Author Interview: Kristy Dempsey

Watch the Me With You book trailer:

I'm proud to present an interview with Kristy Dempsey, the author of the gorgeous, touching (even tear-inducing) picture book Me With You (Philomel, 2009).

Hi, Kristy! Welcome! Please step Into the Wardrobe. :o)

Please tell us . . . What motivates, inspires, and influences you as a writer for children?

Most commonly for me, it’s conversations with my children that get my mind whirring on a particular topic. They might say something funny or clever that makes me think, “Ooo, that would make a great title.” Or sometimes it’s just their typical “kid behavior” or thought patterns that make me think of a book idea.

Can you give an example of something your children did or said that made its way into your writing?

Oh, there are so many things, and some of those things I am still trying to work into viable manuscripts. Here are a couple:

When my oldest daughter was two years old, we were headed to a friend’s house and she was determined to “walk like a bear”. I had no idea what she meant and kept telling her that if she’d just let me put on her shoes, we could be on our way and I would let her “walk like a bear” all she wanted. Of course, she was trying to say that she wanted to walk with “bare” feet. I was too slow to get it. That phrase found its way into a poem, though not a very good one yet.

On a more general note of inspiration, my forthcoming book Mini Racer was inspired by my children. I was sitting down to write one day when my two oldest children began racing through the house, one on a bicycle and one on a tricycle, with the youngest, a toddler, chasing after them on her own two feet dragging a blanket behind. Our house at the time was a single level apartment with a large outside area that wrapped itself around three sides. We had sliding glass doors on two separate sides of the house, so the children could literally race out one side of the house, around the back, and race back into the other side. I was sitting at the dining room table trying to work, and felt like I was at the race track. Mini Racer was born out of that joyous energy that permeates our family life. I literally had the first draft down on paper by naptime that day!

Why did you write Me With You? What's "the story behind the story"?

The real “story behind the story” is that I wrote Me With You because my husband was in the US for a couple of weeks and I was back home in Brazil. I was spending all my free time writing but he complained because I hadn’t even written him an email all week. But I was on a creative binge! So I wrote him a poem to show him I was thinking about him and when I finished I thought, “Hmm. That could be a picture book.” I guess my love poetry fits the picture book format better than the sonnet form!

Eventually when Me With You was illustrated as a grandfather/granddaughter, it felt right though. Hopefully the sentiment is true of all kinds of relationships.

That's precisely why I love Me With You so much! I love how it can apply to all kinds of relationships.

What was the path to publication for Me With You? Was it difficult to find an agent and a publisher? Where were you and what were you doing when you found out that your picture book was going to be published? What were your first thoughts and feelings?

I finished Me With You and sent it off a couple of weeks later to Patricia Gauch at Philomel Books, whom I had met before at the Highlights Foundation Chautauqua Workshop. At the time, I wasn’t agented so I waited. And waited. And waited. In the mean time, I submitted some samples of my work to Kendra Marcus of Bookstop Literary, and about six weeks later she showed interest. I signed with her and we began to send some things out but we decided to wait to hear from Patti on Me With You. Finally, a year and a half after I had sent it to Ms. Gauch, I was contacted by one of the editors at Philomel saying they had just come across the manuscript and asking if the manuscript was still available. But it was a very non-committal email. I felt as if they’d just found it in a pile and were just now reading it. I didn’t have a ton of hope.

When Kendra called me with the offer, I was in Charlotte, NC visiting my husband’s grandmother. I’d had coffee that morning with a writer friend, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, and was doing some shopping when my father-in-law called me to say my agent was trying to get in touch with me. I called her back and didn’t get an answer! Aggghhhh! I had no idea why she might be calling (Me With You had fallen off my radar) but I was a nervous wreck until I finally got in touch with her. When she told me Patti had made an offer, I was gobsmacked! Thrilled! It was unexpected and very much like one would hope “the call” would be.

What do you want young readers to take away from Me With You?

There is a line at the end of Me With You that reads: “And though I’ll find new ways of being me my whole life through, my favorite me will always be when I am me with you.” I hope that children will feel that their individuality is to be celebrated and that they *should* continually discover new ways of being themselves. Also, even when they do discover new ways of being themselves, it doesn’t diminish the value of their past relationships. It is that independence/interdependence that I hope Me With You celebrates.

What is your favorite response to Me With You from a critic? What is your favorite response to Me With You from a young reader?

One of my favorite reviews of Me With You was from Esmé Codell, who really seemed to “get” what I was going for in the book. She understood that the book is a celebration of independence AND interdependence. It celebrates the individual but also how individuals relate to one another in a community. Her review can be found here.

One of my favorite responses from a young reader came from Jontrez, a first-grader in Florence, SC, who used his own money to buy Me With You. It was the very first book he had ever bought. Here’s a pic. It’s a little blurry, but I think you can see my joy as well as his.

How do you feel about the book being read in different parts of the world? Was having international readers one of your dreams when you started writing?

I am thrilled the book is being read all over the world. I grew up in the United States but I live in Brazil, so I consider myself to be quite international! Certainly, one of the things I’ve learned since moving overseas is that emotion is universal. The things we do and the things we love may not always be the same, but the things we feel are real and true and common to all of us. So, one of the things I do in every book I write is to try to get the emotion right. A child might not be able to relate to the particular situations in the book, but they will be able to relate to how the characters feel. That emotional connection gives them somewhere to “put” what the character is experiencing even if the reader has never experienced it before.

What children's books would you like your own work to match or surpass (in terms of writing, impact/influence, popularity/sales, or awards)?

I think every writer wants to write books that will be cherished by someone. Yet we know that not every book will be loved by everyone. So when it comes to thinking about impact/influence, popularity/sales and awards, I try not to! Think, that is. Those are the things I can’t control. So I’m writing for the reader in me. If *I* connect with what I am writing, and if I seek to connect with the child reader that I was, I think I’m on the right track. And I think it will connect with others. That’s the kind of writing that stands the test of time and that crosses cultural boundaries.

If you could choose only one, which would you choose: for Me With You to be award-winning, or for Me With You to be bestselling? Why?

You ask such great questions! I think I would choose best-selling, because I want the book to reach as many people as possible. But truthfully, both of those options are unlikely with every book. Sometimes it’s enough to know that your book found a sufficient audience that loves it and connects with it emotionally.

What are you working on now?

I just completed a picture book called Wild Hare, about an over-energetic hare interrupting a sleepy bear’s nap. It’s under submission now, so I’ve got my fingers crossed! I’m also working on a middle-grade novel and hope to be finished by May 2010. It’s not under contract so I can afford to take my time and do it well. But writing a novel is a different beast than a picture book and I have to take a deep breath every time I open the file. :)

I also just received art for my next picture book, Mini Racer, due out from Bloomsbury in Spring 2011, being illustrated by Bridget Strevens-Marzo. I’m very excited about it!

Can you tell us a bit more about Mini Racer?

Mini Racer is a rip-roaring story in rhyme about a race with an unlikely winner. Originally I had envisioned the story to be a young boy racing through his day like a race car, but the brilliant Bridget Strevens-Marzo had the wonderful foresight to illustrate a cast of animal characters racing through town. For preschoolers and early readers, there is something to study on each page as the illustrations are chock-full of detail and wonder and merriment. Each animal set has its own particular characteristics and personalities, from the gas-guzzling crocodiles to the eco-friendly snail on a skateboard. Mini Racer should be out in early 2011. I can’t wait!

Does living in Belo Horizonte, Brazil help or hinder your writing in any way as an American author with an American publisher?

Ultimately I feel that the wider world view I have through living in Brazil is beneficial for my writing. In the short term, I have to work harder to see what is current in the market. I’ve developed some mad googling skills in order to find excerpts of books and interviews with authors. It’s amazing what you can find. And the “search inside this book” feature at Amazon helps a lot too.

The other aspect is that in this digital day and age a lot of what I do as an author and promoter of my work can be done online. I’m grateful for that!

What is the literary scene like in Brazil? Can you tell us a bit about children's literature in Brazil?

I am woefully “out of pocket” in the literary scene in Brazil. I am familiar with the greats, like Ana Maria Machado, and keep my eyes open for new illustrator talent, but beyond that, I’m so uninformed. Brazilian picture books have a different sensibility than American ones. The market is smaller, I think, and more of the books have a fairy tale feel. Some books are brought in from Europe for Brazilian editions. Fewer are brought in from America, I think.

I do aspire to do some translation, though. So perhaps in a few years, I’ll have a better answer for this question!

If you were to visit the Philippines, would you a) visit white sand beaches and underground caves, go sailing, go snorkeling and scuba diving, etc.; or b) check out the natural wonders above ground, like the Taal Volcano, the Banaue Rice Terraces, and the Chocolate Hills. Why?

I would want to do it all! I am a very adventurous traveler and one of my difficulties is choosing which adventure I want to take because I want ALL the adventures. I also want to try all the food and spend time with people. I love to really experience a culture in full, and that means getting time with the nationals. Are you inviting me for a visit? I certainly hope so!

Yes, I am inviting you over!

Do you have a message for your readers in Asia?

How soon can I come visit? :) Seriously, my message would be that I hope you connect with my books. I hope they transcend the differences in culture and reach the heart.

Thank you so much for answering all of my questions, Kristy. :o)

Readers, click here to read the feature at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast on Christopher Denise, the man behind the breathtaking illustrations in Me With You.


Chachic said…
Hi Tarie! Sorry if my comment is totally random. I just discovered your blog and added it to my Google Reader. :) It's great to find a YA Filipino blogger. Looking forward to reading the rest of your blog!
Tarie said…
Hi, Chachic! Thank you! It's also great to discover you and your blog. :o)