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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with M.E. Furman

Due to technical difficulties, this interview didn't get posted on Monday. But I think you will enjoy getting to know a little about M.E. Furman and some backstory to A World of Cookies for Santa, so I won't delay posting! Be sure to check out the #PPBF review today as well.

M.E. Furman was born in Michigan and lived there until 3rd grade. Then she moved to California. Her family moved quite a bit, so she never attended the same school for more than 2 years until college. Since then she's also lived in Oregon and Washington (she's covered the west coast!). Her family has been in the Northern Rockies for almost 5 years. It’s a big difference going from the coast to a land-locked mountain state, but it’s very beautiful. Having 6+ months of winter made it easy to stay in a “Christmas” mood while writing this book.

MARIA: Welcome M.E., tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)

M.E.: I think I’ve always been a writer. My favorite childhood books featured writers--Harriet the Spy, Little Women, etc.--and I remember starting some writing attempts in the fourth grade when I first read those stories. For a long time, I set aside ideas of being a ‘writer,’ but always wrote as part of past jobs in broadcasting, marketing, etc. After attending a couple of writer’s workshops and conferences, I realized I really did have a shot at being published. I have written primarily inspirational things in the past, but it’s been fun to go back to my earliest love for books and write for children.

I don’t have a set writing schedule, although when I was first married (and my husband was a student) I did much of my writing late at night while he studied, or on Sunday afternoons (while he watched football). I’ve learned that I don’t always need quiet, but I do need a view. A World of Cookies for Santa was largely written at a nearby Arby’s that had a beautiful view of the mountains. I’d put Christmas music on my iPod, keep the iced tea filled and write.

Except for the Arby's part, that sounds like an amazing way to write. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

I saw Santa when I was hospitalized over Christmas when I was in the fourth grade. I woke up in the middle of the night and saw him next to my bed. I knew I wasn’t supposed to see him, so I closed my eyes and went back to sleep. When I woke up in the morning, there was a stack of gifts that I knew weren’t from my family, because they brought their gifts later on. I still have a tiger-eye necklace I got from Santa that year.

That's a precious memory! What was the inspiration for A World of Cookies for Santa?

When my oldest son was in second grade, they did a class project to find out who was their first ancestor to come to America, and what country did they come from. The next year I wondered if his classmates made Christmas treats from those countries. I asked their families about the Christmas treats from their heritage and got about a dozen different responses. I turned those into a story that I read to his class at their Christmas party.

I remember being in 5th grade and doing a unit about how children around the world celebrate Christmas. My family didn’t have any traditions tied to a particular heritage, so learning about traditions in other countries--and other families—was fascinating to me (and made me a bit envious). Within a couple of years, my mom started making shortbread as a Christmas treat for my British grandfather. It soon became a much-anticipated gift for other friends and family.

I realized that no matter how much a family moves, how few possessions may be passed down, we do tend to celebrate holidays with the same foods that our family has enjoyed for generations. I wanted to take a closer look at where some of those treats come from and how their Christmas celebrations differ from most of ours in the US. At the same time, looking at those traditions from the common-ground of the gift-bringers and the treats helps children see one way that we are alike in the midst of the differences.

Sounds like you have a lot of experience in being uprooted. This aspect of culinary exploration and tradition (especially important given the current enormity of displacements) was what drew me to your book initially. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

I was a little bookworm when I was young, so it’s hard to choose just one, but Winnie the Pooh is probably at the top of the list.

Even though a fiction story, how much research did you have to do? What was the hardest part of writing this book?

This book took a lot of research. I wanted to include at least one country from each continent, I put them in the order Santa’s trip would go around the world, so I used the time zones to figure out which country would be first, etc. There was also a lot of research about the different names for Santa in the different countries, another tradition that might be interesting to include, what is a popular Christmas treat, etc.

You and Susan collaborated beautifully to create little windows into these cultures. Is there anything you want your readers to know about A World of Cookies for Santa?

I want A World of Cookies for Santa to be a tool to help them begin to learn more about how Christmas is celebrated around the world.

What was the most interesting thing you experienced/discovered as your book went from acquisition through to publication?

I was surprised at how very different the end result would be from what I initially submitted. The original version was a story, the final version is considered non-fiction and would be found in the reference section in the library rather than with the storybooks.

That is an interesting shift. But perhaps it's more useful to teachers as a nonfiction. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child or now as a writer.)

My grandfather was my inspiration both as a child and as I became a writer. Although he wasn’t educated, he was the smartest man I knew. His love for books inspired me in my love for books and my desire to pursue writing.

Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

My next project is a bedtime story for kids who love trains.

Is there anything about writing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or something you’re glad you did not know beforehand?

I think it’s been a surprise how much the editor might influence the concept of the book while not being as involved with the details or the word-by-word aspects of editing. That, and even with a multi-book contract, ‘don’t quit your day job.’

What is your favorite animal? Why?

Honestly, I’m allergic to virtually anything with fur, so I don’t have a general favorite. When we were married, my husband came with a black lab who was a really great dog, so she was my specific favorite.

Thank you, M.E. for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.

To find out more about M.E. Furman or get in touch with her:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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