I had the honor today of interviewing a very famous children’s book author on the phone. She lives in upstate NY, and called me from a CT area code, and the interview was arranged through a management company. How famous is she? Enough famous to be wealthy from writing books, that’s how much.
She is also lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely. She’s very smart and reflective and she has wonderful things to say about independent booksellers, supports them with this link on her website. She thinks kids watch too much TV, parents don’t take an active enough role in their kids’ educations, and that standardized tests don’t do or show anything about anybody no how. She is passionate on these topics.
Here’s a hint: Her name rhymes with Those merry Smells.
I asked her a question that she gets asked a lot. She all but shouted, “Oh I hate this question!”
At first I was embarrassed. I generally try to ask, at least mostly, questions that probably don’t get asked. I do a reasonable amount of reading and research, especially on the instances when I get to interview someone who’s sort of a big deal.
But here’s the thing. The reason the question I asked bugs this author is that nobody asked the question before her beloved children’s books became a television show. The question I asked was, “Where are your characters’ parents?” She said that she generally answers, “Having coffee with Charlie Brown’s parents.” See? Lovely. And as a writer, I’m totally sympathetic to how annoying it is for somebody–especially some po-dunk journalist–to second guess a writerly choice. Especially if nobody second-guessed when it was a writerly choice and the TV people rogered it all up for me by needing to flesh out my story.
After explaining that she did consult extensively on the original season of the TV show, she said, “I have nothing to do with the TV show anymore. I sold the rights to it.” And proceeded to tell me what a crime it is that kids watch 40-50 hours of TV a week on the national average, and that kids’ TV consumption should be totally limited, and when they do watch, it should be wholesome things for children, like the show made out of the characters and story lines she created. I totally agree with her here. I have watched far, far less TV in my lifetime than many other folks my age, and have gone long stretches as an adult with no TV at all. And if I’d had help when my kiddo was small, I probably would be still such a person.
So when I made myself lunch, I was thinking about it, and trying to imagine myself into her shoes, and I thought, “Wait a bloody second here.” It seems to me that if somebody sells the rights to her stories to TV, but her name is still in the credits of every single episode, they should expect to be asked about the TV choices. It seems to me that somebody who feels so strongly that children don’t have enough books in their lives as a rule and that parents spend too much time plopping their wee ones in front of the boob tube (I’m totally guilty of this, perhaps not 40-50 hours a week guilty, but P definitely watches, and has always watched, too much TV) should maybe think a second before selling the rights to her stories to television.
So why do I feel guilty for asking this marvelous individual a question that upset her? Her getting upset has nothing to do with me. And I could not telepathically know that she’d be upset by the question. And really, I think she has no right to be upset by the question–at least not a logical right–and if she has guilt and regret for getting fat off something to which she is in principle or morally opposed, well, that definitely has nothing to do with me.
So I’m not embarrassed anymore. I shouldn’t be. I respect this author’s right to her point of view, and from that respect, nothing about the TV show will make it into my article, but a person seriously can’t expect to have her cake and eat it too all the time. Isn’t it enough that she gets to be a big deal children’s author? I know, personally, at least 3 people who would totally kill for that opportunity. And most of the people I know who are published authors would say that getting your books in print is more about luck and doggedness and editor’s aesthetics than about skill.