It’s my great pleasure to interview author Candace Spizzirri on the book birthday of her second picture book, FINLEY: A MOOSE ON THE CABOOSE, brought to us by Gnome Road Publishing. This book is a sheer delight, and so is Candace!
Candace: Thank you, Laura, for having me on your blog today! I’m delighted to be here.
Laura: I’m so happy to welcome you to Writers’ Rumpus. What was your inspiration for this charming story about a moose who longs to ride the rails? I couldn’t help but notice the amazing real-life setting!
Candace: Yes! The story is set in Talkeetna, Alaska. What a beautiful little town!
The inspiration for FINLEY: A MOOSE ON THE CABOOSE came to me a few years ago on a trip to Alaska. I fell in love with the gorgeous scenery, which looked like a postcard in every direction. While visiting the town of Talkeetna, a moose wandered about to the enjoyment of tourists, then disappeared by the railroad tracks into the woods. In this quaint town, I happened upon a little shop called Once in a Blue Moose and the spark for Finley, a moose who longs to ride the rails, was born. Finley’s story is special to me as it reminds me of my trip to Alaska and makes me smile. And who doesn’t love a friendly, big-eyed moose?
Here is a summary:
“Rules are rules” and wild animals aren’t allowed on trains . . . or so says Conductor Jones.
Young adventurers will fall in love with Finley, a friendly moose with a toothy grin who wants nothing more than to ride the rails across Alaska and beyond. Prepare for giggles when Finley finds a costume shop and tries to pass for anything but wild, only to have Conductor Jones see right through these disguises. Fortunately, Finley has something Conductor Jones doesn’t see coming – heart and determination – showing us all that there are some rules in life that are meant to be changed.
With illustrations that capture both the essence of Finley’s spirit and the magic of an Alaskan railway adventure, Finley: A Moose on the Caboose is certain to be loved by anyone who dreams of making what seems impossible, possible.
LAURA: I love Finley’s heart and determination, and know young children will, too. Tell us about your writing process, in general and for this book: How many drafts did you write? Are you part of a critique group? When did you start writing picture books?
CANDACE: I first started writing for kids back in 2016. It wasn’t anything I ever thought I would do, but it has been delightful! In January of 2017, I joined SCBWI and 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge. I connected with critique partners, started taking classes/webinars, and absolutely fell in love with writing.
I’m a morning person, so I usually write new drafts early in the day. Sometimes I’ll write at the beach, taking in the ocean breeze and sounds of the surf for inspiration. Other times, I’ll write tucked into a quiet spot at my local library, or in a cozy chair at home with a cup of coffee.
I don’t know exactly how many revisions there were for FINLEY, but I generally go through many before I feel a manuscript is ready to submit. After I write a new story, I like to put it away for a while. Then I do a bit of revising and send it off to my critique partners. (I am a member of several groups and don’t know what I’d do without them!) After each person has weighed in, I carefully consider all of their comments/suggestions while staying true to the vision for my story. FINLEY did require a lot of tightening, cutting of darlings, and line/word edits.
LAURA: Critique partners are the best, as are SCBWI and the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge. Your passion and creativity shine through in this book, and you deserve every accolade coming your way. Can you share your path to publication, for this and for your first picture book, FISHING WITH GRANDPA AND SKYE? How amazing is it that your release dates are a year apart?
CANDACE: I know! Isn’t it funny that the release dates for FISHING WITH GRANDPA AND SKYE (April 19, 2022) and FINLEY: A MOOSE ON THE CABOOSE (April 18, 2023) are almost exactly one year apart. I really love April! 🙂
Sandra Sutter, the owner of Gnome Road Publishing, liked a pitch for FINLEY: A MOOSE ON THE CABOOSE on a Twitter pitch party. I sent my manuscript in March of 2021. After a revise and resubmit, Sandra contacted me saying the acquisitions team fell in love with Finley Moose, and I received my official offer the next month – again, in April! Yay! I was over the moon when the multi-award-winning team of Chantelle and Burgen Thorne signed on to illustrate. Their art is spectacular! I’m so excited to share FINLEY with the world today.
For my debut picture book, FISHING WITH GRANDPA AND SKYE, I submitted directly to Callie Metler at Clear Fork Publishing in August of 2018 and it went to acquisitions in October. My “YES” came at a dinner meeting in January 2019 just minutes from where I live in Southern California. I have to admit my eyes welled up when Callie said she loved my “slice of life” story and wanted to publish it. Illustrator Beverly Love Warren’s gorgeous watercolor art was everything I had hoped for and more.
LAURA: Wow, April really is your special month. Are you willing to share FINLEY’s winning Twitter pitch with us?
CANDACE: Certainly! Here it is:
“Hey, look! There’s a moose on the caboose!” FINLEY has leapt onto the train longing to ride the rails like the travelers who visit his little Alaskan town. When he learns that no moose are allowed, he devised a plan to change rules and minds to make his dreams come true!
LAURA: That’s awesome! Thank you for sharing it. What inspired your debut debut picture book?
CANDACE: The idea for FISHING WITH GRANDPA AND SKYE came from my own childhood. Although I use my granddaughter Skye’s name as the main character, this story is truly about the many fishing trips to Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey I took with my beloved Grandpa Henry. It was our special thing.
The plot is quite close to the actual happenings of one particular day on the lake that will forever be in my heart. It is complete with the goodbye song I made up at age 4 to bid a fond farewell to my fish. I have never forgotten it all these years later. I named every fish and always blew them a kiss goodbye. I think Herman, the sparkly little sunfish I caught that day, was my favorite.
My Grandpa Henry had a surprise for me on that fishing trip, the gift of my great grandmother’s gold heart necklace that I still have today.
Here is a summary:
Days on the lake are a Skye and Grandpa thing. They load up their tackle box, hop aboard their skiff, and chug out to their favorite fishing spot. Today, the sun is shining and the fish are jumping, but will Skye hook a big one?
FISHING WITH GRANDPA AND SKYE explores the rewards of patience and celebrates the love between generations.
Laura: I love that your motivation for that story came from your childhood memories. I actually teared up a bit when I learned about your grandpa gifting you the gold heart necklace. What is your favorite part of being an author?
CANDACE: I love seeing my books in the hands of little ones, being shared with loved ones. It is so special to me. My hope is that my stories will entertain, delight, and make kids think about the world around them.
I also love connecting with the wonderful, supportive kidlit community!
LAURA: That’s so sweet. What advice do you have for pre-published authors?
CANDACE: Take classes, attend conferences, find critique partners, join writing groups, and connect with the kidlit community. What an amazing, supportive group they are!
Try to relax and enjoy the process. Publishing is a slow go. There will be ups and downs along the way. Patience and persistence are the names of the game. I have trouble with the patience part. Persistence comes much more naturally. Never give up! You’ve got this!
LAURA: What else would you like readers to know about you? You have an amazing number of achievements.
CANDACE: My debut picture book, FISHING WITH GRANDPA AND SKYE, was published right after my 64th birthday. I’m a big believer in this: It is never too late to follow a dream or to have a new one.
LAURA: A thousand times YES!!! Thank you for sharing your books, experience, and advice with us. You are truly an inspiration in the world of kidlit.
CANDACE: Thank you again for interviewing me for Writers’ Rumpus. Here is my bio and contact info:
Candace Spizzirri grew up in a small town in New Jersey with tree-lined streets and old Victorian houses. As a child, she spent hours playing at the park, catching minnows in a nearby stream, and exploring the woods at the end of her street.
Passionate about education, Candace is a co-founder of an elementary and high school in southern California. She now splits her time between SoCal and Pennsylvania. Candace loves spending time with her husband, grown children, daughter-in-law, and five grandkids.
Candace’s debut picture book, FISHING WITH GRANDPA AND SKYE, illustrated by Beverly Love Warren published with Clear Fork Publishing/Spork on April 19, 2022. Her second book, FINLEY: A MOOSE ON THE CABOOSE, illustrated by the multi-award-winning team of Chantelle & Burgen Thorne releases on April 18, 2023, with Gnome Road Publishing.
Learn more about Candace at candacespizzirri.com and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/CCSpizzirri1 ,on Instagram at @CCSpizzirri, and on Facebook at @CandaceSpizzirri.
I loved reading this, Candace. Thanks for sharing the pitch and background inspiration for Finley. I know we’ve talked a bit, but this I didn’t know. Finley’s adventure is such a great story. I hope it makes it’s way into tons of little hands.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you, Beverly! I appreciate your comment.
This looks so adorable! Congratulations! I love your stories behind the stories. And your pitches are so helpful. I can’t wait to read Finley!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you for commenting! I know you’ll love Finley every much as I do!