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Interview with Patrick Jennings, Author of Hissy Fitz!
As readers of this blog already know, PubCrawl is excited to help spread the word about Egmont USA's spring 2015 list, a group which has banded together under the name Egmont's Last List. It's my pleasure to welcome Patrick Jennings as our guest here at PubCrawl today! (And we are giving away of one of Patrick's books! More on that below...) I'm so thrilled to interview such a prolific writer of children's books! Patrick's website lists 25(!) titles. If you'd like to see all their beautiful covers, you can click here. Patrick's latest is Hissy Fitz, which came out last month from Egmont. Here's the synopsis from Goodreads:
Hissy Fitz lives with some two-legged creatures who are destined to serve him in every possible way and understand his every whim. Sadly, these creatures are sorely lacking in their skills. For one thing--they touch him when they want to touch him. Don't they know that the two-legged are there for him to touch when he wants to—meaning when he wants food? Petting wakes him up! They speak to him—don't they know the two-legged should be seen—so Hissy knows where to order food—and not heard?! It's becoming intolerable. What is this irascible cat to do?
I understand that, although you generally write for middle graders, this book is for younger readers. What made you decide to move in that direction?
My publisher wondered if I’d be interested in writing a chapter book. The book fairs and clubs had been asking for them. I told my editor about my insomniac cat idea and she liked it.
What changes in your writing process when you target a different age level? Do you write for a certain age, a reading level, or both?
I think the story dictates the reading level, the audience. When a story is right for a seven-year-old, the language often takes care of itself. In other words, if you want to engage with a kid, you should talk about something they care about, and in a voice and vocabulary that makes sense to them. That’s not talking down; that’s talking to.
Hissy Fitz is your first illustrated chapter book in in a long time (over ten years, correct?) How is an author matched to an illustrator? What is the process involved in creating an illustrated book? Other than providing the text, do you have any other input as to the illustrations?
When a book is submitted without illustrations, the art director looks for an artist. They have many illustrators’ portfolios on file. I work on the book with my editor while the artist is found. Usually the text is nearly finished before the illustrating begins. For Bat and Rat, a picture book, I ended up retooling my text, cutting out what was rendered visually by the amazing Matthew Cordell. I did a little tweaking for Hissy after Michael Allen Austin’s hilarious pictures came in. There were textless spreads in Bat and Rat, so, some notes were needed, but, in general, one tries to leave artistic decisions to artists.
I also understand that this is your first cat book! Yet you've had pet cats for 20 years? What took you so long to write a book about a cat?
I never had a story to tell. I’ve considered that this is due to cats not really doing much of anything. Mostly they just sit around the house. Dogs go out and play with their owners, protect their owners, rescue people, hang with their friends. Cats nap on average eighteen hours a day. It was when I struck upon the idea of an insomniac cat that I finally had a cat story.
Hissy Fitz is such a unique character—his voice really sucked me in. I know it's difficult to pinpoint the origin of an idea, but can you say where the character of Hissy Fitz came from? What made you decide to tell this particular cat's story?
Those twenty years with cats were spent wondering what they thought about, especially what they thought of humans. In recent years, I’ve led a young writing group at my house, and have watched the writers interact with my cats. I tried sharing with the kids all I’d learned about how to approach a cat, touch a cat, and treat a cat, but it didn’t make much of an impression. I suppose their treatment of my cats shaped my idea of how Hissy would view kids, as well as other humans.
I know you do a lot of school and library visits with children. What's your favorite thing about meeting young readers?
Their enthusiasm. They love to read, and they get very excited when they meet an author of a book they’ve read. They have tons of very good questions. They’re often also interested in writing stories. The whole day is filled with excitement. I’m thoroughly exhausted afterward. It’s the best.
Any last words of advice for aspiring writers, particularly those hoping to write for children?
Spend as much time as you can with kids. Volunteer to read at the library, or in classrooms. Read to nieces and nephews, grandchildren, whomever. Talk to kids about the books they love. Listen carefully. Feel their enthusiasm.
Thank you so much, Patrick! Also, I want to offer congratulations on the news that Lerner Publishing has acquired all of Egmont USA's frontlist and backlist titles. We look forward to reading many more of your stories!
To celebrate the publication of Hissy Fitz, we're giving away a copy of this wonderful book! Leave a comment below and use the Rafflecopter form to enter!
PATRICK JENNING’s books for young readers have received honors from Publishers Weekly, The Horn Book, Smithsonian Magazine, the PEN Center USA, the Woman’s National Book Association, and the Chicago and New York Public Libraries. The Seattle Public Library awarded his book, Guinea Dog, the Washington State Book Award of 2011. His book, Faith and the Electric Dogs, is currently being adapted for the screen. His new book, Hissy Fitz, will be published in January 2015. He currently writes full time in his home in Port Townsend, Washington.