Here is a word for word quote from an email I received a month or so ago from debut picture book author Mike Allegra.

“Oh, I do so feel like the dweeb looking for a way to get into the cool kid’s party. As you know, I am not an official 12x12er, but I do play along at home and look forward to whatever devilry you have in story for the 13×13-folks. That all said, I was wondering if you might consider helping me out. My children’s book, “Sarah Gives Thanks,” will be on shelves in September and I was hoping you might consider mentioning it on your site after its release. I’ve been earning my living as professional writer for years but, as this is my very first book, I am a bit of a greenhorn marketing-wise. And, well, your website just dazzles me.”

I told him he had me at ‘your website just dazzles me’. It should also be noted that in addition to calling me a “cool kid” and complimenting my website, he was the FIRST PERSON to sign up to receive information about 12 x 12 in 2013.

Now that I have read his responses to my questions, however, I feel I’ve been had. This guy is no greenhorn at anything. Just wait ’til you read his publication story. I look forward to many more guerrilla publishing stories from Mike in the future.

First things first – when will Sarah Gives Thanks be available?

It’s available now! Go get it!

What inspired you to tell Sarah’s story in picture book biography format?

The story behind Sarah Gives Thanks is really one of opportunity. The inspiration came later – but when inspiration hit, it hit hard.

Long story short, I had learned that Albert Whitman and Company was in need of a Thanksgiving manuscript, so I fibbed and said I had one. Actually, I doubled down and told them I had two. One manuscript, I told them, was a silly story about a turkey; the other was a more serious, historical piece. Both stories still needed a little work, I said. “So which one should I focus on rewriting?”

The editor told me she’d probably be more interested in the serious story. So, after that conversation ended, I scrambled to turn my little lie into a belated truth. In my hunt to find a unique, serious story about Thanksgiving, I discovered Sarah Hale.

Sarah amazed me. Not only was she the driving force behind turning Thanksgiving into a national holiday, but also she was the first female magazine editor in America. She was one of the first female novelists in America – and the very first to condemn slavery in a novel. (She beat Harriet Beecher Stowe by about 25 years.) She was a tireless advocate for women’s education. She led huge fundraising drives to turn Bunker Hill and Mount Vernon into national landmarks. She wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” And she was influential – sort of the Oprah of her day. When she said something, America listened.

What kind of research did you do to write the book?

I had to crank out the first draft of Sarah Gives Thanks pretty quickly because – well – I told the editor I had already written it. Fortunately, the editor liked the draft enough to request another, longer draft, which was wonderful. The request for a rewrite allowed me to give the story the time and attention it deserved.

I spent a lot of time researching Sarah. I read dozens and dozens of the magazines she edited. I read Sarah’s books. I read her letters. I read a number of biographies on her. Basically I became a bit of a Sarah Hale geek. If you need proof of my geekdom, by the way, I’ll be happy to show you the Sarah Hale bobblehead on my desk.

What surprised and/or inspired you most about Sarah?

What surprised me the most was that I had never heard of Sarah Hale before. Considering her many accomplishments, she still remains relatively obscure and that, frankly, is a real shame.

Can you tell us a little about your path to publication?

I already did. Pay attention! 🙂

What is next on the horizon for you?

I’m still writing and submitting other picture book manuscripts, of course. Some fiction, some non. I’m also beginning the hunt for an agent, so we’ll see how that goes.

In the meantime I will continue my gig as a magazine editor, which is my day job. And, of course, I’ll continue to seek out and leap on any interesting opportunities I can find.

If you could interview you, what question would you ask yourself?

Q: Do you play the sousaphone?
A: No.

Would you ever have the guts to do what Mike did and say you had a story when, in fact, you had none? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t!

Categories: 12 x 12 in 2012, Authors, Guest Blogging, Holidays, Picture Books, Publishing, Thanksgiving, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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29 Comments

  1. Looking forward to having you join us in 2013, Mike! I’ve read your back story before, and again, congratulations on this book!

  2. I don’t get writer’s block, but saying I had a manuscript when I didn’t would be a sure fire way to get instant, long-lasting, gnarly, pernicious, bone-chilling writer’s block from hell!!

  3. Great interview. 🙂 I don’t play the sousaphone either…

  4. No, I would not have the nerve to do that. I’m glad Mike did as I loved the book and learning more about Sarah.

  5. I have a feeling that Mike isn’t the first author to tell a sort of…um…not lie, exactly. More like a pre-truth. Many authors who have written nothing tell agents and editors that they have this manuscript ready to go, it just needs a little polishing. (Okay, maybe a lot of polishing.)

  6. Congratulations, Mike! Very clever (and bold) method for figuring out what the publisher wanted! But it’s true that agents will sometimes pitch a story when it’s still at the concept stage, and that’s basically what you did. Anyway, it sounds like you chose a truly fascinating person for your biography and I look forward to learning more about her!

  7. This book sounds wonderful, Mike. Looking forward to having you in our x13 group. I would never have the chutzpah to do what you did. You obviously had the confidence that you could come up with something good. I’d rather know ahead of time that I had something… but that’s just me.

    Now, how about writing a picture book about playing the sousaphone?

  8. I have a book about that! It still needs a little rewriting…

    Ahem.

  9. My sister can do that so well, too and now she’s a Financial Director. i wish I had that gene, bit fat scaredy pants. Congrats Mike, it looks a lovely book!

    • You can do it! Here. Give it a try with me:

      “Hi, Catherine. I’m on the lookout for a story about Maple Syrup and a Moose. You’re Canadian so you must have a story like that lying around right? Tell me a little about it.”

      Aaaaaand GO!

  10. Great story! Sometimes a writer needs to take a risk or two.

  11. What a fun interview. I love the little white lie and the fact that you pulled it off brilliantly, Mike. You had me at, “I feel like a dweeb…” Great interview, Julie!

  12. wow. that is some story. thanks for sharing.

  13. Who doesn’t love Thanksgiving? Now we can all share interesting tidbits about Sarah Hale as we pass the turkey, cranberry and pumpkin pie!

    Great story Mike – always happy to see you out and about in the blogosphere with SARAH GIVES THANKS!

  14. No, don’t think I’d have the guts to do what Mike did, especially as so much research was necessary. Reminds me, though, of the remarks Dan Yaccarino made @ SCBWI NJ. Maybe “Just do it (or wing it)” is the way to go…

    Now, off to find some obscure historical event or person to research…

  15. LOVE this story! 🙂 That takes the kind of nerve I wish I had 🙂 Can’t wait to read this!

  16. Gutsy, Mike! Something I need to improve at, thanks for the encouragement. It would be a great motivation to get an offer on just an idea. I never thought I’d enjoy non-fiction/historical fiction, but I’ve dabbled a little in it and like it. So, being an old retired history teacher, one of my goals is to give it a try. I’ll get hold of ‘Sarah Gives Thanks’ and check it out. (I’ll also get my local library to buy it.) Enjoyed your post.

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