MRS. MOUSE / CHRIS WILLIAMSON, AND FEATHERED FRIEND. 146
Each month I will feature an interview with an writer or author I have illustrated for. For the month of December 2005, I chat with Mrs. Mouse (Chris Williamson), the creator author of "I Can Grow" and "If You're Gonna Be A Monster, You Gotta Do It Right!"
When did you become an author, and what was your first published book?
I was born a writer. I knew even before I could write that writing was where I was being led. I just didn't always follow. So if you define "becoming an author" as accepting that writing is the path in life I MUST follow, then I "became" an author the year I turned 40 and finally accepted that this was what God directed me to do, what He'd always intended for me, and it was high time I got serious about it.
My first book, "I Can Grow!" , was published just a few years later.
COVER OF "I CAN GROW."
How did you end up with the name Mrs. Mouse?
I've always been shy, so I chose Mrs. Mouse as a user name when I was first introduced to the Internet. As I made the shift into online writing forums, guest books and blogs, the Mrs. Mouse user name got tied to my writing. It was an easy transition to make it my pen name for writing for children. Before long I was advised to make it a legal alias, and I did. I've been Mrs. Mouse ever since.
FROM THE MRS. MOUSE WEBSITE: MRS. MOUSE'S HOUSE.
How did you come about writing the story for "If You're Gonna Be A Monster…you gotta do it right!" ?
It was my husband's fault. He woke up from a horrible bad dream, and the only thing he could remember was saying, "If you're gonna be a monster, you gotta do it right." When he told me that over corn flakes and coffee, my imagination went into high gear. I actually had to excuse myself, leave my breakfast and go to the office to write.
I'd had my share of being tricked at Halloween as a child, even having other kids act like monsters one memorable year, ruining the fun of the evening. Those were the sparks that ignited the story.
The original 'What if...' quickly lead to a one line theme and the story took off running. It felt like I was like watching a movie in fast forward with me scribbling as fast as I could to keep up. It nearly wrote itself. Now if I could just train my 'muse' to do it's own revisions and editing, I'd be all set! *grins*
COVER OF MRS. MOUSE'S "MONSTER", BOOK ILLUSTRATED BY KEVIN SCOTT COLLIER
In the book, older brother Leo sets up his younger brother Billy with a costume to make him look like a fool for Halloween. Any experiences with siblings pulling tricks on you when you were young?
Growing up I had one sister older than me and one sister younger than me. If I wasn't setting up my younger sister, she was putting a fast one over on me. With three girls in the household it was anyone's guess who has pulled more tricks on which other one. We all picked on each other pretty regularly. It was the same at my best friends' house. I think anyone with siblings or even close friends is going to relate.
So when I started to write "If You're Gonna Be A Monster", mentally connecting to that devilish side of myself to make Leo and Bobby's Halloween adventure realistic was shamefully easy.
LEO STRIKES AN EVIL GRIN WHILE BROTHER BOBBY IS REDUCED TO TEARS.
What made you decide on the appearance of the monsters in the story and what they would be wearing?
I'd like to say that the monsters arrived fully dressed in my mind...all I needed to do was write it down. But the truth is that Leo's personality led the story path.
I realized right away that Leo was going to trick Bobby while pretending to help him with his costume. So I wondered, "What would a 12-year-old use from around the house to create a costume?" When I was growing up, an old white bed sheet was pretty standard. We'd cut holes for eyes and away we'd go, instant ghosts. But what if Leo didn't cut holes for Bobby to see? It would be easy to trick him, then, to make his costume look stupid, not like a real costume at all but a like a joke. So I chose only the oddest things. When Leo got done decorating that sheet, poor Bobby looked horrid. He was in for a bad Halloween.
But then I was stuck. How was I to get Bobby out of this without damage, allow Leo to grow as a person and still entertain the reader?
Leo was acting like a real monster. He deserved to see how that felt in reverse. So what if someone was a monster to him? What if it WAS a Monster, a real monster? It was Halloween, after all. Almost anything's possible on Halloween. Leo had told Bobby, "If you're gonna be a monster, you gotta do it right." What if Leo had accidentally or subconsciously made Bobby's costume look EXACTLY like a REAL monster, or as real as he could with pie tins and colored markers?
Once I'd established that part of the plot, writing down how the monsters looked was simple. They looked like Bobby, the joke costume that Leo had created out of spite. Only now the joke was going to be on him. *grins*
LEO DISCOVERS HIS JOKE ISN"T SO FUNNY TO THE 'REAL DEALS.'
What has the response been to the book from readers?
The response to "If You're Gonna Be A Monster…you gotta do it right!" has been overwhelmingly positive. Readers have gone out of their way to tell me how much they love the book, the bright colorful illustrations, Bobbie and the Monsters, and the fun surprise ending.
What are some of the more memorable Halloween costumes you wore trick-or-treating?
D'you know, I can't seem to remember any of them I wore as a child, only a few I made as an adult. I made a papier-mâché mask of an old woman one year when I was a sales clerk, and dressed the part so well that no one knew who I was, even my boss. One year I dressed up as a cat for a Halloween parade in my small town. I wore all black and painted on a cat face with old makeup. Pretty odd for a mouse, don't you think?
What are some of the lessons you hope kids learn from this book?
I never beat kids over the head with "lessons." I hated books like that when I was a kid and refuse to write like that now. But I do write from the heart and from my own value system. As a Christian, my faith in God and all things good shines from everything I write without any effort on my part to force them into lessons.
I find universal themes that everyone can relate to easily and write around them the best I can. It ends up being a darn good read. Any lessons that evolve from that method are truly the reader's own.
What's up the road for Mrs. Mouse?
I try to take each day and cherish it. But I do have a few hopes and dreams for the future, too.
Jane Kurtz said, "Try to stop writing. If you can't, then you are a writer." I have more stories in my head than I'll ever be able to write. Everything I do, everything I experience, hopes, dreams, my love of God…all of it has an impact on my writing. Cooking is no exception.
I love to cook, love to try new dishes, and love to share it with everyone I know. So it's no surprise that one of my next books will be a cookbook. Not your typical recipe book, but a collection of 53 dinner menus, with step-by-step instructions for perfectly timed meals for two. "Mrs. Mouse's Menu Cookbook" has been in the works for many years, and if everything goes as planned, I hope to see it available in the spring.
And God willing, next year "I Can Grow!" will also be available, in paperback for the first time.
So I'll be spending time next year spreading the word about my books, old and new. And then there's the next book after that, the one in my head, the one calling my name, waking me up at night, begging to be written RIGHT NOW…
Any final thoughts concerning the children's book market today?
The advent of low cost color printing on demand of books will have a huge impact on the children's book market, I think. Books can be printed and made available quickly and easily by just about anyone. Helping readers find those books just as quickly and easily is still an issue. Author websites are the part of the answer, making them so search engines find key information about their books. And listing each book with online bookstores, like Amazon.com
The tough job for readers like you and me, though, will be in finding quality books. Established publishing houses maintain talented editors to polish their books before they hit the marketplace. Some self-published books don't have that editing, and the story suffers because of it. There are many other self-published books that are well written and have powerful stories.
So how do you find the good ones and not the dogs? Online or in a neighborhood bookstore, the answer is the same. Read a couple of pages, an excerpt, from the book. If you get drawn in right away, you've probably found a winner.
Just like with anything else, reputation and loyalty matters. Find authors you like and stick with them. Chances are if you like one of their books, you'll like them all.
"If You're Gonna Be A Monster...You Gotta Do It Right!" (Sept 2005)
"Mrs. Mouse' Menu Cook Book" (TBA 2006)
"I Can Grow!" (ebook, Writer's Exchange 2001)
"One Sweet Snowman", Highlights for Children, (TBA)
"Mrs. Mouse's Fruited Spinach Salad", Texas Co-op Magazine, June 2000
"Until Night Comes Again", The Palouse Journal, Spring 1986