Welcome to the six hundred and fifty-first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with children’s author Jeaninne Escallier Kato. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Jeaninne. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Jeaninne: Wow, where do I begin? Well, I was raised in Southern California near Disneyland (hence, my huge imagination); and, I have lived most of my adult years in Northern California near Sacramento (the capital city of this great state). I am a 34-year veteran public school teacher with a master’s degree in education, and am currently teaching 4th grade in a predominantly Hispanic school. Coming from a working class family with a mother who supported my dreams via books, I threw myself into my free, public education because it was the one place I could shine without any financial status. Because my mother was a single mother, I knew I had to create a self-sustaining life around my passions. I truly believe one is wired to be a writer from birth, yet solid writing skills don’t come to fruition unless a child is encouraged to be a good reader. From my earliest recollections, my mother taught me to cherish books because they could take me to places we could never afford. My teachers always encouraged my imagination and rewarded my natural writing skills. Other than my mother, teachers were my role models. As an immensely energetic person who has always lived life out loud, I channelled all my energies into becoming a stellar student and a passionate teacher.
Morgen: And a passionate writer, no doubt. You write children’s books, was there a reason to choose this genre?
Jeaninne: As soon as I started my student teaching, I was introduced to a plethora of children’s books. I was smitten by all genres of children’s books; and, I thoroughly enjoyed reading some of these books out loud to my students. Throughout my busy career, I thought about writing my own children’s book. However, as my teaching life unfolded, I barely had time to be a good teacher and run my personal life adequately. Good beginning teachers work around the clock, seven days a week, with no time or energy to write a book on the side. Manuel’s Murals (http://manuelsmurals.tumblr.com) was not a planned project. It came to me later in my career on the hard steps of the National Palace in Mexico City. For eight hours, I couldn’t tear myself away from the massive murals painted by Diego Rivera. Only through my tears of sadness for the history of the Mexican people, did this book appear to me in a whisper by El Maestro himself, Diego Rivera. He simply said, “Teach the children about their past.”
Morgen: Living with a Mexican lodger (housemate), I know what a wonderful place it is. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Jeaninne: No, I don’t write under a pseudonym, but I include my maiden and married name on my work. Other than Manuel’s Murals, I have published the story “Swimming Lessons” in Carol Dovi’s book, Lessons From Our Grandmothers. And, I have been a writing contest runner-up for the San Francisco Writer’s Conference in the year 2007 for my memoir “Spanish Lessons.” I was also a contest runner-up for Milennium Writers in 1999 for “Broken Wings.” My memoir “The Golden Rule” was published in the California Middle School Newsletter in 1992, distributed throughout the state.
Morgen: What age group do you write for?
Jeaninne: Manuel’s Murals is written for ages 8 to adult. My memoirs have been written for adults. I am a thinking writer, so even my children’s work demands deep thought as well as imagination. I believe good writing contains lessons for living a positive and fruitful life, no matter what the theme.
Morgen: So you don’t think it’s easier writing for children than adults?
Jeaninne: No, I believe writing for adults and children are equally challenging. Good writing is good writing, regardless of genre. I actually enjoy writing for all ages.
Morgen: That’s very true. Do you get a second opinion on your stories before they’re published – if so from adults, children or both?
Jeaninne: My work goes through many reincarnations with readers of all ages. Over the years, I have presented my work at writing conferences, in writer’s groups, to other published authors, and with friends and family. It’s important for me to read my work out loud to hear any inconsistencies or glaring mistakes. Reading my work out loud gives a more accurate form of feedback because it takes my thoughts and puts them into action.
Morgen: Do you have any tips for anyone thinking about writing for children?
Jeaninne: Do not underestimate your young readers. Children are naturally honest and live life without filters. They can spot bad writing or work that lacks a strong story before most adults do. The cliché, “Grab your reader in the first sentence,” is especially true for children. Also, show your actions, do not tell about them. That’s a tried and true rule for all stories, but children demand to be entertained from the outset.
Morgen: Have you self-published anything? If so, what lead to you going your own way?
Jeaninne: My publisher, 3L Publishing, is a hybrid publisher. You put up front the publishing costs, but the publisher is your publicist and promoter who submits your work with national book distributors and into the clutches of appropriate reviewers. I linked up with this publisher because of her enthusiasm about my book. Also, 3L will not take just anyone’s work. Michelle Risley, the CEO, only accepts work that she knows is market worthy.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Jeaninne: Because of the brilliantly-colored art in my book, it is not an eBook. I read both eBooks and paper books. When color art is more perfected for eBooks, my publisher will go that route.
Morgen: I’m sure it’s getting there. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Jeaninne: Yes, Manuel Jesus Ramirez Rodriguez is my favorite character. I would have an unknown child actor from Mexico play his role. His story is universal so I wouldn’t want a known, slick actor to play his part. The film must retain the raw simplicity of his real-life, human condition. You put “Hollywood” into this story, then it loses its message. However, I do believe it would be a great independent movie.
Morgen: Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books?
Jeaninne: Yes, with 3L, I have total say in the title and cover. I worked with an independent artist, Rachel Smith, who took my lead all the way to capture the essence of my story.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Jeaninne: I am writing a memoir and the second book of Manuel’s Murals.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Jeaninne: To be honest, I write every day in my head, but not always on the keyboard. I never have writer’s block once I sit down and write. I am still working full-time as a teacher, but that is no excuse to write every day. I do manage five hours a week, if not every day.
Morgen: You can still do a lot in five hours. If you could do an average of 400 words per hour that would be around 100,000 words a year. 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Jeaninne: I am a very divergent thinker and teacher; therefore, I write as my mind unfolds. If I construct an outline, it is very loose and open to change at any turn of a thought or feeling. To be fair to my students, I always have intricate lesson plans, but feel no qualms if I have to change them because they are not working. My mind works quickly, so I have to try to type as fast as it unfolds.
Morgen: I’m the same but having been a secretary for 20+ years, I fortunately type very quickly. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Jeaninne: Yes, my method is to base my characters on an amalgamation of children and people I know. It’s important to include idiosyncratic behaviors to make your characters seem real and somewhat flawed.
Morgen: Absolutely. They should all be flawed, especially the really attractive ones. 🙂 Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Jeaninne: I edit every time I sit down to write. As a teacher, I cannot stand improper grammar or constructions. I am proofreading a friend’s book because my mind spots mechanical errors immediately; and, I enjoy editing- it’s much like fitting in pieces to a puzzle.
Morgen: It is always easier to spot someone else’s errors; we’re too close to our work. Do you have to do much research?
Jeaninne: My research to date is based upon my life experience. I do plan to write a book when I retire that will rely heavily on research about California mission Indians, which is part of my ancestry.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Jeaninne: I feel most comfortable in first and third persons. Manuel is third person, but my memoirs are, of course, in first person.
Morgen: Do you write any short stories?
Jeaninne: Yes, I thoroughly enjoy writing short stories. I enter much of my work in contests advertised in various writing magazines. Contests inspire me to write.
Morgen: Themed ones certainly inspire me to write something new. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Jeaninne: Yes, when I write essays about my childhood, I am processing my feelings for future work I may change into other character’s lives. Those pieces are personal and therapeutic solely for me.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Jeaninne: Ha, ha, ha, I wouldn’t be considered ‘a writer’ without the obligatory rejections. It’s all part of the glorious process that leads us into becoming better writers. I have been more than experienced for every job interview I have ever had, but haven’t secured every job. Who knows what employers or publishers really want? If you take it all too personally, you will never write, or go on job interviews.
Morgen: That’s very true. So you enter competitions. Are there any you could recommend?
Jeaninne: I heartily recommend the contests and competitions in Poet’s and Writers magazine. I was published in the coffee table book, Gifts From Our Grandmothers, because of these contests.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Jeaninne: No, I do not have an agent, but I think an agent is a vital piece of the writing business. Once you have an agent, your opportunities for becoming published are more available. After all, an agent can get your work a foot in many more doors than you would have access to without an agent.
Morgen: They certainly can. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Jeaninne: Here’s my philosophy: The author is the best marketer. An author must put him or herself on social media sites; enter his or her work into contests, blogs, independent book stores, conferences, and seek out reviewers. I try to do it all.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Jeaninne: My least favorite aspect of writing is finding ample time; my favorite aspect is the writing itself; and, I have been gobsmacked (to use one of your words) to discover how the people you meet via your writing journey opens up avenues never imagined. For example, like-minded, creative people introduce you to people, networks and links that will move your writing forward. It has happened to me more than once.
Morgen: Ah yes, time and I used to be best friends. I’m hoping to rekindle our friendship this year. 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Jeaninne: Get rid of the notion that you will become the great American / British novelist of the 21st century. It may happen only if you truly write about what you know with a joyful spirit. It’s not about the end result, it’s about the journey. Start with newspaper and magazine articles and move up from there. Be open to whatever comes to you. Everything is an opportunity if you are serious about being a good writer who will put in the time and effort. Nothing in this business, and it is a business, comes easily. What’s that old saying: “If it’s too good to be true, then it is too good to be true.” As in anything worthwhile, you have to do the work and pay your dues.
Morgen: And if we’re determined enough writers, we’ll gladly do the work. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Jeaninne: I love this question! I would invite Frida Kahlo, Tina Modotti and Diego Rivera from the 1930’s and 40’s to dine on my favorite local Vietnamese restaurant take-out (without the containers). As connoisseurs of great food and simple pleasures, these fascinating movers and shakers of social history would love the sauces and exotic tastes away from their usual Mexican fare. Oh, the conversations we would have!!! They would be honored by the way I continually edify their work and culture. In fact, I have sent my book to Diego Rivera’s daughter, Guadalupe Marin Rivera, who lives in Coyoacan, Mexico, where Frida grew up. She loved my book and told me that her father would be proud. Now that’s an endorsement!
Morgen: Wow. Isn’t it just. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Jeaninne: The word, indefatigable, makes me smile every time I see it in print. It rolls off the tongue in a playful way. My favorite quote from Frida Kahlo is: “Viva la vida!” Live life to the fullest!
Morgen: And write about it. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Jeaninne: Yes, as I mentioned before, I am proof-reading a friend’s manuscript. And, I am writing a story set in the California mission era to augment my social studies curriculum for my fourth graders.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?
Jeaninne: When I’m not writing or teaching, I am reading, playing with my dogs and cat, working out, spending time with my husband and friends, and traveling in Mexico. Oh, and I enjoy harkening back to my 70’s street mime days at parties where I do a very believable spider impersonation! My previous high school students, use to beg me to do ‘the spider’ when I taught drama.
Morgen: Spider impersonation? That I would like to see… maybe on a YouTube clip one day? 🙂 Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Jeaninne: I found you on Linked In, which is a great site for finding like-minded authors. Tumblr.com is a new social website with many blogs and websites related to books and authors. You can find my book site there as well: http://manuelsmurals.tumblr.com.
My publisher has a sweet, basic book that does a great job of offering new writers advice about the publishing world. It’s called, Vanity Circus A Smart Girl’s Guide to Avoid Publishing Crap by Michelle Gamble-Risley and Michele Smith.
Morgen: I’m on Tumblr (and all my blog posts go there) but I’ve not really used it outside of that which is probably a shame but like anything it’s a time thing. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Jeaninne: For me, the sky is the limit. With the internet, the world is at our fingertips. However, the key is to write and research every single day. The publishing world has changed drastically. It’s up to the author to sell his or her work, but for me, where there is a will, there is a way!
Morgen: It is, which is probably why I’ve had so many (800+) authors involved in this blog. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Jeaninne: Please visit my blog and book site at: http://manuelsmurals.tumblr.com. You can also read my reviews for Manuel’s Murals at Amazon.com
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Jeaninne: I watched Ray Bradbury speak at the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference in 2007. He even autographed a book for me. I would like to impart his philosophy to your readers now: When you love the writing process through the love of who you are, only good things can happen. It’s all about love. Everything worthwhile stems from how you feel about yourself. If you love life, it will come out in your work.
Morgen: That’s lovely. And I love my work (although I don’t see writing as ‘work’). 🙂 Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Jeaninne: I would love to read your answers to these questions, but if that’s not possible, I need to use this space to thank you profusely for supporting authors on your website. It’s people like you who make this journey worth every single, specially picked word that we write day in and day out. Half of my joy in writing is meeting the people who also share this gift.
Morgen: Ah, that’s really kind of you to say so… and you can actually read my answers; I interviewed myself for interview no.100 (which came out on my 44th birthday). 🙂 And your kind words have cheered me up after a bit of a rough week. Thank you, Jeaninne.
I then invited Jeaninne to include a synopsis of her book…
Manuel Jesus Ramirez Rodriguez, a passionate nine year-old boy from Mexico City, loves to paint murals like his hero, the legendary 20th century Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera. He dreams of the day he will become as famous as Diego Rivera so he can take care of his family and never have to watch his father clean other people’s buildings ever again. However, because of this single-minded quest, Manuel learns how his actions can affect the lives of others in ways he never imagined. Manuel takes a solo journey to learn more about Diego Rivera’s art, but what he finds is a greater understanding of his own culture. The theme of this picture book revolves around family; however, an appreciation of who we are emerges as colourful as the soul that is Mexico.
Jeaninne Escallier Kato is a 34-year veteran California public school teacher with a master’s degree in education. She grew up in a multi-cultural, blended family in Southern California, and is married to a Japanese American. Because of her mother’s Hispanic roots and her father’s French and California Indian blood, diverse cultures have always fascinated her. Manuel’s Murals was born out of her love for Mexico, a culture that has impacted her life deeply. Jeaninne speaks Spanish and teaches 4th grade in predominantly Latino school in Northern California, where she also runs a Latino mentoring program. Her passion for the artists, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, inspired this book. Jeaninne spent a whole day sitting in front of Rivera’s “History of Mexico” murals at the National Palace in Mexico City, absorbing his message, when she heard Diego whisper, “Teach the children about their past.” Manuel’s Murals is an homage to all children who dare to dream.
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