Recently I metup with children's book writer, Barbara Garriel, at a Highlights Foundation writers In residence retreat. Barbara is author of "I Know a Shy Fellow Who Swallowed a Cello." I thank Barbara most sincerely for taking time out of her busy schedule to do an interview.
Here's what Barbara had to say:
Q: Can you share a little about yourself,--where were you born, where you grew up?
A: [I was born and raised] in White Plains, NY. My family still lives in the area. I went away to college and then, after grad school, lived in San Diego for a short stint--4 years. I came back to the East coast when I got married.
Q: Where do you live now? Are you married? Any pets? Hobbies? And what do you do for fun?
A: My husband and I live in Long Island, with our sweetheart of a Collie, on the north shore of Long Island, near the LI Sound.
I’m an avid walker and “birder” (bird watcher). I take yoga classes, read, love old movies, and enjoy going to the beach.
I’m also a singer-songwriter and play the guitar. A few years ago I produced a CD with all my original adult songs, which I sang for the CD. It was a thrill from beginning to end--writing the songs, recording them, having additional instrumentation added to my guitar tracks, creating the CD package, and seeing it come all together! It’s called “AMPLE PATIENCE.”
Now I enjoy performing locally with my trio, and our newly formed 5-piece band. We don’t have a name yet.
Q: I just love your children's book, "I Know a Shy Fellow Who Swallowed a Cello." Please share with readers where inspiration for this book came from?
A: When I taught Kindergarten, I used to read There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly to my students. Since I didn’t like the ending (“I know an old lady who swallowed a horse. She died, of course.”) I used to change it to “cried” or “sighed.” When I took a leave of absence to try to make a go of my passion for writing, I decided to work on a “redux” of the original. Since I’m a singer-songwriter and play an instrument, it was fun to use that theme to re-create the concept of someone (in this case, “shy fellow”) swallowing something (instruments and in reverse order from the original) and then changing the ending (his not dying)! Your readers will have to read the book to the end to find out what happens instead!
Q: How long did it take to write your book?
A: I’d say about a year. I brought it to my writers’ group, which met twice a month and they would make suggestions for improvement. I was working on several things simultaneously, so it wasn’t a solid year, but it was a diligent effort. I spent a LOT of time on selecting the right instruments so they would decrease in size and be rhyme-able. (I don’t think that’s really a word.) The descriptions of what happened to “shy fellow” after he swallowed the instruments was another area I concentrated on - strong, “make pictures in your head” verbs. That was a powerful lesson I learned from my friend and coach, Ralph Fletcher. I also wrote a song that goes with the book, and had a puppet created that actually can “swallow” the instruments. I’d like to offer it commercially someday, but for now, there’s just one shy fellow puppet that I use for my visits to schools and libraries.
Q: Please share with BookOrBust readers how publication came about for you.
A: I had a completed manuscript with me when I attended the Highlights Foundation workshop at Chattauqua in July. Towards the end of the week, I had a sit-down meeting with one of the editors and shared two different stories, I Know a Shy Fellow… was one of them. He liked I Know a Shy Fellow… and took the manuscript with him. Not long after, I revised a portion of the story, and sent it to him. In October, the phone rang and it was the editor offering me a contract for I Know a Shy Fellow Who Swallowed a Cello! He told me that he’d selected John O’Brien to illustrate the book and after I said “YES!” he said he’d send a contract. I called my husband, mom, and writers’ group members, high-tailed it to the library to look at John’s work in other picture books (he also did work for the New Yorker, and other publications), and wrote a letter to the other editor to whom I’d submitted the manuscript at Chattauqua to withdraw it from their further consideration. It was Christmas in October! From the time I submitted it to the time of release, it was a three-year wait. It was like having a baby and then giving it to someone else to raise, and then seeing the child when she turned 21!
Q: Do you have one favorite book?
A: If I had to choose my favorite food, I might say bananas. But favorite book… that’s tough. Picture books--On the Day You Were Born (I used to read it to my students on their birthdays), Twilight Comes Twice (beautiful imagery), Owl Moon (I wish I were that child going into the woods with Pa)… Favorites for my 4th grade students (I read 13 or 14 read-a-louds to my “kids”)--Baby and Journey, both by Patricia MacLachlan, Maniac Magee, and something I read after I left teaching, the Harry Potter series…and adult stuff--Barbara Kingsolver’s books are among my favs--Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Pigs in Heaven, et al., Farewell My Subaru and No Impact Man (both wake up calls to what we can do to help the earth told with humor and passion). What’s in my car stereo now is A Discovery of Witches--I can’t wait to drive somewhere that’s farther than 5 minutes away!
Q: What books do you like to write?
A: I Know a Shy Fellow Who Swallowed a Cello was both hard work and a hoot to write, and though fiction allows a lot of latitude, I also love writing non-fiction. I’ve written several books about the environment, about which I’m passionate… Wolves and Their Ways, Endangered Sea Life, Underwater Cities-The Coral Reefs, and The Underwater Life of Rivers.
Q: Got a favorite writing tip?
A: I think what I’d mentioned before, that it’s not the adjectives and adverbs that spice up a piece of writing, it’s specific nouns and strong verbs that create images in your readers mind. That goes for fiction and non-fiction.
Q: Do you have a childhood secret you can share with readers?
A: I guess that might be the time I “ran away from home”… I packed a suitcase and put my pillow and other essentials in a baby carriage so I could push my way to “freedom.” But I got tired pretty quickly, went as far as about 3 blocks (still in my own neighborhood) and went back home. Mom didn’t say too much. I slept on the porch that night just to make a statement, I guess. It was a while before I thought about leaving home again!
Q: Are you working on a new project? Care to share?
A: I’ve been working on a fiction story for “forever” that has gone through many versions. I just worked on it again when I was at the Highlights writers’ retreat. It’s a “quiet” story, and so it’s been hard to find a home with a publisher. The market is soft for those kinds of stories, but I’m committed to seeing it come to light one of these days! I’m also working on a narrative non-fiction book about wolves that I’m passionate about. I worked on that as well at the writers’ retreat. It’s a story that hasn’t been told, as far as I can tell, and it’s compelling.
Q: As keeper of BookOrBust, and collector of favorite quotations, please share your yours.
A: “May this or something better be in the process of manifesting for me/us now for the best possible result for all concerned.”
“I ask not that I might hoard the resources of the world, but rather that I may have the wisdom and ability to manifest all that I might need on any given day.”
Q: Please your website address and professional expertise offerings.
A: My website is: www.barbaragarriel.com
In addition to writing, I offer author presentations and writing and staff development workshops for students from pre-K to high school, as well as for adults, including teachers.
I loved teaching and leaving the full-time classroom was a tough choice. But now I get to visit numerous schools and libraries and visit with hundreds of different students on Long Island, in the NY metro area, as well as, out-of-state. I have some tried-and-true programs and also cater to the specific needs of schools when they ask. For instance, this year I did a writer-in-residence with a school for their 3rd grades, assisting them in addressing the Common Core learning standards regarding text and visual features of non-fiction, and then helping them apply what they learned when they created their non-fiction projects at the end of their study of Brazil. It was exhilarating and organic as the week progressed. The kids were great!