Monday, February 11, 2013

Carolyn Crimi on Pugs, Bugs, and What Makes Her Laugh

Some writers are born with a knack for plotting. Others with an ear for dialogue. But few come into the world with as finely tuned a funny bone as author Carolyn Crimi. She has written 13 picture books that are sure to elicit laughs and snorts from the youngest readers – as well as their adult companions. Carolyn is back with another of her joyful romps through storyland with Pugs in a Bug, illustrated by Stephanie Buscema (Dial, 2012). Part counting book, part rollicking adventure, Pugs in a Bug also features greyhounds in a bus, sheepdogs in a jeep, and even bulldogs driving cabs. It is a great fit for dog lovers everywhere.

Question: Pugs are adorable and inherently funny. Volkswagen Beetles are adorable and inherently fun. How did you hit on the stroke of genius to put the two together?

Carolyn Crimi: It just so happens that I own a Volkswagen Bug, although unlike the one in the book, mine is rarely a “clean,” green Bug. It is simply “green.” The very first time I put my pug, Emerson, in my VW Bug, I squealed, “A pug in a Bug!” That was about 10 years ago. I still have both my pug and my Bug, and now I also have a book about them.

Q: Lots of people have great ideas all the time. How do you take your creative, clever notions from idea stage to published book?

CC: A lot of my ideas never make it into books. That’s fine. Not all of my manuscripts are good enough to be made into books. Many people are surprised when I tell them that I have about 100 manuscripts of different lengths and degrees of completion in my computer, and yet I only have 13 books published. I’d say that most of my picture-book writing friends have just as many unsold manuscripts. Troubles arise when you feel you must publish a manuscript. Sometimes I’ll spend a long, long time on a manuscript and think that just because I’ve spent so much time and energy on it, I’ll sell it. Unfortunately that’s not the way it works.

If I really believe in a manuscript, I’ll revise it many times before sending it out to a publisher, while some manuscripts are just exercises that never leave my computer. It’s a different journey for each.

Q: Where does your creativity happen? On long walks in the woods, while scrubbing the dishes after dinner, at writer's retreats in the Vermont mountains?

CC: I’d say D, All of the Above. Although I’ve gotten an inordinate number of story ideas on my daily walk through the streets of Evanston.

Q: Because you write for the youngest readers, you must have a strong sense of the joys of being a child. Do you draw on memories from your childhood? Or have you just maintained a great connection to your younger self?

CC: I’d say that I actually have a strong sense of the agonies of childhood. Although I like to think that my books end on a hopeful note, they usually start with a problem that I’m having now or that I had as a child.

No one ever believes me, but I was a shy child. Right now I’m working on a book about a shy bunny who won’t say hello. I remember hating that whole, “Say hello to Mrs. Brown” rigmarole. I have always had stage fright, even though I love being on stage (go figure!), so Rock ‘N Roll Mole (Dial, 2011) stemmed from many memories of being petrified while on stage. I think if I started from a joyful or blissful memory of childhood, I’d write a pretty boring book.

Q: With characters from your books like these pugs, a rock-n-role mole, and a buccaneer bunny, you clearly have a sense of humor. What inspires you to write such fun and funny books? What makes you laugh? 

CC: I like taking stereotypes and turning them inside out. A bear pirate isn’t nearly as funny as a bunny pirate. Likewise, a lion rock star would be expected, but a mole?

These are the kinds of things I think about. Like, all day. Hippo fairies, pig princesses, warthogs in love, professorial monkeys, it’s all funny to me. Animals make me laugh in general. There’s not a day that goes by when I’m not laughing at my pug.

I write humor because I need humor. When I’m sad or frustrated, I’ll watch a funny movie or read a funny book. I cope with the world through humor. And hey, it’s a lot cheaper than therapy.

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