Monday, August 22, 2011

Interview with middle-grade authors Kristin Johnson and Samuel DiMatteo

Today's fun interview is with middle-grade authors Kristin Johnson and Samuel DiMatteo to talk about their new book The High-Tech Gooseneck Putter.

Samuel DiMatteo spent 22 years as a mechanic for Proctor & Gamble. Since retiring, he has been a watercolor instructor, prize-winning photographer, poet, model maker, and Yoga Laughter Leader. He lives in River Grove, Ill.

Kristin Johnson is a graduate of the University of Southern California’s Master’s in Professional Writing program. She is an author, journalist, screenwriter, and award-winning poet/short story writer whose stage productions have been honored by the Palm Springs Desert Theatre League. She lives in Hawaii.

Welcome to Reviews and Interviews! Please tell us about your current release.
Kristin: Samuel, or “Sami,” as I know him, is an extremely dynamic man who had an unusual idea for a children’s book, and contacted the writing agency I work with seeking help on the book, to add character development and dialogue. The story just grabbed me right away. It centers around a silly, wacky family of geese living in River Village, Illinois.

Samuel: My hometown is River Grove, Illinois, and while there aren’t any wacky geese there except for me, there are many interesting people who in one way or another appear as characters in the book. The DeMani family, which I created for this book, is as real to me as my own family.

Kristin: It’s like the talking-goose talking-turtle talking-squirrel version of “Everybody Loves Raymond” --Ray Barone is a sportswriter, and our hero Sami DeMani is a gander with the dream of being a world champion professional golfer on the Waterfowl Tour. We even have a sportscaster squirrel, Harry Bradford--inspired by commentators Howard Cosell and Terry Bradshaw.

Samuel: There is a love story, there is adventure, and there is a mystery, plus the high-tech putter of the title. Sami DeMani is a smaller-than-average gander teased by the bullies in his flock on account of his size, but his enemies are secretly jealous that the crowd loves his golfing performance. His sisters and parents are singers and dancers, so he is the only one in his family that wants to be a golfer…until his nephew is born. The rest of the family is supportive but wacky—the bullies in the flock also torment them because of their oddness. Sami wants to become a golf champion more than anything else in order to help his family, and to prove himself worthy of his true love, Polly Zee, a singer who gives Sami “goose bumps”.

What inspired you to write this book?
Samuel: As I wrote in my Senior Lifestyle Expo Generation Writing Challenge essay, in the spring of 2002, a television sportscaster reported that a goose was collecting golf balls on a golf course.

I asked myself questions about this goose’s strange behavior. Why was she collecting golf balls?

My guess was she got hit in the head with a golf ball. I wondered what the members of her flock thought about her behavior. I noted that the flock wiggled, waggled, giggled, gaggled, and laughed. Does she have a family? How many in her family? What if one of these golf balls hatched?

These questions intrigued me, so I decided to write a story for a book about golf and a family of strange and silly geese. I planned to write a fable for junior golfers eight to ten. I titled the book The High-Tech Gooseneck Putter. The television report was the start of a dream, a dream that took eight years of writing to complete.

My motivations for writing the book were to entertain kids, to leave a legacy, and to face a challenge.

Kristin: I loved the idea of the story the minute the agency I work with, The Happy Guy Marketing, sent me Sami’s information. I just fell in love with golfing geese, because I grew up around Canada geese and around golfers.

Samuel: We have a great writing partnership. In football parlance, when I throw her the ball (an idea), she makes positive yardages.

Kristin: Maybe we should do a football story too!

What exciting story are you working on next?
Kristin: I typically have several projects going at once, but Sami and I are plotting the sequel to The High-Tech Gooseneck Putter. The working title is Polly and the Pirates, and it answers the question, “Where was Sami’s love when she was presumed dead?”

Samuel: There are two stories in Polly and the Pirates. One is Polly's adventures, and the other is Sami and the DeMani family.

Kristin: Sami and the DeMani family have their own adventures brewing…

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Samuel: I am a poet and I write silly songs like “Santa’s Going High-Tech”. I decided writing a story for a book would be an extreme challenge for me. I failed English 101 in college. During the next eight years events delayed or moved the writing forward. There were periods of writers block, and the lack of finances that delayed progress. Joining Mather Lifeways helped speed up the writing.

The staff and members graciously provided computer help. I met my illustrator and friend James Borgett at Mather. I needed help with the writing so I hired a co-writer, Kristin Johnson, a real blessing.

Kristin: And Sami is a blessing as well!

Samuel: The published book is my dream that has come true!

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
Samuel: I’m retired from Procter & Gamble, and now I’m a full-time artist, poet, and photographer, but I show my artwork at places such as Mather Lifeways and in Chicago. I volunteer as a Laughter Yoga Leader. I write poetry and silly songs for children and, of course, stories about Sami.

Kristin: I would like to be a Laughter Yoga leader one day, but I’m thrilled beyond belief to be writing full time from Hawaii, my home, or wherever my travels take me.

Many of my clients like Sami live in different US time zones, with the bulk of them concentrated in the Eastern Standard Time zone. I also have several clients in Europe and the Middle East. Unfortunately, none in Asia where one of our key characters, Yori Turtle, is from. I modeled his personality on some of my friends who live in Asia.

In any case, many of my clients are several hours ahead so I am typically up and writing, or communicating with clients, by 7 a.m. Hawaii Standard Time. My workday varies (with walks on the beach, etc.—great for thinking about stories) but I usually fit in six to eight hours of writing, research, Skype/phone calls, and messaging back and forth. Situations are always changing, opportunities opening up—my research on a different project took me to Siem Reap, Cambodia, and Central Java in Indonesia. I wrote a travel blog about my experiences, which helped increase my writing output.

My time zone will change yet again when I go where the wild goose goes...

Samuel (singing): “I Must Go Where the Wild Goose Goes…” I pictured the book as a movie and thought of opening it with that very song by Frankie Laine.

Kristin: Canada! Where I’ll be spending several months….when you are snowed in, that’s great incentive to write…although looking at the beach is also inspiring.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Sami: Again, my silly songs!

Kristin: Writing ideas on paper on the beach or in a Japanese garden. Creating iTunes playlists when I’m working on a project, or watching reality TV (like “Mob Wives”) to get ideas for character conflict. Naturally, I did not draw on reality TV to write The High-Tech Gooseneck Putter.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Kristin: A ballerina or a marine biologist in addition to being a writer. I’ve written since childhood.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Kristin: I received a lovely Christmas present in December 2010. Some of Sami’s family was taking a cruise to Hawaii, and the ship docked in my hometown, so Sami was eager for me to meet them.

Samuel: They are very creative people and they wanted to meet Kristin.

Kristin: I still have the Christmas crafts they brought me! That’s what I love about writing and collaborating—experiencing people I never would have met otherwise. Lisa, thanks for having us as guests on your blog today.

Sami (singing): Goose bumps, goose bumps, Lisa’s blog gives me goose bumps….

Thank you two for making an appearance on my blog. This has been a fun interview, and my first with songs, I think! Happy Writing!

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