Several years ago, some friends and I used to get together periodically to talk about wide-ranging topics. One night a new acquaintance joined us, a Houston public school teacher. The first TJB book had been bought by Kensington, and the teacher offered that she, too, was a writer with a novel–only her tone was apologetic because her book was self-published. My friend Denece, a great champion of women who reach for their dreams, told this writer that she should be PROUD. Not only had she shown the drive to write and finish a full-length novel, but taking a manuscript from its beginning to the rigors of marketing it is an amazing commitment of time, love, and energy.
I thought of that incident recently when mallory_blog talked about a book on her blog, Raggedy Chan by Camille Picott. What I know about children’s books and children’s book publishing you could fit inside a Barbie purse, but the title grabbed me, so I followed the links to Camille’s web site and blog. The more I learned about the book, the more I wanted to read it, so I ordered it from Lulu.
Copyright Camille Picott
I fell completely under the spell of Emma, her Auntie Gracie, and a Chinese princess who must disguise herself as Raggedy Chan and go on a quest to save her homeland. Camille, a fifth-generation Chinese American, says in the postscript to her book that she was “inspired by the trials endured by [her] Chinese family, and shaped by [her] own experience growing up as a half-Chinese girl, [to] put to paper a story over one hundred fifty years in the making.”
Since many of my friends have children and grandchildren who love to read, I thought you might like to get Camille’s book (I’ll include a link at the end of this post). Adults can enjoy the book, too, as I did. In A Coventry Christmas, one of the characters is a writer whose fictional ‘tween girls are used as models for dolls, and Camille is doing that in real life! If you’re interested in her limited edition doll, contact Camille at the address on this page of her web site.
Any of you who are writers, whether self-published or with publishing houses, might enjoy following Camille’s blog to see some of the creative ways she’s finding new readers for Raggedy Chan. I admire her so much.
Camille graciously answered a few questions for me to share with you.
Your bio at the end of Raggedy Chan says you began writing at age twelve. Do you still have any of your earliest stories?
My first novel was typed on an Apple IIe and saved on big floppy disks. It featured a group of runaway orphans who lived on an island, befriended wolves, and thwarted criminals. Unfortunately, that story has been lost.
I was at first surprised then charmed by the appearance of Paul Bunyan and Babe in Raggedy Chan. What made you blend that particular myth into Raggedy Chan’s story?
Paul Bunyan was actually a very late addition to the story. Before Paul Bunyan came along, I felt Raggedy Chan lacked an emotional connection to America. I was also concerned that much of what was “American” in the book was negative.
I wanted my book to have a character who represented everything that is wonderful about America. I also wanted to integrate American mythology/folklore into the story, to counter-balance my use of Chinese myth
and folklore. Paul Bunyan is an icon that embodies American landscape, American culture, and American myth. He allowed Raggedy Chan to develop a positive relationship with America.
Who do you see as the ideal audience for Raggedy Chan?
From a technical perspective, I believe Raggedy Chan is what is classified as an “early reader chapter book,” ideal for grades 4 to 6. Because the book features Asian characters and Asian myths, it also has appeal to Asians. (I never had books as a child that starred Asian characters.) But I have sold the book to people of all ages, from very young children to grandparents, and to people of all ethnicities. The immigration experience is something most Americans can relate to, even if that experience was endured by previous generations.
Joey Manfre’s illustrations are wonderful. Can you describe your collaborative process?
I was very fortunate to be very involved with the entire illustration process. Joey and I met through his wife, who tended bar in a restaurant where we both worked. Joey and I did a small project together about two years ago: I hired him to illustrate Nanobytes, my collection of flash fiction. (It’s available for free on my web site, camillepicott.com.)
I really enjoyed working with him. When I decided to have Raggedy Chan illustrated, there was no question that he was the artist I wanted to work with. We met once a week for the first few months, then two to three times a week as we got closer to our deadline. I went through the story and marked the areas where I wanted illustrations, along with one-sentence blurbs outlining the concept I thought I wanted to see, though this changed as Joey and I worked together and traded ideas. Joey got out his sketch book and drew preliminary character concepts. Every step of the illustration process was a true collaboration. Every week Joey showed me a few pictures he’d worked on. We’d discuss what we liked and what changes might make the picture better.
We never stopped working on a picture until we were both happy with it, even if that meant dozens of revisions. Sometimes Joey had to tweak his pictures to better fit the descriptions in my book. An example is Winged Dragon, who Joey originally made green. It was really important to me that Winged Dragon embody the “ice blue” description in the book, so he changed the picture. There were also times when I changed my text because I loved the way his picture looked. Winged Dragon originally had white eyes; but after Joey drew him with red eyes, and I saw how wonderful the illustration looked, I knew I had to change my text.
Do you plan to write more tales of Raggedy Chan, Emma, and Auntie Gracie?
I don’t know if I have any more Raggedy Chan stories to tell, but there are definitely more Emma and Auntie Gracie stories.
Copyright Camille Picott
Author Camille Picott with Raggedy Chan dolls.
You can find Camille’s book for purchase on her Lulu page.