Q & A


1.    What inspired you to write this story?

Several years ago, the young daughter of a friend of mine, whose name is also Madison, visited her grandmother for the summer in some dusty out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere town in west Texas. Grandma was addicted to the TV shopping shows, although she wasn’t quite in the same shopaholic league as my character, Florida Brown. In a phone call home, the young girl complained to her mom of boredom, and so my friend suggested that her mother take Madi on an outing to the park or the library. Grandma shrugged off the request and said if Madi was bored, she could go play in the backyard. Apparently there weren’t any fences separating one neighbor’s yard from the next, and the couple that lived behind them owned a vicious, people-chomping pit bull. I was intrigued by Madison’s challenge of having to spend a summer with a grandmother who prioritized television over connecting with her magnificently wonderful granddaughter.

2.   Where did the idea of the MegaPix 6000 TV come from?

When I was a child, books were my magical portal into another world. I’d imagine I was tag-teaming with Harriet in Harriet the Spy; that I was Laura in the Little House books; and I still fantasize that some day I’ll awaken to a completely transformed bedroom just like Sarah did in A Little Princess. Oh, and would someone please give me a magic purple crayon just like Harold’s?! I longed to literally dive into books and to become part of the story. So the MegaPix grew out of that childhood fantasy. I’m not an avid television watcher, nor was I as a child, but TV is another canvas for storytelling – and it fit perfectly with the real Madison’s Most Boring Summer when she was forced to watch the shopping shows day in and day out with her grandmother.

3.    Madison McGee is a thoughtfully developed character. Is she based on anyone you know? What about any of the other characters?

Madison is a composite of the real-life Madison, who is one of the kindest, most thoughtful and ethical kids I know – and a dollop of Shirley Temple, who always played indomitably spirited characters in the face of great odds, and who was my childhood icon. I’ve also always been fascinated by resilience in kids. How it is that some children raised in difficult situations can find their own personal strength and some flounder? I wanted my fictional Madison to possess that same kind of inner fortitude.

Florida was, of course, inspired by the TV watching grandma in Texas, with a dash of Shirley MacLaine for good measure.

But the invention of Rosalie Claire is the best story. I was traveling to my own personal writer’s retreat in New Mexico and had just boarded a Southwest flight. My plan was to carve out the story of Hello There. At that point I had some of the book planted firmly in my brain, but I had long way to go. Sitting across the aisle in the middle seat was a glamour queen of a woman who had plopped her Louis Vuitton bag on the aisle seat. The seats were filling up when a middle-aged African-American woman boarded the plane, wearing layers and layers of clothes. I counted at least two extra pairs of pants sticking out from under her sweatpants. Her hair was done up in a spiral of braids that ended in a knot at the top of her head. She carried a pillowcase stuffed with her belongings. And I could instantly tell she had the most joyful spirit. She was one of those people who was surrounded by an aura of sparkles. She politely asked the Glamour Queen if the Louis Vuitton seat was taken. In a huff, Glamour Queen snatched back her designer bag and the sparkly woman sat down. Then they simultaneously turned to me and both shot looks that said, “Can you believe this other woman?!” Before the flight took off, Glamour Queen got up and moved to a new seat in the last row of the airplane. I thought about that effervescent woman with the layers and the topknot of hair for the entire flight (and snuck a peek now and then). And so was born Rosalie Claire, who is surrounded by the same aura of sparkles, who became the heart and soul of the book, and the mother figure that Madison so craved.

But that’s not even the strangest part of the story. Nearly a year later, I was in the Seattle airport returning from New Mexico after completing my first draft of Hello There.  Just as I was about to leave, I saw exiting the security gate the same woman who had inspired Rosalie Claire. I was so tempted to rush up to her and thank her for her inspiration but I chickened out. Later I swore to myself that if I ever saw her again, I’d introduce myself. And whenever I go to the Seattle airport, I’m always on the lookout.

4.     You’ve written children’s interactive games, picture books, and scripts for animated kids’ TV shows. How is writing a novel different?

I consider all these forms of writing to be different kinds of storytelling, all with the aim to craft an experience that speaks to the audience. But you’re right – there are vast differences. In the case of both interactive story games and animated television, I’m tightly bound to follow a strict framework, and both require much more collaboration than writing a novel. In the case of an interactive story, I have to account for every possible interaction a child might have with an object or a character, and the script becomes a working blueprint guiding dozens of people through the production process. It’s both creative and technical. And typically the story isn’t created in the vacuum of my own brain. It begins with brainstorming sessions around a table with maybe a half-dozen people representing key parts of the production process.

Writing for series television is formulaic in its own way and each story must be told in a limited number of pages with plot points occurring at pre-designated spots in the story. And there are many cooks in the kitchen, so it can become a juggling act to make everyone happy. And picture books? They’re like cooking up a little serving of delicious candy. It’s a creative form requiring few cooks, but the experience is quick, frothy, and sweet.

By nature, writing a novel is more personal and incredibly immersive. And it’s certainly not a collaborative event the way it is writing for interactive or TV. Not that the two cents of editors and early readers isn’t valuable – it absolutely is! Thank goodness for that input! Total gratitude! But writing a novel freed me up to move more deeply into character and story. And my characters still inhabit my head as if they are real living, breathing people – and that’s something I never, ever experienced writing in those other genres. And while I knew I couldn’t spend many hundreds of pages telling a story, it was liberating to be able to have enough room to dive in, to allow the story to twist and breathe, and to let it take on a bigger life of its own. Oh, and of course, the process took a whole lot longer!

And really when I think about it, all four forms share the similarity that they’re all like parts of a puzzle that I needed to assemble to form an entire picture, with no pieces missing.