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Classical Jazz 2005: Home

An Interview with Toni Buzzeo

by Debbi Michiko Florence

What was the first piece you ever wrote and how old were you?

I'm always uncomfortable with this perennial question because I just don't know! This is all that I do know. In my early teens, I fell in love with poetry as I read my way through hundreds of poetry books from my local branch library, from Denise Levertov to Robert Frost. I marked my favorite poems and copied them into spiral bound notebooks, college-ruled, with blue covers. As I look back, I see that I was anthologizing them! Then, one day, it occurred to me that I might be able to write this stuff. I tried it. I could. I never stopped!

What are your favorite books from childhood? Any special one? For what reason?

I loved the SNIP, SNAP, SNURR series of picture books about three Swedish brothers by Maj Lindman as a young child, as well as Beatrix Potter's PETER RABBIT. As I got older, I most enjoyed the Maud Hart Lovelace BETSY TACY books. They took me to a place and a past where I wanted to live. I think my intense love of history started there, in those pages, those chapters, with those spunky but well-behaved little girls.

Do you have a nickname? What is it? (hehe)

I'm often known to many as the Library Goddess, having acquired the name in 1999 when I won the Maine Library Media Specialist of the Year Award. More recently, my friend, children's author Jacqueline Davies (WHERE THE GROUND MEETS THE SKY, Cavendish 2002) named me New England Regional Advisor on Data Projectors, owing to my obsessive research of data projectors (I am a librarian, after all!) before purchasing one for use in my speaking.

How long did you "dream" of being a writer and how long did it take you to decide to try to make that dream come true? Did anything happen to push you to make that jump?

I dreamed for a decade or two, and actually thought of it as "a plan to write for children someday." It wasn't until I had the opportunity, in September 1995, to cut back my teaching schedule to four days a week that I realized that my plan needed some shape and time. I took the opportunity to work fewer days as a library media specialist and begin a self-study course in writing for children. I set out to read and learn everything I could about writing for children. Five years later, almost to the day, I had a contract on my first picture book, THE SEA CHEST (Dial 2002).

What book are you reading now?

I'm just now reading SAFFY'S ANGEL by Hilary McKay, a fabulous middle grade novel, as well as EMPIRE FALLS by Richard Russo.

What are some of your favorites:

TV shows

TV? Who has time for TV? When I have screen time, it's with my computer :>

Movies

My all time favorite is THE LION IN WINTER with Katherine Hepburn.

Bands/music

My two favorite artists are Loreena McKennitt and Enya, but I also have an odd and particular fondness for the Texas artist Nancy Griffith. There's something about those soulful ballads that touches a responsive chord in me.

If you could meet any author or illustrator, dead or alive, who would it be, and why?

I'm lucky enough to be quite connected in the children's writing field, so I have generally met my heroes and heroines there. Meeting and spending time with Cynthia Voigt at the SCBWI New England Conference I hosted in 2000 was one of the big pleasures of recent times. She's been a long time heroine of mine. In college, both undergraduate and graduate school, I studied nineteenth century British literature. Harkening back to the loves of those days, I would wish to meet John Keats and Christina Rossetti. I have been a poet for so long, and I continue to believe that poetry and poets have so much to teach me. In addition, the world view of nineteenth century poets has much to teach me, as well.

Look around your office/writing space. What do you see?

I see fabulous children's book art, for starters!! I have purchased a painting from each of my published picture book illustrators, the cover art for THE SEA CHEST (Dial 2002) from Mary GrandPre (it's a breathtakingly beautiful oil painting) and the interior illustration of Dawdle floating on his back with the frog on his tummy from DAWDLE DUCKLING (Dial 2003) by Margaret Spengler (the pastels are so vibrant and the character so full of personality, you can't help but smile!).

There are also symbols of my books and TOYS! I see ducks everywhere, and giraffes (my favorite animal—and I've written a giraffe story that I am hopeful about publishing), and lighthouses, and loons. My old Chatty Cathy doll is perched up on the file cabinet and a couple of Beat Generation stuffed teen dolls that Grandma Mae had made for me in Brazil when she lived there lean against the fax stand. And my two beautiful quilted "book jackets," made by my talented friend Deb Tucker Small and worn to all speaking engagements, hang on the two doorknobs, art and clothing all in one!

If you had to pick a soundtrack for your life right now, what songs would be on it?

The song, "I'm Late" from the Disney movie, ALICE IN WONDERLAND would be the single song, playing over and over in a continuous loop. As I try to fit two full-time careers (librarian and author) into one full time life, I find that I have too much to do to strike any sort of balance or sense of normalcy. What I aspire to is something with a rich sax and a long, slow, soulful melody. I'm working on integration of the two!

What can fans look forward to next?

Margaret Spengler (the DAWDLE DUCKLING illustrator) is hard at work on the illustrations for LITTLE LOON AND PAPA, which we are hoping to publish early summer 2004, just in time for Father's Day. It's an endearing tale of a Papa loon and a timid baby chick on the day that Papa tries to teach Little Loon to dive. Margaret and I are also working on a DAWDLE DUCKLING sequel, which will follow LITTLE LOON AND PAPA.

What are you working on now?

In reality, I'm working on converting my school and conference presentations to PowerPoint. If you were asking about fiction, as I suppose you were, I'm working on revisions to my middle grade colonial time travel novel, THE ROGUE PINE, for my fabulous editor Lauri Hornik at Dial Books for Young Readers.

Interview © Copyright 2003 by Debbi Michiko Florence. See also my Follow-up interviews with Toni, in 2004 and 2005.
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what's new?

You can read more about Toni and her books at her web site .

See also my follow-up interviews with Toni, in 2004 and 2005.