, revising and editing stages I spend a lot of time cracking myself up—and only myself.  For every funny line in the Diary books, there are 6 or 7 that didn’t make the cut.

duckforpresidentI love how elements of your lawyerhood seep into your books—whether it’s negotiations between Farmer Brown and the animals, duck serving as a neutral party, or warranty disclaimers for used trampolines and boxes of chalk.  (The disclaimers never fail to put a smile on my face.)  Do you feel that your background as a lawyer has influenced how and what you write? 

I think like everyone, our backgrounds, experiences, families, etc., influence everything we do.  I am certain that writing legal briefs helped me become a better children’s writer.  You have to be concise and you have to be clear.  You also develop a thick skin, because your draft brief is going to come back marked up by a senior attorney or partner to within an inch of its life.  So you go back to the drawing board and get back to work.

diaryofwormOne child reviewing Diary of a Worm had this to say on Amazon:

I liked the Diary of a Worm.  I like the worm on the book.  Its the coolest book I’ve ever seen.  The book the Diary of a worm is cool.  The book is funny.  The best part is when he puts his head in and out.  It was funny.  I loved the Diary of a Worm.  It was so funny.

I couldn’t agree more with this review.  It must be so heartwarming hearing kids tell you how much they love your books.

I love their honesty.  I get a lot of letters from kids that say things like,  “I really liked the typing cow book, but I didn’t really like Duck for President.”  Or, “Why isn’t Diary of a Spider as funny as Diary of a Worm?”  It’s all good stuff.  I love that they have opinions and aren’t afraid to share them.  Of course I love when they like the books—but I love when they want to share any of their thoughts!

Pure genius is how I describe your Diary of a Worm, Diary of a Spider and Diary of Fly books.  How did they come about?

diaryflyThank you for that, but the genesis of Diary of a Worm was a manuscript that I worked on for months that was . . . not good.  I couldn’t get it right and it was driving me nuts.  It was a brother and sister picking on each other.  The sister would call the brother a pest, or insect, or whatever, and then he would run off and find out cool things about that insect.  (You see how this wasn’t working?)  Eventually, 87 drafts later, the idea for a bug diary emerged from the pile of revisions.  Harry Bliss went to town on those manuscripts and brought them up to a whole new level.  He’s brilliant.

troublewchixWhen I read The Trouble with Chickens, the first book in the J.J. Tully Mystery Series, I couldn’t put it down.  I’m a sucker for chicken humor.  What inspired you to branch out into chapter books?  How did you come up with the idea of the curmudgeon retired search-and-rescue dog stuck in the country with a pesky chicken with chicken breath missing two of her chicks? 

Harry Bliss and I were on tour for one of the Diary books and he drew a dog with a plastic cone around his neck on a tiny yellow post-it.  Then he gave it to me and said, “This would be a great character, you should use this.  He looks like Peter Lorre as a dog.”  Harry was right, so I did use it!  The J.J. character is just my Dad (John Joseph Cronin) as a rescue dog.  And then I threw the rest of my family in there as chickens (why not?) and six years later—voila!

Likewise, what was your inspiration for The Legend of Diamond Lil?   

diamondlilAgain, I always stick close to home.  Diamond Lil is my Aunt Lillian (my dad’s sister).  I switched her New York accent for a southern one and just started from there.  I already knew the characters from the The Trouble with Chickens, so I just set them loose and let them run around with my Aunt Lillian.

Are you already working on the next book in the J.J. Tully Mystery series? Can you give your fans any hints of what’s to come?

The characters from the J.J. Tully series have packed up and moved to Simon and Schuster.  We’ve decided to give the chickens (Sugar, Dirt, Poppy and Sweetie) center stage for a while and follow them around as they try to become professional “rescuers” like J.J.  For now, we’re calling them The Chicken Squad!  The first drafts are done, so the chicks should be out and about in a year or so.

What’s a typical writing day like for you?  Do you work on more than one project at a time?

I am very disorganized and easily distracted!  I spend at least 4 hours a day at my computer bouncing around from project to project.  I’m usually brainstorming a new idea, writing a first draft of something else and revising something that is further along in the process.  Some days are extremely productive—others are not.

I was fortunate enough to attend one of your school visits.  The audience was all giggles, questions, and more questions!  How can schools, bookshops, and your fans get a hold of you, if they would like you to do a visit?

doreenschoolvisit

I actually do very few school visits!  I have two daughters in elementary school myself so scheduling is always an issue.  I am trying to put together a Skype visit program.  I hope to have it up and running by Fall 2013.

Lastly, do you have any advice for new writers?

Be persistent, be brave.  Don’t be afraid of any idea, no matter how ridiculous it seems.  If you have an idea about an evil cloud that takes over the body of a chipmunk—then write it.  Ignore your inner editor.  (There are many lovely, talented editors out there, you don’t need an unkind one in your head.  Get rid of her.)  Then get your work out there, be prepared for rejection and keep writing.

Doreen, once again, I cannot thank you enough for being my guest.  All the very, very best and much success.

Thank you, Robin!  It was my pleasure!!!

By rnewman504

Corey Rosen Schwartz, Telling it Like it Is: In Karate and Rhyme

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Acclaimed author of the award-winning book, Hop! Plop! (Walker Books 2006) and The Three Ninja Pigs (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2012), as well as Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears and Ninja Red (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2014), Corey Rosen Schwartz is a scrabble and rhyming wizard, super mom of three (this, of course, includes the furriest member of the family, Rosie), writing workshop advisor and teacher, blogger, and my very first guest fluent in Karate.

When I looked at Corey’s blog and saw who her buddies were . . .

corey avengers

I knew I needed to train for this interview.

robinkarate-usethisone

And let me tell you, the training wasn’t pretty or easy.  (Who knew you could split a pair of karate pants?)  But after hours, minutes, and seconds of preparation, I finally feel ready.  So, here I go!  

Have you always wanted to be a writer?  When did you start writing? How did you gravitate towards children’s fiction? 

When I was in elementary school, I read non-stop and assumed I would be the next Judy Blume or Beverly Cleary.  I forgot about those plans for a while though . . . like over two decades!  I studied psychology, got a Masters in Deaf Education, and taught for many years.  Then in my mid-thirties after creating kids content for the web, the desire to write came back to me.  By that time, it was clear that picture books were way more my speed than novels!

How did Hop! Plop! come about?  

hopplop

My friend Tali and I had just gotten laid off in the dot com bust, and we decided to give the good old-fashioned media of books a try.  We sat in the café at B&N on the Upper West Side and brainstormed.  We wrote a story about a mouse who falls down a hole and can’t get out.  After many unsuccessful attempts, his friend, Elephant, fills the hole with water from his trunk and Mouse floats out.  We thought we were geniuses.  We sent it off to publishers and started on some others.  I think Hop! Plop! was our fourth manuscript.  And it was the charm.

What was your big break as a writer?

three-ninja-pigs

I would say it was when I came up with the idea for The Three Ninja Pigs.  I had been shopping manuscripts for a few years and hadn’t had a sale since Hop! Plop!  I sent a manuscript to agent SB (who I now refer to in code so he won’t get a Google Alert every time I mention him :)).  He wrote back basically saying, “I love the language, but do you have anything bigger?”  I didn’t.  (To be honest, I wasn’t even sure what he meant.)  So, I waited . . . . And when I got the idea for The Three Ninja Pigs, I knew it was the kind of “big” that he was talking about. 

I am a HUGE fan of The Three Ninja Pigs because it shows kids that not everything comes easy and that to be good at something (and perhaps avoid being a bacon appetizer!) it takes hard work, practice and perseverance.  The Three Ninja Pigs feels like it was written for my six-year-old son who gets frustrated when he doesn’t win a video game and can’t understand why he isn’t given a trophy just for showing up for karate or fencing class.  And after that long-winded diatribe (oh goody! I get to use a cool word), how did you come up with the idea for The Three Ninja Pigs

I got the idea when my kids were three and four.  We were eating out at a restaurant and the waitress’s first language was Spanish.  Jordan said to her.  “I can speak a little Spanish.”  The waitress asked Josh if he spoke Spanish too.  His answer was “No, but I speak a little Karate.”

Ki-ya! The Three Ninja Pigs was under contract less than nine months later!

Likewise, can you give us the scoop on Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears?

Sure, I came up with the title during PiBoIdMo 2009 (Picture Book Idea Month).  I didn’t even realize it had potential until I wrote a blog post complaining about how disappointed I was with my list of ideas.  I threw out some examples to demonstrate how pathetic they were and everyone who read it said, “Hey, wait!  I think you might be onto something there with Goldi Rocks!”  Turns out they were right! 

When I write picture books, I stay clear of rhyme like it’s the plague.  (I know this is something, like surgery, that I am NOT qualified to do.)  What advice do you have for picture book writers who dare to write in rhyme?  

Well, we all have different strengths as writers.  For some, it’s plotting.  For others, it is character development.  For me, it’s rhyme.  If rhyme is not “pulling your story up” then you should probably stick to prose.  If you are going to write in rhyme, your meter has to be flawless!  Make sure to read your work out loud and ask others to read it aloud to you.  It is very easy to convince yourself your meter works, when in fact, it doesn’t.  Asking other people to read it out loud to you is the only way to see for sure.

I heard through the grapevine that you and Tiffany Strelitz Haber taught an amazing SCBWI workshop on “Meter Maids: Sparkling Rhyme, Every Time” which led to the creation of your blog, “Meter Maids:  Learn to Rhyme.  Or do the time.”  (Love the name!!! 🙂)  Can you tell us how all of this happened?   

Well, in 2009, I signed up for a NJ SCBWI Mentoring Workshop.  We were put into groups ahead of time and asked to email a PB manuscript to our fellow group members for critique.  Tiffany’s arrived in my inbox and it was love at first read!  She is a brilliant rhymer.  I couldn’t even wait for the workshop to talk to her.  I called her up by phone and we became instant friends.

Can you give us some insight into your creative process?  Do you work on more than one project at a time?  Can you tell us about any of your current projects?

I hate working alone!  Whenever possible, I write with a co-author.  I find it so much easier to generate ideas when I can bounce thoughts back and forth with another person.  It’s kind of like tennis.  I can’t get a rally going without a partner.

I tend to work on one thing at a time.  I recently finished a revision of a manuscript called Sherlock Hound.  And now I’ll probably go back to the brainstorming phase.  The hardest part for me is coming up with an idea that I am excited about.

Madeleine, my faithful, over-worked, ever-hungry, ill-mannered food companion (and as you can see, a trained killer), would also like to ask a question. 

maddy-karaterevised

Have you thought of sequels to The Three Ninja Pigs?  Perhaps something along the lines of The Three Ninja Spaniels?  As they say, never mess with a spaniel!

Ha!  Great idea!  But I have already written Ninja Red.  It will be out in 2014 with Dan Santat as illustrator again.  I am looking for ideas for a third Ninja fairy tale, though, so Madeleine . . . let’s talk!

Lastly, how can your fans get in touch with you?

Let’s see . . .

Web site:  www.coreyrosenschwartz.com

Facebook:  www.facebook.com/CoreyPBNinja

Twitter:  CoreyPBNinja

Am I forgetting anything?  Oh, if you want to play scrabble with me I am scubacor! 🙂

Corey, thanks so much for doing this interview.

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I couldn’t resist taking this photo while I was shopping at my local Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  

Much success with your writing and books.  My son and I look forward to reading Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears and Ninja Red

By rnewman504