Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Author Spotlight - Kelly Bingham

A few weeks ago I posted a review of one of my favorite new children's books, Z is for Moose. I had the wonderful opportunity to interview the illustrator of the book, Paul O. Zelinsky, and today I have the pleasure of sharing my interview with the author, Kelly Bingham.

Ms. Bingham is the author of highly acclaimed Shark Girl (2010) and the much anticipated sequel Formerly, Shark Girl (released in May 2013) for young adult readers. She is also the "mother" of Moose, the main character in Z is for Moose!

Z is for Moose
by Kelly Bingham
What made you switch gears and begin writing for young children?

Well, funny enough, I didn't. I wrote Z is for Moose first! I wrote and sold Moose in 2004. I was working on Shark Girl at the time and it was mostly done, but I hadn't submitted it anywhere yet.

I read on your website that you put Shark Girl away following the shark attack on Bethany Hamilton and that Jane's character is not based on anyone. I love how you explain the process of writing for Jane, "Her voice took over and I found myself following her lead." I guess Jane needed to be heard and you were her voice. 
Moose making an appearance
at a book signing in NYC.
How did you come up with the character, Moose? Is he based on anyone?

When my son was three, he was learning his alphabet. We read every ABC book we could find. Back then, there weren't that many. Most of them were pretty straight forward and only a few were funny. He loved the funny ones and asked me to find him a new funny ABC book. By then I had exhausted all the ABC books in our library. The idea for Moose came to me very suddenly and I wrote it all down. I knew I wanted the alphabet to fall apart around the letter M, and I decided that Moose would be a fun character to see go crazy. (As opposed to Mouse, or Monkey, with I also toyed with.)

Moose on vacation
in Cozumel
As for Moose being based on anyone...I think any parent can relate to having children who have a hard time waiting their turn, or who succumb to melt-downs once in a while, or who really just want to be part of the activities going on around them and can't take "no" for an answer. To some degree, Moose is inspired by my kids. But mostly, he is just himself, and came to me with the perky personality he already has.

It's possible that Zebra may be slightly based on all the parents in the world who have their own Moose to deal with. But mostly Zebra is just simply who he is, which is a good friend.

I love this description of Moose. That is exactly what I envisioned, a young child having a meltdown. Being a librarian for over 700 four-year-olds I can completely relate. I have seen many Moose-like meltdowns when all of our copies of Z is for Moose are checked out. Sadly, I can't purchase a copy for all of my students to have their very own.

You have a degree in animation and worked for Disney for twelve years.

Did you ever consider illustrating Z is for Moose?

Not really. I have never been a fine artist with skills that extend to great understanding of design and color and executing artwork much beyond sketching and simple coloring. My comfort zone involves Sharpies and colored pencils, and that's about it.

When I "wrote" Moose, I did so by storyboarding it out, which involved making a small dummy and drawing the pictures and finding my story that way, through making all the visual things happen from page to page. I made that "book" with the sole purpose of reading it to my son at night.

Later on, I showed it to author friends, who encouraged me to submit it as a manuscript. So I typed it up and sent it off. I never showed the dummy to anyone other than friends and family. It's not much to look at and is very rough, but it helped me get the story written.

I have a similar comfort zone with Sharpies and colored pencils. When I am not reading, I like to color. I know it sounds kind of crazy, but it is very relaxing for me. I especially love the color by numbers. Not the really easy ones though. My favorites are Color Counts by Mindware.

What would you want your readers to take away from your books?

Laughter would be nice. And hope. And maybe some personal connection, a moment of "Wow, I've felt that way, too!"

Making a personal connection with a book seems to always keep the book and characters in your heart. When an author develops a character to whom the readers can relate or build a bond with, the author can seem like a friend. One who understands, even if not on a personal level. Characters can take on a life of their own. They can make the reader see events, ideas, even other people in a way no one else could ever personal convey.  

Are there other picture books in your future? How many books do you currently have in the planning stages?

I have several books in the sloppy stages of planning and drafting. There will be at least one more picture book in my future: there is a second Moose book on the way!

Yes, Paul O. Zelinsky, told me in his interview he was "largely done" with the illustrations for the second Moose book. No hints were given by him, and now by you. I guess we are all going to have to wait and see what kind of adventure, or mischief Moose will be involved with in his second book. I can't wait to see it. It will definitely be a book I spotlight on this blog!

Before working on any kind of project, be it writing an article for my blog or lesson plans for teaching my students, I always do some kind of investigating to see exactly what I am getting into with the task. I don't want to go into something without at least an understanding of what I am in for.

What kind of research do you do before beginning work on a project?

It depends on the project. For Moose, I read every ABC book in my local library several times before writing one of my own. And that was not really concentrated research as much as filling a need for my son, and then having our little story evolve into something totally unexpected.

Shark Girl
by Kelly Bingham
Formerly, Shark Girl
by Kelly Bingham
For Shark Girl, I studied tons of poetry, and had to do research on lots of things. I researched shark attacks ad how and where they happen, and looked through many gruesome photographs. I studied a lot of medical facts. I read autobiographies written by people who had had their lives changed by disabling accidents and diseases. I reviewed "the five stages of grief." I interviewed amputees, doctors, physical therapists, and talked to a man who makes prosthetic limbs. All of that was quite educational!

Most readers, I’m sure, would be surprised to learn of all of the research that goes into writing a book. Thank you for sharing these details. I think it is very important for readers to understand authors don't have all of the answers or details when writing. They are, however, able to find the information and pull it all together in order to make a meaningful and entertaining story for the reader.

What do you do to help inspire yourself when you are creatively blocked?

Usually I take a break. I read. I do other things. You can't force solutions to come to you when you need them. And for me, that's what being "creatively blocked" comes down to. I have a situation that needs solving and I don't have an answer.

During those times I try to be patient. I have found that doing things not related to writing are a good way to free up my brain to work on a solution for the story problem I am facing. Often, a solution will come to me while driving, or when I first wake up in the morning.

On rare occasions it helps to talk the story problem over with someone. But mostly I find it unrealistic to present a story problem to someone and expect them to come up immediately with something you haven't already tried and rejected. For the most part, I let things gel and cook, and keep the faith that the block is only temporary.

Also, it helps to start working on something new, even if it's rough and clunky. Sometimes switching gears to a new story will help me figure out the obstacles in another story.

I am a bibliophile and a self-confessed bookworm. I constantly have a book with me so I will never be caught without reading material. It seems people are more influenced today by factors outside of books and reading.

How do you respond to these changes in order to get people back to reading?

Hmmm, what a good question. I have to admit, I haven't given this a lot of thought.

I hope it doesn't sound lazy, but I guess I don't really see myself trying to lure anyone back into reading. I feel that people will read when they want to, or they won't. I am totally out of the loop on all the new animated storybook apps out there, and all the various digital things that combine reading and games, or reading and movement. I am aware there are websites paired with some books that look to get readers reading a certain book, then exploring and socializing and game-playing on a related website. That's a great idea. But that's not me, and that's not my thing right now. I find it hard to write good stories and I continually find writing an enormous challenge. It's enough for me right now to simply focus on creating good books. I sincerely hope readers find them.

I think all authors, to some degree, really look to librarians, booksellers, teachers, and parents to encourage a love of reading in a child, hopefully from an early age, and to match children with books that are just right for them. Without all these team players in place, each doing their part, not only would "traditional books," (for want of a better term) fade away, but readers might fade away, too. There's nothing wrong with the distraction of games, eBooks, animated apps, websites, and even TV and movies. But it's so very critical that we keep our kids readers as well.

Yes, I believe it is a team effort, and extremely critical to keep our children reading. One of my favorite things to do is connect people with books. Reader’s advisory is one of my favorite ways to help people in the library. Learning about their interests and locating the perfect book or author for them always makes you feel like you have handed them the world. I am so thankful to authors for sharing their gift of words in order to bring a smile to the faces of the library patrons, especially the children.

Were you an avid reader growing up? Did reading influence your decision to become an author?

Oh year, I was a huge reader. I read all the time and usually read the same books over and over and over. My friend and I often wrote our own books together, and made illustrations, and stapled them up, and we felt as proudly professional as any eleven-year-old can feel.

There's no question that my love of reading influence me to want to write and to tell stories. From an early age that's all I wanted to be a part of. It was such a joy to work at Disney as a story artist. I was surround by other storytellers and they were all so incredibly talented. To spend all day crafting stories is a pretty special experience. Even on the days we'd shred everything and start over. And I learned so much!

It was a big, scary step for me to leave Disney and set out to write stories on my own, but it was a good choice. I love doing what I do and my work allows me to be home with my kids, too. And I still get to work with amazing, talented people. I would be more than happy to continue working with Paul O. Zelinsky forever! He's amazing.

What was the last book you read?

I recently re-read The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, which I love. And I just read Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World'sMost Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin. What an incredible book! I thought it was outstanding.

These are great books. The Scorpio Races was named a 2012 Printz Honor Book and Bomb was a Newbery Honor book for 2013.

This next question is unusual, but I ask it at the end of all of my spotlight interviews just to see who has an inner rock star. Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) loves to sing 80s hair band songs while he does karaoke.

What would be your featured song?

Really? Wow. Good for Jeff! And how daring for anyone to tackle karaoke, in my opinion, since I am the worst singer ever!

Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself?

No - I can't think of anything remotely interesting. Thank you so much for this interview. It's been fun.

Well, thank you Kelly. I have enjoyed the insight especially the creation of Moose, your writing through storyboarding, and your research for the Shark Girl book. I truly appreciate the time you took for this interview. I can't wait to see what you have in store for Moose next.

Ms. Bingham has received starred reviews from Booklist, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (BCCB), The Horn Book, Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, and School Library Journal for her works. Shark Girl was on Oprah Winfrey's Book List for Kids and was nominated for The Inky Award in Australia. From the American Library Association Shark Girl was nominated for a Schneider Family Book Award (ALA - "for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences") and was named an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers. It was also nominated for nine state book awards, including: Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Tennessee; and awarded the Iowa Teen Award in 2011 by student readers.

Z is for Moose is an ALA Notable book and was named one of Amazon's Best Books of 2012. It was nominated for the E.B. White Award which “recognize(s) books that reflect the playful, well-paced language, the engaging themes, and the universal appeal to a wide range of ages embodied by E.B. White's collection of beloved books." It has also been named to the 2013 Texas 2x2 Reading List

You can read about Moose's adventures on his blog, Moose on Earth (because Moose travels way more than Mouse) and visit Kelly Bingham's website, sign her guest book and look around. 

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