I am pleased to welcome author and doodler Mike Allegra to Bildebok! Mike and I connected several years ago through Susanna Hill’s wonderful blog and writing contests, and we’ve been exchanging puns and occasional critiques ever since. Mike’s writing journey has followed an interesting and varied path including playwriting, newspaper reporting, magazine editing and now to children’s chapter and picture books.
His latest picture books Everybody’s Favorite Book (Macmillan) and Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist (Dawn) will be out in October 2018 and March 2019, respectively. The first two books in his hilarious Prince Not-So Charming series are out now. I am so glad he was willing to answer a few questions about his latest works!
You have had a busy, exciting writing and publishing year. Can you tell us what’s happening at the moment?
So much! I spent most of 2017 shirking both my day job and my blogging responsibilities to write the Prince Not-So Charming chapter book series. At that same time, I was working with an editor on a picture book, Everybody’s Favorite Book and with another editor at another publisher for another picture book, Scampers Thinks Like A Scientist.
I was crazy busy, but it was a crazy fun busy.
These days I’m crazy busy thinking, “Gah! What’s my marketing plan?” So for the past couple of weeks I’ve been running around saying, “Hey! I have books! Look! Books!” which is sort of a marketing plan, I suppose.
Wow – picture and chapter books! When you began writing for young readers, did you imagine tackling a broad spectrum of genres and ages?
Yes. I have a habit of overcompensating to avoid literary ruts. As much as I loved my first PB, Sarah Gives Thanks (a nonfiction biography), I wanted my next PB to be different from Sarah in both content and tone. I think a book that features a man-eating guinea pig qualifies as “different from Sarah.”
Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist is also different from both Sarah and EFB; it’s a fun picture book for the education market. And then there’s Prince Not-So Charming, which is my attempt at writing for older readers.
What made you want to write chapter books? Tell us about the process of writing the PRINCE NOT-SO CHARMING series.
Prince Not-So Charming was a work for hire opportunity. I was already working with Macmillan on Everybody’s Favorite Book when I said to my editor, “Listen. I love you. I love this publisher. Please hire me to write anything else.” As luck would have it, Macmillan was kicking around an idea for a series about a prince who wanted to be a jester. So my editor invited me to write a 2,000-word audition piece—and I got the job!
And it was a great job. I won a year-long gig living the dream: writing books that I knew were going to get published. There is so much joy in knowing that a book you are writing will be published; I could play and experiment without fear. Macmillan liked my work enough to expand the original four-book deal to a six-book deal.
Long story short, 2017 was the most creatively fulfilling year of my life.
What have been the biggest differences between writing picture books and chapter books?
Prince Not-So Charming gave me the freedom to explore more complex stories and themes. It allowed me to show how character relationships grow and evolve from one book to the next. And it also gave me a chance to wander off on whimsical tangents, fool around with running gags, and hide Easter eggs that reference other books in the series. I adore writing picture books, but PNSC was an exhilarating change of pace.
And the editorial process, is that also different?
Very different. Everybody’s Favorite Book, unlike Prince Not-So Charming is highly dependent on visual humor. Many of the jokes land because the text is saying one thing while Claire Almon’s amazing illustrations indicate something entirely different. There were a lot of details to iron out to make sure the verbal and visual elements synced up as humorously as possible.
Prince Not-So Charming has illustrations, too—and good ones—but none of Matt Hunt’s drawings drive the narrative. So the PNSC editorial process was all about scrutinizing the content of my writing.
I don’t prefer one editorial process to the other, really. It’s just that EFB and PNSC exercised different parts of my noodle.
What’s up with the punny-funny pseudonym Roy L. Hinuss?
The pseudonym was a condition of the work-for-hire deal. I wasn’t allowed to use my real name because if I turned out to be an unreliable hack or a whiny, petulant diva, they could replace me with someone else. I really didn’t care about the pseudonym, though. My writing life has never been about getting my name “out there”; it’s been about finding good writing jobs. And the PNSC writing job was about as good as they come.
What are you working on now? Do you plan to focus on PB or chapter books, or is there MG or YA in your future?
My agent is pitching a couple of my manuscripts—two picture books and a chapter book—so my fingers and toes are crossed for another contract. Right now I am working on a middle grade mystery novel. It’s a very different story from what I’m used to, but I’m excited about where it’s taking me.
When and where can we get our hands on PRINCE NOT-SO CHARMING books, and where can we find you online? And more importantly, your homemade Brussels sprout ice cream?
The first two books in the Prince Not-So Charming series can be found wherever fine books are sold. They can also be found where less fine books are sold. In other words, my Prince Not-So-Charming books are not judgmental. I think we could all learn a little something from Prince Not-So-Charming books.
Everybody’s Favorite Book will be out on October 30, but can be preordered on Amazon or wherever else. And you totally should preorder it because it has a man-eating guinea pig in it. And do feel free to follow my blog http://www.mikeallegra.com or my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/heylookawriterfellow because I’m fun!
As for the Brussels Sprout ice cream, well… let’s just say that the FDA has unilaterally and, I think, rather recklessly declared that it is “unfit for human consumption.”
Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us Mike! If you’d like to enter the giveaway for the first two Prince Not-So-Charming books: Once Upon a Prank and Her Royal Slyness, please leave a comment below. If you share this post on Twitter, Instagram or some other platform, please let me know how many additional entries to toss in the jester hat for you. We will draw a winner on October 5, 2018 so don’t delay! US mailing address only please.