Monday, May 5, 2014

Interview With Penelope Crumb...err, Shawn Stout

Shawn Stout and I overlapped at Vermont College of Fine Arts a few years ago. At the time she was just getting started - and, zowee. She has some fantastic books out now, including this series, Penelope Crumb. Check out those luscious covers, and, let me tell you, the voice in these is spot-on.

Now, I happen to have an ARC of Penelope Crumb is Mad at the Moon. IF I get a handful of comments, oh, say, five or so (include contact info, please), I'll enter you all in a giveaway of this ARC. Otherwise, she's mine.

Hi Shawn! I LOVE Penelope. Please tell readers a bit about the series.

Thanks, Janet! There are three books out now in the series, and the fourth one, which I think is the last—PENELOPE CRUMB IS MAD AT THE MOON—is set to come out in September. They follow fourth grader Penelope Crumb as she tries to make sense of the world, understand why her teacher Miss Stunkel has it in for her, deal with her older brother who’s an alien, figure out how her big nose gives her super powers, and find her long lost grandpa. Oh, and she gets in a lot of trouble along the way. And did I mention that she is kind of obsessed with dead things? Oh yeah, she totally is.

Not since Clementine and Junie B. have I read such a strong and charming middle-grade voice.  Where does Penelope come from?

That’s so nice of you to say. I’m not quite sure, to be honest. There’s a lot of me in Penelope’s voice, but mostly she is a character who has been in my head for many years. I knew only three things about Penelope when I started writing the first book: 1) she had a big nose but didn’t know it, 2) her father was Graveyard dead, and 3) she wanted to find her grandpa who she thought was dead but turned out not to be.

Please tell readers something about how your career began and developed.

I wrote for many years and then stopped for about a decade, mostly out of fear of failing. But after a series of unfulfilling day jobs, I decided to take a writing class. During a writing exercise, what came out was the voice of a 10-year-old, which was as much of a surprise to me as it was to my teacher. That was a jumping off point for me to rediscover the world of children’s literature. I dove in head first, reading as much as I could and taking more writing classes. I stalked Mary Quattlebaum and hung out in her living room for her advanced writing workshops until, with her encouragement, I applied to Vermont College of Fine Arts to get my MFA.

VCFA changed my life. I sold my first book before I graduated, and I’ve been lucky since.

This is your second series for middle-grade girls. Do you envision stepping out of that genre one day?

I have a middle grade constitution, I’m afraid. Inside I’m really nine or ten, but I have been working on a middle grade adventure book about a boy, so we’ll see. Maybe one day I’ll grow up and write YA, who knows?

How do you balance your life as a mom with life as an author? Does your daughter have any input as you write?

I have a full-time day job, too, so combined with being a parent to a toddler, the answer is barely. There is barely a balance, and the scales are usually tipping over. I write when I can, and I have bursts of productivity followed by days of the blankest pages you’d ever want to see. My daughter is just about three, so she doesn’t really give input in my writing, but we read a lot together, so it helps me to discover what characters she likes and finds funny.

We share a history as grads of and love for Vermont College of Fine Arts. (VCFA whoot!) How did that experience influence your writing?

VCFA changed my life. Did I say that already? Well, it cannot be said enough. I learned so much about writing, in particular, how little I knew beforehand. The faculty, the students, the alumni—they are a community unlike any other. I want to go back. Can I go back?

Let's go back together! Where else are you headed from here? Upcoming publications or story ideas? Anything else you'd like to add?

I’m currently working on a middle grade novel called A TINY PIECE OF SKY (Philomel/Penguin), which is slated to come out in early 2016. The story is set in the summer of 1939, and Frankie Baum, the youngest of three sisters tries to prove herself by clearing her father’s name after he is accused of being a German spy. She does some spying of her own to get to the truth, and what she discovers surprises everyone.

Please let readers know where they can find you...and thanks!

You can find more than you ever wanted to know about me on my Web site at:

You know you want this book, so comment!


LMyles said...

I was so excited when I recently found out that Shawn is a children's author. I am an elementary school teacher (and former classmate of Shawn's) and I'm always on the lookout for new literature. Shawn's books are not only great additions to my classroom but also to my daughters' bookshelves. Great Job Shawn!

Janet Fox said...

Isn't she fabulous? I love these books.

Congrats to you during teacher week!!

Anonymous said...

Each time I learn more about Shawn and her characters, I love them more. What a beautiful thing to have a middle grade constitution. Thanks so much for this wonderful interview, Janet and Shawn.

Michelle Hubbard said...

I'm excited she'll be teaching at WIFYR this June. It should be a great class. I'm signed up for another class, but I'm looking forward to hearing what she has to say in her afternoon lecture.

Janet Fox said...

Thanks so much, Sandra. Yes, especially Shawn's incredible voice and charming stories!

Janet Fox said...

Michelle - Shawn is incredibly talented and equally nice. I'm jealous! Enjoy the class.

Barbara Younger said...

Love the title! Would love to read the book. I just ordered the first Penelope. I'm writing a middle grade and will study her since my agent feels my ten-year-old character is missing the mark.

Janet Fox said...

Barbara - you will learn tons reading Penelope. Have fun with it!! And thanks for coming by!

Annemarie O'Brien said...

I LOVE all of the Penelope books! Penelope is such a funny girl. Shawn's writing is fun and filled with charm on every page!

Janet Fox said...

Likewise, Annemarie!

Hey - I get to do a giveaway! :)