Lynne Rae Perkins has written two of my favorite books, Criss Cross and All Alone in the Universe. Criss Cross won the Newbery Medal in 2006. I met her just over a month ago, and had the chance to interview her.

To which of your characters in Criss Cross are you most similar? Do you find a bit of yourself in all your characters or are they inspired by other people?
I am definitely most similar to Debbie. She is not exactly my alter ego, but I think of her as my counterpart in the world of fiction. Most other characters start with people I have known, but somehow work themselves into being their own semi-independent selves somewhere along the line. And yes — I’m sure there’s a little bit of me in all of them.

What was the Newbery call and day like?

I had been told by my editor a couple of days earlier that this was a possibility. So I had a whole day to think about it. At first, I thought, oh, I’d better not even think about it because then I’ll be so disappointed if it doesn’t happen. Then I thought, if I don’t win, this might be the only time in my life I get to think that I might! So I had a really nice Sunday, scraping paint from an old radiator (we were building a house out of recycled materials), listening to music on the radio and thinking how nice it was, even to be considered. Monday morning I got up early, had my coffee and planned what I was going to do to have a nice day even when I didn’t win. And then, at 7:15, the committee called. Immediately afterward, my editor called and said I had to fly to New York City that day to be on the “Today” show the next morning. I am not a big person for talking on the phone, and I actually ignore it a lot of the time, but my husband said to me, “Today, you have to talk to everyone who calls.”

Did you take the photos in the book? Did you draw as you wrote the book or afterwards?
I took the photos, and I did draw as I worked on the book. The drawings are pretty important to me — sometimes they just seem like a better way to say something. And while I’m drawing, ideas percolate.

What are you currently working on?

I just finished a picture book for younger readers, The Cardboard Piano, that includes an animated DVD of the story. I worked on the animation with a friend — a very fun process. And now, I am exploring a couple of ideas I want to work on. I’m not sure yet which will come to fruition first.

How does your process for creating children’s books differ from writing novels? Do the words come first or the paintings?
Hmmm . . . They are similar in that, in both cases, I go back and forth between drawing and writing, and I often start with a few ideas, but no clear idea of what the finished book will be like. Picture books have more pictures, of course, and fewer words, but because there are so few words, they have to be just the right ones. Working on the pictures gives me time to go over and over the words in my head.

What are some books that inspire you to write?
I read more fiction for adults than for kids, but it still influences how I write for kids, because I think good ideas are good ideas, you just say them in a different way. For example, two of my favorite books I’ve read this year are The Laughing Sutra by Mark Salzman and Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie. Both of them
aare realistic fiction with magical elements. That’s really interesting to me – I don’t know if I’ll ever do that myself, but I’m interested in it as an idea.

How much is Criss Cross inspired by your childhood?
Criss Cross was inspired by my adolescence in as far as I was thinking about how many kids (and yes, I was one) think something is wrong with them when things don’t work out the way they had hoped, when often it’s just some sort of mix up, or misinterpretation. Also, Debbie’s friends Lenny and Phil were based on childhood friends of mine, and we really did listen to a radio in a truck on Saturday nights for awhile. The rest of it is from here and there.

Are you going to write any more books with Debbie?
I think I probably will.

How long did it take you to write Criss Cross? Was it easier or harder to write than All Alone
in the Universe?
I think each book took somewhere between one and two years. All Alone in the Universe was the first novel I ever wrote, and I remember being in the middle of it and having no idea how to find my way to the end. That was true for Criss Cross, too, except that since I knew I had done it once, I felt more confident that I could do it again.

How has winning the Newbery affected your life?
Practically speaking, it’s made it more possible to earn my living as a writer. I think it has also given me some confidence that my ideas are good ideas that people can respond to.

As a kid, did you know that you wanted to be an illustrator? What were your favorite subjects? Did any teacher inspire you to be an author/illustrator?
I had no idea what I wanted to be. I always loved English class, but I also loved music and choir class, and I really liked social studies and languages. I started college as an architecture major, and changed my major to art, planning to move to something else once I figured out what I really wanted to do. In the meantime, I took a drawing class with a very wonderful drawing teacher, and then I was hooked. I did have an English professor who told me I should be an English major instead of an art major, but I didn’t think about that much until I started writing, at age 35!

Thank you so much for the interview and writing great books!

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