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 . . .
I knew I needed to train for this interview.
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?
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?
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.
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
Am I forgetting anything? Oh, if you want to play scrabble with me I am scubacor! 🙂
Corey, thanks so much for doing this interview.
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.