I’m still waiting for my next book ALPHABET MAGIC to be published (it’s been rescheduled 2 times, hopefully 2012 will be the year). So, my most recent book would be Z is for Zombie as it was recently republished in paperback. And, it was chosen as one of the books for the 2010 Read on Wisconsin! Program. It was named a Children’s Choice Book in 2000.
Tell us something about yourself.
I’m from New York and I moved to California in 1977. Originally I was a dental hygienist. I started writing after my son was born when he was around 6 or 7.
What inspired you to write this book?
My son. He was a reluctant reader and I spent a lot of time trying to find books he might be interested in reading. He enjoyed rhymes and reading about monsters. When I went to the library to find a book about monsters in rhyme there wasn’t one. So, although I had never written a children’s book before, I wrote one for him because I wanted him to have a book he’d really like to read. Accidentally, I found my passion…writing kids books. And, although the boy I wrote it for (he was seven) had grown up (he turned seventeen when it was finally published) and didn’t get to read it, I know there are a lot of boys just like him who read it now.
How did you choose the title?
It seemed like having zombie in the title would grab kids’ attention (they would think it’s cool and pick up the book) and many alphabet books use the letter A or Z in the title (though I consider my book more of an alphabetical compendium rather than an alphabet book because the subject and dramatic illustrations are more sophisticated than typical alphabet books).
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
It took ten years to get published. Since many publishers thought of it only as an alphabet book it seemed inappropriate for young kids who were first learning the alphabet. But, finally I realized putting it in rhyme softened the “scariness” a bit. And, then I reworked my cover letter to explain the vision for the book as an alphabetical compendium rather than an alphabet book. That way it would appeal to older kids (probably boys and reluctant readers especially) who knew their alphabet but would be interested because of the subject matter—monsters and the sparse text. Finally a publisher recognized my vision and the book was well received by the kids.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
It was an accident…I had no idea I would become a writer. But, looking back now, I realize how I wrote letters (to manufacturers to right wrongs and always got a good result). I also wrote the words to my sister’s songs so I was really writing all along. As I answered in the question above “What inspired you to write this book” that’s how I first started writing professionally.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Not really. . .no funny hat or lucky robe. I just make it a point to write every day. The times vary depending what’s going on for that day. Even if I’m not working on something new I’m always revising my other manuscripts.
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
They just kind of pop in there. For example: for my next book ALPHABET MAGIC, which is an alphabet book but with a story that flows from A-Z told in alliteration, the magician’s name is the Amazing Armini…I needed a name that started with an A and it just popped in there. If I have to think about it too much it’s probably not the right name. It just appears as I’m writing or thinking about my story.
Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?
Yes, I learned it’s very okay to really go for it and “let it rip and turn on the crazy.” The sillier and the more fun I had writing it, the better it got. I’ve also learned that books get rescheduled and pushed into the future…so patience is very important in this biz.
If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?
I would still write but I would make sure I arranged to be able to have a steady job as well. The publishing business has been changing and it’s challenging and frustrating for a children’s writer to make a living.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
I’m a big sci-fi fan and anything science fiction related captivates my imagination. But, I also read a lot of picture books. My favorites authors are:
Dr. Seuss, Jane Yolen, Jon Scieszka, Harry Allard to name a few.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
I’m working on many books at the same time. Some are in various stages (put aside to cool and then I return to revise later). Then I take them to my professional writing group and rework them again. It’s a process of a lot of rewriting…but I like tweaking it as it gets better over time.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Now it’s more important than ever for writers to learn their craft and get their work to a professional level prior to sending it out. There was a time when editors would mentor authors more…they would accept authors whose manuscripts were 75% ready for publication…now the manuscripts have to be 90-95% ready as editors don’t have a lot of time to work on bringing the work to a publishable level. Also, when writers get their work to that professional level it will be easier for them to attract an agent’s attention. Now it’s better to have an agent as many of the publishing houses are not accepting non-agented material so without representation it will be more difficult to get their work read as it will be dumped in the “slush” pile of manuscripts or just returned unread.
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
Reluctant boy readers. I really try to write with them in mind. I figure if I can get them to read and enjoy my books the rest of the kids probably will too.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
My books and my bio are available online (Amazon.com and Barnes & noble), readers can check out the websites of my publishers: Albert Whitman & Company and Holiday House, and also my site http://www.merrilykutner.com