Before the interview, here are a few things about Michael J. Rosen:
[Note: this biography is from Amazon.com. We have decided to only include the children's books section of his biography, because that is the most relevant :)].
Kids first: So, I'm the author of some six dozen books for children of all ages. New titles include THE TALE OF RESCUE, a tale of adventure and bravery that features a cattle dog who saves a family stranded in a blizzard. There's also: THE FOREVER FLOWERS; MY DOG! A Kid's Guide to Keeping a Happy & Healthy Dog (the ideal go-to dog guide for families); a pop-up book with Robert Sabuda, CHANUKAH LIGHTS, winner of the Sydney Taylor Award; and three books of haiku on dogs, birds, and THE MAINE COON'S HAIKU and Other Poems for Cat Lovers.
For over 35 years, ever since working as a counselor, water-safety instructor, and art teacher at local community centers, I've been engaged with young children, their parents and teachers. As a visiting author, in-service speaker, and workshop leader, I frequently travel to schools and conferences around the nation, sharing stories, poems, creativity, and humor. Several of my books here show my work as editor/anthologist or illustrator. It has been my privilege to have enlisted hundreds of other authors and artists to create 15 philanthropic books that aid in the fight to end childhood hunger through Share Our Strength's national efforts, or that offer care to less fortunate companion animals through The Company of Animals Fund, a granting program I administered for a dozen years."
Did you always want to be an author? What was your first story about?
No, I wanted to be a pediatrician. And much of my education was pre-med. Most of my work life was spent at a community center, teaching kids, being a camp counselor, programming events. So I figured I’d be a doctor taking care of this very age group. Yet, I was also writing and drawing and playing guitar at the same time, throughout all the college classes and the community-center jobs. And, after six months of medical school, I realized that I really wanted to write more than walk the halls of a hospital or injecting crying kids with vaccines. Part of me felt that I could still care for young people—maybe even more so—through writing.
As for my first story? I don’t know if I can recall. At first, poetry was my only genre. Stories came along in my late 20s, early 30s. And now I work in both genres…and even some—like plays and humor—that I had never imagined trying.
What’s your favorite part about writing? What’s an average day for you when you write?
I don’t have an average day—you mean “typical,” right? Partly, this is because I work on several things at once. Starting something new, editing and expanding a draft, and polishing something almost done. Partly, it’s because the various editors with whom I work also feed into this cycle, so…suddenly there are copyedited pages to go through…or the opportunity to write an article for a magazine…or approve sketches for a new book of haiku. And partly, I try to balance this sedentary, focused writing life with more physically active time: hiking in the woods with my dog or working on the many landscape projects I have. I do know that I do my best work in concentrated bursts: a couple of hours…and then a break. A couple more…etc.
What’s your favorite activity to do when you’re not writing?
It’s funny, but most everything I do is “part” of writing. Sometimes—say, I'm hiking or picking tomatoes at my neighbor’s farm—I’ll be actively mulling over ideas…for a haiku, for an unresolved plot point in a new story. Sometimes—say, I’m doing those same two activities—what I’m actually doing or observing will become part of a poem or story. If not a direct inspiration than, perhaps, an additional detail or memory that I’ll can call upon. So I accumulate these over time. Just random. Not categorized as one thing or another. I think of them as filed away…but without a label on the folder. So then those aha! moments, those breakthroughs when writing, those “inspired ideas”—they come when I stumble across one of these memory files—and find just what I’m looking for inside. A perfect fit.
The Tale of Rescue has a very timely, “classic” feel to it. What types of books did you like to read as a child? What was your favorite book?
As a younger reader, I remember reading nonfiction more than stories or poems. I’d check out stacks of books—heavier than I could manage in my arms: everything the library’s kids section would have on optical illusions or magic tricks or drawing animals or butterflies or dog breeds or horseback riding—whatever my current interest happened to be. And I read Marvel comic books about superheroes. Remember, back in the 1960s, there really weren't bookstores filled with kids’ books. Just a few shelves at a department store and the drugstore’s rotating comic-book racks. So I wish I could say that my work is inspired by reading the “classics” of children’s literature. It is inspired by adult classics. I’ve read a great deal more literature for adults over the years. Funny to think: We really only have a few of our years to read picture books…or chapter books…or middle-grade fiction. Then, it’s a lifetime of grown-up books! <smile>
What was your inspiration for The Tale of Rescue?
Do you have a pet in particular that was the inspiration for the hero dog in The Tale of Rescue?
Let’s combine those two questions. Yes, I have an Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog named Chant. And a few months after I adopted her, I began this novel. It was an exceptionally snowy and cold winter. And I had a new companion—my first heeler, a dog bred to herd—who treated me to a new world of canine behaviors and antics. Walking her in the 100-acre woods that I share here in Ohio offered me the opportunity—which I took!—to not only focus on Chant’s movements and senses in action, but also to attempt to see things from her point of view, to feel the sensations of climbing through deep snow from her physical perspective. And, as you know, half of The Tale of Rescue is narrative from the heeler’s vantage.
Have you ever met someone that’s gone through a similar experience to the one the family in The Tale of Rescue goes through? If not, how did you conceive this tale?
No, never. Although I should say that not having endured such a thing can be as vivid as having endured it. I mean, a writer has to work from both possibilities. Yes, a story or novel can spring from one direct experience, but all the other elements that will fold into that narrative—developing it, opposing it, revealing it from another character’s point of view—will have to be invented. (Won’t have happened to the writer, right?) Even fiction that’s based on some element of non-fiction—personal experience—will still become fictional in order to fully engage a reader.
The tale was conceived from many directions, not the least of which was my own sense of fear in a white-out, in any sort of weather that cuts off communication and strands a person. It was conceived out of the more than 20 years I’ve lived in a region similar to that described in the novel…and out of the 60-some years in which one dog or another has “rescued” me each and every day.
The beautiful watercolor illustrations by Stan Fellows are an amazing addition to The Tale of Rescue. Did you originally want to have illustrations to enrich your heartwarming story, or did the idea come into the picture later?
I did conceive of the story as illustrated. In fact, I even imagined Stan Fellows painting this book while I was drafting the chapters! Since I’ve worked with him on several books, including The Dog Who Walked with God, and The Cuckoo’s Haiku and Other Poems for Birders, and because we share a similar keenness for and interest in the natural world, as I composed scenes, I could almost imagine how Stan might show the drama of the blizzard and the physical efforts of this cattle dog.
Are there any obstacles you overcame as a writer, and if so, how did you overcome them?
[lets combine these two]
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice as a young writer, what would it be, and why?
The advice I’d give myself—isn’t meant for everyone else: Go with your passion. I wish I would have used my college years to study literature instead of advanced physics and organic chemistry. I would have enjoyed expanding my knowledge in the area closest to my heart. So this answers another of your questions: Compared with many writers I met in graduate school, I was much less familiar with the literary canon because of all that time I focused on the sciences. I filled in as much of that backlog as I could—reading voraciously for many years—but I still feel the obstacle that’s just-not-knowing-enough.
What effect do you hope to have on young readers with your stories?
Books are flames that ignite anything flammable inside a reader. As a writer, I can’t know if that will be ignorance or passion, curiosity or creativity, a need for standing for what’s right or a hunger for change, levity, distraction, or information. All I can do is try to make my writing burn as hot and long and beautifully—less smoke! more illumination!—as possible.
Can I get away what that long metaphor? <smile>
Your books are extremely well-written and creative. What is one question you would write yourself, and could you please answer it?
Thank you both the invitation to do this. So let me just make a question out of your compliment: What do you do in order to write books that are consistently creative and well written?
First, thank you for those generous words! The answer might be easier to imagine as if it writing were a kind of athleticism. We have less trouble imagining what it takes to be a great soccer player or acrobat or snowboarder or dancer: unwavering discipline, constant practice, studying of others’ accomplishments, care and respect for your body (sleep, exercise, nutrition, stretching), adherence to schedules and training rules…and years and years and years of finding new challenges that keep the work fully engaging and rewarding. So it’s just that. Having the confidence of my successes as well as the uncertainties of each new poem or novel or whatever I’m using words to discover.