Today I'm delighted to interview my friend Jane Shapiro, whom I initially met at an Oregon SCBWI conference. Visit Jane's bright website HERE.
Her new book MAGIC TRASH will be released this month. It is a picture book biography about the urban environmentalist artist Tyree Guyton, who transformed his decaying, crime-ridden neighborhood in Detroit into the world-famous Heidelberg Project, an interactive sculpture park. It is a story about the healing power of art. Read more on the Charlesbridge page HERE.
Thanks, Carol! So nice to be a guest on the blog of my buddy and web master!
How did you come to write MAGIC TRASH? What started it all?
Seven years ago when I was a docent at the art museum on the campus of Michigan State University, I noticed an American-flag-painted workman’s lunchbox locked in a birdcage. It seemed to capture the attention of adults who wrote poems about it and kids who reached out to touch it. After I learned about the amazing work of the artist, ideas for a children’s book began swirling in my head. Tyree Guyton’s true story formed an arc complete with antagonists, crashes, and a happy ending. I just needed to find a way to tell the story.
My editor at Charlesbridge “loved” the story, but not my rhyme that limited development of the setting and characters. So after many rewrites, the book finally rolled out in prose with rhyming refrains. And these “trippy triplets,” as one reviewer called them, sum up sections as the story progresses. An example: “Old houses talk. Some neighbors squawk. Crash, bash, and smash magic trash.”
Do you have writing advice that you'd like to share?
I think a lot about using the five senses. “When trouble still sizzled in one discarded home, Tyree coated it in dots and squares of pink, blue, yellow, and purple, then perched a magenta watchdog on the porch…” When I read this now, I still smell sizzling from a previous fire and the fresh paint. And I hear “barking trash.”
A recent post by Martha Brockenbrough about a Bruce Coville talk suggests that we engage three of the five senses in all major scenes. I may go overboard tasting, touching, hearing, seeing, and smelling.
What has your writing journey been like--long or short? Instant success or long perseverance?
Short in the beginning since I naively said to myself “I can do that,” then miraculously did with the aid of grants, the expertise of publishing professionals at a large university, and a tenor in my singing group who painted gorgeous green dinosaurs. I worked at the time as a social worker for the Department of Medicine at Michigan State University, and the first book was distributed internationally free of charge to families. But the moment I saw one my patients climb off the camp bus clutching his dino book, I was hooked on writing for kids.
Magic Trash was a seven-year ride, though, perhaps in part due to the recession that hit during its production.
What is your favorite part about writing? Least favorite?
Creating is fabulous! I gulp two glasses of iced tea and go to my quiet desk at a window with a view of Mount Hood in the distance. Then I dive into the heads of my characters.
Selling not so much. I’m a social worker by training; I’d rather give books away. Well, I’ll think of something to give away at my reading, signing, and art-making event at 2PM on October 29th at A Children’s Place Bookstore in Portland. Please stop by if near.
And I’ll have something to give away for sure in Detroit at Barnes & Noble from 1 to 3 PM on October 14th. Tyree Guyton will be signing with me from 2 to 3 that day.
What hobbies or other interests do you enjoy when you're not writing?
As a child I believed that my one talent was music because I could play the piano by ear and a few people liked to hear me sing. Perhaps if I’d practiced other activities as much, I might have been okay at them also. But music has been a fun avocation.
Now I sing to my first grandchild who likes my singing, especially "The Itsy, Bitsy Spider" with hand motions. I did write her a song that my son sings to soothe her when she gets vaccination pokes. She remains calm, but may be expecting a shot with her song now.
I also lead school tours around the Portland Art Museum. This is fun, challenging, and keeps me interacting with kids the ages of those in my works-in-progress. Currently I’m writing a novel with a ten-year-old protagonist, so I try to sign up for 5th grade tours.
And finally--do you prefer sweet or salty snacks?
I love Cool Moon ice cream, Trader Joe’s peanut butter pretzels, and all foods. But I usually snack on fresh fruit and unsalted, raw nuts as a test to see how long I can keep my circulation going. I did have one grandfather who stayed healthy until he reached one hundred, so I may have a few good genes to help in my quest.
Thank you, Jane, for your fun and inspiring answers. It's been great to interview you!
Have you ever written nonfiction for children or adults?
Have you ever heard of the Heidelberg Project or Tyree Guyton?
Do you prefer sweet or salty snacks, and what are YOUR favorites?