Photo credit: Sam Breach
Describe your book.
Growing up in Minneapolis, my older sister and I had lots of pets (small and not-so-small) and therefore presided over many tear-soaked backyard funerals. Having a ritual during which we could say goodbye to our beloved Something Wonderful that was now Something Dead ended up being an important part of our grieving process because it helped us to heal our sad little hearts and move on. We never stopped missing any of the pets we had to bury, but we were able to make room in our hearts for those who came next.
My debut picture book, The End of Something Wonderful: A Practical Guide to a Backyard Funeral
, is a gently humorous, empathetic, and lyrical how-to that guides children (and their adults) through the process of having a backyard funeral of their own. Opening with “First you need something dead,” my book refuses to hide from the reality and practicality of death, while also validating the emotions one goes through when a Something Wonderful becomes a Something Dead.
What does your writing workspace look like?
A patchwork quilt I got at Garnet Hill or The Company Store some years back. It’s got tiny tears all over it as a result of the cats using it as a UFC (Ultimate Feline Championship) octagon.Three bunchy pillows stacked behind my back. A beloved teddy bear as old as I am sits on a pillow next to me. A water bottle and mug of tepid coffee push for space among stacks of to-be-read books on my bedside table.
My workspace is my bed and has been for over a decade now. Living in Silicon Valley, we can’t afford to buy a house, and we can’t even afford to rent anything larger than a house where my boys share a room (for better or for worse) and where there is no room for me to have my own office, study, or even writing nook.
Nor do I have some idyllic backyard shed among the shady trees that I decorated with inspirational art pieces, deckle-edge journals, and hand-whittled ink pens. I write where I can. And that happens to be sitting cross-legged on my bed with two cats very nearby. That’s the writing workspace that has seen me through four books now. I’ve made it work for me.
Introduce one author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Everyone — no matter their age — should be reading every Jacqueline Woodson
book out there. She is writing some of the most important books of our time. Her writing is beautiful, emotional, vital. Start with Harbor Me
and then work your way backwards or forwards. We need to listen to her.
Offer a favorite passage from another writer.
I’ve never met her, but Julie Fogliano inspires me to this day. I fell in love with every comma, carriage return, and space of her writing. Her books are the reason I became a children’s writer.
This scraplet of a line is from her poetry collection When Green Becomes Tomatoes
the strawberries are furious
and i think i just heard
even the roses sigh.
I refuse to tell you anything else about it. Just go look it up.
What scares you the most as a writer?
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
When I think of a pilgrimage of any type, I cannot help but think of Chaucer
and how the pilgrims “of England, to Canterbury they wende.” Miles and miles to reach the cathedral, probably praying and being godly the whole entire way. And then I wonder if I can call what I have done a proper pilgrimage. I certainly didn’t pray or act godly.
However, in 1992 I graduated from high school, and my mother took me on my first trip to England, and it would appear that the entire trip was in itself a literary pilgrimage. We visited the obvious literary places, like 221 B Baker Street in London to pay homage to Sherlock Holmes
, the Anne Hathaway cottage in Stratford-Upon-Avon to feel closer to Shakespeare, and Glastonbury to ponder King Arthur.
But in rather more obscure pilgrimages, my mother and I also went to Torre Abbey in Torquay. Agatha Christie
frequented the area, and the abbey has a special room filled with Christie memorabilia — manuscripts, notes, and her typewriter. There’s also a poison garden as a nod to the time that Christie was a pharmacist in Torquay during WWI. Continuing with the Agatha Christie theme, we stayed in a B&B in Nether Wallop in the Cotswolds. Nether Wallop was the village Christie styled St. Mary Meade after in her Miss Marple series.
We also went to Dartmoor to wander around the expanse of bramble and green where Conan Doyle set The Hounds of the Baskervilles
, and I wished it was darker and more sinister to match the picture I always carried in my head of the Great Grimpin Mere.
On another trip to England, I went to Scarborough and Whitby and stood in the mist and ruins of Whitby Abbey, fully aware I was there because it was Bram Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula
. Contrary to my visit to Dartmoor, that pilgrimage resulted in the most beautifully creepy literary moment I’ve ever experienced. It was perfect.
And because I believe cookbooks are as literary as anything else bound and jacketed, I should add that I made several pilgrimages to Julia Child
’s house when I lived in her Cambridge, MA, neighborhood.
By the time I moved to the Boston area to work in publishing, Julia had long decamped for California and the house was not labeled with any sort of celebrity or historic maker. So, remember the white pages? That’s right, we were able to look her up in a local phone book and find her address under “Mrs. Paul Child." Which was just wild to me. There was Julia Child — super culinary celebrity of books and TV — just hanging out in the phone book like a regular person!
Watching Julia and Jacques Pepin
on Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home
and cooking from their cookbook
was one of the catalysts that turned me, picky eater, into a more adventurous eater and had me craving a culinary career. I would go on long walks that took me by Julia’s house and dream of becoming a food writer and meeting her one day.
Sadly, I never did get to meet Julia, but I did become a food writer and cookbook editor. Even crazier, I met, worked with, and learned from Jacques Pepin as a food runner and back kitchen chef on one of his cooking shows in San Francisco.
You can look for a holy “appearance” of Julia Child in my debut middle grade novel, The League of Picky Eaters
, which is coming out in 2021.
Wow, I guess that actually does bring the idea of religious pilgrimages full circle.
The Top 5 Books That Made Me Laugh Out Loud
My Family and Other Animals
by Gerald Durrell
by James Howe
by Sarah Cannon
Our Hearts Were Young and Gay
by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kinbrough
Where’d You Go, Bernadette
by Maria Semple
÷ ÷ ÷
has dug many holes, cried lots of tears, and laid an entire garden’s worth of flowers on small and not-so-small graves. But she has never ever dug her Something Dead up. The End of Something Wonderful
, illustrated by George Ermos, is her debut picture book. Her upcoming books include a debut middle grade novel called The League of Picky Eaters
(Clarion, 2021) and Hello, Star
(Little Brown, 2021), a picture book with New York Times
-bestselling illustrator Vashti Harrison.
Stephanie lives in Menlo Park, CA, with her two sons, two cats, and one husband. You can find her online at www.grubreport.com
and on Twitter/Instagram @grubreport