Friday, January 10, 2014

Q&A with children's author Priscilla Cummings

Priscilla Cummings is the author of many children's books, both novels and picture books, including The Journey Back, Red Kayak, Blindsided, and Chadwick the Crab. She lives in Annapolis, Maryland.
Q: Your most recent novel, The Journey Back, is a sequel or companion to Red Kayak. Why did you decide to revisit the character Digger, and will you come back to those characters again?
A: When I finished writing Red Kayak I had no intention of carrying the story forward with sequels or companion books. But over the years, after visits to middle schools throughout the country and many emails and letters from readers asking me what happened to the three boys, I decided to go back to them.
I focused on Digger because, after all, he was the instigator of a disastrous prank. Was he sorry? How was he handling the guilt? I felt he had the most issues and needed the most help . . .
Will I come back to these characters again? I’m hard at work on it now. I’d like to bring the story full circle and return to J.T. and Brady as well.
Q:  You've written for many different age groups. Do you have a preference?
A: I love writing for middle grade and young adults even though I have enjoyed creating picture books, too. Certainly, writing a picture book is a nice break in between novels.
But if I had to pick, I’d say I prefer middle grade because of the challenges involved: coming up with the idea and the theme, formulating the plot and creating the character development that is so crucial, researching for the details that bring the story alive and move it forward, the writing and the rewriting, the back and forth with my editors, the publication, the school visits that result. Whew!
I’m not saying I love each and every aspect because it is hard, hard, hard for me to  write a book and sometimes I wonder why I put myself through it! I guess I keep writing because the rewards are so worthwhile.
And the number one reward is hearing from young readers how I touched their lives, how I made them feel, or see, or think about something. No question, that is the biggest reward.
Q: Many of your books for older kids deal with dark subjects. How do you present the information in a way that preteen and teen readers will appreciate?
A: I have to disagree with your premise that these are “dark subjects.” I call it real life.
It’s true that often my stories have a sad or tragic event. In A Face First a 12-year-old girl suffers a disfiguring burn to her face. In Blindsided my heroine, Natalie, loses her sight. In Red Kayak three boys find themselves in a terrible dilemma because of not thinking through the consequences of their actions. In The Journey Back a teenage boy suffers from an abusive father and ends up in a juvenile detention center.
But these are all things that happen in real life to real kids. Why not, in the safety of a book, allow young people to explore how they might endure and triumph over these challenges?
The way to do this, I believe, is to create characters that are believable. That way, my readers not only enjoy a gripping story, but they can put themselves in the shoes of my characters and experience the story first hand questioning how they themselves might respond in such a situation.
Q: How were the illustrators selected for your picture books?
A: The illustrator of my first picture book, (Alan Cohen, Chadwick the Crab) was someone I worked with when I was an editor at a city magazine. How lucky I was to have Alan who brought Chadwick, Bernie the Sea Gull, Hector Spector Jellyfish, Baron von Heron and my other characters to life. Another illustrator, and superb landscape artist, was Marcy Dunn Ramsey, who is also a friend.
Yet others were chosen by my publisher, which is typical with major trade publishers. My early picture books were published by a regional publisher, which allowed me more input on choosing an illustrator.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m finishing up on a middle grade/young adult novel tentatively scheduled for 2015.  I’ve already hinted that the story is related to Red Kayak, but I’ve always felt it was bad luck to talk too much about projects before they were finished so I hope this mention will do! Although thank you so much for asking!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Besides writing, I still visit schools and conferences to talk about writing and my books. People are welcome to visit my web site at, which also has a link to my email and my Facebook page where I post pictures and relay my most recent information. 
--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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