Wednesday, October 5, 2011

INTERVIEW with Jane Shapiro

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?


  1. What a wonderful interview. I'd rather give books away, too! : )
    I have written nonfiction for children (in my other life as a textbook editor) and I prefer sweet snacks (although sometimes I crave salty after the sweet, which gets kind of ugly).

  2. Great interview, ladies.

    I love your social workers heart.

    I've co-written a non fiction, 10 page, Civil War article published this year in Traces - Indiana Historical Society magazine. Writing a few more.

    Love sweet and salty together...Pretzel M & M's and Rocky Road icecream.

  3. Great interview! Thanks to both of you for sharing. I'm with Loree. I like sweet and salty mixed.

  4. Thanks, Cynthia, Loree, and Susan! Perhaps I should have been a librarian?

  5. The title alone drew me in--sounds fascinating! AND we keep a stash of Trader's Joe's PB pretzels in our cupboards!!!

  6. fabulous interview. what an amazing project.

  7. Christina, I'm so glad you like the title. I began with Magical Trash, but switched to Magic after I revised the rhyming refrain. A Story of Tyree Guyton and his Art was The Story. Tyree requested the change since, of course, his life has many stories.

  8. Ed, thanks very much! The Heidelberg Project in Detroit is open every day. I'll be there on the 14th for a jazz performance of The Heidelberg Suite written to celebrate the 25th anniversary.

  9. What a great interview! I love what Jane had to say about the five senses. :)

    And I prefer salty and sweet. Yum.

  10. Alison, thanks for stopping by and crunching and slurping with me. Now I'm off to the gym.

  11. Now THIS is a great picture book! And a great interview too.

    Yes, I have heard of this project, and it's brlliant.

    And I love salted pistachios.
    If the snack is going to be sweet then it can't be sickly sweet. I love my dark, dark choc.

  12. I love Jane's advice (and examples) on the five senses. I'm going to have to incorporate this in my own writing.

  13. Great interview! I had not heard of the book or the project but both sound fantastic. I personally prefer to alternate my sweet and salty snacks! :)

  14. Great advice! Thanks for the interview. I'm a new follower, and I'm enjoying myself immensely!

  15. I'm back, and more nice comments! Thank you Lynda, Stina, Jennifer, and E.R. I appreciate your kindness.

  16. Nonfiction for adults, yes, but kids not yet!

  17. Great interview, ladies! Sigh, wouldn't it be great if we could just give away our books and not have to worry about sales?

  18. Great interview. I've never written non-fiction and I think it would be difficult. However, I'm growing to love reading it. I prefer salty snacks.

  19. What a wonderful interview and story behind the book! And I love the phrase "trippy triplets".

  20. Three of five... A good thing to remember. Yay for music! We made up a theme song for each of our children along with their nicknames, and there's nothing better than seeing a kid's eyes light up because you are singing about them. =)

  21. Thanks for stopping by, Lydia, Talli, Clarissa, Lisa, and Crystal. I guess giving away my first book spoiled me, Talli.
    Lisa, "trippy triplets" is from the Kirkus reviewer.
    Crystal, Oliver Sachs writes that kids learning music early may even develop perfect pitch. The results aren't in yet for my baby granddaughter.

  22. Excellent interview. Thanks so much for sharing. I hadn't heard of Heidelberg Project or Tyree Guyton before. As for snacks, if forced to pick I'd definitely say salty. :D

  23. I love your picture book idea! It sounds amazing, and I'll bet kids will love it. Thanks for the fun interview. It's always fun to hear about other writer's journeys.

  24. Fab interview! Congrats on your book! I love the writing advice about using three senses in a scene - thats something I want to try. Thank you for sharing and have a wonderful weekend!

  25. I love the interview. The variety of writers out there fascinates me. I have about 100 pages of a YA in the works. Everything else is too hot to not call adult reading. If I let myself, I could be addicted to chocolate covered pretzels. :)

  26. Thanks so much, CherylAnne, Julie, Talei, and Laila.

  27. Thank you for this Carol! You broaden my horizons with your posts. I had never heard of Tyree or his fabulous art. What an inspirational story! I'll be picking up a copy of Jane's book for sure!

  28. What a wonderful interview! Thanks for the fun read :D

  29. This was a great interview. The book and it's premise sound amazing.

    My sweet tooth guides me, so I need chocolate.

  30. Thanks for the interview, Carol and Jane. I had the pleasure of seeing an advanced copy of Magic Trash, so I can say with authority the the book is pure delight.


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