Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Welcoming Carmen Agra Deedy to Moonlight Ridge

Welcome to the SCBWI
Springmingle '13 blog tour.

I'm so happy to introduce one of the keynote speakers at the upcoming 2013 Springmingle,
Carmen Agra Deedy 

Children's book author and storyteller Carmen Agra Deedy was born in Havana, Cuba, came to live in the United States as a child, and grew up in Decatur, Georgia. She has won more than a dozen awards for her work, including the 2001 Christopher Award and the 2001 Jane Addams Peace Association Honor Book Award .
1. Carmen, tell us a little about yourself. What made you decide to become a writer?

It wasn’t, in the strictest sense, a decision; I’d be more apt to call it a glorious moment of self-delusion. It lasted just long enough for me to cheerfully stamp, address, and post a manuscript to a regional publisher.

Watching the envelope irretrievably disappear through the Post Office slot, I instantly succumbed to the clammy hands, dry mouth, and heart palpitations that are the plague of presumptuous young writers. What had I done? And why did I do it?

Well, I did it because I had written a little story for my daughters and they thought it might make a fun picture book (pause for eye roll). Had I known how ridiculous the odds were, it’s unlikely I’d have ever submitted my story. To this day I bless Susan Thurman, then editor at Peachtree Publishers, for championing the sweet, but painfully unpolished, manuscript that would become Agatha’s Feather Bed. 

 2. What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received as a writer?

During a recent visit to an elementary school in South Carolina, a parent told me she did not care for Martina the Beautiful Cockroach. You expect (and even welcome) this kind of candid remark from children. Adults, however, are generally subtler when registering disapproval.
“Do you, um, hate cockroaches in general?” I asked.
“Nope,” she said, “Just this one.”
Oh, boy.
Then she presented me with a tattered copy of the offending book and explained, “This is my kid’s favorite book. I’ve had to read it every night for the past five months. I can’t even cheat and skip a page because she’s memorized all the words. You know I hate you, right?”
“Ah,” I said, blushing, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she said.

3. Where, and when, do you write? What are your writing rituals?

Travel and family life make it difficult for me to adhere to a strict writing regimen. I write when I can and where I can. Sometimes it’s in my studio, but often it’s in an airport terminal (when my flight has been delayed, yet again).

When I can wrangle a substantial stretch of time to write, which usually means gong away for a few days––that’s when I get real work down.
My rituals during that time?
Well, I write. Then I sleep. Then I edit. Then I snack. Then I write some more. This is followed by another nap. Then I write. Then I eat. Then I do a little research. After which I might go for a walk. More snacking, followed by more writing. Then I sleep.
Thus ends Day One.
If I’m lucky, I’ll have four or five days of this.

I love this schedule, Carmen!

4. Do you like to read adult fiction? What have you read recently that you enjoyed?

I’m going back and rereading some favorite books. I recently reread Nicholas Basbanes’ wonderful book on libraries, Patience and Fortitude (part of trilogy, and a must-read for book and library lovers). I’m now rereading Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy. The man is a storytelling genius and master of the heart-shattering phrase.

 5. What is your favorite work of fiction, adult or children's, and why?

A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving, simply because it’s the best book of it’s kind in the world. It’s very nearly the perfect story.

6. Do you have a favorite among the books that you have written? Tell us about it.

I can’t say I do. In any event, having a favorite book is akin to having a favorite child, isn’t it? If you had one, you could never tell.

7. What can you tell us about your story-telling performances? Can we find any of your live performances on the Web? Can you tell us a little about your favorite story?

Only that I love hearing a good story more than almost any other enjoyment I can think of. If I ever tell a good story, it’s because I want others to feel the wonder I’ve experienced repeatedly throughout my life as I’ve met, and listened to, great storytellers.

The only story of mine that I really like on the web is the 2002 National Book Festival presentation at the Library of Congress.
It’s about my favorite book (see question #5).

Well, my NEW favorite story is part of a collection of stories I’ve been telling children for several years now, titled Dill and Corky.
They are loosely based on my own blissfully feral childhood, a childhood that was shared with my best friend, Dill. The latest story, still on the assembly line, is about Dill’s Uncle Stubby, a marginally literate WWII vet who solemnly officiated at a snake funeral. You asked.

This sounds like a delightful story! I look forward to reading this one!

8. Did your parents tell you stories when you were a child?

Both my parents told us stories, but my father is a prolific storyteller with a gift for timing and an uncanny understanding of human nature.

9. What about illustrations for your book? Have you chosen any of your illustrators, or does the publisher do this? Do you have any favorite illustrations that you'd like to tell us about?

I’ve certainly asked to work with certain illustrators, but it’s ultimately in the hands of the publisher to acquiesce or deny such a request. Chocolate helps.

 10. What is the most important thing you feel you can accomplish with your writing?

I would love to one day write a story that a child found so irresistible that he or she (despite the dangers of parental discovery and possible confiscation of said contraband) read this book under the covers with a flashlight.
That would pretty much be the End All for me.

11. We are all looking forward to your Keynote Speaker address at SCBWI Springmingle. Can you tell us about your experience with SCBWI?

Thank you! And I’m looking forward to being with so many talented writers and illustrators––––one of the greatest benefits to a SCBWI membership!

Thanks so much, Carmen.
February 22-24
Atlanta, Georgia



  1. Years ago, I saw you at an International Reading Association Conference in Atlanta. It's interesting to hear about how you write. A friend of mine loved buying Agatha's Feather Bed at the IRA Conference. My friend and I both taught reading together in Fulton County.

  2. Patricia and Susan, Thanks for stopping in!

  3. What a wonderful interview. Can't wait to hear more at the conference.

    1. Thanks, Vicky! Glad you enjoyed the interview!

  4. Yeaaaaaa, Ramey!!! That was wonderful!

  5. Great interview. Looking forward to hearing her keynote.

    1. Allison, thanks! I think Carmen's great!

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