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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Saturday 23 February 2008

An Interview with Margie Palatini, a prolific & exciting children's book author with HarperCollins

(The above illustration and its accompanying script is reproduced on Palette with the kind permission of its owner, Margie Palatini.)

by Suzan Abrams in Dublin

There may be snowstorms at the moment in Margie Palatini's neighbourhood and family home in New Jersey where she lives with her husband who works in advertising and their son Jamie.

And this no thanks to the inappropriate weather in New York at the moment but still, it's a merry shower of glitter shrouding Palatini's glitzy publishing career with HarperCollins.

Her rich collection of picture books full of fun and puns, continue to roll on like a rainbow in the sky.

And if her writings that may already have filled a child's tiny bookshelf isn't prolific with a capital P, the happy titles stretch on.

This September sees the release of Palatini's prized 192-page children's story, The Zoey Zone, published by HarperCollins Canada in hardback. Described as unique, funny, curious and smart, the book is aimed for a kiddy audience of between anywhere from 8 to 12.

"It's titled Geek Chic - The Zoey Zone and I'm hoping this book projects a positive message to girls that -- smart is cool -- brains are beautiful," says Palatini. "Zoey, my main character is strong and funny. A wonderful, individual thinker."

(For interested readers, Amazon.ca is already taking orders.)

If fall is too far away yet, Margie Palatini also has several new picture books on-the-ready and soon to be released.

This include Gorgonzola - a stinkysaurus and a sequel to the already popular Moo Who, called Boo Hoo Moo, and another 'bad boys' title also from a series called Bad Boys Get Henpecked.

Below, is a slideshow featuring just some of Palatini's work. The complete list of titles are displayed on her website over here.

OF FUN AND PUNS - Some Thoughts from Margie Palatini exclusive to Palette

(Pictured is Margie Palatini).

The first impression that would likely strike a viewer on children's book author, Margie Palatini's website, is how vibrant its design comes across in that jolly way.

No standing on hushed tippy-toes here.

Rather, the audio sounds of toots, laughter and applause; her relationship with her son Jamie that suggest an evident, sparkly sense of humour and especially too, her display of pictures books that thrill the senses, take precedence. No matter one's age, the inner child is at once skipping or racing up a joyous dance.

In real life, do the rich tones of colour depict a similiar zest for life?

"I think and hope it reflects the fun of the books and characters more than it does me personally," muses Palatini. "But I do hope it conveys my humour."

Palatini's philosophy as a children's book author is after all, a decidedly simple one. "Whimsy, fun and nonsense," she sums up.

Well, but her personality then. Surely exuberance comes close.

But Palatini turns the very thought into light-hearted banter. "That is a difficult question. Where's the couch?"

She points to a multi-faceted personality; that she may just be several things all at once and a true subject of contradictions.

"Optimistic, pessimistic, curious, neurotic, artistic, dramatic, difficult, easy.... I don't know
really. I think my husband or son would nail it much better. No, don't ask."

Perhaps the definition of favourite colours may be easier, considering the sunshiny golds that are so easily given the liberty of going over the top, when it comes to children's picture books.

"I love the combination of red, yellow and green, offers Palatini helpfully. "All the main living rooms in my home are based around those colours. They are bright and warm and very welcoming."

Then she does it again. With the contradictions, that is.

"Personally, however, when I dress, I'm a black- and-white girl. I don't have to think!"

In her website (link above slide), Palatini describes herself as having "doodled, dabbled, da-daed at the Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, Pennyslvania. She actually planned to work at illustrating children's books and writing one instead turned out to a surprising self-discovery.

Her initial writing success however, she adds, is a slightly "long and convoluted story."

"My dream growing up was to 'draw the pictures," she explains.

"After graduating from Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, I worked as an art director in various advertising agencies and companies.

"When I saw an article in the newspaper about a course in children's book writing being offered at Rutgers University, I thought it might be an opportunity to meet a writer - and that perhaps I could illustrate a manuscript. I had known 'that ain't how it's done' -- I probably would never have gotten involved in that workshop - but I didn't know 'tha ain't how it's done.

"So I signed up - and once there, and part of the group, was encouraged to write. Scary.Scary. Scary.

Palatini persevered.

"But I discovered that I not only liked it, but could do it! I think...

"I really had no expectations of actually publishing. However, my group was very enthusiastic about a manuscript called Piggie Pie. The thing was, publishers were not.

"Rejections said the story was not funny, kids wouldn't find it at all funny, and that I should probably not write picture books.

"So I didn't.

"I did write several children's novels, which were surprisingly - quickly accepted and published.

"It wasn't until several years later, married, and with a three year old, that I found the manuscript, read it to Jamie, (who thought it
pretty darn funny), and decided to send it out again.

"I knew Howard Fine, who worked in an advertising agency with my husband. I loved Howard's drawing style, and felt he would be the ideal person to articulate the character of Gritch the Witch. I asked him if he
would like to collaborate with me on the book (again, neither of us having any idea 'that ain't how it's done').

"He said yes. We put together a dummy, sent it to an agent, who loved it - and wanted to represent us. However, there was a snag. (There's always a 'snag', you know.)

Again, Palatini persevered.

"Because neither Howard nor I had ever published a picture book, the editor who
was mulling over the project, had some reservations. (Publishers don't usually like to pair two unknowns.)

"In the meantime (told you this was long and convoluted), Howard had decided to leave freelance illustration and go to dental school. Yes, Dental school.

"If the editor who was 'mulling' didn't decide soon, Howard was afraid he wouldn't have time to illustrate the book, because he had attend
college. Howard had a friend who had done some work at Clarion, and Howard thought he might be able to get an appointment with the art director.

"We thought, that if perhaps she saw the dummy, we might get some feedback. Howard got the appointment, the art director saw the dummy -- she loved it -- and she showed it to editorial - who loved it too -- and that's how Piggie Pie was published.

Yet today, may still feel like yesterday when you think that after the experienced author puts together a manuscript for her agent and publisher, she still indulges in a carousel for an anxious imagination.

"Lots of praying. Lots of angst. Lots of agida. Do they like it? Don't they like it? Why don't they like it? They do like it? How much do they like it?"

Of course, her enduring admiration for the work of illustrators may just be at an all-time high.

"I have several very good friends who write and/or illustrate. Their talent is always inspiring; Diana Goode - is incredible; Elise Primavera is completely marvellous; Joyce McDonald is just sooo good...

"I also admire Brian Selznick's work. Betsy Lewin. Jerry Spinelli. Really, too many to mention."

Today, if asked how Palatini's life as an author has been remarkably enhanced because of her exciting career, she is most likely to shrug her shoulders and look askance.

"I have absolutely no idea," she mulls. "All I know is that somehow all that mish-mosh in my brain which makes me who I am, allows me to write silly nonsensical stuff."

She professes to a similiar helplessness that defines the logistics of character invention.

"I have no idea where my storylines crop up from. It's one of those wonderful mysteries of imagination."

Besides, Alice in Wonderland and Little Women that served as childhood favourites, Palatini still has a particular penchant for The Little Engine That Could. "I think all of my stories have a little bit of 'the engine' in them."

She has no particular favourites, her characters being cherished like adorable children.

Palatini's writing projects run to a schedule that often threatens to prove all-consuming. Time means indulging 'the force within her.'

"If I'm involved in a project whether it be a novel or a picture book, it's pretty much all-consuming until a completion. There is no clock. If not writing, you know, cooking, cleaning, making beds...sigh!"

When it comes to a working day, Palatini also confesses to being a 'spreader.'

"I'm all over the house," she enthuses. "My office upstairs, the game room...all windows with a wonderful view of the backyard, the couch in the library, the kitchen table, the dining-room table...

"I am everywhere to the dismay of my very neat, very organized husband. My desk is a pile of whatever."

In fact, the only diligent ritual Palatini would admit to before starting her writing day, would be if she was still "wearing her robe."

Today, writing a story for the experienced and popular author, is still no easy feat.

"It's constant rewriting, doodling, tweaking, re-drawing and scribbling. I end up with more drafts, discarded paper, note pads.

"I need a secretary or a very good cleaning lady. A 'keeper'. "

Finding it a great way to receive feedback, Palatini also relishes in school and club visits, reading sessions and other children get-togethers where she discusses her picture books, with a slant towards educational and perhaps too, moral and ethical purposes.

Those who confirm a visit by appointment, receive an Author's Day information packed filled with posters, bookmarks, fun activities and study guides.

"I love school visits and sharing my stories and characters," says Palatini. "The only drawback being the travel bit.

"That's the exhausting part. And the worry of actually getting to where I'm supposed to get... I am the person who gets on the wrong plane.

"Yikes! Told you I need a keeper."

Besides, Geek Chic - The Zoey Zone, due out this fall, Palatini's current writing projects include Gorgonzola 'a stinkysaurus' which will be released this spring, Bad Boys Get Henpecked, Goldie (you-know-who) & The Three Hares, Gone with the Wand, Boo-Hoo Moo and Lousy Rotten Stinkin' Grapes.

Palatini also feels that the children's market has always been competitive but in a steady way. "However, I believe there is always room for a unique voice and talent."

Today, her biggest fan is probably her son, Jamie. His cheeky humour is also evident on his mother's website along with hers as both pose cheerfully on the beach, for what seems to constitute a bad hair day.

"Jamie has been the absolute joy of my life," says Palatini. "It's always been fun for me to 'chronicle' Jamie through the various stories. Certainly, the most obvious being Bedhead! (The boy was born w/a bedhead - and has been follicly challenged since.)

"As a writer, I hope I have brought creative thinking into his life."

For the last 15 years,the family have always vacationed in Bermuda and that's where they'll be heading this year as well.

"We love it there and even if we took another vacation, we still go back to Bermuda - even for a couple of days. Just wouldn't feel like summer for us without going back."

When writing-exhaustion calls, and Palatini needs some time out, there's nothing like films from the Thirties, Forties and Fifities which she adores, to soothe the spirit.

Admitting to a love for biographies and history, Palatini is presently reading The Age of Betrayal.

And yes, the lively author and her son still own their fair share of bad hair days.