When you wrote Here Comes the Easter Cat, did you intend on it becoming a series?
Thanks so much for the kind words, Carrie, and no, I had no idea it might become a series! That was a really lovely surprise. After we’d finished up work on Easter Cat, my editor was considering another picture book submission from me. She got back to my agent with a two-book offer. My response was, “Um…we only sent her one book.” That’s when I learned they wanted Santa Cat, and wanted it quickly—I only had a few weeks to write the first draft! This was actually good in a way, because I didn’t have time to overthink things as I usually do. Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat, however, required many months of struggle before I found a direction that worked. Just goes to show that the process is never predictable, which keeps things interesting!
How many more books do you hope Cat will star in?
Honestly, I LOVE Cat. I was just looking at the art (by the fabulous Claudia Rueda, who has illustrated all the Cat books) for Tooth Fairy Cat, and I laugh out loud at the final page every single time I see it. So it’s really a pleasure to write these, and it’s especially fun since I draw rough sketches as I write. That’s not standard operating procedure for a picture book writer, and I was lucky to find an editor willing to look at a rule-breaking manuscript. Here Comes Valentine Cat is in the sketch stage now, and I would love to do more Cat books if there’s a demand for them.
Did your own cat have anything to do with the prominent “catitude” that Cat possesses?
Yes, my dear Bella was the inspiration for Cat! One day I was devoid of ideas and sitting on my bed trying to think of something to write about. I couldn’t, so since Bella was snoozing in front of me, I drew a cat. The cat looked grumpy, so I asked why. To my surprise, he held up a sign with the Easter Bunny on it in response. We continued the conversation, and that pile of sketches became the first draft of Here Comes the Easter Cat.
Interstellar Cinderella is a case of a book growing from a title idea. I had a friend over and we were bantering and being silly, and the words “Interstellar Cinderella” came out of my mouth. I raced to the idea paper I had stuck on my wall and wrote it down, because I loved the way it sounded. Then it was just a question of figuring out what form the book would take. It started coming to me in rhyme, which is always a mixed blessing. I love rhyming books, but only when I’m finished writing them, because writing rhyme is so hard.
The first thing I remember wanting to be as a kid is an astronomer, so I really liked the idea of a space-age setting. I also liked inventing things when I was a kid. And I knew I didn’t want my Cinderella to hang around waiting for some prince to rescue her. So I decided that in my book, she would dream not of going to the ball to meet the prince, but of seeing the royal space parade, since what she really wants is to repair rocket ships. When the prince’s ship breaks down, a certain girl is ready with her sonic socket wrench to set things right.
You have a wide range of different picture books from quiet to laugh out loud, and fiction to nonfiction. Do you feel there is one prominent characteristic in relation to your writing voice, that runs through all of your stories?
Wow, that’s a really interesting question. Humor is important to me, and I think that’s present in most of my fiction work. I don’t know if this would be considered voice-related, but I hope that my books encourage empathy, and help kids understand that that it’s okay to have so-called negative emotions like anger, sadness, and jealousy.
Many people may not realize that you have written 28 nonfiction picture books on the educational side of the tracks. What inspired you to make the crossover from nonfiction to fiction?
When I went to one of my first writing conferences, a speaker said that she’d found the kids’ nonfiction market was easier to break into than the fiction market, so I said, “Guess what, self? You are now a nonfiction writer!” Since I needed to pay the rent, I did many nonfiction work-for-hire books—once I had my foot in that door, it was easier to get more nonfiction assignments.
I enjoyed writing nonfiction, but my dream was to publish fiction books. I’m extremely grateful for all the experience the nonfiction books gave me, though: they taught me how to work with editors and how to revise, so that when I began to get nibbles on my fiction, I was ready.
Thank you for inspiring us today, Deborah!
This post is being paired with a mentor text study of Deborah's two newest releases. For NEW mentor text tips, please visit the ReFoReMo blog.
Deborah Underwood is the author of numerous children’s books, including Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat, Interstellar Cinderella, and the New York Times bestsellers Here Comes The Easter Cat, The Quiet Book, and The Loud Book! She lives in Northern California with her feline companion, Bella. Please visit her online at DeborahUnderwoodBooks.com.