Deborah Underwood is the author of numerous children’s books, including INTERSTELLAR CINDERELLA, HERE COMES THE TOOTH FAIRY CAT, and the New York Times bestsellers HERE COMES THE EASTER CAT, THE QUIET BOOK, and THE LOUD BOOK! She has written more than 25 nonfiction books on topics ranging from smallpox to ballroom dancing, and has written for National Geographic Kids, Highlights, Ladybug, and Spider magazines.
Tell us about your latest book.
My most recent books are INTERSTELLAR CINDERELLA, illustrated by Meg Hunt (Chronicle) and the HERE COMES THE TOOTH FAIRY CAT, illustrated by Claudia Rueda (Dial).
INTERSTELLAR CINDERELLA is a twist on the familiar story: Cinderella dreams of a career in rocket repair, so she desperately wants to attend the Royal Space Parade to see all the ships. Despite her stepmother’s sabotage attempt, she makes it to the parade (with the help of her fairy godrobot) and comes to the prince’s rescue when his ship breaks down.
HERE COMES THE TOOTH FAIRY CAT is the third book in the Cat series. Cat tries to trick the Tooth Fairy into paying a visit. But the Tooth Fairy turns out to be just as tricky as Cat!
Henry: I’ve read both those books. I loved how INTERSTELLAR CINDERELLA reminded me of the Kaylee character from Firefly, and teaches that smart is the new pretty. I enjoy seeing innovative writing techniques, and loved how the cat wordlessly answers the Tooth Fairy narrator’s questions.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
One of the most challenging aspects of a writing career is juggling all the non-writing things: website updates, promotional work, speechwriting, responding to emails—all the things that pull time and energy away from writing.
But in terms of the actual writing, the first draft is usually the hardest part for me. Once something’s on paper, I feel like I have the tools to start fixing it, but writing that initial draft can be daunting.
Henry: And answering interview questions and caring for one’s cat! Bella is miffed you failed to mention her. I completely agree that the first draft is the most difficult.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
This is an ongoing experience: being part of the children’s writing and illustrating community has become an important part of my life. In general, people drawn to this work are not only funny, smart, authentic, and talented, but also tremendously supportive of each other. I feel lucky to be a member of the tribe.
Henry: The humorous Facebook exchanges alone are worth it.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Read a lot of books in the genre that interests you. Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (scbwi.org) and a critique group or two. Go to conferences and learn. It’s a tough field, so doing your homework—understanding the publication process and the market, knowing your own strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and continuing to hone your skills—is important.
Henry: I completely concur. Critique groups, I’ve found, are especially valuable to honing one’s writing.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
Today’s favorite is from Annie Dillard: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
Henry: Nice. I also like:
“I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.” ~John Locke
“Well done is better than well said.” ~Benjamin Franklin
“Between saying and doing, many a pair of shoes is worn out.” ~Italian Proverb
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
Hm…not rituals, really. But I usually write my drafts on a legal pad, and I’m quite fussy about having the right pen for each project. I once spent 45 minutes shopping for a pen before starting work on a story because I wanted a particular shade of blue!
And if you go to a cafe and see someone changing tables four times, it’s probably me. If I’m working, I’m ridiculously sensitive to noise, drafts, light, etc. so I tend to move around a lot.
Henry: You are the Sheldon Cooper of picture book writers!
Sheldon Cooper: That is my spot, in an ever-changing world, it is a single point of consistency. If my life were expressed as a function on a four-dimensional Cartesian coordinate system, that spot, at the moment I first sat on it, would be 0-0-0-0.
Penny: [blank stare] What?
Leonard Hofstadter: Don’t sit in his spot.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
The ability to talk to animals. I have a few things I need to discuss with my cat, Bella.
Henry: And no doubt, the reverse is true. “I’ve been meaning to speak with you about the cat food, Deborah.”
Sheldon Cooper: “You don’t have to sell me on cats, Leonard. I’m already a fan. All right, fellas, who’s in the mood for Fancy Feast? *disgusting plop of cat food on a plate* Well, that’s not fancy at all.”
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
I know I should say Shakespeare, Milton, and Jane Austen or something. But if I had to decide right this second, I would cheat and invite the other seven members of Erin Murphy’s Dog, the one-performance-a-year band I’m in: Ruth Barshaw, Mike Jung, Arthur Levine, Jeannie Mobley, Kristin Nitz, Carrie Watson, and Conrad Wesselhoeft. Partly because I love them, partly because we could play music after dinner, and partly because I think they’d forgive me for having papers strewn all over my apartment.
Henry: Tickets for Erin Murphy’s Dog are on sale now at Ticketmaster and Stub Hub…
Where can readers find your work?
They can find (or order) my books in their independent bookstores. And they are cordially invited to visit me online at DeborahUnderwoodBooks.com to see what I’m up to!
This interview is also on the San Diego Children’s Book Examiner.