Kirsti Call: Marcie Colleen is the kind of person who make you happy just by being around her. She is one of the most supportive kitlit authors I’ve ever met and I’m so excited to interview her on Writer’s Rumpus today. Bear’s Garden is a delightful story of hope, imagination and growth. What was your inspiration for the story? (Your author’s note explains this, but I’d love to know more!)
Marcie Colleen: The Bear’s Garden was inspired by the real-life Pacific Street Brooklyn Bear’s Community Garden in my former neighborhood in New York City. The name always puzzled me—I mean, we didn’t have bears wandering around Brooklyn last I checked!
Come to find out, the garden was named for a teddy bear that was found in the weeds when the workers began to create a garden in the abandoned lot. Of course, immediately I started thinking of that little bear. How did he get there? Did he belong to anyone? Was he placed there on purpose?
The Bear’s Garden is my imaginative story about how the teddy bear came to be in those weeds. It’s also a love letter to my former neighborhood and the power of community that I felt while living there. I am the girl who finds love and beauty in every inch of that urban paradise.
KC: I LOVE that, Marcie. Your words are beautifully chosen. I noticed that some of the story is told only in illustration. Did you indicate that story through art notes?
MC: Some of that is me and some of that is Alison Oliver brilliantly expanding the story. Picture books really are a collaboration in every sense.
For example, there is a wordless sequence in which we see the girl placing a tomato can which holds a tiny plant in a window. That was Alison. My text read as such:
One night the girl’s imagination spilled onto the sidewalk ( art note: she has repurposed the intriguing old tin can as a pot for a plant. It tumbles out her window)
And sprouted. ( art note: in the abandoned lot)
However, I was much more directive in the last three spreads which show the garden progressing because it was important to me that these three spreads show the passage of time and the outreach of community. My text appeared as such in the manuscript:
A place to grow. (one of the little girl’s regular visitors notices the teddy bear. Other people gather to see and begin talking to each other.)
A place to play. (inspired by the teddy bear, neighbors start transforming the lot into a garden, the girl joins them.)
A place of love. (time has gone by, garden is large and thriving and little girl, along with the rest of the city, is enjoying it.)
KC: You lived in NYC, but are currently in San Diego. Did you write this story while you lived in the city? How does your experience as a New Yorker influence your writing?
MC: Yes, I did start writing it while I still lived in Brooklyn, right down the street from The Pacific Street Brooklyn Bears Community Garden. However, I did not complete and sell the manuscript until I was living in San Diego. I remember on one very cold February trip back to New York, I sat in a cozy coffee shop across from the Chrysler Building revising this story. It was like the manuscript recognized that it was home and demanded attention. Maybe it’s my love letter to NYC now that I no longer live there.
I am finding that so much of my writing centers around aspects of community. I believe that is a direct influence of being a New Yorker. To me, New York City is people and I miss it.
KC: Your chapter book series, SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS is filled with humor and wordplay. (And it’s the first book my youngest son was willing to read!) I knew your chapter book course at the writing barn would be phenomenal–and it was. What other classes are you teaching right now and how can people sign up?
MC: Well, I am returning to the Writing Barn April 7 – May 12 with an online class on The Heart and Humor of Amy Krouse Rosenthal. I am really looking forward to exploring her catalog with the students and using her work to inspire ours. I believe there are still a few spots left. Head over to www.thewritingbarn.com to register.
KC: What other projects are you working on?
MC: Perhaps I am most excited about an early graphic novel series that I created with two friends. Its currently out on submission and there isn’t much I can say about it, but it’s pretty epic and I hope it finds a home and I can share it with readers very soon.
KC: What is your advice for aspiring authors?
MC: I know it has been said a bazillion times, but focus on craft. Take classes, join a critique group, seek out mentors, attend conferences. If you keep the focus on constantly improving your writing, exactly that will happen. And better writing increases the chances of any publication dreams you might have. Every day think, “What can I do today to move the needle on my writing dreams?” and then do that!
Marcie is the award-winning picture book author of Penguinaut! (illustrated by Emma Yarlett) and Love, Triangle (illustrated by Bob Shea), as well as the Super Happy Party Bears chapter book series. She teaches Writing Children’s Picture Books for the University of California at San Diego both online and on campus, and runs her own Study Hall conducting a month-long online critique group dedicated to the crafting picture books. Find out more about how you can study with Marcie at thisismarciecolleen.com and @MarcieColleen1