I am interviewed on this site:
Writing for Children - Janice Levy: Multi-Talented Writer
Author: Sue Reichard
Published on: January 1, 2005
Janice Levy's many books reach a wide and varied audience. Janice writes fiction for adults and has also written Spanish books for children and one in Japanese. Her most recent book to be published in May of 2005 is titled, "Alley Oops" and looks at bullying from the perspective of the bully. It is published by Flashlight Press and is for readers 4-8 but could also be used in a school setting for readers a bit older. Janice also writes books for children that are used by social and mental health professionals.
Janice's book, "Finding the Right Spot: When Kids Can't Live With Their Parents", has the unique distinction of being a recently featured selection on the prestigious TV show "Reading Rainbow".
Some of these titles are:
"Totally Uncool" First Avenue Editions, Lerner Publishing Group. Living with a step-mom is not easy for young people, but one girl finds after time that her new step-mom just might be her best ally.
"Finding the Right Spot: When Kids Can't Live With Their Parents",Magination Press, Published by the American Psychological Association. "This book is a story for those children who cannot for any reason live with their parents. It is a story about resilience and loyalty, hope and disappointment, love and sadness." Ages 6-12.
Janice never really planned on becoming a writer, but her readers are sure glad she did. She really had a dream to become a centerfielder for her favorite team, the New York Yankees. Her books can be found all over the world. She is truly a multi-faceted writer.
Janice has a great website that details her books for children. Please visit her site and read more about her and her books. They are great books for a variety of children and should be on all library media center shelves in elementary and middle schools.
1. SR: Tell us about your children's books. They are so varied in style and content. For example, several of your books are really funny, in addition to having a subtle message.
JL: "Totally Uncool" is about a girl's feelings toward Dad's new girlfriend, whom he calls (ugh) "Sweet Potato." She plays the tuba and sings opera to her goldfish. She's clueless about soccer and video games. She has porcupiny hair. Then again, she knows how to keep secrets, makes prize-winning Halloween costumes- nobody else comes as Broccoli! Maybe she's not that bad...
This book won the award for Best Foreign Picture Book in Japan. There is also a special United Kingdom version, as well.
"The Man Who Lived In A Hat" is a whimsical tale of a man who lives in a hat and a wish-granting ant name Sadie. It begins..."There once was a man, who lived in a hat. Don't ask. Things happen." In exchange for not zapping her with bug spray, Ant Sadie gives the man everything he wants, including his own wrestling team, a hot tub, and as many bagels as he can eat. But, what happens when the man gets too greedy?! Hmm....
2. SR: Do you consider yourself a multi-cultural author? You do books with a bilingual content.
JL: In "The Spirit of Tio Fernando/A Day of the Dead Story," Nando remembers all he liked about his favorite uncle. He listens as his mother tells him that later, at the cemetery, they will meet with Tio Fernando's spirit. All day, as Nando enjoys the celebration, he wonders just how he will recognize the spirit of Tio Fernando...
This is published in a bilingual format. Teachers and librarians all over the country use the book as a teaching tool. Over 50, 000 copies have been sold. This book will be featured on a Spanish variety radio program in St. Louis, Missouri, in April, called "Enterate."
"Abuelito Eats With His Fingers" is also used in educational multi-cultural curriculums. The first lines are: "I don't like to visit Abuelito. Water leaks out of his eyes. His cheekbones are too high, his nose is too big and his eyes are too small. He smells like green library soap or sometimes like fried bananas. Abuelito eats with his fingers." This is a favorite of grandparents and will also be showcased on the above-mentioned radio show.
3. SR: "Finding The Right Spot: When Kids Can't Live With Their Parents," is published by the American Psychological Association. I noticed there is a question and answer section written by social workers and psychologists.
JL: It's a story for all kids who can't live with their parents, regardless of the circumstances. It's about resilience and loyalty, hope and disappointment, love, sadness, and anger, too. It's about whether life is fair, and wondering what will happen tomorrow, and talking about all of it. And finally, it's about what makes the spot you're in feel right. It's a thinking book for a good reader. Additionally, it's used by social workers, psychologists, guidance counselors in their practices, people involved with adoption and foster care, and makes a good addition to both classroom and public libraries. The main character explains: "Aunt Dane takes care of kids like me when their real parents can't. Like when your mom loses her job and can't pay the rent and drinks too much and gets sick so you stay home from school to take care of her. That's what happened to me." Watch the television show, "Reading Rainbow," on January 5th - Finding The Right Spot will be featured!
4. SR: I understand that your latest book, "Alley Oops," is about bullying, told from the bully's perspective. My school where I teach just implemented an anti-bullying campaign and your book speaks to this awful problem that is really pervasive in the schools.
JL: Bullying is a worldwide problem with negative lifelong consequences - for the bully as well as the victim. Nearly everyone knows a bully, has been bullied, or has bullied someone. "Alley Oops" is a story about hurt and anger, empathy and hope, resilience and ingenuity. It's about actions and consequences. It's about that "alley oops!" moment when a child experiences the empowerment and self-esteem that come from doing the right thing.
An advance review of the book says, "Playground bullies and aggressive behavior are frequently addressed in today's parenting magazines. Author Janice Levy offers a completely new take on the subject with her latest book, Alley Oops, told from the bully's perspective. The book tells the story of how a bully changes his negative attitude to accept the person he once ridiculed, without sugar-coating the topic of bullying. The language is comprehensible, with a gratifying, realistic solution. I highly recommend this for its insight, educational value and straightforward treatment of an age-old problem."
5. SR: Besides writing books, are you involved in other media?
JL: I've done a CD for children. It's an audio variety show for kids that helps parents keep sane by keeping their kids "edutained." The CD has acted out stories, poems, music and jokes. It's called
"Are We There Yet??? (#003) and can be ordered at by contacting
6. SR: Have you been writing your whole life? Does it come naturally to you?
JL: To quote Satchel Paige, "I ain't ever had a job, I just always played baseball."
My dog tilts her head and points her foot when she suddenly hears or smells something magical. With me, it's as if I'm wearing a satellite dish. My senses are "supersized." I pick up signals - from loud booms to tiny blips.
If you and I met, I'd focus on the pinky wart you pick at, the wiggling, jiggling leg under the table, the earlobe you constantly scratch... Are you nervous? A deep thinker? Signaling a card dealer? Yikes- a contagious disease!
And your voice - the husky coated vowels, throat clearing stutter, syllables stretching like lazy sunbathers...are you an Oxford scholar, a really-from-Queens-Madonna-wannabee, a transvestite?
Sniff, sniff: a combination of expensive and onions...why grandma, whose bed have you been sleeping in? Are you a gourmet chef, a prison guard with lethal weapon breath, do you shower once a month and only with friends due to environmentalist concerns... .and why is the price tag still on the bottom of your shoe? Something borrowed, something blue; stolen, forgotten, Jimmy Choo?
Emily Dickinson said, "Tell the truth, tell it slant." The quirky, edgy, underbelly of things, the bite me- bizzaro worldliness; that's what I taste. And if I don't, I make it up.
When Peter Pan takes off for Neverland - "second to the right and then straight on till morning" -I'm right behind him.
7. SR: Can you describe your writing process?
JL: The baseball great, Wee Willie Keeler said, "I keep my eyes clear and I hit 'em where they ain't."
I do the hokey-pokey; stuff goes in, stuff goes out, then I shake it all about. I toss in a few characters, plop in a problem, chop up some action, sprinkle with a kiss, a hiss; a hug, a bug, until mmm...it tastes just right. It's as mysterious as cracking open a safe; I don't know what I'll find, but I'm going in. I roll up my sleeves and get to work. Then I never give up. That's how I write. I just do it.
Writing is like that circus act with the spinning plates; I toss up the words and twirl - going as fast as I can. It's like laying down a bet without reading the racing sheets, buying/selling stock without insider information. I don't outline, sketch characters; there's no greasing the parts - I just hit the pedal. When asking for directions in Costa Rica, I was often told, "the road will take you there." I don't edit or agonize along the way; I travel light. As Yogi Berra said, "When there's a fork in the road, take it. " I write because it gives me pleasure. I'll meet you at Oz.
8. SR: Where do you write? Do you collaborate with others?
JL: My office is just for writing.
No incense, running streams, Gregorian chants. No ocean view, forest chirpings, Starbucks chatter. I've even blocked out my window with an air conditioner
I write from the inside- out, so this works for me. As the artist Paul Gauguin said, "I shut my eyes in order to see."
You may ask, from this you can make a living? Yes, even my dog owns a fur coat. (Ok, it's fake, because she's a "p.c..p"- politically correct poodle)
Zoe is the only one allowed in my office. She doesn't need an appointment. I read her my work. If she yawns, I know I better rewrite. If she wags her tail, I've got a winner. When she drops her toys, one by one on my lap, then licks each of my toes, it's time for me- and her- to go.
9.SR: Have you taken any special courses or do you have any special training that helps you write for children?
In a previous lifetime, I was an E.S.L. and Spanish Teacher. In yet another lifetime, I believe I played centerfield for the New York Yankees. Next time around I'd like to be a standard poodle living in my household.
10. SR: Your adult fiction has appeared in many literary magazines like "Glimmer Train," "StoryQuarterly," "Iowa Quarterly," "Quarterly West," "New York Stories," "Alaska Quarterly," "North Dakota Quarterly," "Hawaii Review," "Green Mountains Review," "The Sun," "Chattahoochee Review," and the "Mid-American Review," just to name a few, in addition to appearing in many anthologies. Is there a difference between writing juvenile and adult fiction? Which do you prefer?
JL: As I write for children, I pretend I am a child. When I write for adults, I am still a child, I just now have bigger parts.
Writing for kids is like breaking bread(crumbs) with an army of ants, sitting squished between two Samurai wrestlers on a seventeen hour flight...Writing for adults is easier; it spreads out like peanut butter, there's more room for my "stuff." Woody Allen writes on little scraps of paper, matchbook covers and napkins and then deals them out on his living room floor. That's my adult fiction style; I throw it all out there and see what I've got-what's hot-what's not. Then I nip and tuck, lipo the fat until I've got the perfect specimen.
On the other hand, when I write for children, I'm a baby turtle, poking my head out a bit; when it's safe, my other limbs follow. Then it's step by step, crawling towards the finish line.
Adult or juvenile? I simply decide if I'm feeling "AHA!" or "umm....." and then get to work.
11. SR: How exciting to have won the "Writer's Digest Magazine Competition" for "Best Literary Short Story" three times! How does this and seeing your work in print make you feel?
JL: As the pitcher Dizzy Dean said, "It ain't braggin' if you can back it up." My stories were chosen from thousands of entries. When I've completed a story, I send it down the river in a basket, so as Issac Assimov warns, it doesn't "eat its head off in a drawer." Then I forget about it. When it appears in print, it's as if I'm reading it for the first time; like it was written by someone else. I think of the Chilean poet, Vicente Huidobro's lines: "Tomad un lirio y un canonazo, mezcladlos hasta hacer un todo; he ahi mi alma "- Take a lily and a cannonball, mix them together; there you have my soul." I feel peaceful, yet challenged; satisfied but fired up, ready to work again.
12.SR: What is the best writing advice you've ever received?
JL: "This writing business. Pencils and what not. Overrated if you ask me." I've always liked Eeyore and his floppy ears. Actually, since I don't take writing courses, read the craft books, or participate in a critique group, the best advice I get is what I give myself. For example, there's a Spanish proverb, "Hay que romper el huevo antes de hacer la tortilla." Literally, it's that you have to crack an egg before you make a tortilla. I don't set deadlines or artificial goals for myself. Nothing burns within me to be rich or famous; I don't need to hear applause to feel validated. There are people who can only buy a dress with the approval of a shopping posse; I'll wear red in a sea of black.
"No eches tanta crema en los tacos" is another one I like - don't throw so much sauce on your tacos - I take it to mean, "chill" - I loosen my belt, kick off my shoes, enjoy whatever I cook up. "Finite to fail, but infinite to venture." It worked for Emily Dickinson..
13. SR: Can you describe any current projects or upcoming projects?
JL: Darth Vader says, "Impressive. Most impressive. But you are not a Jedi yet." Writers always have new projects. They never run out of ideas. The best thing about being a writer, besides working in my pajamas, is that I get to be the boss. Bridget Bardot said "It's sad to grow old, but nice to ripen." Time passes, life gets spicier, words sweeter. Even when I do become a Jedi, they'll be another sequel....
Specifically, though, I'm working on a mid-grade novel and I'm looking for a publisher for my collection of YA and adult short stories.
14.SR: Please complete this sentence: Writing for me is....
JL: Writing for me is filling balloons of paint and dropping them from tall buildings. Dribs and drabs, blotches and swatches. Connect the dots - or not. Anything can happen.
Satchell Paige said he never threw an illegal pitch. "The trouble is, once in awhile I toss one that just ain't never been seen by this generation."
When Alice in Wonderland complains that "there's no use trying. One can't believe impossible things," the Queen answers with this: "I dare say you haven't had much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day; why sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."