Monday, November 24, 2014

Susan Blackaby, The Twelve Days of Christmas in Oregon

Photo credit Jone MacCulloch

AUTHOR:  Susan Blackaby
ILLUSTRATOR: Carolyn Conahan
BOOK TITLE: The Twelve Days of Christmas in Oregon
Tell me a little about your book.

It is part of the Twelve Days of Christmas in America series.  The text in part follows the structure of the traditional song but features landmarks from all around the state.
What gave you the idea for this particular story?
The format is the same for all the books in the series. The premise is that a cousin has invited an out-of-state cousin to visit Oregon for the holidays. Each day the cousin receives a gift, starting with the state bird in the state tree, and writes a letter home to tell his parents about his experiences.
Is there anything in your story based upon a real life event? If so, tell me about it.
I spent my childhood criss-crossing Oregon on car rides and camping trips. When I had to sit down with a map and create a day-by-day tour, I revisited a lot of familiar places. In addition, I featured one of our neighbors in the role of the main character, and it was fun to incorporate him and his family into the text—and a crazy big treat when I finally could hand him the book.
Why did you choose to write a story with a Christmas or winter theme?
Sterling selects an author-illustrator team from each state to create the books. I was pleased to be asked to take this on and delighted to collaborate with Carolyn. She is a close friend and a brilliant artist—her work appears monthly in Cricket magazine.
Do you see special challenges to marketing a book with a seasonal theme?  If so, what are they?
It is a short and busy season with a small window of opportunity that one needs to squeeze through, competing with lots of other events and outings that keep people preoccupied when it comes to attending book signings. And this particular book has an even narrower audience because of its provincial appeal.
How long before December did you submit to your publisher?
My first deadline was in October 2012 with final manuscript due in the spring of 2013. Carolyn had about 8 months to do sketches and complete the final art, so a quick turnaround for her.
How and why did you choose this publisher?
I have worked with Meredith Mundy, my editor at Sterling, for a number of years on other projects, including Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox and Brownie Groundhog and the Wintry Surprise. She and the art director approached us to do this project and we were happy to oblige.
What about your book makes it special?
The rompy song features local fare that Oregonians of all ages can appreciate—barking sea lions, Portland food carts, windsurfers, bucking broncos, and thunder eggs (to name just a few of the gifts). The letters include a lot of interesting and surprising information about Oregon’s geography, history, folklore, and natural history that will appeal to older kids. And Carolyn’s exquisite artwork is masterful—filled with beauty and whimsy and many, many hidden charms that perfectly capture the ring of the season.
What does Christmas and/or winter mean to you?
As a writer, I look forward to quiet, distraction-free winter afternoons to work once the new year rolls in. And in the rush and crush of the holiday season, I think recalibration is imperative—slow down to linger around the table or around the fire with family and friends to rekindle and share traditions.
What is your favorite Christmas or winter memory?
In January 1961 it snowed in Palo Alto, where I grew up. Pretty memorable!
What was your favorite stocking stuffer?
A blue music box that plays a little tune by Handel. I got it when I was about 3 years old.
What was your favorite Christmas present?
One year as Christmas day hit that changeover from festive to frazzled, my dad gave my mom a strand of pearls. It had all the very best elements of pure surprise.
Where can people learn more about you and your work?
My website is currently under construction:
But I am easily reachable in the meantime:

The Twelve Days of Christmas in Oregon pairs amazing and amusing artwork with a happy blast of geography, history, science, folklore, and—of course—snowboarding as cousins take a holiday tour of the Beaver state. Epistolary, entertaining, and lyrical to boot!

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