Will Write for Cookies: Iza Trapani In the Spotlight

Can you hear my heart beating quickly?

I remember this feeling – kind of scared – very excited – a little anxious.

When I was in 7th grade, we made an apron in home ec (short for home economics – the class all the GIRLS took so they would know how to cook and sew…BOYS took woodworking so they would know how to…build a log cabin?).

Each student received a piece of material and a pattern and instructions on how to proceed. It took a great deal of courage to make that first cut, knowing that if you did it incorrectly, your finished apron would look ridiculous.

I’m sure artists feel the same way when their hand hovers over a clean blank canvas.

DSCN7064

As I hover over this new project and lay out the template for future posts in the ‘WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES’ series, I experience those same feelings. My vision is to provide insights and information from experienced authors and illustrators – my hope is that you will find these posts educational and entertaining.

Lucky for me, the award-winning, multi-talented children’s author and illustrator, Iza Trapani, graciously agreed to participate. I’ve gotten to know Iza through her wonderful picture books and her warm and generous comments on many kid lit blogs.

iza trapani at work

Kids have an innate curiosity that drives them to always be asking WHO? WHAT?, WHERE? WHEN/ and WHY? So here, without further ado to answer those questions AND to provide us with a recipe for a treat that is guaranteed to excite your taste-buds, is the lovely Iza!

WHO? Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?

Sto Bajek cover

I immigrated to the U.S. from Poland when I was seven years old. One of my favorite books was a collection of poems called Sto Bajek (100 Tales) and I still have a copy! The author was Jan Brzechwa and his poems were full of Seuss-like humor and hyperbole. The wordplay, tongue-twisters playful language and clever concepts never ceased to delight and amaze me. One example is a poem about a group of animals pondering over the existence of holes in a hunk of Swiss cheese. As they theorized, they suddenly noticed that the cheese was gone. A crow had swooped down to eat it, telling them that they were more concerned with the holes in the cheese, than the cheese itself, so she ate the cheese and left them the holes! That just blew me away!

In the U.S.,  my first introduction to English books was a wonderful Mother Goose collection, and soon after that I fell in love with Dr. Seuss- the early readers we were studying in school (which were a welcome change from Dick and Jane!)

Though I did not experience many picture books as a child in America, I have certainly made up for it as an adult!

WHAT? What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started writing for children?

Great question! First of all, I wish I had known that children and early educators are not scary at all. I used to be painfully shy, but I soon discovered that once I was published, I was asked to do school visits and to present at conferences. It was really hard for me. I could barely get up there and say my name- never mind do a whole presentation. But over time, I learned that my audiences were always kind, receptive and supportive. They admired what I did and wanted to hear all about it. Twenty plus years later, I have turned into a complete ham 🙂 and am not the least bit worried about being the center of attention.

What else have I learned? Not to be attached to my words. I used to consider my early writings precious. I hated taking out parts that I was attached to. Now I have learned that there is always a way of saying something differently, and usually it’s an improvement. I adore the editorial process, of having another set of eyes and I have no problem of doing complete revamps of my manuscripts. When I look back at some of my early stories that I considered so dear, I find much fault with them. These days, I am my own worst critic. As soon as I finish a book, I think of all the ways I could have made it better. With each book I strive to perfect my craft- but I am rarely satisfied. But I guess that’s part of being an artist- that constant struggle to grow and improve. Not a bad thing, really.

iza trapani desk and workspace

WHERE? Where do you like to write/draw – inside, outside, a special area in your home, on the computer, in a notebook?

I have lots of writing spots at home: In my studio- at my husband-built desk (Rob is a furniture maker) or in a comfy chair, or in a wicker love seat on my studio terrace when the weather is nice. Or on the living room window seat, or the couch by the fire in winter. But ultimately,   it doesn’t matter where I am. While working on a story, I am completely immersed and the surroundings are irrelevant. I used to have a romantic notion that if I sit in a special spot the muse will join me, but that is rarely the case. I can’t just sit down and shove a story out. Story ideas usually appear on their own time- usually when I am in the midst of struggling with a different draft. When I do have an idea, I do much of my brainstorming in the shower, in the car, on walks. Walks are great for problem solving. I always have a small pad or my iphone with me to jot down or record notes, and I often write my first rough drafts on paper, but then I do the bulk of the work on my laptop.

As for the art, I sketch in various spots as well, but mostly I work at my Rob-built drafting table in my studio.

 

WHEN? When during the day (or night) are you most productive? Do you set a schedule for working or do you write/draw when the muse speaks?

Typically, Rob brings up a tray of coffee and toast to bed early in the morning (I do count my blessings!) and we read for a while. I also use this time to do some social networking (and play a few games of FB scrabble- because I am addicted :-)) Then I will take the dog for a hike or jog on our farm, or go to a Pilates class, pick up some groceries while I am in town, and after that I will spend the rest of the day in my studio, either working on text or art, or both. Once I am in my studio, it’s hard for me to leave. I spend a good deal of time revising and fine tuning my stories. The illustrations are especially demanding and time consuming. Laying out the book, developing the characters, making sure they are consistent from page to page, working out the colors and design elements are all big challenges. But this is also my passion, and I am so grateful to be doing what I love!

Little Miss Muffet interior-2P (dragged)

WHY?  Why did you choose the nursery rhyme ‘Little Miss Muffet’ as the basis for your picture book manuscript?

 

As often happens, I was struggling with another nursery rhyme adaptation, and decided to take a break from it. I looked through my Mother Goose books to see if something might spur an idea. I lingered on Little Miss Muffet. Next thing you know, I had a plot.  Since Miss Muffet was afraid of the spider, she could also be afraid of other critters. And so, I introduced a mouse, frog, crow, and other progressively larger animals to startle her. I thought the juxtaposition of the prim and proper Victorian Miss growing disheveled as she escapes from these various creatures would be fun. The story is somewhat autobiographical, as I am a scaredy-cat myself. While I am a nature lover who spends a lot of time outdoors, I am also quite skittish and easily spooked 🙂

My editor noticed that I had quite a few positional and directional words (up, down, over, under, etc…) in my draft, and she suggested that I add even more. That was hard! I had to make some major revisions to incorporate those words while working within the restraints of rhyme and meter. But I love the word-tweaking, puzzle-solving process.

 

Iza, please feel free to share any tips that will help aspiring writers/illustrators.

Pursue your dream actively and don’t be discouraged by rejection. It’s part of the process. Read, write and/or draw a lot. Be critical of your work and strive to make it as good as it can be. Read your stories out loud to make sure they flow.  Read and study the books in your genre. What makes them good? Or maybe not? How would you do it differently? Join SCBWI http://www.scbwi.org Read books and blogs on the craft of writing and illustrating. There is a wealth of information out there.

The Purple Crayon http://www.underdown.org is the very useful site of editor/author Harold Underdown, who wrote The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books. It’s a great resource.

In addition, I’ve compiled some of my blog posts that might be helpful:

http://izatrapani.com/wp/?p=1792 Read Picture Books if You Want to Write Them

http://izatrapani.com/wp/?p=469 So You want to write a Picture Book?

http://izatrapani.com/wp/?p=472 So You Want to Illustrate a Picture Book?

Rhythm and Pattern in a Picture Book http://blog.janicehardy.com/2012/05/guest-author-iza-trapani-rhythm-and.html

http://izatrapani.com/wp/?p=865 Plotting a Picture Book

http://izatrapani.com/wp/?p=1460 Uneven Rhymes- You Gotta Get the Beat

http://izatrapani.com/wp/?p=1601 Picture book revisions

http://izatrapani.com/wp/?p=2023 Inspiration for Picture Book Illustrators

butter balls

Photo courtesy http://www.thehungrymouse.com

Here is one of my favorite, easy and delicious cookie recipes:

Butter Balls (adapted from the Silver Palate cookbook)

 

In a mixer, cream 1 stick of softened butter.

Add 3 TBS honey.

Slowly add 1 cup flour  and  1/2 tsp salt.

Add 1 TBS vanilla extract.

Add 1 cup somewhat finely chopped pecans.

 

Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for one hour or more.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease cookie sheets (or use parchment paper)

Remove dough from refrigerator, scoop out and form balls by hand (I like to use a cookie scoop to ensure uniform sizes.)

Place on cookie sheets about 2 inches apart and bake for 30 minutes.

In the meantime, sift 3/4 cup of confectioners’ sugar onto a plate (or work surface).

When cookies are done baking, remove from the oven. While still warm, roll them in the confectioners’ sugar. Let them cool, and then roll again in the remaining sugar.

Thanks so much for this interview, Vivian!

Oh my goodness, Iza…thank YOU so much for sharing all of this! I know the resource links will be super helpful to everyone. Your answers to the questions were fascinating! And the butter balls…my grandmother used to make those…I’ll bet many of my readers will be trying them this weekend!

 

Dear readers…to learn more about Iza and her books, here is her contact information:

 

www.izatrapani.com

http://izatrapani.com/blog

Like her on Facebook

Follow her on twitter

I hope you enjoyed the first in the ‘Will Write for Cookies’ series. Please come back on Saturday, November 16th, to meett our next distinguished guest, founder of the ultimate picture book resource, Perfect Picture Book Friday and author of Can’t Sleep Without Sheep and many other picture books, Susanna Leonard Hill.

About viviankirkfield

Writer for children - Reader forever Mom of 3, educator, author of SWEET DREAMS, SARAH (Creston Books, 2018), picture book junkie, lover of travel, hiking, cooking, playing Monopoly with my 8-year old grandson and fly-fishing with my husband.

Posted on October 18, 2013, in Author/illustrator interviews, Cookie recipes, Will Write for Cookies, Writing tips for children's authors and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 88 Comments.

  1. Terrific post, Vivian. Excellent interview, and already I’ve decided to make a batch of the butter ball cookies for our neighborhood “Autumn Cookie Swap” next weekend.
    Plus, you’ll be pleased to know that now the schools have co-ed auto-mechanics classes, woodworking and metals shops…and there are almost as many males as females in the Self-Sufficiency Foods Class! Now THAT’s progress!

    Like

  2. Stacy S. Jensen

    Love this new series. Thanks for the tips and inspiration Iza.

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  3. This is such a wonderful post — and a great start to what promises to be a fantastic series. Thank you, Vivian, for having the idea to do these posts, and for facilitating them. Thank you, Iza, for letting us into your world a bit, and for all those fabulous links. I will savor them all.

    But how are we supposed to wait an entire month for the next “Will Write for Cookies” post?

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  4. Vivian! This is great…and what a treasure to have Iza Trapani for the lift off. Love the things you both shared in this interview and the cookies look scrumptious. I’m following this series for sure. THANKS! Damon
    (Now if I can only manage my envy for that beautiful DESK Iza has!)

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  5. I love how you have found a very cozy niche with your books. They are so wonderful for young children and I give them as gifts. It troubles me when I hear young children singing pop music, when they should be learning more age appropriate songs and stories. That’s why I like to introduce young moms to your books. Lovely interview. And, I love the desk too!

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  6. Fun series, Vivian. I enjoyed getting to know more about you, Iza! That spread of Little Miss Muffet is beautiful!

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  7. Vivian, thank you so much for featuring me in your wonderful new series! And thanks everyone for your kind comments! The cookies are really easy, foolproof and delicious. But we certainly would be butterballs if we ate too many!

    And I meant to type “immigrated to ” the U.S. (see, that’s why editors are needed!)

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  8. Great interview, Iza and Vivian! What a way to kick off the series! I love all Iza’s wonderful tips, and that recipe looks like something I will have to try immediately 🙂 I’m so looking forward to reading future entries in this series!

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  9. My Mom makes the buttter balls, but we call them Russian Tea Cakes. 🙂 They’re my favorite cookie. 🙂 Great interview! I like Ms. Trapani’s desk! 😀

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    • I think we all like Ms. Trapani’s desk, Erik! And I’ve noticed that every culture has similar foods…they just call them by different names. 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the interview…Ms. Trapani shared some great writing tips.

      Like

    • Thank you Erik! Yes, these are well known little cookies and have many names. I like this recipe because it calls for just a little honey instead of a larger amount of sugar as in many other recipes. They are not as sweet as some others, but absolutely buttery and delicious 🙂

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  10. You unwittingly uncovered WHY the guys took woodworking in school . . . so they could build desks and drafting tables for the authors and illustrators in their lives. 😀

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  11. Wow! I just want to pop over and give Iza a squeeze! What a great post, so intimate, informative and inspirational. And I’d also like to see more of what Rob built! Gorgeous! Thanks for including all those links too, I’ll be studying them. And a toast to Vivian for bringing us this new series! Yay!

    Like

  12. Love this post! I cannot wait to make (and eat) these cookies :). Every wonderful writer talks about reading :). Reading is not just a necessity for us, it is my favorite perk as a writer. Thanks Iza and Vivian!

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  13. I’ve already learned so much from Iza, and yet here she is, giving me even more tips and insight — she’s a bottomless well! And I’m so glad about that. Thank you, Vivian, for kicking off your great series with Iza. And thank you, Iza, for your continued wisdom and support. A great post!

    P.S. Your husband is a genius. I have never seen such a gorgeous desk and chair!

    Like

    • Hi Renee…yes indeed, we are all so lucky to have generous people like Iza who share their writing journey which benefits us. 🙂 This is an amazing kid lit community…I’m always blown away by how helpful and caring everyone is.

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    • Oh Renee, I am so happy to hear that! Thank you. And I have learned from and been so inspired by you, my friend. And that goes for you too, Vivian, and everyone here that I know. What a wonderful online community of support and learning we have!

      And Rob is delighted with all the praise he’s getting! Thanks!

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  14. Iza, what a thoughtful and YUM post. Loved reading your tips as always. You are now and will forever be my BBF. You give so much back. There aren’t enough numbers in the world to count what I’ve learned from you. And you’re just like the Energizer bunny only you keep on givin’ (instead if tickin’)!

    WHAT A BEAUTIFUL DESK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My dad was a wood maker. He made the most beautiful furniture. I can see your hubby is a fantastic wood maker too.

    XOXOXO

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    • Hi BBF! *blushing* Thanks so much for your kind words! I love being like the Energizer bunny 🙂 After all, I am married to Rob Hare 🙂
      So you grew up with homemade furniture. It’s great isn’t it? xoxoxox

      Like

  15. P.S. Vivian, what an exciting series. Thanks for having Iza. Can’t wait to see what Susanna has to say! *waving*

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    • So happy you enjoyed it and are looking forward to future posts in the series, Robyn! November should be a winner as well with Susanna sharing. 🙂

      Like

      • Talk about givin’- Susanna is the best! Her site is the hub of our community. And it is through her that I have met so many of you here! I can’t wait to read her post and see what cookie recipe she shares (something chocolate? :-))

        Like

  16. Thank you so much for this interview. I was very disappointed to see that Sto Bajek is only in Polish… maybe Iza should translate it. It sounds hilarious!

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  17. Hi Beverly! Sto Bajek is truly hilarious, but poetry is so hard to translate… I like your idea, though!

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  18. Catherine Johnson

    Super interview Vivian! Iza I love your working environment, it is lovely. That recipe sounds divine as do your stories.

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  19. A GREAT start to a fun new project! Well done Ms Kirkfield! It’s fun to learn more about Ms Trapani. Thanks for sharing !!!

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  20. How wonderful! I love getting to hear about other artists’ processes. Such a great interview!

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  21. Hi Vivian and Iza! I’m going to love this series, Vivian! I’m so excited that Iza was first. The interview was awesome and I loved this-
    I used to have a romantic notion that if I sit in a special spot the muse will join me, but that is rarely the case. I can’t just sit down and shove a story out. Story ideas usually appear on their own time…
    That has been one of the hardest things for me as a writer…to realize that story ideas take their time! It helps to hear it from you, Iza. You have so much experience.
    The cookies look and sound delish! I can almost smell them!

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    • What a wonderful comment, Penny! I, too, learn so much when I read how others ‘do it’…and I’m thrilled when people take the time to share details in the comments. I was so lucky that Iza was excited to participate…she added so much value! This is a fantastic community…the most generous and caring one I have ever met…and I feel like I know all of you. I’m looking forward to Susanna’s Halloweensie Contest…are you submitting? I remember the first year I participated in PPBF…and was blown away by YOUR contest entries. 🙂

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      • Awww! Just sifting (belatedly) through my emails! You’re very sweet, Vivian. And, yes, I did enter the Halloweensie Contest 🙂 And I always look forward to your entries. I love your Halloween Dance Party Countdown…soooo cute and well written!

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  22. Penny, thank you! I am so glad those lines resonated with you. It took me a while to figure that out. Still, that’s not to say we shouldn’t sit in our favorite spots and write and brainstorm, for a story may start to form. But in my experience, ideas for picture books are quite elusive. They do come on their own time- but perhaps they wouldn’t have, had I not sat in the chair and struggled beforehand!

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  23. What a great interview! I loved the perspective of someone being born outside of the US. 🙂

    And I can’t stop admiring her beautiful desk! Her husband is very talented.

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  24. Thank you, Milka! And my husband thanks you too!

    Vivian, I try to keep the desk uncluttered ,as shown in the picture, but it doesn’t last long! But I do love neat and clean spaces.

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  25. Hi Vivian,
    I like your series idea. Lucky Iza gets to be your first guest.
    And to Iza, I also enjoy reading about your writing and art journey.
    And thanks for all the links. I’ll be going through them as one day I’d like to illustrate my own books as well.
    And “Little Miss Muffet” was a treat to read.
    Tracy

    Like

    • Thanks so much, Tracy! I’m thrilled so many people responded positively when I asked if they would take a spot. I’ve been MIA from blogging for a while because of our move…I’m slowly getting back into it.

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    • Tracy, thank you! Yes, I feel honored to have started off the series. I look forward to the others! I am so glad the links will be helpful to you, and feel free to ask me any questions. Good luck in pursuing your dream! And thank you so much for reading and enjoying Miss Muffet!

      Like

      • Vivian, we all need to step away from blogging at times. I know I have had to as well.
        Iza, yes I took the time to write down the links and I will be referring to them to help with my illustrating, and thank you for offering to help.

        Like

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