The Whole Megillah (TWM): What gave you the inspiration for this story?
Linda Elovitz Marshall (LEM): Hi Barbara,thank you for asking that question…and for inviting me to be interviewed. It’s always nice to hear from you and to exchange ideas.
As for the YUM Kippur story, the inspiration came in two parts. The first part came just after Rosh Hashanah when I was visiting two of my grandchildren (one of whom is, not surprisingly, named Talia). I told her—jokingly—that, after Rosh Hashanah, comes a holiday called YUM Kippur. When I explained I was making a joke because you don’t eat during Yom Kippur, Talia giggled. That’s when the inspiration came. Hmmm…I thought, maybe there’s a story in this. But that idea, that tiny germ of inspiration, simmered for a long time. It may have simmered forever but, then, another inspiration came along…
The second inspiration was a week-long vacation in Rome. Perhaps it’s because I’m an anthropologist by training or perhaps it’s because I get lost easily but wherever–and whenever–I travel I like to have (or find) friends in the places I go. So, while I was pondering whether I had any connections to anyone in Rome, I recalled that Francesca Assirrelli, the illustrator of Talia and the Rude Vegetables, lived there. I emailed Francesca and asked if we might meet in person. She said yes, of course, and we made arrangements to have a pranza together upon my arrival in Rome. I wanted to bring her a gift…a something…But what could I bring to the person who made Talia come alive on the page? What could I possibly bring?
At last, I knew the answer.
I would bring Francesca another Talia story and, hopefully, my editor would like it…and it would be acquired.
So, little by little, the YUM Kippur joke became Talia and the Very YUM Kippur.
But like a good Italian tomato sauce, it simmered a long time before it was done. It wasn’t until I was on the plane to Rome that I finished writing the first draft of the story.
Thanks to Joni Sussman at KarBen, it’s now a book.
TWM: Your stories usually include food and animals. Is this a coincidence or a strategy?
LEM: I raised my children on a small farm and, along the way, I learned about farming and animals. Also, much of my Judaism is associated with food. So, I guess that makes it a coincidence.
On the other hand…maybe it is strategy….So much of the Jewish calendar is tied to our agricultural origins yet we, as contemporary Jews, are often urban dwellers. I take great solace in nature and in quietude…in the wonder and awe of the natural world…I try to draw on that for my stories, especially for my Jewish stories. I want to give them a special soul…in the hopes that others, too, will feel the inspiration of nature and quietude.
TWM: Do you plan on writing books about other holidays featuring Talia, your main character?
LEM: Most definitely. Another Talia book—a Purim story entitled Talia and the Haman-tushies—will be out in Spring, 2017!
TWM: This book, like Talia and the Rude Vegetables, depends on word play. So: How many drafts do you typically go through to make your word play work and has word play been a pastime of yours?
LEM: Some word plays are more challenging than others. Sometimes I go through a zillion drafts. That’s okay. For me, it’s not work. It’s play.
TWM: Do you create a dummy when you write picture books?
LEM: More or less. I always paginate and try to figure out what the action is on each page and whether there’s enough for the illustrator to work with. Although I don’t actually draw things to make dummies, I do try to think pictorially.
TWM: Tell us about your writer’s journey.
LEM: Such a long journey….I wanted to be a writer when I was in fifth grade but then I got side-tracked by all sorts of other things that I wanted to be, too….So, I’ve been a poet, a writer, an anthropologist, toy inventor, teacher, sheep-farmer, chicken-raiser, mother, grandmother, explorer…I keep re-inventing myself…and learning more along the way. I think I have a short attention span, but I also think having a short attention span is a totally under-appreciated attribute!
TWM: What’s next for you?
LEM: Whew! There’s a lot on my plate. I’m finishing up a middle grade novel. I’m also developing a character that, I hope, will find her way to become a chapter book series. Also, after hearing from the fabulously brilliant librarian Betsy Bird that books for emergent readers are the most difficult to write as well as the most needed, I’ve challenged myself to write some. Not sure I’ll succeed, but I’ll have fun trying!
Also in the “what’s next” department, in addition to Talia’s upcoming Purim book, I have another three picture books forthcoming: You’re In Kindergarten (Scholastic, 2016), Sh-Sh-Shabbat (KarBen, 2016), and Ixchel Weaves a Rainbow (Lee & Low, 2016).
Well, that’s about it…
Thank you, again, Barbara, for inviting me to participate.