Three Random Questions Interview with Author-Firefighter Danual Berkley

Danual Berkley is a full-time fire fighter, husband, father of two little boys, Army vet, and a guy with a dream. His dream is to one day become a well-known children’s author providing positive representation for black men, while tackling the lack of diversity in children’s literature for people of color.

 Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Danual. I’m so glad you agreed to an interview. You’ve gone from being in the army to being a fire fighter, both requiring huge acts of courage and selflessness. Why do you choose these kinds of careers?

Danual Berkley: Hello Bonnie. Thank you so much for having me! I chose these two careers for two separate reasons actually. While in high school, I always kept pretty good grades. I had no idea how to use those grades to get scholarships to pay for college, nor was I really interested in doing another 4 years of school after being in school my entire life. I knew that going to the military would put money in my pocket, and later on they would pay for me to attend college as well. I wanted to go infantry at first, but my older brother David talked me out of it because he was worried about my safety.  Instead, I decided to drive trucks. The funny thing is, once I found out that I was deploying to Iraq, the military changed my job and I became a gunner in the 66th Transportation Gun Truck Company. My job was to provide security for convoys that we escorted throughout Iraq.  This turned out to be a job that was just as much, if not more, dangerous than being an infantryman.

It was also my brother that led me to the fire department. I wanted to be a S.W.A.T officer on a police department. I was seeking a job with action. My brother called me up one day and told me the fire department was hiring, and that they paid very well. By this time, I was in my 3rd year of college, and had my first son on the way.  I thought it would be a great opportunity to provide for my son, if I was lucky enough to get the job. After a year of testing and waiting, I was offered the job. I went to the fire academy and learned that firefighting was actually the best job there was and offered tons of action. I’ve been hooked and loving it ever since! I’ve been on six and a half years now.

Ferrante: You have recently entered into the field of writing children’s picture books. What  made you choose such a divergent enterprise?

Berkley: I didn’t discover I had a talent in writing until I was in the 11th grade. My English teacher made it mandatory that the class entered the Young Author’s Competition. The choice she gave us was to write either a poem or a short story. I wasn’t really trying to do a lot of work, so I wrote a short poem that it took me all the way to the State Competition where I took 3rd place overall in poetry. After that, I wouldn’t write again for years until I found myself fighting in the Iraq War. In order to escape my reality, I started writing again and making up different kinds of characters in faraway places. As I became more serious about my writing and became published, I met Amariah. Amariah was my first encounter with someone who was actually very successful creating children’s stories. She was the one that introduced me to writing picture books, because up until then, all I had been writing were books set to be a collection of poetry. With that said, I encourage all people to continue trying new things because you never know how much you’ll love something or how good you are at something, until you try it!

Ferrante: Your book, Davy’s Pirate Ship Adventure, features an African-American family. The little boy is the hero who saves the family from the sea monster and turns the sinking ship into a submarine. Picture books should always make children feel empowered. Looking at the dedication in the front of your book to your sons, “Don’t ever let someone’s misunderstanding change who you are.” I can see that that is deeply important to you. Do you feel there are enough books out there for your children to feel culturally included and valued?


 Berkley: Based on my personal experience (as well as research), no. There are not enough books out that represent children of color. Whether or not that child feels culturally included or valued, varies with each individual child. I do know as a kid growing up, I didn’t really have the opportunity to read or see books with African-American families, but as an adult, when I see a book with African American families I get excited to see characters in the stories both my family and I can relate to. It feels good seeing a reflection of yourself in a story.

Ferrante: Previously you mentioned negative stereotypes about black men, one being that they don’t raise their children. In a cosmic moment of serendipity, I heard a comedian, Mark James Heath, speaking on the expressions of surprise when Caucasian people see him engaged with his children. In this regard, it seems as though literature has not caught up with television. I see a number of shows with involved black fathers but picture books seem rather rare. This is unfortunate since they are often the earliest stories of families children experience.  I have two questions. How does your book address this topic? How can Caucasian writers help in this area?

Berkley: To answer your first question, In Davy’s Pirate Ship Adventure I address the topic indirectly. I don’t come out and say straight forward that I’m a black man raising my kids. I simply show myself being an involved father throughout the story. I have other books I’ve written that have yet to be published, that shows the love and compassion I have for my sons a lot more. The actions in the story speak louder than any words could express.

In regards to your second question, Caucasian writers who do have large followings could help by also writing books that show positive black male fathers.

Ferrante: What other attitudes toward black men do you hope to influence in your writing?

Berkley: Other negative stereotypes say black men don’t settle down with one woman and get married, as well as being violent individuals. All of my stories are geared to show how untruthful these stereotypes are. Black men do settle down and get married, and black men are not people you have to fear. We are here to love and enjoy life just as any other person would want to.

Ferrante: Do you intend to write more books featuring Davy and his family or are you considering other characters?

Berkley: I have several other unpublished books where all of the characters in Davy’s Pirate Ship Adventure play lead characters. In the back of Davy’s Pirate Ship Adventure, you can find the backstories of all of the characters. I did this because each character will be seen again in other stories, and it ties them all together. Readers will be able to develop relationships with each character and experience stories from that character’s point of view.

Ferrante: Have you ever considered writing a firefighter picture book featuring a black man or a black woman for that matter? By the way, I live in northern Canada where most black immigrants take a look at the winter weather and head south so I’ve never seen firefighter of African descent. Is it common in your firehouse?

Berkley: I do have a firefighting story already written with Davy as the main character. As of now, there are other stories we plan to release before that one is to be published. The next book will most likely star my younger son as the main character.

In regards to how many black firefighters there are on a department, it varies by population. I live in a predominantly white area, so most firefighters in our department are white. I’m sure there are other places where the majority of firefighters are people of color.

Ferrante: Is there anything we haven’t talked about that you would like to share with my readers?

Berkley: Please check out my website and social media pages to learn more about my work at the following links:

Ferrante: Now for the unusual part. My interviews always feature three random questions so here we go.

1. If you could play a sport at Olympic level, which one would you choose?

Berkley: It would definitely have to be snowboarding! Although I have never been snowboarding in my life, it just looks really fun to do, and it allows you to be as creative as you want. I love sledding here during the winter, so I can only imagine how awesome it would be to snowboard down the side of a mountain.

Ferrante: 2. You really do love action.

 If you could give a gift to every new parent, what would you give them?

Berkley: It would have to be a dishwasher. It’s impossible to keep up with the amount of bottles, plates, baby accessories, and breast feeding equipment on top of the dishes you use yourself. The only way you can survive is by having a dishwasher, so in words of Oprah, “You get a dishwasher, you get a dishwasher, everyone gets a dishwasher!”

Ferrante: 3.  LOL. That brings back memories.

 If you could be an animal for a day, what would you be?

Berkley: If I got to be an animal for one day it would have to be a rodent! I watch a lot of Animal Planet, and being a rodent seems really adventurous and exciting. I’m sure I’d probably regret that decision instantly if I ever really had the opportunity to be a mouse. But in all of the movies I’ve seen, being a mouse seems like a good time!

Ferrante: I did NOT expect that answer. 🙂

 Thank you for participating in my interview and answering both my serious and silly questions. Best of luck with your wonderful book Davy’s Pirate Ship Adventure and all your future enterprises.

Three Random Questions Interview with Deborah Bruss and Matt Forrest Esenwine

Bonnie Ferrante: Today I am trying something new in my Three Random Questions Interview. I’m chatting with the joint authors of a children’s picture book entitled Don’t Ask a Dinosaur, Deborah Bruss and Matt Forrest Esenwine. Welcome to you both.

My first question is for Deborah. Your book was originally entitled Don’t Ask a Porcupine. When you couldn’t get a publisher for that, you changed it to dinosaurs. Why that particular animal? You also enlisted the aid of a poet. What made you decide to turn it into a rhyming book?

Deborah Bruss: The original title might have been, Wild, Wild Birthday, though I wrote so many versions I’m totally confused. The original characters were popular zoo animals; the porcupine tried to blow a balloon up, the snake tried to tie ribbons. After countless revisions and attempts to sell the story, I stashed it in my file cabinet. Then one day, I thought, “What genre of picture books never goes out of style?” Dinosaurs! At that time I was also working on a story that wove many Mother Goose poems into one rhyming tale about Little Bo Peep’s sheep. Matt and I, who attended the same children’s writers’ group, began emailing altered Mother Goose (some of which were not appropriate for children) to each other. Matt impressed me with his quick wit, creativity and talent for writing poems. I brought the dinosaur version of the story to the writers’ group because I was stuck. From their I steered the the story into Matt’s hands, and it took off from there.

Ferrante: I’d like a peek at those Mother Goose rhymes.

You have written several children’s books and you contributed to the non-fiction series America’s Notable Women. I imagine that required a good deal of research. Did you find that helpful when you decided to write a book about dinosaurs? Surprisingly, the facts about dinosaurs change over time as more discoveries and corrections are made. What strategies did you use to be completely up to date on these fascinating animals?

Bruss: I loved doing the research for the America’s Notable Women series, so much so, that I put off writing until deadlines loomed. With “Don’t Ask a Dinosaur,” I kept the research fairly simple, googling “weirdest” and “most popular” dinosaurs. Matt became the research fanatic – he wanted to include dinosaurs that had been recently discovered and came up with some wacky looking ones, such as the Therezinosaurus with it’s wicked long claws.

Ferrante: Matt, you are a well-established poet whose works have appeared in a number of publications suited for adults. In 2017 you made the jump to writing a picture book called The Flashlight Night. Why did you decide to take this new route?

Matt Forrest Esenwine: It was actually around 2009 or so that I decided I wanted to make a concerted effort to become a published children’s writer, so I joined an SCBWI critique group, then joined SCBWI itself, and then eventually attended my first conference, where I learned a great deal about the children’s lit industry and community. One thing led to another, and I ended up with my first published children’s poem, “First Tooth,” which was featured in Lee Bennett Hopkins’ board book anthology, Lullaby & Kisses Sweet (Abrams, 2015).

Interestingly, I met my Flashlight Night editor, Rebecca Davis, through Lee – and signed the contract for the book the very same month that “First Tooth” was published!

Ferrante: Critique groups are essential, especially when trying a new genre. I believe there are a number of similarities between writing poetry and writing picture books, precise, clear and vivid writing is needed in both. Have you found your poetry experiences affect your picture book writing?

Esenwine: Absolutely! Although I never refer to myself as a poet, I always approach my writing from a poet’s perspective: trying to think in abstract terms, staying away from “easy” rhymes and tired phrases, and utilizing poetic devices like internal rhyme and unusual words. But every book is different and requires its own unique style. I never try to force rhyme upon a story; while most of my manuscripts are rhyming, a few are written in prose and I have at least three poetry collections I’m submitting, as well.

Ferrante: Any one or both can answer the following.

What are you most proud of about Don’t Ask a Dinosaur?

Esenwine: That our editor, Jordan Nielson, loved what we worked so hard to do – which was to incorporate the dinosaur species’ names into the text as seamlessly as possible, while still maintaining a structured rhythm and rhyme scheme without any of it feeling forced. There’s a reason this thing went through 20 revisions before we started sending it out.

Bruss: That Matt and I pulled this off with never an argument, though maybe he secretly pulled his hair out over some of my ideas.

Ferrante: Who do you think will most enjoy this book?

Esewine: Any child who loves dinosaurs! We have some very familiar faces like T-Rex along with several very unusual ones like Therezinosaurus.

Bruss: Dinosaur fanatics, of course, but also kids (and adults) who like a rip-roaring disaster of a tale.

Ferrante: How did you structure working together? What were the rewards and challenges?

Esenwine: After I wrote the initial first draft, I sent it to Deb, who made some revision of her own. From there, we worked via Google Docs (now Google Drive) which allowed us to make change in real time and see what each of us was doing. The fact that we knew each other via the SCBWI critique group helped, because we were close enough geographically that we could call each other up or even visit in person to talk about things.

Deborah: Structure? My life operates on the squeaky-wheel-gets-the-grease system, and it seems Matt’s does, too, except he is adept at greasing several squeaky wheels at one time. (Matt, I do apologize if I’ve blown your Zen-like cover). Fortunately, our humor clicks, but we also brought our own strengths, which complimented each other. I had already created the story arc, and then Matt added his talent for writing poems. Also, what Matt said is true. As far as challenges, I love having the constant and quick feedback when writing with someone else. Bouncing ideas off one another seems to create more ideas and enthusiasm, keeping writers’ block at bay. The downside? To be honest, feeling that my co-author is more competent than me.

Ferrante: Is it more difficult to write with a partner? What advice would you give writers considering this? What do you wish you had known before you started?

Bruss: It all depends on the partner. If you don’t click, it won’t work. Even if you do click, it might fall apart. Matt and I didn’t create a signed document that spelled out how we made decisions, though I’m sure there are many cases where this would be a really good idea.

Esenwine: Well, as Jane Yolen has said, writing with a co-author is twice the work for half the pay! Which is true, because one cannot simply be happy with one’s own edits – both writers need to be happy! – and ultimately, you end up splitting the advance and royalties. But this was definitely twice the fun, too, because Deb and I had the same vision for the book and were constantly improving the manuscript every time we revised it.

Ferrante: Both of you please answer the following questions. Don’t look at each other’s answers until you are done.

If you could invent a new ride for a theme park, what would it be?

Bruss: I love the wet and wild rides, so perhaps a raft ride through herds and packs of dinosaurs. Just think of the splashes a dinosaur tail could make!

Esenwine: As long as it involved getting drenched with water, I’d ride it all day long. They already have roller coasters that splash through water – why not a Scrambler that sends you into a wall of water?

Ferrante: If you could go back to any age for one day what age would you choose? Why?

Bruss: I’m not sure. All ages have their ups and downs. There are several specific days I’d happily repeat, including the day I got married, a hot summer day on my favorite lake, the day my family of four adopted twin girls.  But since the question is about age, not a day, I’d chose a 21-year-old body but not the confused mind that went with it. Or maybe 7-years-old, when I had a new best friend, a teacher I adored, and not a care in the world. 

Esenwine: Great question! There are so many things one could do or change at different ages, but I think I’d spend a day when I was about 6, either at the beach with my folks or on Christmas Day. Six is the age where you’re able to do lots of things for yourself, you’re starting to grow and mature more, but you have no responsibilities and you still believe in the honesty of the world, the infallibility of your parents, and magic.

Ferrante: What animal would you choose for your totem or spirit animal? Why?

Bruss: Either a turtle or an elephant. Or maybe a telephant or a elurtle. One is quietly determined; the other is wise and compassionate. 

Esenwine: A house cat. I’m a cat person, anyway, but I really appreciate their independent nature. When a dog comes over to you to be petted, I get the feeling it’s because that’s all they know how to do; when a cat comes over to you, it’s because you’re special!


Ferrante: I’m a cat person too but a telephant sounds pretty intriguing. Thank you, Matt and Deborah, for your interesting responses. I loved the book, by the  way. My review was posted April 18th. Good luck with all your endeavors.

Don’t Ask a Dinosaur” (Pow! Kids Books) in stores April 17, 2018!

Don’t Ask a Dinosaur Blog Tour

April 6:       Michelle H. Barnes (Interview w/month-long writing prompt)

April 8:       Kate Narita (Trailer & activity sheet spotlight)

April 11:     Deborah Kalb (Interview w/Matt & Deb)

April 13:     Yours Truly (Interview w/Louie)

April 16:     KidLit Exchange (Blog post re: process of illustration)

April 17:     Momma’s Bacon (and I’ll be promoting the book’s release on my blog, as well)

April 18:     Bonnie Ferrante (DAAD review)

April 19:     Brenda Harsham (micro review)

April 25:     Bonnie Ferrante (DAAD interview)

May 2:        Unleashing Readers

Diane Wigginton Three Random Questions Interview

Diane Merrill Wigginton began writing after retiring from two careers. From 1983 to 1998 she was an Registered Dental Assistant and decided to retire before the birth of her last child. Then upon moving from San Diego, California to Herald, California, a small rural community in the Sacramento County in 2001 she began caring for children after opening a daycare in her home in 2002. She completed writing and producing her three historical romance books in the Jewelled Dagger series: Angelina’s Secret, Isabella’s Heart, and Olivia’s Promise, while simultaneously working full time, and only recently decided to retire from the daycare business and close her doors at the end of April, 2017.

Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome Diane. In what time period do your books take place and why did you choose that setting?

Diane Merrill Wigginton: The series begins in 1763, with each book picking up with the family and their dynamics approximately 20 to 21 years later. I chose this time by random and completely by chance, but felt that this was a very rich period in time, fraught with Pirates, secret societies and the opportunity to spin an exciting tale.

Ferrante: You have a large family, five sons and one daughter. How have they influenced your writing?

Wigginton: I married my husband, David Wigginton almost 20 years ago and we are a combination of “His, mine and ours.” It’s funny to say this, but I remember watching the movie, “His, Mine, and Ours,” with Lucile Ball years ago and thinking how cool it would be to combine a family and then it happened to me. Dave had 3 sons, I had a daughter and a son and then ended up getting pregnant on my honeymoon. The little bundle of joy was born 37 weeks later, a whole 3 weeks early, and hasn’t slowed down yet. I feel blessed to have such a large brood. We are currently up to 6 grandchildren, with a seventh due next March. It is an exciting time in my life and I count my blessings every day that we stuck it out through the tough times so that we could enjoy the fun times. In the early years, it was very hectic and busy. Fortunately for me, Dave’s boys were mostly grown and well established when we wed. My children were 10 & 6 when we had our youngest. I guess I have always been curious and driven, but in the early years I was too busy and exhausted to explore what I really wanted to be when I grew up. When I turned 50 in 2013, I had an “Aha,” moment. I had always liked writing and expressing myself, but had never pushed myself to see what I was capable of. Our youngest son was the only child home and he was busy with his friends and being a teenager, so with no formal training, I sat down one day with an idea in mind of what I wanted to accomplish, I began to write a story. One chapter turned into two chapters and before I knew it, I had written an entire novel. It took me about six months and it felt amazing. Things just poured out of me onto the keyboard and there it was. I went through and did a rewrite then sent a copy to my best friend, Gigi in Idaho and printed out a copy for my Mom, and asked them both to proof read it and give me their opinion. They both loved the story and were very encouraging.

Ferrante: What processes do you go through to receive feedback on your work in progress?

Wigginton: First of all, no one sees the product until I am through and have done at least one rewrite. Then I always pass my work off to Gigi and my Mother, because they are both professional readers, devouring anything with pages and a cover. Plus, if the story stunk, Gigi would tell me straight up, but so far, she has loved everything I’ve written. My mother would just avoid talking about it for awhile until I pressed her for an opinion if she didn’t like the story. When I gave my mother a copy of my second book, Isabella’s Heart, she called me the next day to tell me that she stayed up to 3 a.m. reading it, until her eyes wouldn’t focus anymore. That made me feel really good.

Ferrante: Angelina is not a product of her time. Her beliefs and behaviour run contrary to societal norms. Why did you choose to make her so out of place?

Wigginton: I think that there has always been forward thinking, strong minded women among us, they just haven’t always been spoken of. I wanted my character, Angelina to be one of those women. Someone who thought outside of the box, kind of like me. I can be saucy and sassy myself, just ask my husband, Dave. I wanted to create someone that women could relate to or even just aspire to be like. Angelina is strong, opinionated and flawed but she grows as the story progresses. She learns to think about the welfare of someone other than herself and her immediate needs. She was fun to create and imagine.

Ferrante: I understand you have written two picture books. Would you like to share a little about that?

Wigginton: I had this idea, years ago about three best friends, who get together and have an adventure, using only their imaginations, but their imaginations transport them to another place. Then in the end, they are walking home with the spoils of their adventure, and it leaves the reader wondering if it was all imagined or was it real.

The second book involves the Sand Man and the Tooth Fairy and how they came to be who they are. My daughter, Nicole, challenged me to create a story about the Tooth Fairy, and so I did. It was a blast.

Ferrante: I have a tooth fairy story as well. I love that mythology.

There is a pirate in your Jewelled Dagger series and one in your picture book. Why are you drawn to pirates?

Wigginton: The time in history when pirates roamed, is filled with possibilities, and as an author it allows one’s imagination to go in so many directions. Plus, what woman hasn’t been drawn to a bad boy at some point in her life.

Ferrante: Are there any authors or books that influence your writing? What gets your creativity flowing?

Wigginton: I love Diana Gabaldon’s, Outlander Series. I read only 4 of her books in her 8-book series over 20 years ago and am so thrilled that she is doing well with her books being turned into a mini series on Starz. She waited a long time for it to happen and deserves everything she has worked so hard to achieve.

Sometimes the thing that gets my imagination going is as simple as a turn of a phrase in a song ling, or a television show or movie. Something as simple as a line or a few words and off I go.

Ferrante: Do you have recurring themes or messages in your writing?

Wigginton: I try to bring a thought or message of growth. Maybe it is a spiritual thought I had or read. Sometimes it is an idea that we can all change and grow stronger emotionally from a terrible situation. A gleanable moment that can be reflected upon and pondered over. A “Aha,” moment that my character is going through that maybe someone reading my story can relate to.

Ferrante: What advice would you give a writer starting his/her first novel?

Wigginton: Keep it simple. Don’t get too fancy with words, because you might lose your reader. Create a vivid picture in the minds of your readers, with your words, that transport them to another time or place. Do your research and never give up on your dream. Even if you aren’t very good at first, take the time to educate yourself and follow that dream.

Ferrante: What was your favourite childhood game?

Wigginton: Hide and seek. I could play it for hours.

Ferrante: If you were a rock, what Rock would you be?

Wigginton: I would be an ordinary piece of coal, that has the opportunity to be turned into a diamond.

Ferrante: If you could go into a fiction book and participate in the story, what book would you choose and who would you want to encounter?

Wigginton: I loved the movie, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of The Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. It would have been an honor to have shared a cup of tea with anyone of those three women and picked their brain for awhile.

I love stories of over coming the odds. I grew up in the “60s” and remember the prejudices that took place and find it still just as shocking when people see the color of someone’s skin or judge them by the clothes that they wear, rather than on their merit as an individual. The world is full of beautiful, positive, wonderful people. Everyone should take their blinders off and expand their horizons, and judge every person individually rather than as a whole.

Ferrante: Hear, hear. Hidden Figures is a great example of how incredible potential that could further all human development can be wasted by curtailing people’s opportunities and gifts. It also boggles my mind that people still try to keep others down. I try to make my books as diverse as possible without misappropriation. Recent political/social events with regard to sexism and racism have left me gobsmacked. I’m happy to see writers like you trying to open people’s minds and hearts. Thank you for participating in my Three Random  Questions Interview series.

Goodreads –

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Amazon author’s page or



Three Random Questions Interview with Lauren Isabelle Pierre.


Lauren Isabelle Pierre is a children’s writer, self-taught illustrator, and aspiring comic artist. She began self-publishing her picture books at the age of 15. At the ripe old age of 18, she has a lifetime ahead of her to grow and share.

Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Lauren. I have to say, you slipped under my radar. As a rule, I don’t review books written by such young people. I reviewed your book, Tip and Lulu A Tale of Two Friends in March, 2017 not knowing how young you were when you wrote it. Why did you decide to start publishing so soon?

Lauren Isabelle Pierre: Haha, yeah, sorry about that. I had wanted to be inconspicuous about my age in the past, but eventually I came to realize that the whole novelty of me being a young writer was people KNOWING how old I was. I’m glad it worked out though; your review is one of my favourites! To answer your question, I’ve actually been trying to get published since I was maybe 10 years old? It all started back when I was seven or eight when my dad showed me a news article about an 11 year old girl who wrote a novel about dolphins and published it through That was the spark that eventually ignited my “passion dynamite” for being a published author, if you will. I had a lot of good starts, but usually lost interest. Several years later, when I was 14, my dad approached me with yet another article about a New York native writing YA romance/sci-fi… at 13! She was printing through CreateSpace. That was the push that eventually led me to write/illustrate my first children’s book.

Ferrante: You write from a Christian viewpoint but, at least this book, lends itself well to non-Christian readers as well. I liked the message that kindness is its own reward. Are you consciously making your books available to a wide audience?

Pierre: Absolutely! As they sang in VeggieTales (which I was recently surprised to find out is enjoyed by both Christians and non-Christians alike), “God’s Word is for everyone”. I know that the term “Christian” can turn a lot of people off and get them thinking, “This is just another book about God and all that preachy stuff, I’ll pass,” so I go out of my way to make my stories accessible to a wide readership, all while teaching the values I believe in. That isn’t to say I’m afraid of sharing my faith (my first faith-based children’s book is set to be released next month); but I know how people can be when you “push them.”

Ferrante: I agree. Respecting the beliefs of your readers is important. Although my books are written from a Buddhist viewpoint, there is only one Buddhist word in one of my picture books. (The AMIDA Tree)

Your other two books, Ollie the Opossum: A Tale of Loving Yourself and The Panda that Learned to Ignore use animals as the central characters. Why do you use anthropomorphized animals instead of humans?


Pierre: Well, The Panda that Learned to Ignore was written by my brother Samuel, and his reason for using animals in it was because his favourite animal is the panda. My reason for using anthropomorphic animals characters is so readers focus less on what the characters look like (black, white, etc.) and more on what they’ve done or overcame; I want them to focus on the lesson of the story and internal emotions of the character. Also, they’re a lot of fun to draw and are capable of maintaining plot elements that *normal* human characters can’t (like fly, scale up trees with ease, pick up a scent from far distances, etc.). I think I’ve grown up enough as a writer to start telling stories with a human cast… but we’ll see if there are any more “furry” characters in need of getting their stories told living in my imagination. There will always be a place in my heart for each of them.

Ferrante: You’re self-taught. You’re fortunate enough to be living in a time where the internet provides free instruction on writing and illustrating? What drew you to Mark Crilley’s website? Are there any other sites you would recommend for emerging illustrators?

Pierre: I found Mark Crilley while browsing the Kid’s section of our former cable provider’s pay-per-view channel when I was 11, I think? There were some free how-to-draw videos by him, and I used to wait for when the service put new videos up. Eventually I learned that he was a published comic-creator with a youtube channel, and our “relationship” took off. He “mentored” me for several years until I made a style change from Japanese manga to western animation-styled art.

There are several social networks where artists can be found and followed, like tumblr, twitter, instagram, and deviantART (though I’m personally not a fan of that site due to its name and content that is allowed there). If you’re ready, get an account on one or more of these sites and start sharing your art. I don’t advise getting an account too early in your growth; my parents prevented me from doing so, and I’m glad they did (but don’t tell them I said that). People online can be cruel, and the pressure of being surrounded by artists who are more experienced then you are may hurt your growth as an artist. People also have different opinions on what is considered “art”, so what might be inappropriate to you, will be beautiful to someone else. What I like to do is bookmark the tumblr, twitter, and/or portfolio website of artists I like and “follow” them that way. It’s less distracting, and you get to decide who you want to see, as opposed to getting suggestions from a social media feed.

Ferrante: Do you participate in peer critiques? Do you test your manuscripts on children? Where do you get feedback on your work before publishing?

Pierre: My go-to feedback person is my mom, second are my siblings. Though I’d love to be able to critique with other young authors, the majority of my “peers” that are writers are most likely writing YA novels, so I’d be the odd one out, easy! For the most part, I read up on a lot of resource articles on the best ways to write for children, common mistakes new writers make, and other insightful pieces and pray I’m doing it right. You can imagine my ecstasy when I get a nice review.

Ferrante: Yes, I can. Do you plan on pursuing any formal education in writing or illustrating? What is next for you?

Pierre: As much as I’d love to go to an acclaimed art school and study Illustration and/or Character Design, a $50k tuition for 4 years to study something I’ve proven I can learn on my own would most likely be a very unwise investment (though the Ringling Art Institute in Sarasota, FL is calling to me), especially if it takes a while for my highly-specialized career choice to take off. I’m thinking I might study education or another field I’m interested in at a less-expensive local school and do freelance illustrating/write books on the side, or get a major and art minor and use the major as a backup if my art career doesn’t work out immediately. But this is all speculation. Only time will tell.

IFerrante: I’ve heard how expensive post-secondary education is in the United States. That’s unfortunate but you seem to be finding your own way just fine.

Ferrante: If you could dance, sing, and act perfectly in a Broadway production, which one would you choose?

Pierre: The Lion King, period. It’s one of my favourite Disney movies, and I love the soundtrack. I’m a little short, but I think I’d make a good Adult Nala or Rafiki (who is female in the Broadway version for some reason). I’d also say Annie… but I think I’m too old for that!

Ferrante:  If you could make a fantasy character such as a dragon, a fairy, a mermaid, a wizard, or an elf become real, which one would you choose?

Pierre: I’m torn between choosing a fairy or an elf. I think having a trusty sidekick like Tinkerbell would be fun. But there’s an all-ages webcomic I read called Harpy Gee, about a magic-less elf (named Harpy) who learned to rely on her physical skills to protect herself in a world crawling with monsters. So if she were the elf, I think we’d get along. She could teach me how to kick butt, lol.

Ferrante: Under what circumstances do you say, “this only happens to me!”

Pierre: When I mess up a sketch on paper and look for the “Ctrl + Z” keys on my desk. (Actually, this happens to a lot of digital artists, haha.)

Ferrante: Ah, yes. The blessed “undo.”

Thank you for participating in this interview. Good luck with your career. You’ve certainly got a great start.



Surf’s Up! Rebecca Heller is Hitting the Waves – Three Random Questions Interview

Rebecca  Heller is the quintessential surfer girl. The bio on her website begins “Rebecca Heller is a Los Angeles-based high school counselor. She like totally lives in the Valley with her surfer husband and precocious daughter. She occasionally ditches school to go surfing.” She even has long blonde hair.

Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Rebecca. It’s not surprising that your first book, published in 2005, was Surf Like a Girl. How old were you when you started surfing?

Rebecca Heller: In 2001, I moved from New York City to Los Angeles, within the month I had taken my first surf lesson and have been in the water ever since. I was 28 at the time—an old lady by surfing standards, but you are never too old to learn!

Ferrante: The book includes practical information on surfing, such as how to ride the waves and safety, but it also includes etiquette and what to wear. Basically, it explains the whole package of the surfer girl persona. Was this based on personal experience or observation?

Heller: Definitely personal experience. When I was learning, I was asking a million questions. There were very few books and this was in the early internet days and there was just very little information out there. Especially for girls.

Ferrante: Skater Girl is in a similar style. It includes the basics and advanced techniques with step by step instruction. When did you start skateboarding? Do you still participate?

Heller: I skated a bit as a kid and got back on a board around the same time as I started surfing. The two activities have a lot in common. My skateboarding skills are nowhere near my surf skills so I co-authored Skater Girl with an expert, Patty Segovia, who runs the All Girl Skate Jam.

Ferrante: Are these two books mostly read by young people beginning the sports or the sports audience? How do you prepare yourself to write for that particular readership?

Heller: When I wrote Surf Like a Girl, I was in a way writing for myself when I was a beginner. It’s funny, my voice just skews towards a young audience. It is no surprise that I continued writing for young people. I also work with young people as a high school college counselor. It is definitely my comfort zone!

Ferrante: Kids must  think you’re the coolest counselor ever.

Your publishing company is called “Like a Girl” press. I assume you are poking fun at the denigrating saying “she throws/runs/etc. like a girl.” Would you tell us about your mandate to empower girls?

Heller: Absolutely. I have never once in my life thought there was something boys could do that girls could not. (Okay, maybe peeing standing up, but otherwise…) I feel passionately about empowering women to do whatever they set their mind to, whether that is athletic, academic, or creative.  For me, “Like a Girl” translates to “Like a Badass!”

Ferrante: You have a fiction book, Gilbert and Louis Rule the Universe for middle grade readers. Why did you choose that age level and that topic?

Heller: : Gilbert and Louis Rule the Universe had been in my heart for a long time. It is a semi-autobiographical story about me and my best friend in middle school. (We really did call ourselves Gilbert and Louis)  As the saying goes, “God writes poor fiction.” So I had to give it structure. I love Jane Austin and the plotline of Pride and Prejudice fit with my story and gave it a stronger narrative.

Ferrante: You also have two picture books, Falling Rock and your latest book Elephants. Why did you change from chapter books to this style?

Heller: The sweet spot for Falling Rock is second grade. I wrote Falling Rock over 18 years ago, and my mother did the artwork.  The story was based on a tale my camp counselor once told us about how Falling Rock was a Native American and wherever he was spotted they put up a sign with his name. Once my daughter was born I pulled out the story, dusted it off, rewrote it, re-photographed the artwork, and created the book. 

I have been reading tons of picture books with my daughter and I am absolutely in love with them. I have always been drawn to visuals (I was an Art History major in college and my mother is an artist), so I love the combination of a good story and great artwork. I also love animals and feel very strongly about animals in the wild being conserved and protected.

Ferrante: The illustrations are wonderful? How did you connect with Susie Mason? Did you collaborate or did you just hand over the words to her?

Heller: I found Suzie on the internet while searching for illustrators. I had a very strong vision for the book. If you ask anyone who knows me they know I have a real sense of what I like and don’t like. I saw Suzie’s work online and was like “this is it.” I sent her an email asking if she wanted to illustrate Elephants and happily she said yes. She is based in the U.K. so we have never met in person, but we collaborated on it greatly. She brought a lot of wonderful ideas to the table that made it better than I had even imagined, and all the time we stayed true to my initial vision. She is amazing.

Ferrante: Part of the proceeds from Elephants goes toward the Amboseli Trust for Elephants ( Why did you choose that particular charity out of all the elephant charities?

Heller: The Amboseli Trust for Elephants aligns perfectly with my goals of elephant conservation and protection as they are a non-profit organization that aims to ensure the long-term conservation and welfare of Africa’s elephants. I was turned onto ATE by Colleen Kinzley, Director of Animal Care, Conservation, and Research at the Oakland Zoo, who helped me fact check Elephants. The Amboseli Trust for Elephants is also the legal entity that administers the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, the longest-running study of wild elephants in the world. Since 1972, they have followed the lives of the Amboseli elephants; the results of their research has profoundly altered the way we think about, conserve, and manage elephant populations. They are doing fantastic work.

Ferrante: Are you working on another book? Would you like to share?

Heller: Yes! Suzie Mason and I are currently working on a series that feature threatened or endangered animals. The next up is an animal that is close to my heart, Dolphins! We are also working on books on Polar Bears and Whales.

Ferrante: Now for your three random questions:

If you were a natural disaster, what would you be, and why?

Heller: As a surfer girl, I would have to say a tsunami.

Ferrante: As a teenager, who was your idol?

Heller: Hmm, I am not sure I had one. I would say though that my idol since childhood and still has to be Eloise from the Kay Thompson series.

Ferrante: Is there a childhood keepsakes that you treasure or wish you had saved?

Heller: I am rather sentimental although also a minimalist, which is a tough combination. Two of my favorites are Skinny Bunny (a stuffed rabbit that looks exactly like the name implies), that is now in my daughter’s room, and my “Becca Books” a series of books my aunt made for me that feature photographs of me and my family along with fantastical stories that my aunt created.

Ferrante: It’s wonderful when we can pass on something precious from childhood to our own children. Thank you for answering my questions. Best of luck with your animal picture books in the works. I hope all your waves are perfect.

Social media links

Twitter: @rebeccaheller

Instagram: @rebecca.heller

Facebook: rebeccaheller.549

Elephants was reviewed on this blog.

Click  on the covers for the information and buy links.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages


Author Jessica Boyd – Three Random Questions Interview

Bear Hockey is Jessica Boyd’s first published book. She worked as a senior creative writer/creative lead for Webkinz World ( for eight years. She was inspired by reading to her two and four-year-old daughters to begin her own publishing company, Buttertart Books.


Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Jessica. Why did you choose hockey as the subject of your first picture book?

Jessica Boyd: The title came first – I loved the sound of ‘Bear Hockey.’ The story told itself! It’s all about having a good time. It doesn’t matter if you happen to be a bear who excels at sports or, like me, happen to be a bear that just likes hanging out with their friends on skates.

Ferrante: How did you decide to use bears and hibernation as the central subject of Bear Hockey? It’s a clever and unusual idea to choose an animal that hibernates throughout the winter.

Boyd: I liked the idea of hibernation being the ending. The whole book reads like an actual hockey game – it’s fun, fast-paced and exciting. Until the last pinecone is scored, that is. At that point, the bears quiet down. They get cleaned up and ready for bed. The final two pages show the bears sleeping, which is the perfect ending to a bedtime story.

Ferrante: Do you feel children today get enough opportunity to play unstructured sports?

Boyd: I think unstructured play in general is something kids don’t get enough of. When I was younger (I was a child of the eighties), I’d roam the neighbourhood with my friends and just kind of meet up with other kids. Games were generally loose and made up of whoever happened to be around at the time. Kids need that freedom and time to use their imagination.  

Ferrante: You didn’t just write a book, you also started a publishing company. I see you used Kickstarter to finance your first enterprise. How has that gone?

Boyd: Kickstarter was a terrific learning experience! The most important thing I discovered was that it’s crucial to tell as many friends/loved ones/acquaintances/well-wishers about your plans ahead of time. People generally want to support your dreams – they just need to know in advance. (This seems obvious, but when you’re in the throes of getting a book written/published, it’s easy to forget the marketing part.)

Ferrante: You have two small girls at home. Do you have a structured time for writing?

Boyd: Not really! My writing time (and the time I use to work on marketing/running Buttertart Books) is when my girls go to bed. Occasionally I get an hour or two on the weekends, but most of my writing is done by the light of my computer screen in my dark office.

Ferrante: I have four adorable hockey cards representing four bears on the team. How can readers obtain these? Are there more?

Boyd: The hockey cards were an add-on we did for Kickstarter. People really liked them! If anyone orders a book through Amazon, I will send along two random hockey cards with it.

Ferrante: Maurizio Curto did a stellar job with the illustrations. How did you connect with this artist?

Boyd: Maurizio and I worked together in Webkinz World. He’s still there, actually! We worked on another book, Forgetful Eddie, a number of years ago. The book turned out really well (and will be one of the next books Buttertart Books publishes), so I knew who to turn to when Bear Hockey needed illustrating! Maurizio has a terrific style and his illustrations worked perfectly with the story.

Ferrante: You have a second book in the works, Duck Fort. Would you like to tell us a little about that?

Boyd: Duck Fort is about a clever duck building a fort to relax in…and then having all her friends drop by and ask for forts of their very own. It’s really funny, but there’s a little bit of a lesson at the end about appreciating our friends and thanking people for their hard work.

Ferrante: Is there any advice you can give to beginning picture book writers?

Boyd: Read, read, read. The more you read picture books, the more you’ll understand what makes them so special. I absolutely LOVE Phoebe Gilman (“Something from Nothing” and any of the Jillian Jiggs series are read quite often around here), Mo Willems (anything he writes is wonderful) and Jeff Kinney (I’m a total Diary of a Wimpy Kid fan). I have a gigantic picture book collection and I love perusing the children’s book section at my local bookstore to see what’s new (one of my youngest daughter’s newest favourites is “No, No Kitten!” by Shelley Moore Thomas).

three random questions

Ferrante: As a child, what was your favourite treat?

Boyd: Anything chocolate. Actually, anything with sugar in it. I have a huge sweet tooth.

Ferrante: What character flaw would you like to get rid of?

Boyd: My dentist would say the huge sweet tooth. I would say my inability to keep my office neat and tidy/my apparent need to work in a chaotic (but creative!) environment.

Ferrante: If you had limitless courage, what would you do in the next few days?

Boyd: Limitless courage? I’d go dancing, probably. Or speak in public! Or go skydiving. Or maybe all three. If my courage is limitless, let’s go big!

Ferrante: Thank you, Jessica, for sharing your writing experience with us. Good luck with Duck Fort.

Bear Hockey will be reviewed Friday, September 8.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages


Author Timothy Gwyn Three Random Questions Interview

Timothy Gwyn writes science fiction stories and has recently finished his first novel, Avians.

Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome Timothy. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your novel, Avians. It is quite apparent that you are extremely knowledgeable about flying and can discuss gliders and airships with great expertise. Can you tell us a little about your experience with flying?

Timothy Gwyn: I first rode in an airliner, a Pan-Am Boeing 707, when I was six, and my brother took me up in a glider before I was eleven or so. I learned to fly when I was eighteen, and quickly took it up as a career. On the fun side, anytime I can get a ride in a balloon, a helicopter or a hovercraft, I’m having a good day.

Ferrante: I was very impressed with the world building in Avians. Both the environment and the social structure were unique and interesting. Can you tell us how you went about creating this fascinating world?

Gwyn: I wanted to write about aviation that was greener than the kind of flying I do, so I set out to create a world that had low technology, but needed flight. The lack of metals and complete absence of fossil fuels – both of which could stem from Celadon not having a moon – oblige the inhabitants to build gliders. Putting the settlements high on mountain sides makes them ideal for launching sailplanes, and also creates a scarcity of habitable land that leads to all sorts of social consequences.

Ferrante: You chose to write from the point of view of several women, most young teenagers. Why did you choose girls instead of boys as your protagonists?

Gwyn: I wanted a utopian society with gender equality, but that begs a fundamental question: if everything is so perfect, why would a fourteen-year-old run away from home? Because the landowners consolidate their grip on their property not just through trade alliances, but also with strategic marriages, and Raisa wants no part of that. Also, I wanted characters who were not the biggest or strongest, but who have to accomplish their goals despite that, by finding courage and determination within themselves.

Ferrante: I don’t want to give away too much of the book but I really want to know why you made Raisa anorexic. You make it quite clear why she refuses to eat and it suits the narrative perfectly but what was the impetus for your decision to give her an eating disorder? How did you research this?

Gwyn: I don’t like to apply the term anorexic to Raisa, because I’m sure she’s never heard the word. She would claim her reluctance to eat is a protest, a hunger strike. It seemed the perfect flaw for Raisa: she has no idea how privileged she is, and she is a rebellious and contrary character. But yes, her attitude towards food is distorted, and experience with anorexia in my own family shows through in some of her specific issues.

Ferrante: Because this is such a rich and well thought-out world, I could easily see you setting more books in it. Do you have any plans for a sequel or other novels that take place in this world?

Gwyn: I do! There are already two prequel short stories published: “Far Gone” at is about the trip to Celadon, and “Freezer Burn” at Antipodean SF is about one of Raisa’s ancestors coming out of the long sleep. I’m working on the first sequel to Avians, in which bandits worsen a refugee crisis, and Mel and Raisa must work together in new ways to prevent a disaster. I’d like to create a series of novels that follow Raisa and Mel’s adventures as they mature in different ways.

Ferrante: You live in a fairly small town in northern Ontario, Canada. I know you belong to the NOWW, Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop, and that there is an active writing community in Kenora. What else do you do to connect with other writers, improve your writing skills, and gather feedback on your work?

Gwyn: Since attending my first workshops in Kenora, I’ve become a regular at conventions in Winnipeg, Ottawa, and now Calgary. I put a lot of work into an Odyssey online course one winter, and I also belong to a speculative fiction critique group in Winnipeg; I get a lot of mental writing done on the drive home.

Ferrante: What advice would you give to new authors who are writing their first science fiction book?

Gwyn: Make connections. Start with Beta readers. Then, if you can manage to get to a convention or workshop, put your brave face on and sign up for a Blue Pencil Café because those short critiques often go straight to the heart of the matter. Look into online courses such as Odyssey’s, because they teach you to critique. Follow the Prix Aurora Awards: enrolling to vote is just ten bucks each year and you get to read all the shortlisted works.

Ferrante: What you working on now? What are your future plans? Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers?

Gwyn: I’m working on that first sequel, Bandits, and roughing out some plots for later books. I have enough ideas to keep me going for many years. I have two blogs that can be reached through Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol displays aerial photographs to chronicle the spring thaw in Kenora’s cottage country, and Timothy Gwyn Writes covers my adventures and misadventures pursuing writing and publication.

Three Random Questions

Ferrante: If you were a science-fiction character, who would you be?

Gwyn: Nausicaä from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. This Hiyao Miyazaki anime is perhaps my favourite movie ever. Princess Nausicaä is brave but pacifistic, and strives to understand nature to better her world. And she’s a pilot!

Ferrante:  The morning after a nuclear catastrophe, what would you be able to reinvent or re-create?

Gwyn: Coffee. There will be no civilization rising from the ashes until I have coffee. I’ll get around to building a printing press out of the slag and putting out a newspaper in the afternoon.

Ferrante: What kind of clothes would you absolutely never wear?

Gwyn: High socks, with or without shorts. I fold my socks down to below the shin. And flood pants: I’m still traumatized from my growth spurt in junior high. Captain Kirk’s uniform pants that end with a flare above the ankle make me cringe.

Ferrante: Thank you so much for participating in my interview series. It was a pleasure getting to know you.

Timothy Gwyn can be found through his website at, and Twitter @timothygwyn

Author Illustrator Claudia Marie Lenart Three Random Questions Interview

Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome Claudia. I’m so excited to be interviewing you. I love your illustrations.

I first encountered you when I reviewed Prince Preemie, written by Jewel Kats and illustrated by you using your fiber technique. Could you tell us what exactly you use in your illustrations?

Claudia Marie Lenart:  Thank you Bonnie! My illustrations are created from wool and other natural fibers, such as alpaca and mohair. In the books I illustrated for Jewel, I sculpted characters out of wool, through the needle felting technique, and posed them in scenes made primarily of wool or against a wool painting backdrop. Needle felting is a technique in which you use a barbed needle to repeatedly poke rolled up wool, which felts the fibers together. In Seasons of Joy, the book I wrote and Illustrated, all of the images are wool paintings, which I created through needle felting, and some pressed wool painting, a technique that comes from Eastern Europe. In pressed wool painting, wool fibers are laid out on a wool canvas; a heavy piece of glass from a frame is laid on top, and then you press against the glass to bind the fibers. The techniques are similar, except that the wool paintings can easily be framed and exhibited.

Ferrante: Where did you learn this technique? Have you used more traditional arts styles before developing this or did you go straight into fiber work?

Lenart: I am self taught. I did start with a book that described the basics of needle felting, but then taught myself after that. A friend on Etsy, from Eastern Europe, shared the basics of pressed wool painting with me and I took off from there. I have dabbled in art since childhood, drawing, watercolor painting, and colored pencil drawing. My mom taught me to knit, crochet, sew and embroider from an early age. I think the arts and crafts came together in needle felting.

Ferrante: Why did you decide to write a book on your own, Seasons of Joy: Every Day is For Outdoor Play? Will you be writing more in the future?

Lenart: I can remember always thinking “someday I’d like to write and illustrate a children’s book,” and that was long before I became a professional artist. I was a journalist, so I think my friends might have expected me to write a children’s book. It was a surprise that my first published works were as an illustrator. Some years ago I created a wool painting for our local Waldorf school. It depicted children playing outside throughout the seasons. People really connected to the work and I sold several more re-creations to families across the world, as well as prints. I thought it needed to be a book, so I sat down and wrote verse to capture the feel of the painting and then created 12 wool paintings, some based on the original painting.

I have other children’s books in various stages, however, my next will be another in the Seasons of Joy series. Where Seasons of Joy: Every Day is for Outdoor Play encourages children to get outside, explore nature and engage in imaginative play year round, Seasons of Joy: Growing Our Food in Backyards and Farms will encourage preschoolers to connect with whole and natural foods, to form a concept on where food comes from, to encourage future sustainable food growing and healthy eating.

Ferrante: I think your work would make wonderful prints for nurseries. Do you sell these on your Etsy page or do you keep all your book illustrations?

Lenart: Yes, I do sell prints of my wool paintings on Etsy and they do make lovely nursery art. I am not currently selling the original paintings, but I would take commissions to make a similar wool painting.

Ferrante: The stuffed animals on your Etsy page seem more like works of art than toys. Is that how you are marketing them? Do they stand up to rough child’s play or are they meant to be set on display? The animals and children are absolutely enchanting. Have you ever had a “show” of your artwork?

Lenart: Yes, the animals are more for display than active play. They would hold up to very gentle play and storytelling. I have not had an official art show – something to look forward to someday.

Ferrante: I was very pleased with the prose in this book and relieved you did not try to make it rhyme like many indie authors do. It was readable and poetic. What is your writing experience?

Lenart: As a young adult I wrote a lot of poetry and took a couple of college classes. Of course, I worked as a journalist for many years. Yes, I wanted the verse to feel very natural; where the verse rhymes, it happened naturally in the writing process.  I did revise quite a bit and consulted with a poetry editor.

Ferrante: Is there something new in the works that you would like to tell us about?

Lenart: My next book with a food growing theme. Seasons of Joy:  Growing Our Food in Backyards and Farms All Year Round

Ferrante: As a child, what was your favourite place?

Lenart: The beach. I grew up in Chicago near Lake Michigan, so had lots of opportunity to walk in the waves, build sandcastles and I love swimming in the cool waters.

Ferrante: If you lived underwater, what aquatic animal would you be?

Lenart: A mermaid or a dolphin.

Ferrante: What’s your worst obsession?

Lenart: For worst, I would say social media, because, while it has many benefits both personal and for my business, I am guilty of spending too much time and wondering where the hours went.

Ferrante: Thank you so much for answering both my serious and random questions. I learned a lot today. I’m looking forward to your next book. It is definitely an important and timely topic. Best of luck with all your projects.

Note: Seasons of Joy: Every Day is for Outdoor Play was reviewed yesterday on this blog.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Author Rita Blockman – Three Random Questions Interview

Rita Blockman is the co-author of Listen to the Wisest of All. Men and women aged 88 to 104 years old were interviewed for the inspirational stories in this book. They were from differing backgrounds but all were willing to share their life stories, values, and accumulated wisdom.

Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Rita. You spent 2 1/2 years interviewing people for this book. When you began this project, did you think it would take that long?

Rita Blockman: No, I predicted l l/2 years and didn’t realize initially that it takes time to develop a real relationship when you are interviewing people for a book. One has to establish rapport with an individual or couple, establish trust and ensure that what I wrote was clearly what was intended by the interviewee and approved by family and friends.

Ferrante: How much time after the interviews did you spend writing and editing?

Blockman: During the entire 2 l/2 years, we were simultaneously writing, editing and interviewing people. During the last six months our copy editor was meticulously refining the vignettes which are highlighted in the book.

Ferrante: How did you select the people to interview?

Blockman: It was our intent from the beginning to select people from different backgrounds because interviewing people from different ethnic groups, different religious backgrounds (or agnostics) and different socioeconomic levels, we felt would be more interesting to our readers. We followed different leads from several sources to find individuals in the age range in which we were interested. It is our feeling that each person (or couple) brought to life a universal theme of human nature which is actually a microcosm of the world in some sense.

Ferrante: What was the most difficult about writing this kind of book? What was the most rewarding?

Blockman: It was difficult to ask some questions which I was very curious about such as wanting to know if different individuals had “death anxiety” because of the advanced age of our interviewees. Once I got over the fear of this type of questioning, I was pleasantly surprised that it appeared that the more satisfied an individual was with their life, the less they thought about subjects such as this. The most rewarding aspect of writing this book was it made us conscious of how we wanted to live our life which included living with more intention and realizing the limits of status, ego, and materialism in the final analysis. Although I know this intellectually, it was refreshing to hear our beloved interviewees talk about different topics: how they valued different things in each decade, how they developed an optimism in spite of physical limitations and aging issues, how being poor “has nothing to do with money”, how important nature was and how it nurtures your soul, and how meaningful traditions make lasting impressions and generational memories.

Ferrante: Many interviewees had similar beliefs and attitudes. Did anyone ever say anything that really surprised you, that was unexpected or unusual?

Blockman: One individual stressed how important he thought it was to surprise people when they least expect it. He felt (and I do now) that it is much better not to wait until someone dies to send flowers, but to anticipate the needs of others and find things that might be meaningful to them when there isn’t necessarily a holiday associated with it either. This individual would surprise people with a rose from his garden when they arrived at his door. It might seem like a little thing, but it brought joy to a lot of people.  I have followed his advice and love doing this and love the feeling it gives me when I surprise someone. I actually have fun thinking about this type of thing during the year when the hustle and bustle of holidays isn’t an issue and one can focus on specific people at various times.

Ferrante: A common thread in the book is the importance of family. Do you feel that has changed for this generation?

Blockman: Most definitely. People engaged in conversations more, enjoyed family dinners more while cooking from scratch and overcame obstacles such as the Great Depression by banding together. There wasn’t as much mobility among families as there is today, so families had more day to day exposure to one another which led to celebrating more important events together. The lack of social media helped promote this type of interaction among families in my opinion.

Ferrante: Tell me about the photographs in the book.

Blockman: The photographs were purposely taken in black and white to reflect the period in which the individuals lived. We wanted the photographer to capture people in a spontaneous way and try to capture the “essence” of the individual and his or her interests.

Ferrante: One of the keys to longevity seems to be making oneself of service to others. For example Lloyd Dees serves as a parish visitor who calls on shut-ins, patients in the hospital, and people in grief. He also visits his homebound sister every day. The amazing thing is that he is 88 years old. Do you feel being of service to others helps people to live longer, happier, and healthier lives? 

Blockman: Mr. Dees demonstrated in his actions and good deeds that spiritual maturity is giving to others and letting go of your own wants and needs to some degree. I do think when we look outside ourselves and meet the needs of others, we feel better, and it strengthens our own sense of self.

Ferrante: one thing that struck a chord with me is when Lucy Gray spoke about the loss of innocence for children. They are exposed to so much, so early, that childhood is severely shortened. How would you recommend children’s innocence be protected without exposing them to risk of exploitation?

Blockman: I attended a lecture last night in which an older gentleman described an idyllic childhood for all children. He was getting ready to introduce an artist who had drawn pictures of her recollections of visiting her grandparents during the summer on a farm. I liked what he said…”Every child should have the opportunity to run and absorb nature, play hide and seek, explore, pretend, draw without specific instructions, listen to good music, learn how to plant flowers and vegetables, interact with people of all ages and be free of worry. “ Things are very structured for children now, and children are facing much trauma and pressure in our contemporary world which forces them to grow up prematurely and miss out on the innocence and beauty of childhood.


Ferrante: Joe Hamburg “stressed how important it was to be a good person: to have good morals and to be kind, understanding, helpful, charitable, and also to have an appreciation for the arts.” How do you feel the arts fit in with being “a good citizen of the world.” To feel children today are exposed to enough arts?

Blockman: Our society, in my opinion, views the arts as a frill or extracurricular activity. Art, in its many forms, reflects the human spirit in a way that can’t be duplicated in any other way. It enhances people’s creativity, allows them a safe way in which to express themselves and share their perspective. It is just as important as any subject in our educational system today, and yet it is being cut out of every program because of lack of funds. In addition to the soulfulness of any artistic endeavor for individuals, it helps us understand our world historically and culturally. I always love the feeling I get when I go to a museum and participate in a docent tour where a small group of people give their perception of a painting. Often times each person has a completely different perception which is so enlightening. I think this type of experience broadens one (and as Joe said makes us better citizens) so that we don’t get too narrow minded in our views about things. It also helps us participate in the world at large which teaches us how to “feel” and appreciate good works of art which reflect  the human condition in the most poignant way.

Ferrante: if you were being interviewed for this book, what would be the most important thing you would want to say?

Blockman: Although it might sound trite, I would have enveloped myself more in nature and offered more of this to our children, taken more time out to meditate on how to live with intention, actually visit and learn more from people from different cultures and backgrounds and never do anything that didn’t feel authentic to me.

(From a Bit of Banter, the Game That Gets You Talking)

Ferrante: What song do you wish you had written?

Blockman: A song about the beautiful insights that are gained and sensitivity to others —even when emotional deprivation is pervasive in one’s early life.


Ferrante: What is the oldest object in your home?

Blockman: It is an old clock on our mantle that my husband and I purchased 45 years ago from a gentleman who was passionate about clocks. We associate the beauty of the clock and its chime with the beauty of the interaction we had with this gentleman.

Ferrante: What food could you absolutely not live without?

Blockman: Chocolate, without question! And, especially chocolate of the finest caliber!

Ferrante: In that, we are definitely agreed. Thank you for participating in this interview series..


Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages