Alex and the Messy Monster, An Interview with Vanessa Newman
TCBR: Alex and the Messy Monster is the first book in a series of children’s books that address the emotional and physical needs of kids. Before we talk about this new book, can you tell us about yourself and how you came to be an author?
Vanessa Newman: I grew up on the East Coast in a town called Haverhill. I am an only child with artistic parents, and I was immersed in the world of academia surrounded by artists, writers, and theatre buffs. In fact, Andre Dubus Senior, an acclaimed author, was a colleague of my father’s at Bradford College, a now defunct liberal arts college that I also attended for my Bachelor’s degree in Human Studies. Fortunately, I was encouraged by my English teacher to explore my writing potential through poetry and creative writing. I wrote my first novel by age 8, but it remains in my personal file folders. During College, I got an internship writing at a local cosmetics company that I really enjoyed. When I finished College, I began publishing magazine articles and doing online writing about health and wellness. I have always wanted to continue my exploration of creative writing and when I became a mom, I was inspired by my son, Alex, to do more creative writing.
Your son, Alex, is the inspiration for your series and has provided lots of input. Will you talk to us a little bit about how he inspires your writing and the main character of the series?
Alex is also an only child who is sensitive and has a wonderfully unique personality. He came into this world with some health challenges (eczema, asthma, GERD), and he and I developed a very close and amazing bond. He often challenged me to define parenting and motherhood in a way that would allow us both to be fulfilled. I had to be creative to address his needs and he inspired me to be thoughtful and reflective in how I would raise a young boy to be healthy and happy. Alex can be defiant in his behaviors because he has a strong need to be himself and this is reflected in the main character of the series.
How many books are in your series, so far? Have each of the individual stories come easily to you?
There are three stories in the series. Each one was inspired by a behavior that Alex and I were struggling to address. The first story, Alex and the Messy Monster, addresses his behavior about cleanliness and handling physical and emotional messes in his world. The next two stories address laziness and anger. The stories evolved as the manifestation of the behavior progressed. The stories where culminations of how we both handled the situation at hand.
How long did it take you to write each one?
I wrote the first story when Alex was about 4. I wrote the first draft in a day, but worked with a writing coach for over a year and refined the story once I had an illustrator on board. The actual book was published almost six years later. I have found that I must get the ideas out on paper right away and then refine them over time. The process is very organic and cannot be rushed.
As mentioned above, Alex and the Messy Monster is the first book in the series and focuses on having Alex becoming responsible versus simply obedient. Why did you choose “responsibility” as the first value to tackle in your series of books?
The issue of responsibility came up first in our lives. I needed to find a way to teach him to want to be a responsible boy instead of just following my orders. I did not like to ask Alex to follow rules or complete tasks if I could not teach him why they were important and have buy-in from him. Without personal accountability, responsibility cannot be fostered.
What else can readers expect to take away from a reading of Alex and the Messy Monster?
The story builds momentum as Alex learns how he has contributed to the creation of The Messy Monster. Intricate and bold illustrations offer an opportunity for children to explore. There is a lesson by the end of the story and both children and adults respond to the theme and the colorful illustrations. It is more of an adventure that catalyzes than a story just to be read. The e-book version of the story is the most affordable and it translates beautifully in the digital environment.
Can you tell us about the support team that helped you bring your story from dream to reality?
I have had a wonderful writing coach, Molly Wingate, of Wingate Consulting. She encouraged me when I first put the story on paper and we have worked together for the entire process up to publication. Additionally, I enlisted the help of my mother and father. My mom helped me find the illustrator and work with her. My dad designed the layout and provided graphic design. Alex was involved in reviewing illustrations and providing his input on whatever he wanted. Not all of his suggestions were incorporated, but all were listened to and considered.
How do you collaborate with illustrator Sarah Masse to create just the right imagery to go with the text?
Sarah and I had never worked before. She was enlisted to help by my mom. She had never done a children’s book before and I was a first-time author, so we had our work cut out for us. Additionally, we accomplished all collaboration virtually. There was a lot of back and forth through e-mails and phone calls. The most difficult aspect was capturing the essence of The Messy Monster. Once we agreed on how the monster would look and act, we built the rest of the illustrations from that starting point. I learned a lot about how illustrations can complement or distract from the story’s message. A writer cannot view the illustrations as an after-thought. They must be an integral part of the story to work.
What do young readers and parents have to say after they hear or read Alex and the Messy Monster?
I have been fortunate to hear all wonderful and positive comments from readers. Parents tell me that they love the theme of the story and readers respond to the big, bold illustrations. To all, the story is described as a “work of art” because the story and images blend so well. Most really like the e-book because it is affordable and can entertain in many settings.
What’s next for Alex? What sort of life lesson will he be delving into in the next book in the series?
Alex will be tackling his laziness. Although Alex is a busy and bouncy boy, he has found that watching TV and sleeping in seem to be easier to do than play outside with friends. Alex will need to realize how he has created The Lazy Monster and find a way to negotiate with it to find peace. He will also need to find passion in life to sustain him when The Lazy Monster wants to take over.
Available Here: Blurb.com
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