Karen Romano Young. I met Karen at the American Library Association convention when it was last held in Chicago. (Could it be a year ago already?) When Karen told me about her book, Doodlebug: A Novel in Doodles, (Feiwel & Friends) I knew I wanted to interview her for our TeachingAuthors blog. Well, Doodlebug came out this month, and we're pleased to help Karen celebrate its release. See below for information on how you can enter to win an autographed copy! And be sure to read the Blogosphere Buzz section at the end of this post for news of accolades for our blog and links to a couple of terrific resources.
Karen Romano Young is the author of more than 20 books for young people, and the illustrator of three. Doodlebug: A Novel in Doodles is her first graphic novel. She is also a deep-sea diver and science writer--she spent most of June on an icebreaker in the Arctic Circle! You can read about the trip in her guest posts at the blog Science+Story. Karen also blogs regularly at Ink: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Finally, to find out more about Karen, see her website. And now for the interview:
Karen, how did you become a TeachingAuthor?
The children’s librarian at my hometown public library asked me to lead a writing workshop for a group of particularly passionate sixth-graders. The Young Writers’ Workshop was born! It is still going strong. Begun in a tiny conference room at the library, it moved to my studio barn and now is a traveling workshop, conducted for writers ranging in age (so far) from 6 to 80. The sixth-graders are now graduating from college. Among them are several who are published or going into publishing.
In addition, I’m on the faculty of Western Connecticut State University as a mentor teacher in the MFA program, and have the pleasure of teaching dedicated and talented students. I’ve also mentored writers on a one-on-one basis, including Rutgers One-on-One, a conference that matches aspiring writers with authors and editors.
What's a common problem/question that your students have and how do you address it?
One eternal question is the one about the writing that doesn’t come out the way you thought it would when you began it. This is such a common experience for any artist, and I think knowing that you can expect it to happen can help you deal with it when it (inevitably) occurs. We all think we’re alone as writers, and we’re all afraid of failure. One solution is to recognize that your work is going to come out differently; another is to accept that you’ll go through a process as a writer in which you continually evaluate your work, finding the strengths and weaknesses and, draft by draft, working to improve them. My hope is that writers take that pressure they put on themselves (we all do) and turn it into energy to keep working on successive drafts until the proverbial tuning fork is still.
Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?
I like quick responses and questionnaires. I have a “pop quiz” for first time workshoppers with questions such as “Would you rather be hated or feared?” and “Polar bears or penguins?” or “What is today’s hairstyle called?” These are nonthreatening, open-ended ways to spark people’s feelings that they are creative, original, and funny. It also opens the discussion of how we writers compare ourselves to one another, and how we love an audience. After the writers answer this quiz, we’ll share answers together – which also serves as an icebreaker.
Another favorite is a blank sheet with a grumpy face on it (it’s actually Trina Schart Hyman’s Ugly Bird from Cricket magazine) that says “Just who do you think you are?” This can be a five-minute quick write, and has led to some great work from writers. They write from their own points of view, or that of characters, and sometimes create a brand-new character.
Can you tell us a bit about your new book, Doodlebug, and how you came to write and illustrate it?
In Doodlebug, Dodo discovers journaling and drawing together, and uses them to tell her story, in which she tries to deal with classroom attention issues by drawing, and finds her own place in a new city and school. The result is Doodlebug: A Novel in Doodles. Take a look at Doodlebug and you’ll see that the whole book is handwritten and hand-doodled. There is barely any print-type text in it at all, just maybe in the copyright pages. It’s fun and funny and really heartfelt, and I absolutely love doing a novel this way.
I have been writing letters to my friend Noonie since college – lots of years! – and she has always told me I should do something with the little drawings with captions and speech balloons that I include in my letters. When I heard about some writers who were participating in March Novel Madness (in which you commit to write a novel in a month), I decided to take a stab at doing a novel the way I used to write to Noonie. If it stunk, it would only be a month wasted! Instead, it turned into what I think is a fantastic way to write – by writing and drawing practically simultaneously – doodlewriting!
So is it your actual handwriting in the book? How did you submit the manuscript to your editor? How did it being handwritten affect the editing process?
Yes, it's my actual handwriting and doodles and block letters and crazy fonts and so on. Here's a sample page:
|To see more doodle-writing samples, watch the YouTube clip at the end of this post.|
There were just a few small edits -- a word changed, deleted, or moved here or there. At one point I sent in some additional stuff that got photoshopped in -- things like the name "San Francisco" and an exclamation point. :-)
Do you have any suggestions for teachers on how they might use Doodlebug in the classroom?
Certainly! Using doodle-writing, I’ve been working with kids to show the elements of story, including character and dialogue in particular. My Doodle-Writing workshops encourage kids to experiment with facial expressions, classic cartooning symbols – as well as new ones they make up, layout, creative lettering, and much more. The response is immediate, and deep. It’s easier for most kids to see a story visually – what makes a character, for example – than through words alone. Kids are always drawing. Just about everyone I’ve had in a workshop has something or someone they draw all the time, and learning about that – and working with that – has led me to a new understanding of the power of kids’ creative force. Drawing – and writing about drawing – opens a door into the real life inside everybody. (Teachers, be sure to check out the P.S. at the end of this post for links to info on doodle-writing with students.)
Would you share a funny (or interesting) story about a book signing?
I’m NOT a shy person – except around children’s book people. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to write books for children – to be an ARTHUR, before I found out how the word was really spelled. Children’s book authors are my rock stars, and I am truly terrified to meet some of them, because I am in so much awe. Years ago I worked in the marketing department at Weston Woods, a studio that makes films of picture books. At a Christmas dinner, I found myself sitting at a table with Robert McCloskey, the author of ONE MORNING IN MAINE, BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL, and MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS, among others. I was speechless, awed into silence, and thank goodness my husband noticed that I was overcome and held up the conversation so I wouldn’t say something like “Did you really keep ducks in your bathtub?”
It happened again at my first SCBWI conference, in New York City, where the keynote speaker was E.L. Konigsburg. Naturally her line for book sales and signings was the longest, and as I waited, I kept stepping backward each time my part of the line neared her table. Finally I was the last person in the line. I don’t know if you know Konigsburg, but she is pretty sharp, and she must have noticed what I was doing. And I had noticed exactly what she had written in most people’s books, which were mostly paperbacks – something nice, but short. When she finally got to me and my hardcover FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES, she looked into my eyes, then wrote a truly lovely little note wishing me all the best in whatever I was trying to do.
I am not quite cured. At several conferences, I was near enough to rub elbows with Brian Selznick, author of THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET, but just couldn’t pull off introducing myself – even though I certainly watched plenty of other brave souls do it! At last I arrived at ALA, where Horn Book editor-in-chief Roger Sutton was doing one of his short interviews. Sutton asked Selznick how the response to HUGO had changed his writing. Selznick’s answer: it had made him realize that the place he was in while writing HUGO (a place of great fear and trepidation) was where he should be as a writer. That rang true to me – it was where I had lived the whole time I was writing DOODLEBUG – and touched my heart so that no matter how many other people introduced themselves to Selznick after that, I stuck around until at last it was my turn. I told him I had been walking around him for a year or two, and that his comment had finally given me courage to talk to him and to thank him for what he’d said. He was so nice. I guess, after all, writers are human. But please – don’t ask me to talk to Sendak.
Thanks for your detailed responses to my questions, Karen. After reading about your new book, I'm sure our readers will want to read it as much as I do.
Doodlebug: A Novel in Doodles, you must follow these Entry Rules:
- You must post a comment to today's blog post telling us why you'd like to win a copy of Karen's book.
- You must include contact information in your comment. If you are not a blogger, or your email address is not accessible from your online profile, you must provide a valid email address in your comment. Entries without contact information will be disqualified. Note: the TeachingAuthors cannot prevent spammers from accessing email addresses posted within comments, so feel free to disguise your address by spelling out portions, such as the [at] and [dot].
- You must post your comment by 11 pm (CST) Wednesday, August 4, 2010. (The winner will be announced on Thursday, August 5.)
- You must have a mailing address in the United States.
- If you win, you automatically grant us permission to identify you as a winner on our TeachingAuthors website.
- Hurrah for us! Our TeachingAuthors blog has been named to a list of "Top 10 Blogs for Writing Teachers." And we're in among some impressive company! You can read the complete list at the OnlineDegrees.org website. There is, however, a small error in the description of our blog. Instead of:
"Six authors of children’s books who also write run this blog . . ."
it should say: "Six authors of children’s books who also TEACH run this blog . . ." As our readers know, we are all writing teachers as well as published authors.
- Alexis O'Neill has launched SchoolVisitExperts.com, a new blog filled with tips and resources for children's authors and illustrators. Alexis is indeed a school visit expert. If you're a published or soon-to-be-published author, you'll want to bookmark her site and visit it often. As Alexis says: "The first challenge is to get a book published. The next challenge is to keep it published. And children’s authors and illustrators who have an active school visit schedule not only build fans for life, but they also sell books and can keep backlist titles in print for years."
- Lee Wind recently posted a terrific interview with award-winning author M. T. Anderson, who will be the morning keynote speaker at the SCBWI conference this Friday. Check out what Anderson says about voice, "branding," and writing fantasy.
P.S. After completing this blog post, I discovered that Karen has lots of great resources related to Doodlebug here on her website. And check out the following YouTube clip to learn more about doodle-writing.