Me: Congratulations on your awesome picture book debut! When I first met you, your middle grade novel MUDVILLE had just come out. Since then you’ve also written a chapter book series, more mg novels and even some non-fiction. Did you always want to add a picture book to the mix? How was GRANNY REX (Abrams/Cameron Kids) born?
Kurtis: I really wanted to add a picture book to my list of credits! And I developed more appreciation for the form when I was reading books to my son, really getting the interactive/dramatic element of reading to a child.
But it took me a long time of trial and error. I had dozens of tries. I think the big difference for this one is that it has a full story – a hero we can cheer for, conflict, and a narrative arc. Most of my ideas were premises, not plots. I dive into middle grade novels with little more than a premise, but have some time to find my way to a plot. With picture books you don’t have time for that, there needs to be a really strong concept that is character-centered and build around it. I should add that I’ve written several not-very-good picture book manuscripts since this one, and nothing has really gelled.
Me: I love chickadees, though I see fewer of them at my feeder these days. Why did you pick this bird?
Kurtis: It’s my wife’s favorite bird, so I thought of a chickadee right away. It really works for the book because it’s one of the smallest birds, and because of their call, which becomes a big part of the book. You touch on a sad and serious issue that songbird populations are in decline, but I’ll save that for another blog.
Me: Granny Rex, among other things, “did have feathers.” Can you talk about how our current thinking about dinosaurs may be a little different than when, say, I was a kid?
Kurtis: I think like a lot of people of our generation I learned that birds were evolved from dinosaurs in June, 1993 when I saw Jurassic Parkin the theater. I think it was a pretty recent discovery at the time. At the beginning of the movie Sam Neil is talking about the velociraptor and this truculent child says they were just big chickens. I am not a paleontologist but I do know that therapods, even T Rex, probably had feathers. Birds evolved from a different therapod but they have a common ancestor with T Rex that definitely had feathers; that’s who mama calls Granny Rex.
Me: What, if any, was your involvement with your illustrator Nik Henderson? And what was it like first seeing the illustrations come to light? (They’re very stunning!)
Kurtis: I had very little involvement; I haven’t met him or talked to him and only traded a few greetings after the book was finished. The editor mentioned him from the get go, she knew his work and thought he was a great match for their house style and the book. I had imagined something like the dinosaur scenes in Calvin’s imagination in the comic strip, but I’m not an artist and didn’t have a lot of references to draw from. Nik’s decisions for the book went in a different direction, big and bold. It pops, as they say in the business.
Me: What are you working on now?
Kurtis: I don’t have any other books underway, really. Like I said, I’ve had a few manuscripts since Granny Rex, but none have worked out. I like building stories around animals and science but with a lot of whimsy. I’ve had several trying to make a story out of the fact that dung beetles use stars to navigate; I love that the world’s humblest creature is one of the few besides men that gazes up at the stars. I also feel there’s a story to be told about tortoises because I’m intrigued by their long lifespan. And recently I’ve been wondering what I can do with opossums. I feel that opossums will be the next narwhal as a mini-fad in children’s books. But like I said, a premise isn’t a plot and I haven’t been able to find a strong character like in Granny Rex. To be honest, I don’t really have any middle grade books cooking either. But I’m not retired yet, just taking a needed break (and playing a lot of video games).
Me: I’d like to read the star gazing dung beetle book right now please! Though I’m sure whatever you settle on will be intriguing as always. Thanks so much for joining me!
Please look for GRANNY REX and all of Kurtis’ books wherever books are sold, and learn more at Kurtis Scaletta’s Site | Info about me and my books.