I first met Lori Grusin Degman though the 12 x 12 challenge. My kids and I read and fell in love with her books, and I was thrilled to meet Lori in person at the New Jersey SCBWI conference. She is warm and witty and the best kind of writer friend and I’m excited to interview her on Writer’s Rumpus!
Kirsti Call: When did you start writing children’s books, and why?
Lori Degman: When my sons were young, I read to them all the time and saw how much they enjoyed hearing the stories, particularly the rhyming, funny picture books. I really wanted to write stories that would make my kids and other kids laugh, so I took a night class on how to write and publish picture books for children. I submitted manuscripts for a few years and amassed a pile of rejections. Then, I went back to work and stopped writing for about 12 years. This was back in the day, before the internet (for the < 30 year olds out there – yes, there was a time before the internet), so I wasn’t aware of all the resources out there for writers. When I came back to writing, the internet opened up a whole new world for me!
KC: What is your favorite part of being an author?
LD: I think the best part of being an author is sharing my books with kids and having them laugh in all the right places. The actual writing part is fun, but it can be difficult and frustrating at times!
LD: My least favorite part about being an author is the rejection. It’s so hard when you really love a story and you send it out to editors and they don’t want to publish it. I try not to take it personally, but it’s still discouraging.
KC: What’s your favorite book that you’ve written and why?
LD: So far, my favorite story I’ve written Is Cock-a-Doodle Oops! I just love the way it turned out – way better than I ever thought it would! I always end my stories with a joke and/or surprise twist and in Cock-a-Doodle Oops!, I came up with a surprise twist in the middle and a really funny (I think) joke at the end. And I love Deborah Zemke’s illustrations SO much! I really like my upcoming book too – Norbert’s Big Dream. But, the first time someone asked me about the story, I went on and on about how Norbert’s my favorite of all my characters. As soon as I stopped talking, it hit me – Norbert is ME! That’s a little embarrassing!
KC: Do you have a writing routine?
LD: No, not really. I have ADHD and it’s hard for me to stay focused on anything for an extended time. Also, I’m a full-time teacher so I don’t have a lot of time to write during the school year. I do most of my original writing during school breaks and mostly revision work during the school year.
KC: We love Cock a Doodle Oops! at our house because we have chickens. What was the inspiration for this story?
LD: I think having chickens would be so cool!! At first, Cock-a-Doodle Oops! was a “boy who cried wolf” type of story. The rooster was going to crow at all different times of the day and wreak havoc on the whole farm. Somehow that morphed into rooster leaving for vacation and the other animals fulfilling his cock-a-doodle duties. I’m still thinking of writing that original story – I think it could be funny!
KC: What is the best response you’ve gotten from a reader of your books?
LD: I’ve had people tell me that their kids have my books memorized because they’ve read them so many times or just that they ask to have them read over and over again! Hearing that can wipe out 100 rejections!!
KC: Your rhyme is impeccable. What helped you learn meter and rhythm?
LD: Wow, thanks! I think I have a natural ear for meter but I’ve also worked really hard at fixing the meter when I think I’ve done it right and figure out I didn’t. It can be really tricky hearing the way it should read instead of the way you want it to read. I never studied poetry, so I don’t know an iamb from a trochee – I just listen for the rhythm of the words. One of the most important things to remember, when writing in rhyme, is that the lines should sound as if they’re in conversational speech. The stressed and unstressed syllables need to fall naturally. That way, when your book is being read aloud, the reader doesn’t have to think about how they’re reading it – they just read it as if it were written in prose. One article that really helped me understand the whole stressed/unstressed thing was Icing The Cake by Dori Chaconas. Here’s a link: http://www.dorichaconas.com/Icing the Cake page.htm
LD: It’s impossible to pick just one, so I’m going to give you several! Of course, I loved Dr. Seuss books. Other favorites were: Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, The Little Bear Series by Elsa Holmelund Minarik, Illus. by Maurice Sendak, What do you Say Dear? by Sesyle Joslin, Illus. by Maurice Sendak and Hurry Hurry by Edith Thacher Hurd, Illus. by Clement Hurd.
KC: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
There are three pieces of advice I always give to aspiring writers:
1 – Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and get involved in your local chapter. It’s an amazing organization!
2 – Find a critique group, either an in-person or online group. Getting honest feedback from people who write in your genre can be invaluable.
3 – READ! READ! READ! the genre in which you write! The more you read, the better you’ll write.
Lori Degman is teacher of the deaf and an award winning picture book author. She has two published picture books: 1 Zany Zoo, Simon & Schuster (Cheerios New Author Contest winner) and Cock-a-Doodle Oops!, Creston Books (2015 ILA Honor Book). Her third picture book, Norbert’s Big Dream, Sleeping Bear Press, is coming out in July, 2016. You can find her at: Loridegman.com on Facebook or Twitter.