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Interview with author Lori Calabrese

I'm thrilled to welcome Indie Debut author Lori Calabrese to my blog today! Lori's first picture book, The Bug That Plagued the Entire Third Grade, has just been released by Dragonfly Publishing.

Here's a quick synopsis of this bug-filled adventure:

Hoping to win the upcoming Bug-A-Fair, Matt pries a strange bug off the grille of his Dad's car. But as the fair nears, Matt catches a different kind of bug: a cold. Will Matt become student of the year or will he create a third grade epidemic?

How did you come up with the idea for the Bug? Did you have a bug collection as a child?

You know, I never did have a bug collection although I have vivid memories of running around the front yard, catching fireflies with my brother. We’d often catch them in jars and let them go later. Although I was never a real bug person, it was fun watching those little buggers light up!

The idea for The Bug didn’t come about from any insect, though. It came about from another kind of bug—a stomach bug! You know the one—that vicious virus that hits your house, and doesn’t leave until it’s gotten everybody sick. I know every Mom out there reading this is shaking their head right now saying, ‘Been there, done that!’

 My oldest got it, unfortunately, and when everybody called to find out how he was doing, I always replied, “He caught the bug.” I know a lot of people who use that saying and I used it so much, it made me stop and think, “Why do we call a virus a bug?” I knew I had something, so I took the idea, expanded on the play on words of catching a cold and catching an insect and before I knew it, I had The Bug that Plagued the Entire Third Grade.

2.      I noticed that your book is in rhyme - something that I'm terrified to try. Do you write rhyming picture books a lot? What challenges do you find when trying this format?


I LOVE writing rhyming picture books and if I had my way, that might be all I’d write! However, the picture book market is tough right now and rhyming picture books are a tough sell. Many other writers are also out there trying their hand at this genre, so it’s very competitive. But I love it so much and guess you can say, I’m one who must!


However, there are definitely many challenges when trying to write a rhyming picture book. First, there’s the rhyme. It’s not as easy as everyone thinks, which I realized when I first sat down to write one. It’s an art form to get rhyme and meter right, and I’ll sit at my computer for hours counting the syllables in each line. But you also have to strive to match the stressed and unstressed beats of a word for it to flow perfectly. Another challenge is that the story has to be good! All of the rules that apply to a perfectly structured novel, also apply to a picture book in rhyme. You need fun, interesting characters and a conflict or problem that grabs the reader’s interest.  

Dori Chaconas has compared writing a picture book in rhyme to a crossword puzzle and I couldn’t agree more. It’s a lot like the challenge of finding the perfect word to fill that blank space, but when you do, you feel so rewarded.

3.      You also write for children's magazines? What types of articles/stories do you write and how are they different than writing a picture book?


I’ve written for various children’s magazines such as Odyssey, Appleseeds, and Boys’ Life. When it comes to writing for children’s magazines, I tend to lean more toward nonfiction for middle grade readers and I’ve written about everything from peculiar penguins to Ancient Romans washing their clothes in urine to animals that play dead. I love research and think writing nonfiction articles for kids allows you to tap into your unusual, weird and hilarious side. You have to find that one topic that’s going to hook kids and present it in an interesting way. It’s so much different than writing a picture book because there’s no made-up stuff in nonfiction. Although you’re still using storytelling techniques, you’re often presenting quirky facts kids find interesting.

4.      How did you become a children's author? Tell us a little about the path you took to get here.


 I dived into the world of freelance writing in 2007 after the birth of my second son and haven’t turned back since. Not only do my boys provide me endless entertainment and headaches, it was because of them that I discovered my renewed passion for children’s books. We make endless trips to the library and read stacks of books. And that’s how I’ve discovered I can’t get enough of them.

I decided to become a writer because reading books to my children inspired me to write my own. I felt like I had so many stories that I wanted to share and ideas kept popping in my head, so there was nothing left to do but jot them down on paper (and do revision after revision after revision while banging my head on the keyboard, but that’s the less glamorous part, so let’s just skip over that!).

After a year of researching the publishing industry online, I realized I needed to hone my writing skills, so I took a course with The Institute of Children’s Literature and joined SCBWI. That’s when I started writing for children’s magazines, building my resume and finally taking the plunge to submitting my book manuscripts. 

5. What are you currently working on?

I’m knee-deep in a middle grade sports novel. Besides rhyming picture books, I’ve always been drawn to contemporary sports novels. I think part of it is because the action is already there—you have the tension and excitement of athletic competition, but you also have the drama, relationships and social issues that have created a permanent niche for sports literature.

6.      Last but not least....favorite ice cream?

Coffee! However, nobody else in my house likes coffee ice cream, so unless I buy those incredibly expensive little tubs for myself, I end up eating chocolate chip cookie dough!

Thanks for having me, Carla. I suddenly have the urge for an ice cream sundae! Gee—thanks!

Thanks Lori! For more information about Lori and her book, visit her website www.loricalabrese.com


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Oct. 8th, 2010 12:42 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for me having me, Carla!

All the best,
Lori Calabrese
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )