WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES
INSIGHT – INSPIRATION – INFORMATION
Photo credit: Alison Noyce
A few years ago, I attended a writer’s retreat and got to meet our Will Write for Cookies guest. I was so impressed with her rapier-sharp focus and spot-on organization for the research she was doing for what sounded like a fabulous nonfiction picture book story. Fast forward to today and…TA-DA. Her debut picture book, FLYING DEEP, launches this week!
Michelle Cusolito has been exploring natural places since she was a child growing up on a farm in Southeastern, Massachusetts. She has lived in the Philippines, where she first observed colorful fish in their native environment, and in Ireland, where she and her family hiked “The Burren,” an otherworldly landscape made of limestone. She has trekked to places such as Machu Picchu in Peru and the Sahara Desert in Morocco. She hopes readers will be inspired to explore their worlds. Visit her at michellecusolito.com or follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter.
I’m thrilled to welcome you to Picture Book Help Kids Soar, Michelle! Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by to chat. And I know how busy you are with the book launch, so let’s get to the questions right away.
ME: Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?
MICHELLE: Like many people my age, I loved Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary. I was also a big fan of the Paddington Bear books. I still have my original boxed set of novels. When I was in 4th grade, I had an amazing teacher, Mrs. Clay, who had a huge impact on my life. Two things that really stand out: she told me I would be a great teacher and she gave me the book Zeely by Virginia Hamilton as a gift. I did go on to be a 4th grade teacher, just like her, and Zeely broadened my reading preferences. Zeely was one of many seeds planted in my lifetime that lead me read as widely as I do.
Photo credit: Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Michelle with Bruce Strickrott in front of Alvin. He’s an Alvin pilot and the manager of the Alvin Group. That’s some Styrofoam cups before he took down on the outside Alvin last week. The cups shrink, which helps show how much pressure there is down on the seafloor.
And this is what the cups look like AFTER they’ve taken a deep sea trip in the Alvin. Illustrator Nicole drew the dumbo octopus on the cups and author Michelle colored them in.
ME: Where do you like to write – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?
MICHELLE: More often than not, my first drafts are completed at home: in my office, in the screened porch, or sitting on my living room sofa. I need to move around a lot, so I work in different places. When I’m creating something new- say a first draft- I’m usually somewhere comfortable like my sofa or porch. I nearly always write long-hand (Flying Deep is the exception) and my preferred pen is the Pilot P-700, fine point. I love this pen because it’s “fast.” The ink flow keeps up with my hand moving across the page. My best, most creative writing happens when I’m writing longhand. I feel like I’m more connected to my creative brain. It’s usually a big ol’ mess, but as long as I can read it back to myself, that’s good enough. Later, I either type it up or dictate it to Dragon software.
In a real departure from how I normally work, the first draft of Flying Deep was completed while I was out on a walk. I had forgotten my notebook, so I typed it into “notes” on my phone. I had been mulling the topic around for a while, but I hadn’t done any research yet, so I hadn’t planned to write anything. But the first sentence arrived suddenly when I was walking so I had to capture it. Before I knew it, I had written a full first draft. (Note: it was riddled with mistakes because I had not done any research, but I had found the basic structure).
About once a week, I work on revisions in a local coffee shop (I don’t usually write new stuff at the café). I find the change of scenery helps and it pulls me away from the “to do” list at home. As long as there’s a hum of people around me talking or working, I tend to be productive, sometimes even far more so than if I were at home. (If it’s quiet and there’s one loud talker, however, I can’t work).
ME: When do you write – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?
MICHELLE: I don’t have a specific writing schedule, but I tend to do my creative writing in the morning when I’m fresher. Like many people, I have a real dip in energy and focus in the afternoon, so that’s when I tend to do administrative kinds of tasks like replying to email, tweeting, or updating my website.
There are exceptions to this rule: The first draft of the manuscript I have out on submission right now was written late at night after I got off a video call with my agent, Jill Corcoran. (I was living in Dublin, Ireland at the time and she is in California, so we were navigating an 8-hour time difference). I had spent 2 years researching the subject for a picture book biography and I could not make the manuscript work. (I had many failed drafts). Jill and I talked it through. That call freed me up. As soon as I hung up, I sat on my bed and wrote the sloppiest first draft out long-hand on copy paper (yep…using my Pilot pen). I was able to write that first draft completely out of my head. I knew my subject so well that I didn’t need to look at my research. That had been my problem… too much staring at the research. I simply needed focus on telling the story.
This is Michelle, inside the Alvin.
ME: Why do you write for children?
MICHELLE: I write for children because I want to share the wonder of the world with them.
Well, first of all, thank you so very much, Michelle, for sharing so much of your journey with us. And second of all…I’m buying a stack of those Pilot pens right away!!!
I know we all wish Michelle the biggest success with FLYING DEEP…and I can’t wait to see the next books she writes! And I hope you will all go and buy her book, write a review, ask your library to purchase it for their collection, and tell all your friends about it!
Somehow, with all of her busyness getting ready for her book launch, Michelle also managed to share one of her favorite cookie recipes. And I do LOVE ginger!
MICHELLE: My daughter and I like to bake these cookies together. This recipe makes about 4 dozen cookies.
GINGER MOLASSES COOKIES
1 cup sugar plus ¼ to ½ for rolling (see step 3)
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 cup blackstrap molasses (dark molasses)
4 cups sifted flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsps. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Cream together the sugar and butter. Add the molasses and eggs. Mix well.
- Sift together the dry ingredients and mix them in.
- Put ¼ to ½ cup of sugar into a small bowl.
- Make small balls of cookie dough, about the size of a walnut. Roll them in the sugar and place them on a greased cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. (NOTE: We’ve found that refrigerating the dough for 30 minutes to an hour before this step is helpful. Once the first batch goes in the oven, we stick it back in the fridge while they cook).
- Bake for 12-15 minutes.
I definitely will be trying these! How about you?
Thank you, dear friends, for spending your precious time here. I hope you all have a safe and happy weekend.
I also wanted to thank everyone who reached out with comforting words, flowers, cards, fruit, nuts, and best of all, shoulders to lean on and ears to listen with. I’ve been busy going through Stuart’s stuff…he held so many things in high esteem…painting, calligraphy, bamboo fishing rods. antique fountain pens…and my writing. I’m overjoyed and exceedingly grateful for the Highlights Foundation Scholarship Fund that Maria Marshall and Sherri Jones Rivers spearheaded in his memory. As a published author himself, it is exactly the kind of tribute he would have loved!