I'm happy to announce the release of Laura Ripes' debut children's book: "The Spaghetti-Slurping Sewer Serpent"! I fell in love with the story the moment I read it, and then was given the extreme privilege of bringing that story to life with illustrations. To celebrate the book's arrival, the kids and I invited Mrs. Ripes to chat with us over Skype. It's the first time author and illustrator have actually met, and the kids had some great questions for her. (Thanks to Gracie for the portrait of Mrs. Ripes!)
First off, a review of "The Spaghetti-Slurping Sewer Serpent" by the kiddos:
Isaac (age 13): This book is about a kid named Sammy Sanders He thinks there's a serpent in the sewer slurping all his spaghetti.
Lily (age 9): So Sammy is trying to solve the mystery.
Elijah (age 6): He knows there is a serpent because he's got all those clues.
Dad: Sammy has photographs of all the evidence he's collected. Meatballs and sauce splatters...
Isaac: And Dad labeled all the photos with our birthdays!
Evangeline (age 4): That's mine! I got a noodle! I got a noodle for my birthday!
Lily: I got... mold.
Dad: It's not "mold." It's "molt."
Lily: What is molt?
Dad: Snakes shed their skin when they grow.
Dad: All their old skin peels off.
Lily: That's still as gross as mold.
Dad: What is the really cool thing about this book?
Lily: It's a super "S" book. It has tons of S's. On every page there are at least 10 S's.
Isaac: Like "Sammy's sister Sally."
Lily: And his friends "Scott Sullivan and Steve Strauss."
Isaac: And "salty snacks."
Gracie (age 11): That's called alliteration.
Lily: It tricks your tongue sometimes.
Gracie: It makes your lips slip. It's a lip-slipper.
Isaac: We should count how many S's are in this book.
Dad: It's funny... I'm always very aware of every "S" I say after I'm done reading this book.
Gracie: Me too. It's SSSstrange.
Isaac: Thisss SSSstory is SSSstupendous.
Lily: SSSsuper SSSsuspenseful.
Gracie: If you don't like the letter S, you should burn this book alive.
Dad: Oh dear.
Gracie: But if you do like the letter S, then you should read it to all your kids and elect it for president. Or senator. SSSsammy SSSsanders for SSSsenator!
Isaac: His glasses are hilarious.
Gracie: His glasses look like big spotlights coming out of his head.
Isaac: Sammy has super silly spotlight spectacles.
Gracie: This book is so fun.
Dad: When I first saw the manuscript, I thought it was one of the most fun stories I'd ever read. I thought, "I would LOVE to illustrate this!"
Gracie: You love drawing dragons.
Dad: Did you know this is Mrs. Ripes' first book.
Gracie: She is starting off swell.
And now for the interview!
Laura Ripes: Hi!
Gracie: SSSsalutations, Mrs. Ripes!
Dad: It's nice to meet you!
Laura Ripes: It's so nice to meet all of you - to see you in person. It's exciting!
Gracie: Congratulations on your first book!
Laura Ripes: Well thank-you very much. I'm very excited about it! Congratulations to you too, Aaron.
Isaac: We were wondering... how did you get the idea to write this story? What was the starting point? Were you wanting to write about S's? Or did you start with the characters? Or did the plot come first?
Laura Ripes: Wanting to write a tongue-twister story came first. And I think S's are very tricky, so next I said, "I'll do an 'S' one." The actual story - the serpent in the sewer - came from my childhood. We used to go to a park by our house, and there was this big, huuuuge sewer opening. You wouldn't see them nowadays because they don't make them like that anymore. But it was big... like you could climb in it. I grew up with all boys -- brothers, cousins -- I was the only girl. And they used to always tease me and say something lived in the sewer. And I SO believed them. There would always be sounds, and I'd be like, "Something's IN there!!!"
Gracie: Is writing your full-time job?
Laura Ripes: I do write all the time, so I feel like it's full-time. My real job is that I do voiceover commercial work. But I've always loved writing. I love any kind of story. Movies. Books. I love commercials. Commercials are fabulous! They are teeny, tiny, quick stories with a beginning, middle, end, and a solution. So, commercial voiceovers are my real job, but I would love to write more. If I sell more manuscripts, maybe I could say it's full-time for me.
Lily: Since you have been working with S's so much for this book, do you start saying S's more?
Gracie: Or do you notice "S" words more? Because whenever we look at this book, we start saying "S" words all the time!
Laura Ripes: You don't realize how many times you use S's in sentences! And the letter S can be very difficult. When I do my voiceover commercial work, they can come out sounding very tricky -- you have to be very careful. So I thought it would be fun to have a tongue-twister story to practice working on all those S's.
Lily: How long did it take you to write the book?
Laura Ripes: That's an excellent question... I don't really know. I hop around. I go from story to story. I'll start to write a piece, then I'll put that one down and pick up another story I'm working on. I'll grab my notebook in the middle of the night and jot stuff down. Things are written upside down. Initially, I probably got the story figured out on paper in about a week. But I will rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. It's a long process for me.
Gracie: After you were done, how long did it take to get this book published? Did it get snatched up by the first person you sent it to? Or did you have to wait for a long time?
Laura Ripes: I sent it out to 4 places, and didn't hear back from anyone. Then we moved, and I had to change my email address. It had been months and months since I'd sent it out, and I didn't think I was going to hear anything. We were in our new house, and I got a call on my cell phone. I almost didn't pick up the phone because I didn't recognize the number and it was a weird area code. But it was the editor saying they wanted to buy the story! She said they'd been trying to contact me for a while... emailing me and calling my old house. I had forgotten about the story because it had been so many months.
Gracie: How did you feel when they called you?
Laura Ripes: I was very, very, very excited. It's a good feeling. She said, "We want to buy your manuscript!" And I was so embarrassed because I had to say, "Which one?" I had so many out there.
Isaac: Did the alliteration make it easier or harder for you to write the story?
Laura Ripes: It was hard. I was very limited in what I could say. I'd want to say a specific word, and there wouldn't be any "S" word that would fit. That was kind of tough.
Lily: Did your kids give you any suggestions on the book while you were writing it?
Laura Ripes: They did give me suggestions. My kids liked trying to make the tongue-twister harder all the time.
Gracie: When Daddy read it to us earlier, he slipped on a couple words.
Laura Ripes: I love that! As a kid, I loved to hear a teacher make a mistake reading something.
Gracie: That's the best! Last night Daddy was really tired, but he was reading us a story anyway. He kept falling asleep and misreading the words. There is this character in "Marty McGuire" named Annie, and he kept calling her "Arnie... Arnie... Arnie." And we were like, "Annie! ...Annie! ...Annie!"
Laura Ripes: That's fun to me! And I think it's fun when adults have a hard time with tongue-twisters. Of course kids can nail them.
Laura Ripes: When I originally wrote this book, I wanted it to be really, really hard to say. But in the editing process, it was reined in a lot. The editor wanted it to be quite a bit easier. When "S" words were being pulled out, I was like... "Aghh... I'm losing my S's!" That was hard for me. But the story is still tricky. I did have the word "Scrumdiliumptious." But that got chopped.
Gracie: Scrumdiliumptious! That's a fun word!
Laura Ripes: It didn't make it. That word was on the chopping block. But that's alright. I couldn't believe it... they let me keep the word "spork" in there!
Gracie: Do you have a favorite picture from the book?
Lily: *I* have a favorite one.
Laura Ripes: Which one is that?
Lily: The slurper on the swing set.
Laura Ripes: I was just going to say that one was my favorite! I wasn't going to say it out loud - I was waiting for you to go first.
Gracie: That's my favorite too. It's the first full picture where you get to see the serpent. He's all twisted around the swing set, eating spaghetti. The moon is behind him, and you can see all the lights and shadows where the moon is hitting him.
Dad: Even though it's in the middle of the story, that was the very first picture I made for the book.
Gracie: Who says 'save the best for last'?
Dad: I had a ball working on this book. I don't think I've ever turned down a manuscript because... we've got to eat. But this one was especially great to work on because I loved your story so much!
Laura Ripes: Of course, the publisher didn't give me any say in illustrators. But when they told me the artist they had picked, I said "Oh, I love The Hiccupotamus!" I knew your books - I'd seen them before, and I thought, "Oh good!"
Dad: That's nice to hear!
Laura Ripes: And I was excited to see your illustrations for this book. When I write, I have an idea of what it's going to look like... and you were right on! I was very excited you were on the same page.
Dad: Good - I'm glad to hear that. Well, I think that's all the questions we had...
Isaac: Thank-you for the interview!
Laura Ripes: Thank-YOU guys! It was so nice to meet you! It's my first interview - I was really nervous.
Gracie: You did a very good job.
Sammy spies spaghetti, by Isaac
slurping from a spaghetti stand, by Gracie
Scott Sullivan and Steve Strauss see the serpent, by Lily
slurping from a spaghetti stand, by Gracie
Scott Sullivan and Steve Strauss see the serpent, by Lily
Author: Laura Ripes
Illustrator: Aaron Zenz
Published, April 2012: Marshall Cavendish
Like it? Here it is!
And now it's time for a giveaway!
• The prize: TWO copies of "The Spaghetti-Slurping Sewer Serpent" - one for you and one for you to share with a friend - both copies signed by Laura Ripes and myself.
• Entering is easy! Simply leave a comment on this post. For a bonus entry, include at least 7 "S" words tucked away anywhere in your comment - not random words, but relevant to the interview above...
• We'll take entries through April 22 -- Good luck!