Interview with children’s author MaryLou Quillen

Give us a brief summary of your life till now and how it led you to write.

I’m a Jersey girl who grew up with sand between my toes. Those carefree summer days at the Jersey shore provided me with plenty of time for daydreams. Those dreams turned into stories and characters that I began writing as a child. It allowed me to develop a strong relationship with my imagination. Since writing came to me very naturally, I had several journals filled with poems by the time I entered high school. It was a way of expressing my teenage thoughts and feelings as I was becoming who I was meant to be. While in high school, I won several state poetry awards which opened my mind to a possible career as a writer. On the other hand, I was also drawn to the visual arts and chose Graphic Design as a major in college. I was a very ambitious student, and completed a Master of Arts in Writing while attending Swansea University in Wales, UK, which expanded my worldview. Living abroad allowed me the opportunity to visit many European countries and interact with different nationalities. It provided a very broad appreciation of other cultures and their rich history of storytelling. Upon my return to the States, I completed a Master of Science in Professional Communication from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and began my career as a Graphic Designer for Nature Publishing Group in New York City. While living in Brooklyn, I was inspired by the great diversity of my neighborhood and wrote my first children’s book, The ABC’s of a Healthy Me, as an encouragement to children in all walks of life. That was the beginning of my life as a children’s author.

Most parent-child series feature a mother and child. The Perry and Steve series features a father and son. What prompted you to choose that pairing? Did you choose their names in honor of Steve Perry, the former Journey singer?

While watching March of the Penguins, I was impressed with the dedication of the Emperor penguins as fathers. They endure grueling weather conditions and fierce winds in the frigid Antarctic to protect the egg of their future offspring. They stand for approximately two months in darkness and without food until the incubation period ends and the tiny chick hatches. Dad will then care for his hatchling until Mom returns and allows him to literally go catch a meal. I thought that level of paternal dedication deserved a series to highlight their devotion. (Plus my nephew loves the penguins at our local aquarium. How could I resist such a brilliant combination?)

As far as the names, yes, it was a happy coincidence that a Journey song was playing in the background as I was musing about a penguin series. You’re the first one to catch that reference!

Your books are aimed at children. Why did you choose that special audience?

I am blessed to have very special little people in my life and they are my muses as well as my audience. I am awed by their sense of wonder at the things we often take for granted. When we, as adults, become too preoccupied with the daily tasks of life, children remind us that we all need to stop and find the beauty in ‘the present moment’. They have the uncanny ability to live every moment to its fullest. They challenge us to revisit the younger version of ourselves, transporting us back in time, when we remember what it was like to be carefree, thoughtful and curious. I write for them, with the small hope that I can pass on some of the knowledge that my journey has brought to me, while encouraging and entertaining them.

Tell us about your other books.

I have a diverse selection of children’s books in my catalog. Many are educational, such as the Healthy Me picture books, the Stargazer collection and the Baby Animals of our World series. Then, of course, there is the Penguin Adventure Series, which focuses on the family life of Perry and Steve as they face many of the same challenges as their human counterparts. This was especially true in the New Normal, which focused on life changes during Covid 19. The story line tries to gently give voice to many of the pandemic questions from the perspective of the young son, Steve.

Tell us about your next project.

I have a very busy schedule for the next few months. As the holiday season approaches, there are several books in the queue. This month (August 2020), I will be releasing A Rappin Tappin Halloween for Kids inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s,”The Raven.” September will feature the release of Halloween at Sunshine Farm followed by Tom the Turkey’s Thanksgiving Tale in October. November will welcome the arrival of the next Perry and Steve installment featuring a holiday extravaganza with all the traditional trappings, plus a surprise visitor.

What’s your research process like?

The research process really depends on the individual book. When I am producing a nonfiction work, such as the Stargazer space books or the Animals of Our World series, there is quite a bit of research required. Most of the other books do receive a fair amount of data collection so that some educational value may be imparted to the story. But, some are just from my imagination, often inspired by an event or observation, and sometimes, a dream (I keep a dream journal on my nightstand).

What’s your writing routine? Do you have a dedicated office, or do you write at the kitchen table? Do you write longhand or type everything?

I do have notebooks filled with ideas, but since my entire professional career has been forged on the computer, that is where the magic happens. I have a Mac laptop, so it is with me wherever and whenever I find inspiration. It is a very convenient companion that allows me the freedom to create on the go!

Do you outline your stories or let the characters take you where they want to go? Do your characters speak to you?

That depends on the book. The nonfiction books require a hard outline and several drafts whereas with Perry and Steve, I let them lead and see where it goes. I do love the quirky spirit of the Penguin series. I think Perry is an extraordinary Dad who tries his best to be ‘the best Dad’ in the world. Steve is precocious and plays off the sensibilities of Perry, sometimes with hilarious results.

What writers and illustrators do you admire, past or present?

I’ve been an avid reader my whole life so that list would be quite extensive. As far as children’s writers go, my personal preferences run the gamut from A.A. Milne and the beloved “Winnie the Pooh” classics to J.K. Rowling and the fantastic “Harry Potter” series. I was a huge fan of both. I still enjoy any read aloud of Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel). He was a genius with his mastery of rhymes and captivating stories. Barbara Park and the Junie B. Jones series holds a special place for me, as she was a hometown hero here in Jersey.

My favorite illustrators include the fabulous Will Terry, the amazing Fan brothers, the legendary Eric Carle and the very talented Christian Robinson. I loved his “Last Stop on Market Street.”

What do you like best about being a writer? What do you like least?

I love the ability to take a random remark or thought and transform it into a complete storyline with characters who have personalities and problems to solve. I like the opportunity to juxtapose adult knowledge with child-like perceptions in stories and follow along as it works its way through to a happy ending.

My least favorite part is having too much to do in too little time. As an indie author, I am responsible for every aspect of publication, from creation to pre-press and then the final production.

What little personal quirk would you like to reveal to your readers?

I actually enjoy reading children’s books! I love the detailed illustrations and the variety of stories available to young readers. And some stories are just a hoot!

Book Review Gal also loves reading children’s books!

MaryLou’s Website

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