I’m honored to be asked by Mike Allegra to participate in his Waffles with Writers feature from his blog, Hey, look! A writer fellow!
Mike Allegra is the author of the picture books Sarah Gives Thanks (Albert Whitman & Company, 2012), Everybody’s Favorite Book (Macmillan, 2018), and Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist (Dawn, 2019). He also not-so secretly pens the Prince Not-So Charming chapter book series (Macmillan, 2018-19, pen name: Roy L. Hinuss). He received an Independent Artist Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, won the 2014 Highlights Fiction Contest, and received a 2019 Creative Access Fellowship. In January, he giddily signed a deal to write a new chapter book series, Kimmie Tuttle (ABDO, 2021). You should check out his blog and befriend him at www.facebook.com/mike.allegra.
Mike, I made these waffles for you myself. To that end, I recommend toppings–strong-flavored toppings. So, what can I get you?
Oh! Wow! What a treat! I’m usually the one doing all the waffle serving. I’ll just have some peanut butter and a little maple syrup if it isn’t too much trouble. That syrup is from Vermont, yes? Gotta be careful these days. Not too long ago an unscrupulous Idaho grocer tried to sell me syrup that was distilled from underage potatoes.
Shame on that Idaho grocer! Unrelated: did you see which way he went? Ahem, never mind. I’ll track him down later. Now, back to your excellent book. What inspired you to write it? Is there some real-world experience with mice or owls or talking rodents that led to this book?
Regrettably, I have yet to meet a talking rodent. Well, okay, a long time ago I met a squirrel who could speak Esperanto, but who the heck can understand that?
As for inspiration, the idea for Scampers began with a title: Scampers and the Scientific Method. I found the title funny, so I kept it in the back of my brain in the hope that one day I’d find a good story to attach to it.
That story came to me while I was attending an educator’s convention in Baltimore. All of the major characters and plot points hit me at once. It was the closest I’ve ever come to a creative epiphany.
Who would’ve ever thought that Baltimore could be so inspirational?
It’s ironic that the title that inspired all these ideas is no longer the title of the finished book. But, hey, Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist is a pretty good title, too; maybe not Scampers and the Scientific Method-level good, but pretty good nonetheless.
How did Scampers get all of her equipment and art supplies? Amazon? Drone delivery, most likely? Imagine how much THAT would’ve scared the other mice.
Scampers is not the kind of mouse who prioritizes convenience over the welfare of charming Mom ‘n’ Pop businesses. In fact, Scampers is making a new poster (with lots of glitter) that says: Shop Locally!
Good for Scampers! And did you write about a girl mouse to help promote women in STEM? (I hope the boy mice weren’t upset. Fievel kinda stole their thunder when he went west.)
Yes. More and more women have been pursuing careers in STEM (Science Technology Math Engineering) fields in recent years, which is wonderful, but due to STEM’s centuries-long tradition of gender bias, there’s still a long way to go before those fields achieve gender parity.
Now, do I think my female mouse scientist will help boost those numbers? Probably not. But, it’s my small way to show encouragement. Go women in science!
Did you also write the scientificy stuff at the end, or leave that to the experts?
About half of the scientificy stuff in the back of the book is mine. I wrote a lot more, but the editor, Cathy Malnor—who is wonderful and wise—decided to cut it. I also must take a moment to give Cathy credit for coming up with the engineering lesson that allows young scientists to build a mini catapult. It’s awesome.
That is awesome. Now, for the sake of all the future authors reading this, could you share a little about the journey to Scampers’ publication?
I had been writing Scampers on and off for nearly a decade before Dawn Publications picked it up. I first pitched the manuscript to Albert Whitman and Company shortly after they bought my first picture book in 2010. The editors were interested in Scampers, but they could never quite bring themselves to commit.
From that point forward, Scampers got caught in a kind of limbo. I’d revise the manuscript, send it to a bunch of publishers, get a bunch of rejections, and, with a dejected sigh, put the story in a drawer and move onto something else.
Then, maybe a year later, I’d open the drawer, find the manuscript, and say something like, “Hey, this story is pretty good! I’ll revise it and send it out again!” And so I’d revise the manuscript, send it to a bunch of publishers, get a bunch of rejections, and put the story back in the drawer.
I did this about a jillion times.
Then I got an agent and the burden of selling Scampers fell to her. And it was a burden. Publishers almost seemed eager to say, “No thanks!”
My agent sold the manuscript to Arbordale, but the editors there suddenly (and rather snippily) withdrew their offer in the middle of contract negotiations. I’m still not sure why Arbordale got so snippy, but snippy Arbordale got, and Scampers was once again, without a home.
I was disappointed, of course, but little did I know that all these trials, tribulations, and near misses were leading to the best kind of best-case scenario: a contract with Dawn Publications.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, I love this book. I love it a lot. And I can’t imagine a better home for Scampers than Dawn. From day one, I could see that Dawn’s creative team and I were all on the same page. The editorial process was an absolute joy. And Elizabeth Zechel’s impossibly adorable illustrations still make me squee with delight.
So the journey to get Scampers published was very long and occasionally very aggravating, but the finished book exceeded my happiest expectations.
Good things are worth waiting for.
Such as the end of this interview. Uuurp! Thanks for the sample, Mr. Idahoan grocer. I’ll just take one bottle for now. Wait, no, make that two. Cases. Do you do deliveries?… Excellent… Oh, whoops!
And we’re back! Hey, there everyone! Thanks for tuning it to today’s Waffles with Writers! Do check out Mike Allegra’s terrific new book, Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist. Give it to a young child you know and love, or donate it to your local library. Little girls with a heart for science will especially thank you, as will all intelligent young mice! Err… humans!
Thanks for reading!
Tipsy… Bitsy… Betsy!
And congratulations again to Mike. Way to persevere despite the set-backs and let-downs. I’m so happy Scampers found her forever home. She is delightful and truly worth the wait. Readers, find Scampers a home in your heart by purchasing the book here.