Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Interview with author, Mosetta M. Penick Phillips-Crmak, Ph.D.

Dr. Mosetta Penick Phillips-Cermak is my guest today. She is the author
of the children's illustrated story, Rajah and the Big Blue Ball.

Thank you Penny, for allowing me to visit with you today.

1. Dr. Penick Phillips-Cermak, would you please tell us how you came to
write this particular story. I understand it was originally told to your
second grade students.

Yes, this story was originally told to one of my second grade classes. I loved each and every one of the students in that classroom. They were wonderful children.
Although I read to them, and with them every day, once a week I would bring them a treat, and tell them a story. They would sit on the floor around my chair. Eventually they started to ask for the adventures of Rajah. I come from a long line of oral storytellers. I did not put Rajah and the Big Blue Ball to paper until 2000.

2. Two of the characters in the book, Rajah and Chynna Blue are actually
your own animals. They were rescued through the Cleveland Animal
Protective League. Would you please tell us about the CAPL and how you
came to own these two particular animals.

The Cleveland Animal Protective League has been providing services to
animals since 1913. They are an independent, nonprofit humane society
located in Cleveland Ohio.

As a 501(c)(3) agency, The Cleveland APL provides shelter to homeless
animals relinquished by their guardians, animals that are rescued from abuse
or neglect, and stray or abandoned animals.

When I was a child, my parents adopted a Jack Russell Terrier from the
Cleveland APL to soften the blow of the arrival of my baby brother.
As we grew up, my father, brother, and I would take bags of dog food to the APL a couple of times per month. As an adult, I have continued the practice.
I loved to visit with the animals. I always want to take them all home with me.
Chynna and Rajah LeBeau were adopted at different times. Each after the death of another pet. I adopted Rajah LeBeau about 2 years after the death of Sultan.

3. Please tell us about the other animal characters in your book.

I have always had dogs and cats living in the same house. In reality, Christmas Parfait Sprinkles died in June of 1993. Nikki was so lonely, she would go around the house and would cry as she looked for her. One day, about a year after Parfait's death, I went down to the Cleveland APL on a whim, and I saw this little ball of fluff... this tiny kitten. I took her home and named her Chynna Blue. Chynna would follow Nikki all around the house and curl up to sleep with her. And, Chynna was fearless. She would play with Sultan all the time. She would even climb up on his back.

I don't think that Chynna was too happy when Rajah first came. She would walk up to him and smack him on the nose. Now she plays with Rajah everyday. He will even roll a ball to her. When he is lying down, she walks up to him and kisses him.
There are two Blue Jays that live in a tree in my backyard. They actually attacked Rajah when he went outside. They would dive-bomb him and drop sticks and pinecones on his head. He had to learn to not be afraid of them.

I have always had fish. They come to the top of the water when I go to feed them. I always imagine that they want to share some secret knowledge with me.

4. Your publisher, PM Moon Publishers, is a small publishing house. How
did you learn about them.

Yes, PM Moon Publishers, LLC is a very small family-oriented house. I was very blessed that two things happened in close proximity. One of my stories, The Wishing Flower, was published in a magazine. I was delighted. Once I received my rights back, I wanted the story turned into a book for use in the classroom. I wrote lesson plans to go along with the story.

In the meantime, I sent my brother, Eric A. Penick, Sr., (former full back
for the Denver Broncos, and running back for the University of Notre Dame), who is the CEO for Stored in Heaven Financial Consulting Firm, a copy of the magazine, which he showed to all his friends. One of his friends, in turn, showed it to his friends.

PM Moon was interested in publishing a book that could be used by teachers in the classroom.

5. Can you please tell us about your process of getting this book

The process of getting Rajah and the Big Blue Ball published was less difficult than my other books. I submitted the story directly to my editor. She ordered me to rewrite the story and cut about 250 words, which I did. I had a contract for all six books based on the strength of the first two in the series.

6. What would you like children to take from this story when they read it?

This book is about not allowing a bully to take over your life. I want children to face their fears, seek appropriate advice, and learn to talk out their problems.
Fighting is never the answer.

7. What is your writing process? For example, how does a story come to
you? How do you plan the writing? Do you use an outline or do the
characters tell you their story?

My stories come to me from my environment, from history, Greek Literature, and from my dreams.

I love to watch my animals. They have such wonderful personalities.
With the animals, I do not use a traditional outline, but I literally look into their eyes, and I imagine what they are thinking. I allow the animal to drive the story, based on something that they did.

With my other books, I write a history of my characters. I detail everything about them from their birth date, to their favorite color, to what school they attended. Sometimes, I will write a plot outline. But, then the characters will often rebel and not follow the outline, so I will follow the character.

I write on a very strict schedule. During the summer and other vacations, I write from 7 a.m. until at least 2:30 in the afternoon, every day, except Sunday.
During the school year, I usually write on Saturday from 7 a.m. to 8 pm.
I write at least 1500 words per day. That is not a lot, but I never do less than that.

8. What are you doing to market your book?

I market Rajah and the Big Blue Ball on Facebook, My Space, and Twitter, as well as a number of on-line sites.
I schedule book signings, including breakfast, lunch, and dinner events. In addition, my publisher has provided wonderful media kits. They do mass mailings to schools, libraries, and bookstores. I go to various neighborhoods and give away my books. I take my books and literature everywhere I go. I always ask people to buy my book. If you want something, you have to ask for it. Rajah LeBeau has his own website (www.rajahbooks.com), email address, Facebook page, and Twitter account (www.twitter.com/RajahLeBeau). He loves to talk to his fans.

9. You've been writing since you were a child. What other stories have
you written?

When I was a child I wrote plays for my dolls and puppet actors to perform. Each summer I would write a new play and construct new puppets. My grandmother would help me to make the costumes. I would then stage a performance for my parents, and other relatives.

I also wrote The Pink Elephant. It was inspired by the Disney film "Dumbo". I remember that when my mother took me to see it, she also bought me the book "Dumbo, the Flying Elephant" written by Helen Aberson and illustrated by Harold Perl. I didn't understand how the book became a film, but I knew that I wanted one of my plays or books to become a film. That is still one of my goals.

At that time I fancied myself as a musician and composer, so I also wrote musicals...very bad musicals.

In second or third grade I wrote Inky and Me, my first dog story, featuring my Terrier...the one we got from the Cleveland APL.

As a pre-teen, or very young teen I wrote Once Upon a Time on the Moon. It was inspired by the launching of "Sputnik 1" in 1959, and I sure that it was influenced by H.G. Wells' First Men in the Moon. It was a very simple story of three teenagers trying to build a rocket to the moon, and instead, blowing a hole in the roof of their parent's house.

The Lavender Dress was inspired by a racial incident that happened when I was only five (5) years old. I think I was fourteen or fifteen when I wrote the first draft.

In addition I have written two teen/YA romances, Each Day I Die (circa 1966). Donald (circa 1971), The Typewriter (Sci-Fi), The Wishing Flower, The Magic of Laven-Rock (two fairy tales), The Cloud (Y/A fantasy), The Book of Moncoto ( Middle-Grade Chapter Book), The Viper and the Brown Barn Owl, My Grandma has Two Birthdays ( picture books), and the six Rajah books. Of course I wrote in college, and I have a number of professional academic papers that I have written, plus my master's thesis and my doctoral dissertation.

10. What are your favorite stories to write?

I am torn between my desire to teach my students' a helpful lesson and the magical world. I think I like anything with magic or myths and/or animals. If it cannot possibly happen, then I want to write about it.

11.What tips do you have for new authors who would like to write
children's books?

If you want to write children's books, then you must read, read, and read children's books. Buy or borrow other people's books. Try to figure out what makes a given book special. I always buy other people's books. Then you can write in them. And, they are tax deductible as research for your craft. Try to remember what it felt like to be whatever age you write. Talk to little people. Read to them. Ask them what they think about your story. Hone your craft. People seem to think that it is easy to write for children. It is not. It is very challenging!

12. Is there anything else you would like my readers to know about you
and your writing?

Once more I would like to thank you for allowing me to talk about my writing.
I will be at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Legacy Village on Thursday July 9, 2009 from 7:00 to 9:00 P.M., 24519 Cedar Road Lyndhurst, Ohio.
On Saturday July 18, 2009, Nela's Restaurant, 3553 West 117th Street, Cleveland Ohio, is sponsoring a Lunch with the Author event to benefit The Cleveland APL. The APL will have their adoption van on site. My publisher has generously provided door prizes for this venue.
I am an advocate of reading to children, and I believe that every child should have their own books.
I have two special causes.
First of all I am trying to raise money to sponsor a cage at the Cleveland APL. Cage sponsorship is $1500. A sponsored cage means that the lucky dog will live there safe until s/he is adopted.
For each Rajah book I sell I donate $1.00 to the Cleveland APL earmarked for a cage. That is about 28% of my royalties.
I ask that if a person doesn't want to buy my book, please donate to the Cleveland APL in the name of Rajah and the Big Blue Ball.
Working together we can save the life of a dog.
My second cause blends into the first one.
It is to try to get each person to buy a book to give to a child.
I encourage people to work together to buy a class set of books to donate to an inner city school. At the end of the school year, the children get to keep their book.
$400 for a set of 20 books is nothing when one considers that some people spend that on a gaming system or a cell phone.
I beg your readers to take up the cause and get twenty friends together to buy a class set of books.
Books change children's lives for the better.

Mosetta M. Penick Phillips-Cermak, Ph.D.

Thank you Dr. Penick Phillips-Cermak for being my guest today.


  1. Wonderful interview, Penny! Great questions & great tips. I'm primarily focused on writing fiction for adults, but lately have considered taking up my children's fiction writing again. Some solid advice to take to heart, most certainly.

  2. Hi Paula, Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the interview.