Tammy H. Kersey
Q: Did you always want to write stories?
A: Actually, no. I have always enjoyed writing, but never attempted or really thought about writing stories. During a period of unexpected unemployment, I wrote a few articles on LinkedIn as a means of dealing with the new situation that I found myself in. Reactions to those articles and some soul-searching on career next steps unexpectedly resulted in three children’s stories.
Q: Why did you write What the Dickens!?!?
A: Originally, my focus was on developing a build your own story website for children. I wanted the website to have a fun avatar to guide children through the steps, and a puppy seemed perfect. What the Dickens?!?! was originally intended as a way of introducing the avatar (Dickens) on the website.
Q: What was your favorite book as a child?
A: I didn’t own a lot of books growing up. I particularly remember a book of fairy tales, and my favorites in that book included “Thumbelina” and “Snow White and Rose Red”. My best story time memories are of my grandmother telling (not reading) me the story of “The Three Billy Goats Gruff”. I loved the sounds and faces she would make to dramatize the story.
Q: Is this book part of a series?
A: There is not a planned Dickens series, but I have ideas for a second story. Let me know if you would like to read about more Dickens escapades!
Q: Was it difficult to write a rhyming book?
A: It wasn’t easy, but it was fun! My first drafts included rhymes but didn’t have the meter to make it work. I’ve always been musical, so once I allowed myself to let go of words that I thought were so perfect and embraced how far off the mark I was, I was able to really transform the story.
Q: The illustrations are so much fun. Do you have a favorite?
A: A big thank you to Lindsey Finch, who is so talented and was a great collaborator on the book. There are several favorites, but if I have to choose it's the close up of Dickens where he has just leapt onto Grandma at the dinner table. It’s the eyes, soulfully pleading for attention and love.
Q: Why do we never see the face of the little boy?
A: I wanted the focus to clearly be on Dickens and Grandma’s reaction to him. Also, I wanted children reading the story to feel that they have a direct connection with Dickens. Leaving the child/narrator mostly out of the illustrations makes it easier for that to happen.
Q: What is your favorite part of the story, and why?
A: My favorite part of the story is the activity from Dickens that builds and builds after Grandma’s arrival, highlighting their personality differences and increasing in intensity until “Grandma’s lips disappear”.
Q: Are there any real-life scenarios in this story?
A: A few. For instance, “…breaking through porch screens” happened with Oscar and Felix, who were brothers from the same litter. When they were puppies, we had set up an enclosed area on our screened porch. They escaped from the enclosure and tore through the screen to get outside. Our neighbor found them sitting on the front steps and laughed at how they obviously wanted a little freedom, but had no intention of leaving home.
Q: What do you want readers to take away from this story?
A: I think the clear message is that everyone needs love and acceptance. Sometimes it takes a little patience to understand the needs of others, and to develop fulfilling and rewarding relationships where there is a little give and take on both sides.
Q: What was the most challenging part of writing or publishing your book?
A: Navigating all the self-publishing options, identifying best practices and working through the associated logistics was the biggest challenge. There is a lot of conflicting information available, but I joined a Self-Publishing Facebook group and reached out several times to get advice from the experts. They never let me down!
Q: What other writers or stories inspire you?
A: Amy Krouse Rosenthal. All I can say is wow. Her books (a few favorites are I Wish You More, Dear Girl, and Duck! Rabbit!) are so simple and beautiful in their words and message. And the relationship that she developed with her readers was unique and personal. I can only imagine what more she would have accomplished with more time.
Q: Why did you decide to self-publish, and is that something you recommend to others?
A: As in all things, different paths work best for different people. For me, I had too many expectations and opinions of what I wanted in the illustrations. In traditional publishing, an author submits a manuscript and the publisher has complete control over the illustrations and book design. With my background in catalog design and development, I couldn’t even imagine going that route with my story.
Q: If readers love Dickens, how can they experience more?
A: Don’t miss the Story Activity and let Dickens suggest how to add interaction into your reading of the story. I do hope to add more activities and hopefully another Dickens book in the future!