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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Candace Spizzirri Plus Giveaway

Candace Spizzirri grew up in a small town in New Jersey with tree-lined streets and old Victorian houses.

As a child, she spent hours playing at the park, catching minnows in a nearby stream, and exploring the woods at the end of her street. Passionate about education, Candace is a co-founder of an elementary school and high school in Southern California where she now makes her home. She loves spending time with her husband, grown children, daughter-in-law, and five grandkids.

Candace is the author of Fishing with Grandpa and Skye, illustrated by Beverly Love Warren (2022).

For more information on Candace, see our earlier interview (here).

Her newest picture book, Finley: A Moose on the Caboose, releases tomorrow.

Welcome back Candace.

Thank you, Maria, for having me back. I’m so happy to be here.

What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written a manuscript?

Sometimes I’ll write a first draft at the beach taking in the ocean breeze and sounds of the surf for inspiration, tucked into a quiet spot at my local library, or in a cozy chair at home with a cup of coffee.

But the most unusual place I’ve ever written a draft was when I had a spark of an idea while driving. I pulled (safely) to the side of the road and wrote plot points on the back of a grocery receipt as I had no other paper and had left my phone at home. You’ve got to get it down when your muse arrives.

Thank goodness for receipts and stray pieces of paper in purses! What was your inspiration or spark of curiosity for Finley: A Moose on the Caboose?

The idea for Finley: A Moose on the Caboose came to me while visiting the gorgeous town of Talkeetna, Alaska. The scenery was spectacular in every direction! During my stay, an enormous moose appeared in the town center, wandered about a bit, then disappeared into the woods next to the railroad tracks. I was delighted to see this big-eyed moose up close (but not too close as they are extremely dangerous) as I’d never seen one before. Later that day, I came across a little shop called Once in a Blue Moose and it sparked an idea for a picture book about a friendly moose who wants more than anything to ride the rails.

They are impressive and curious wild animals. It's fun how the details of the day wove themselves into a story idea. How many revisions did Finley: A Moose on the Caboose take from first draft to publication?

I don’t know exactly how many revisions there were for Finley, but I generally go through many before I feel a manuscript is ready to submit. After I write a new story, I like to put it away for a while. Then I do a bit of revising and send it off to my critique partners. (I am a member of several groups and don’t know what I’d do without them!) After each person has weighed in, I carefully consider all of their comments/suggestions while staying true to the vision for my story. Finley did require a lot of tightening and cutting of darlings.

Sandra Sutter, the owner of Gnome Road Publishing, liked a pitch for Finley on a Twitter pitch party. I sent my manuscript in and got back a revise and resubmit. The acquisitions team thought the ending wasn’t quite strong enough, so I spent some time revising and sent it back when I felt it was ready. After Finley was acquired, Sandra and I tightened the text a bit more and worked on line edits until we both were happy with the story.

Sounds like it wasn't too bumpy a journey. What's something you want your readers to know about Finley: A Moose on the Caboose?

I’m a big believer in following your dreams, just like Finley does in his story. It is never too late to chase down a dream or to have a new one. Finley: A Moose on the Caboose will release right after my 65th birthday. Keep dreaming everyone! 😊

They do come true, sometimes. When you first saw Burgen Thorne and Chantelle Thorne’s illustrations in Finley: A Moose on the Caboose, did anything surprise, amaze, or delight you? Which is your favorite spread?

I could not have been more amazed and delighted with Chantelle and Burgen’s illustrations for Finley! They are such a talented team! I must admit that when I saw the final art, I cried tears of joy. It was everything I had hoped for and so much more.

Text © Candace Spizzirri, 2023. Image © Burgen Thorne and Chantelle Thorne, 2023.

One surprise was the little bluebird that accompanies Finley throughout the story. What a sweet, unexpected addition!

Text © Candace Spizzirri, 2023. Image © Burgen Thorne and Chantelle Thorne, 2023.

It’s hard to pick just one favorite. How about two? I especially love the spread where Finley is running towards the train saying, “I’ll make my dreams come true” and the art where he is dressed as a hot dog, a Christmas tree, and a penguin.

All of Finley's costumes are hysterical, but I'll leave those for the readers to discover. What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing Finley: A Moose on the Caboose?

Most of the story came together easily for Finley, but I struggled with the ending. This is generally the case with almost all of my manuscripts. Endings are challenging for me. Even before the revise and resubmit from Gnome Road, I questioned the ending for Finley. Thank goodness for critique partners. Their comments/suggestions are invaluable in helping to revise and bring stories to the next level. I’m happy to say that I now love the ending for Finley and hope readers will too.

I think your persistence paid off. Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I always have lots of stories that I’m revising and new ideas rumbling around my brain. Right now, I’m excited about several manuscripts I’ve worked on for the past couple of years. I also have something in the works that I can’t talk about just yet but will share as soon as I’m able.

Ooh, tantalizing. Good luck and we'll definitely be listening for your news. Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing/ illustrating or not?

“Relax and enjoy the journey!” This is great advice in publishing and life in general.

Perfect advice for life AND a book about dreaming of travelling on a train. Thank you, Candace, for coming back to share a bit about your newest picture book.

Thanks so much, Maria, for having me!

Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF review of Finley: A Moose on the Caboose.

To find out more about Candace Spizzirri, or to contact her:

Finley: A Moose on the Caboose Giveaway

Awesome news! Candace is offering one lucky reader a copy of Finley: A Moose on the Caboose.

- Simply comment below (or on the Friday #PPBF post - or both) to be entered in the random drawing on April 28th.

Be sure to say where (if) you shared the post (Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram), and I'll add additional entries for you.

- *Sorry US Residents only.*

Here is a summary of Finley: A Moose on the Caboose:

"Rules are rules” and wild animals aren’t allowed on trains . . . or so says Conductor Jones. Young adventurers will fall in love with Finley, a friendly moose with a toothy grin who wants nothing more than to ride the rails across Alaska and beyond. Prepare for giggles when Finley finds a costume shop and tries to pass for anything but wild, only to have Conductor Jones see right through these disguises. Fortunately, Finley has something Conductor Jones doesn’t see coming - heart and determination – showing us all that there are some rules in life that are meant to be changed. With illustrations that capture both the essence of Finley’s spirit and the magic of an Alaskan railway adventure, Finley: A Moose on the Caboose is certain to be loved by anyone who dreams of making what seems impossible, possible.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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