Glad to be here, Dionna!
To answer your question, I’ve always loved to read, but I didn’t start writing books until I had read The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. Part of The Artist Way program is to free-write three pages a day. You write about anything—how grumpy you feel, what you ate for breakfast, what is annoying you. You just dump. The idea is that by page three you have cleared away enough of your brain clutter to find out what is underneath. And for me what was underneath was the dream of writing a children’s book. The beginning of my manuscript The Hayley Show was started in my morning pages. Although I didn’t sell it, that book got me my agent.
In 2010, I joined SCBWI, which became a wonderful source of support and information. Through SCBWI, I learned about Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program. And it was at VCFA that I wrote Charlie & Frog.
Why did you decide to write this story, one that features the Deaf community?
I never planned to write about the Deaf community. I always felt that my writing life and my life as a sign language interpreter were separate entities. But all those years I was interpreting, this story was percolating—I just didn’t know it. One of my advisors at VCFA, A.S. King, wanted me to write something new. She felt I would grow more as a writer with new material. So I began writing short stories. And then one day, while sitting at my computer, this story started to come out of me. And Frog, who is Deaf, came to me clear and strong. Her character was easy to write.
I tend to be more like Charlie, the quieter one. Frog fights for what she wants and has never met a stranger. Not that being quiet means weakness. Charlie is anything but weak. But Frog helps Charlie find his own strength by modeling her own power and inner drive. That is true for me, too—my closest friends show me how I can embrace my own strengths. Also, as a kid, I had fun exploring with my best friend. I wanted Charlie & Frog to have that same freedom to explore the village of Castle-on-the-Hudson. And who wouldn’t want to ride a gondola across the river on their own? Sign me up!
How did you find a home for Charlie & Frog at Disney-Hyperion and why were you pleased?
When my agent tried to sell The Hayley Show, I had about seventeen rejections (I lost count!), and one editor who was interested, but who couldn’t convince her publishing house to buy it. Ten years later, I was fortunate to have five editors who wanted Charlie and Frog! (Moral: Don’t give up! Keep writing!)
My editor at Disney-Hyperion, Tracey Keevan, is terrific. Tracey happened to watch a documentary about Martha’s Vineyard one week before she received my manuscript. Two hundred years ago, Martha’s Vineyard had a large Deaf population. Both hearing people and Deaf people signed on the island. When looking back, islanders often couldn’t remember who was Deaf and who was hearing because everyone signed. Tracey was excited to work on this story after watching that film. And I was thrilled that Disney-Hyperion hired a Deaf artist, Carlisle Robinson, to illustrate the inside chapter artwork of Charlie & Frog!
What are you working on now, and why are you enjoying it?
I am currently promoting my second Charlie & Frog book--The Boney Hand! It was published in June 2019. I love the characters and setting of Charlie & Frog, so it’s wonderful to be immersed in them again. I am also working on a picture book. Picture books just make me happy. And it’s a nice change of pace from a middle-grade book, as they are so different from each other.