HOLY BAGUMBA! It’s An Interview with Kate DiCamillo (As of 1/27/14 the 2014 Newbery Medal)
About FLORA & ULYSSES: THE ILLUMINATED ADVENTURES
Image credit: Photo courtesy of Candlewick Press
Good Reads With Ronna recently had the good fortune to meet multiple award-winning (including a Newbery medal) author Kate DiCamillo and illustrator K. G. Campbell at Vroman’s in Pasadena. It was standing room only for DiCamillo on her extensive publicity tour for Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick Press, $17.99, ages 8-12), now a New York Times Bestseller. Today’s interview features DiCamillo and next Friday’s interview will feature Campbell. Please click here for Hilary Taber’s review of Flora & Ulysses posted here last month.
GRWR: You mentioned at Vroman’s that finding an ill squirrel by your front doorstep and your late mom’s love of her Electrolux vacuum cleaner were a serendipitous comedic collision – is happenstance the genesis for many of your stories or do you usually begin with a plot outline or a character’s journey in mind?
KATE DICAMILLO: Oh, I never begin with a plot outline. I never know what’s going to happen. The origins of a story aren’t always as unusual as the collision of a vacuum cleaner and an unwell squirrel, but a story for me almost always begins with an image or two. Or a voice. Sometimes I hear a voice. And then I just follow the voice or the image.
GRWR: In Flora & Ulysses you give a powerful voice to underdogs, outsiders, lonely and grieving characters by giving them hope, love, joy and friendship. Do you feel your books set out to honor these types of people?
KATE DICAMILLO: I set out to tell a story. I set out to honor the world. All of it. All of us. That said, I guess I am preoccupied about the miracles that can happen when we see each other.
GRWR: William Spiver’s character has so many unique traits. A lot of kids and adults who read Flora & Ulysses may know someone similar to him from school or in their family. Is he simply a socially awkward genius or does he have Asperger’s?
KATE DICAMILLO: I never thought about William Spiver having Asperger’s. It is surely possible. But to me, he is just William Spiver—irritating, wonderful, complex, tender-hearted, and yes, very, very smart.
GRWR: You are to children’s book writing what Monet and Renoir are to Impressionism. Your words are like brush strokes of pigment. Do they flow effortlessly out onto the page or is each sentence finely and laboriously crafted?
KD: What a lovely thing to say. You are kind. And would that the words flowed effortlessly. Alas, they don’t. I work and work and work. I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.
GRWR: Can the two pages you write daily take two or ten hours or do you limit the amount of time you devote to a manuscript?
KD: The two pages usually take me an hour. Sometimes a little more. Sometimes less. And I limit the time in the first stages of telling, but when I am working on rewrites for my editor, I will spend all day working—short sessions of two pages at a time.
GRWR: Have you ever liked a character you’ve created so much that it’s hard to say good-bye at the end of the book or series?
Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses from Candlewick Press with illustrations by K. G. Campbell.
KD: I still miss Dr. Meescham.
And I miss Ulysses. And Flora.
And William Spiver.
It’s hard to say goodbye.
GRWR: Light and dark play an important role in Flora & Ulysses. There’s mention of illuminated adventures, the stars, William Spiver’s temporary blindness, the shepherdess lamp called Mary Ann, the neon Giant Do-nut sign, Incandesto and his arch-nemesis, the Darkness of 10,000 Hands. Were these intentionally woven into the book?
KD: They weren’t! I read through that list and I am kind of amazed because I didn’t know that I was doing that. It’s this wonderful thing where the story is smarter than I am.
GRWR: Can you please tell us what books you’re working on right now?
KD: I’m working on some stories about the secondary characters in the Mercy Watson stories. So: Leroy Ninker, Francine Poulet and Baby Lincoln are all getting their own stories, their own books.
I’m also working on another novel.
GRWR: It was wonderful to meet illustrator K.G. Campbell at your Pasadena signing. Although you did see illustrations in advance of publication, and made some alterations to the text to include both K. G. and the art director’s idea of comic strip-style artwork in the book, you never met or collaborated. Is it a scary feeling as an author to know that your imagination and vision are in someone else’s hands?
KD: Yes, but I have learned to trust Candlewick so implicitly in this respect. Art director Chris Paul’s vision of what the book should be is always something wonderful and astounding.
GRWR: Was the novel originally titled just Flora & Ulysses and, after the extra artwork, did The Illuminated Adventures get added or was it always intended to be The Illuminated Adventures?
KD: Originally, the book was entitled simply Ulysses, or the Squirrel.
I thought that this was very funny. Other people were not quite as amused. So, after many rewrites, the illuminated aspect came to the fore.
GRWR: I adore the bohemian look of Phyllis. Were you particularly fond of any character’s rendition more than others?
KD: I LOVE William Spiver.
Keith brings him to life so accurately and lovingly.
GRWR: On your website you advise aspiring authors to “Listen. Read. Write.” Do you have time to read as much as you used to and whose books are you reading now?
KD: I make time to read. It is so important to me. I can’t survive without a book. Right now I am reading Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue.
GRWR: Could the book’s premise have worked with a dog or cat as a superhero instead of Ulysses, the squirrel?
KD: Well, I love the notion of vacuuming a cat. I really do. But as impossible as it seems to vacuum up a squirrel, it seems even more impossible to vacuum up a cat. Or a dog.
But who knows? Anything is possible, right?