Deb: Hi Madelyn and welcome to 32 Zoo. First of all congratulations on the release of HOW TO BEHAVE AT A DOG SHOW. It’s great to see Julia, Charles and of course the MacKagan brothers back together for another adventure.
As much as Alberta likes to ask questions, she’s off and running getting ready for fall. I told her I’d be happy to cover. Alberta agreed, with the stipulation that I ask lots of questions. So to start off, I’m curious, what inspired the idea for the HOW TO BEHAVE series and specifically HOW TO BEHAVE AT A DOG SHOW? Is there anything you would like kids to know about this book? Parents? Pets?
Madelyn: Thanks so much, Deb (and Alberta)! The series was inspired by watching my own kids when they were younger. They both had such distinct ideas of the way things should be, and those ideas were completely at odds. For example:
Daughter: I know! Let’s play fairies!
Son: How about war fairies?
Daughter: How about war fairies who are friends?
I loved watching them try to navigate and compromise. I still do.
As for dog show: I entered my own dog in a pet show when I was little, and that was certainly a big part of the inspiration for this. And somewhere in the back of my brain I kept hearing that commercial from years ago, the one where the kids sing “my dog’s better than your dog.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5E9H_DvwOVc) The reason was allegedly because said dog ate Ken-L-Ration, but it also gave voice to the fact that all kids think their pets are the best. And you know what? They are the best. And those kids are the best, too. Not in the everyone-gets-a-medal way, but in the way that everyone is really great at something. Every pet. Every kid. Every parent, too. You might be the best at burping the alphabet. Or drawing pictures of brain-sucking zombies. Or making your friends feel better when they’re sad. Sometimes it takes awhile to figure out what the “something” is, but it’s there.
Deb: You are so right. Everyone has their own special talent that only they are going to be the best at. Just like you were the best person to write this book. So speaking of writing, I have to ask you a question my children are always asking me. When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up? When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Madelyn: I knew I wanted to be a writer in fifth grade! I wanted to be other things before that, though, including a singer and a ballet dancer. I also wanted to be an advertising agent, like Darrin Stevens on Bewitched. And I still want to be an inventor and a product designer. Writing gives me a chance to be all of those things from time to time.
Deb: It sounds like you were always interested in creative professions and I have to say I loved Bewitched! But how do you keep your creative juices flowing? I noticed that you hosted a series of writing prompts on your blog over the summer. Do those play into your creative process? And now that we are in back to school mode, do you have any tips for parents on how to keep the fun creative spirit of summer going for their children?
Madelyn: Mostly, writing prompts just keep me writing. They seem bite-size. Chewable. Doable. I think one of the things that makes writing hard for some kids is that they imagine it’s hard. So I try to come up with ideas that make it easy for kids (and adults).
This summer I was big on making sure kids knew that complete sentences weren’t necessary to get an idea on paper. (I actually think not using complete sentences forces them to think of specific “trigger” words, and finding the right word is much more important than the obligatory complete sentence.) My favorite writing prompt from the summer was one I called “Drop and Give Me 10,” where you come up with 10 words or phrases (or a combination) to describe the scene you’re in at any given moment. I like that because it helps you create postcards, of sorts, of wherever you happen to be – the doctor’s office or the beach. And because you can use the same prompt again and again. My tip for parents to keep things fun during the school year would be to keep things bite-size. Also, lots and lots of popsicles.
Deb: “Drop and Give Me 10.” That’s great. I definitely think finding 10 words or phrases is better than pushups too. If you had to find your favorite, can’t miss, picture book every parent should read to their children what would that be?
Madelyn: Oh, gosh, there are so many. The stories that were my favorites to read to my own kids were The Snowy Day at the beginning of winter and The Little Fur Family at the beginning of fall. We also loved Leonardo, the Terrible Monster, The Witch Next Door (a favorite of mine when I was a kid), and lots and lots of Seuss. But there are always so many wonderful new things coming out, and so many classics that are classic for a reason. What I really think is that parents need to experiment and find their own can’t-miss book – a book that is their book with their kid, the way they found their song with their high school boyfriend or girlfriend. (Well, sort of.)
Deb: While we are talking about favorites, I know that dogs and of course meerkats, would be at the top of the list at my house but what about your house? What is your favorite animal?
Madelyn: Along with dogs and meerkats, we adore cats, capybaras, lemurs, sea turtles and narwhals.
Deb: Okay, even though Limburger can be a bit touchy about this subject, I have to ask. There was an incident in the book with a skunk, that came with a shall we say, certain odor. Was that encounter based on a real life situation?
Madelyn: (Close your ears, Limburger.) Growing up, my dog certainly got sprayed – I think every dog in town did, because it was the 70s and there weren’t as many leash laws. We’ve enjoyed the company of skunks while camping as well.
Deb: Of course Alberta left a couple questions for me to ask. She wanted to know if you have any other ideas for a sequel? What about How to Behave at a Zoo? How do you choose between all the ideas?
Madelyn: I do have a long list of ideas and I hope I am fortunate enough to be able to follow up! I would like to say I have a method for choosing, but I’m going to have to plead “instinct” on that one.
Deb: I couldn’t end the interview without mentioning that you also have another sequel out, NANNY X RETURNS. After everyone reads HOW TO BEHAVE AT A DOG SHOW and they are looking for a longer read they can pick this up. How does it feel to have two books coming out at once? Do you have any special ways you like to celebrate the release of a book or two?
Madelyn: Thanks for the plug! Any time I have a book come out, it feels (for a moment, at least) that anything is possible. And, because I’m me, it also feels terrifying — the whole idea of putting your work (and yourself) out there. Having two is doubly exciting and doubly terrifying. As for celebrations: I always preach “CELEBRATE EVERYTHING.” Publishing is so up and down, you really do have to celebrate all of the good parts when they happen. But in spite of my preaching, I’ve never established any traditions. Maybe it’s time I developed some? I ordered Indian food to celebrate once. If Alberta has other suggestions, I’m all ears.
Deb: Thanks so much Madelyn. It’s been fun chatting with you. We’ll be celebrating with you on the release of your new books! On behalf of Alberta and the 32 Zoo we would like to thank Madelyn for visiting. Make sure to check out How to Behave at a Dog Show (Official Trailer) and if you have a pet that’s best in something, you’ll want to take a look at Madelyn’s new tumblr bestinsomethingpets.tumblr.com
Madelyn: Thanks so much to all of you!
As a journalist, Madelyn Rosenberg writes about colorful, real-life characters. As an author, she makes up characters of her own. She lives with her family in Arlington, Va.