Otis Dooda Blog Tour Part II - Ellen and Ian Potter Share Their Favorite Books

Hi Ellen and Ian - Welcome to Kid Lit Frenzy.  I am so excited that you are willing to answer a few questions about your favorite books.

Since it is time for summer reading, I am looking for some book recommendations and I am hoping that you can help.

OTIS DOODA made me laugh. Can you name your top 3 summer reads that will make kids laugh?

1.The BFG, by Roald Dahl (those Whizzpoppers get me every time).
2. Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald (I know a few Thought-You-Saiders that could use some of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle’s potions).
3. The Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar (pure ridiculous fun).

Of course, Otis has a bit of a mystery to solve and some adventures. What 3 mysteries or adventure stories do you recommend?

1. Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer (did you know Sherlock Holmes had a brilliant crime-solving sister? And that she rocks?)
2. Gilda Joyce Psychic Investigator series by Jennifer Allison (you will fall in love with Gilda, I promise!)
3. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (quirky fiction at its finest)

What 3 books (any genres) do you think Otis would recommend to readers?

1. Brick City by Warren Elsmore (it’s all about Legos, of course!)
2. Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger (love this book, you will)
3. The Adventures of Tintin by Herge (Great snakes, this series is exciting!)

And Ian, just curious, what is in your summer “to-read” pile?

1. The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee by Tom Angleberger (because I loved Origami Yoda)
2. Alex Rider: Eagle Strike by Anthony Horowitz (I like all the spy gadgets)
3. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (I have a signed copy form E.B. White’s granddaughter! Plus E.B. White liked dachshunds and so do I.)

Ian's friend Nigel guarding the pile of summer reading.
Thank you Ellen and Ian for sharing so many great titles.  This is going to make for some fun summer reading and of course, OTIS DOODA: STRANGE BUT TRUE should be on everyone's summer reading list.

Check out the official book trailer:

And don't forget to check out illustrator, David Heatley's Guest Post.

Thanks to Ellen, I am giving away a signed copy of Otis Dooda: Strange But True.  Open to those with a US mailing address.

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Otis Dooda Blog Tour Part I - Guest Post by Illustrator David Heatley

Recently, I had an opportunity to ask the talented David Heatly about his work on OTIS DOODA: STRANGE BUT TRUE by Ellen Potter.

David, I have heard of authors and illustrators who listen to music while they work (write or draw). Lots of authors create playlists for their books. In your case you took it one step further and developed your own soundtrack for Otis Dooda. In listening to the soundtrack, it matches the book perfectly. Is this the first time you have created an actual soundtrack for a book? What was the process like? 

Thanks for the compliment about the book and soundtrack matching perfectly. I've spent over a year now with Otis and his family and friends, drawing them all a hundred times each. I think the music comes from that same inspirational well that helped me decide what everything looks like in Dooda-land. When I was done illustrating Strange But True, it felt hard to just let the whole thing go. Ellen and I were brainstorming some ideas for marketing the book, including doing an animated book trailer. It hit me that it would be fun to write a theme song for the book to be used in the trailer. I've written songs since I was a teenager, but in the last few years, I've had new songs coming out of my ears. They come to me when I wake up from a dream or in the middle of the day. I have to have my phone nearby so I can hum the melodies I'm hearing into my "voice memo" app. It's usually a piece of the chorus or verse that's the starting point. Then I write out in my lyric book what I have and I start trying to piece the rest of it together—like doing a crossword puzzle. With Otis it was similar. Once I had the idea of a theme song, a few different versions of it started arriving in my head and haunting me. The second idea I had is ultimately the one that became the real song (attaching two of the original voice memos). Once I had all the lyrics written, I "demoed" the song in my own art studio with a minimal set up: 1 semi-professional mic and two pieces of semi-professional recording software. It came out great and Ellen loved it! Her agent (now my agent too) Alice Tasman also loved it. Even better, their KIDS loved it! And my own two kids who were following every step of the illustration process wanted to hear it over and over again. I was onto something here.

I wanted to write more songs. Years ago, I had thought about doing a soundtrack to a book I did for adults, but only got as far as making a 6-song EP. This time I looked at the table of contents of the book and could see immediately there were 15 other songs I could write. Just while jotting down the titles, I started hearing some melodies and chorus ideas for several of them. I have to say, I've never had a musical project come through me so quickly and I think it's a testament to how strong the story and characters are and what a fantastic writer Ellen is. Within a couple months, I had written and recorded all 16 songs of the soundtrack. (For comparison sake, another album I finished recently with 13 songs on it took about 2 years!) I really had a blast doing it—staying up late in my studio til 3 in the morning, shouting like a crazy person about Potted Plant Guy or Peaches the farting pony. I really stretched myself musically and tried to do as many different styles as I could. I also wanted the right emotional balance on the album: some joyful songs, some irreverent and silly, some creepy and some sad. The song "Up In Cat's Room" has a special place in my heart. It really captures the longing I was feeling as the illustration job on book 1 was wrapping up and before I was contracted for Otis 2. I've actually gotten teary listening back to it a few times. I sing "I wanna stay a while up in Cat's Room. Don't make me go home just yet.... please let me stay!" The kid in me just loves living in this world that Ellen has created and I don't want it to end. I hope we continue the series and I get to write even more songs for these characters. Now it's up to the kids and their parents... In other words, "Buy the book or the subway zombies will get you!!!" :)

To purchase a copy of the Otis Dooda Soundtrack, click here.

Check out this great video of David and Ellen talking about Otis Dooda.

Thanks David for stopping by.  Check out Part II of the Otis Dooda Blog Tour, and find out about some of Ellen Potter and her son, Ian's favorite  books.

Thanks to Ellen, I am giving away a signed copy of Otis Dooda: Strange But True.  Open to those with a US mailing address.

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Interview with Ellen Potter, author of The Kneebone Boy

In honor of the release of The Kneebone Boy, I would like to welcome author Ellen Potter to Kid Lit Frenzy.  Ellen is an amazing person and author and I have enjoyed getting to know her over the past year.  She was gracious to answer some questions about her new book.

The Kneebone Boy seems so different from your previous books. How did the idea for the book and the "voice" come to you?

With every new book that I write, I start out setting a challenge for myself. With SLOB, for instance, I wanted to write a book for boys that would have the right pacing to keep boys’ interest, but would also tell a moving story.

I set several challenges for The Kneebone Boy: to write an old fashioned “siblings-on-the-loose” adventure tale; and to write a book that would appeal to both girls and boys, hence the unidentified narrator. The narrator might be a boy or a girl, you have to guess. That way if a boy is put off by a female narrator or vice versa, they will, I hope, be so involved with the story that by the time that they figure out who’s narrating, they won’t care about the gender.

What writing rituals do you have? (i.e., Certain place that you write in, snacks that you like to munch on, music? no music, etc.)

I used to have all sorts of rituals. I had to write in a certain café. I had a fountain pen that I used to start off every story, writing by hand and, after I was a few pages in, I switched to a computer. Then I had a child. Now I write anywhere, any which way, any time. Fountain pen? Ha! I’ve written with my son’s giant Curious George pencil on a Walgreens’ receipt while he’s napping in the back of the car. Motherhood has made me astonishingly unfussy.

Though I have never been to England, when I read The Kneebone Boy, I had a very distinct impression that this was a British setting. What did you have to do in terms of research and writing to give readers that sense that they were in England?!

I had to do a lot of research! I went to college in England for a while and that also helped. But my secret weapon was a teenage friend of mine and her novelist mother who live in London. They vetted the manuscript for me, gently pointing out some of the more embarrassing mistakes I had made, and bringing me up to speed on the slang.

Did you have a favorite character in The Kneebone Boy? I couldn't imagine choosing between the three Hardscrabble children, but there are also other amazing characters.

I really grew to love and admire all three Hardscrabble siblings. Otto, the brother who doesn’t talk, was the difficult child, though. From the beginning he baffled me. When I first started writing about him, he was able to speak, but his dialogue was always so stiff compared with his siblings. I knew something wasn’t right. When I realized, “Aha! He doesn’t speak!” his character opened up to me. That is until I had to figure out why on earth he was wearing that darn scarf.

One of the things that hit me while I was reading The Kneebone Boy is that I wasn't frustrated in how much information you as a writer was providing me as the reader. Sometimes there is so much revealed that it takes out all the surprise and other times not enough so the reader gets confused. What was your secret? I imagine this would be hard to do?

Oh, that’s good to hear! I think this may come from the fact that I don’t know where the story is going as I’m writing it. Well, maybe I have a vague idea, but for the most part I’m writing blind. The story is gradually revealed to me, so I suppose that’s the way readers would experience it as well.

I have been impressed with all of your book covers but I think The Kneebone Boy is my favorite. I realize that authors often have little say in book covers. Did you get to chose your illustrator? What was the process like with this book?

I’ve never been able to choose my own illustrator, but I count myself extremely lucky in terms of covers. This cover was pretty special though. I remember the day my editor e-mailed it to me. I read the e-mail’s subject line and my heart started pounding. The cover is so important and I wanted this book to have something wonderful. When I downloaded the cover image I literally gasped. It was so outrageously perfect. Better than anything I could have imagined. The artist, Jason Chan, is my hero!

When I was reading The Kneebone Boy, I had to stop several times and just admire your writing and use of words. (Don't worry...children won't be doing that as they read...I'm just strange.) As a reader familiar with many of your books, I felt that you had moved to a new level of writing. Was this something that you were conscious of while writing the book?

No, but I did feel a little bolder while writing this book. I tried some things stylistically that I knew were a little quirky. I think I “played” more in this book, and hoped my readers would have as good a time with it as I did.

Any sneak peeks into your work-in-progress that you can share with fans?

My book-in-progress is set in the Thousand Islands, so the research has been heavenly. I’ve helped deliver mail to the islands, seen nesting shoals with an ecologist, and roamed through castles. Hmm, I’m thinking of setting my next book in Hawaii.

 For more information about Ellen Potter and her books, you can check out the following links:

Ellen Potter

Spilling Ink: Young Writer's Handbook

To purchase The Kneebone Boy, check out this link to Powell's Books.

To read my review of The Kneebone Boy, click here.