I haven’t had the opportunity to welcome many one-named celebrities to this blog. Outside of Bono, I haven’t been too broken up about this.
But today I welcome the freakishly prolific Sudipta. True, her name is really Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, but if you check out sudipta.com you’ll get my point. Also, by way of example, if you ask someone at an SCBWI conference, “Did you see Anne’s shoes?” there might be some confusion. But if you ask, “Have you seen Sudipta’s shoes?” there will be none.
I’m coming at everything in a very roundabout way today (which explains my first interview question), but I want to say this straight-out. In addition to freakish prolificness (I looked it up. It’s spelled right.), Sudipta is also a a freakishly generous mentor to writers finding their way. She may not want that truth out there in the world, but it’s my blog, so there it is.
You may be wondering what Bruce Springsteen’s doing here. Reread the last sentence of the previous paragraph–he’d never show up on Sudipta’s blog, but this one’s mine.
There’s a (not fantastic) Springsteen song, “Outlaw Pete,” in which the titular character introduces himself a lot—may I suggest you begin your readings by crooning, “I’m Half-Pint Pete” repeatedly (along the lines of what you hear at the 52-second mark)? I’ve been singing it and it’s a lot of fun. Also, as a half pint: thank you. We have long been underrepresented in the pirate oeuvre. Where did this story come from?
Half-Pint Pete came from the deep places in the heart where all great literature comes from, where characters live and breathe and fight for justice. Somewhere beneath the cockles and to the right, I’d guess, but can’t really be sure…or, perhaps, it came from my daughters’ inability to share their dress-up toys, leading me to tear everything in half in a fit of exceptionally good parenting. The princess skirt, the knight’s shield, the treasure map — all cut in half. I remember one of them complaining that you can’t do anything with half a treasure map, and voila! “Half-Pint Pete, the Idea” was born.
How easy was this book to write? Does the final book look like what you imagined when you first had the idea?
I always knew that I wanted Half-Pint Pete to be about searching and feeling complete, and who could resist taking two halves (Half-Pint Pete and Half-Baked Belle) to make a whole — and more (at the end, they are not just the perfect two, but two and a half!)? In that sense, the book is what I imagined it would be. But structurally, that’s another story. The manuscript was acquired at around 750 words, but through the editorial process, it was literally….cut in half. Trying to tell a complete story in 350 words is so hard that…well, next time, I’d rather walk the plank.
Your verse scans so well I have to ask: Do you think and dream in rhyme?
You’ve always been exceedingly generous in sharing your writing and promoting knowledge with me. Were there people along the way who helped you or did you figure it all out yourself?
There were many people who helped me, and many people who I *wished* had helped me! Writing is a very solitary endeavor, so much so that those antisocial habits carry over sometimes into the non-creative parts of what we do. But both the craft side and the business side of our lives benefit from collective knowledge — why should we each reinvent the wheel when we can pool our knowledge and get there faster? Now, there’s still going to be a lot we have to figure out on our own — not everything that works for you will work for me, for example, and many of the most successful strategies are often very specific to a certain writer or book. But sharing our knowledge is a great way to brainstorm for more things that may work. If one mind is good, a dozen is so much better.
What have been some of the most useful nuggets you’ve learned along the way?
Well, the most useful writing nugget I’ve learned is to be patient with your character. If you have a great character, he or she will show you the right story if you are patient. Forcing an idea is the easiest way to get to a really bad idea. A close second would be to write what you know, but with the knowledge that no one but you finds the true specifics of your life as fascinating as, well, you do. For example, you should write about the things your kids do that make you laugh. You shouldn’t, however, write it in such a way that your neighbors would recognize the characters as your kids. Use the intimate to inform the universal.
As for promotion, the most useful nugget would be that the best way to make people think that you’re cool is to not talk about how cool you are. That is true for speaking engagements, for school visits, and especially for interviews!
What were your favorite books as a young reader?
I loved Nancy Drew books (and was heartbroken when I found out Carolyn Keene isn’t real!), and I also read quite a bit of “classic” stuff, like Sherlock Holmes. There were always books in my house, and I pretty much read whatever I could get my hands on. And then when I got my library card! There was one summer when I was in 3rd grade maybe that I won the summer reading competition at the Jersey City Public Library. I think I read something like 200 books. (I’m a nerdy chick, and always have been.)
What are you working on now?
I’m branching out into new and fantastical territory for me — instead of talking animals (or pirates) who rhyme, I’m writing about contemporary human children in elementary school. It’s very scary to me to go to this strange place with my writing and it’s taking a lot of research to even make it sound believable. But I’m trying, because failure is not an option. I’m going to be launching a new series of early middle grade novels in 2014, and while the series will launch with four books in the first few seasons, I have only written…one of them.
In all seriousness, I am working on quite a few early middle grade projects — as my children grow older, I’m finding my interests are changing and I want to write what they like to read. But I haven’t given up of the picture books — I’m working on several right now as well. And most importantly, I am working on…keeping my bedroom clean. It’s embarrassing how much like a dorm room it has become!
Thank you, Sudipta.
Are you ready to sing with me now? “I’m Half-Pint PETE! I’m Half-Pint PETE! Can you hear me?”
You can learn more about Sudipta and her 36 books (no lie) by visiting her website.