Interview: Carolyn Crimi

Hello, Carolyn! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to chat about your new book, WEIRD LITTLE ROBOTS. Before we get to the new book, would you care to introduce yourself to our readers?

Sure! I’m a pug lover, a Halloween freak, and Lucille Ball’s biggest fan. I’m also a picture book author with her first novel for children coming out this year!

WEIRD LITTLE ROBOTS is an illustrated chapter book, but you have already published several picture books. Have you always written longer form stories, or does WEIRD LITTLE ROBOTS represent a creative departure for you?

I have many, many first drafts of novels in my files, but the thought of revising them felt way too daunting. Then, suddenly, I decided to change that. I had always wanted to publish a novel for kids and decided that I would put in the necessary work with Weird Little Robots. It was simply time to do what I set out to do when I started writing back in 1989.

Revision has always been difficult for me. But by watching the members of my amazing writer’s group make HUGE changes in their own work I’ve learned that starting all over doesn’t mean I’m a bad writer. Actually, I think the best writers are the ones who are the most open to revision. In order for me to improve my writing I had to be more flexible about my first drafts. That took a lot of time to learn.

Was your process for crafting this longer work at all different from your picture book-writing process? Were there any surprising similarities or differences?

It’s a very different process for me. Partly because it takes so darn long to write a novel! You really have to love your subject matter.  When I’m writing novels I’m living inside them. I’m thinking about them all the time. I’m always looking for something to add to make them more authentic and unique. The journey with a picture book is shorter and therefore less intense.

A big challenge for me is writing action scenes. In picture books, especially the ones written today that are primarily dialogue, the action is often accomplished through the illustrations. A page turn can take you from one scene to the next without having to create a seamless transition. In my novels I have often stressed about things like, how the heck am I going to get my character down the stairs, out the door, and into the car? What do I put in? What do I leave out? I’m still learning!

Is there anything about the Middle Grade age range that you especially enjoy or appreciate?

I have heard that fifth grade is “the apex of childhood,” and that’s what I love about this age. I love their elaborate fantasy world, and how their games are so involved. I also love how important play is to them, and how intense they are when they participate. On the one hand, it’s all fun and games. On the other hand, it’s deadly serious.

All right – let’s get to the new book. Can you tell us what WEIRD LITTLE ROBOTS is about?

Weird Little Robots is about a lonely eleven-year-old girl who creates miniature robots out of the odd objects she finds on her daily walks. When the robots magically come to life, she thinks her dreams have come true, but her problems have only just begun!

The story’s main character, Penny Rose, does her creating in a shed. I’m curious to know why you chose to give her this little backyard laboratory/studio/sanctuary, as opposed to having her build her robots in, say, her bedroom?

Interesting that you should mention that! I wrote a draft in which her laboratory was up in the attic, but it was too limiting. I had to throw out eighty pages and start again. Having a separate structure away from the main house gave my characters more autonomy.

More importantly, broken-down sheds fascinate me!  I’ve always been curious about who once owned them and what they did in them. I love the possibility that lies within them.

I loved the way both Penny Rose and Lark were collectors of weird little objects, things that other people might pass over as “junk.” They cherish these odds and ends, and because of this, are careful, respectful observers of the world around them. Were you at all like them as a child?

Definitely! I vividly remember one incident from my childhood that illustrates this point. It was Christmas, and I had gotten some new toys. I certainly liked the new toys, but by the end of the day I was back to playing with my handmade “spy kit” which consisted of strange little thingamabobs I had found around the house. I was addicted to the show Get Smart and loved pretending I was a spy with a shoe-phone.

It’d be a shame to talk about this book without talking about the wonderful illustrations by Corinna Luyken. What was working with Corinna like? Did any of her art have an impact on your storytelling?

Corinna has been a dream! I love the way the illustrations have turned out!

But the process of working with her was similar to working with illustrators on picture books. As with picture books, we didn’t really work as a team. My editor chose Corinna after she bought the book, and the art director worked with her on her illustrations.

While I was writing it I didn’t even know if it would be published, much less illustrated, so I didn’t have Corinna’s illustrations to inspire me.

But after reading the manuscript she did have an interesting comment, which lead to a much better story. The robots in the book used to be all male except for one. She felt that Penny Rose would create female robots, and of course she was right!

What do you hope your readers – especially the young ones – take away from WEIRD LITTLE ROBOTS?

I would be so very happy if children formed their own Secret Science Societies in which they explored the magic of science!

Many of our site’s readers are teachers of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add WEIRD LITTLE ROBOTS to their classroom libraries?

First of all, thank you for purchasing my book! I realize there are a lot of great books on the shelves, and I’m very grateful you chose mine.

As far as using it in the classroom, I would think most kids would have a blast making their own weird little robot metropolises. I had so much fun writing about roboTown, and I’d love it if kids decided to make their own.

When can readers get their hands on WEIRD LITTLE ROBOTS, and do you have any exciting events or upcoming blog stops to celebrate the release and spread the word about the book?

The book will be out October 1st.  I have a few events scheduled at this point, but I’ll probably have more as I get closer to the publication date:

Evanston Library, September 15th

Harbor Springs Book Festival, September 26th through September 29th

Anderson’s Bookshop (Downers Grove location), October 17th

The Book Stall, Winnetka, November 2nd

57th Street Bookstore, Chicago, November 9th

Where can readers find you online, and how can they learn more about you and your work?

They can go to my website, www.carolyncrimi.com.

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