Julia Durango on Julia Durango: “I was born in Las Vegas of all places, but my family moved often and by the time I finished high school I’d attended seven schools in five states (California, Utah, Rhode Island, Indiana & Missouri). I moved again to attend the University of Illinois where I received degrees in Latin American Studies and Political Science. I traveled frequently to Latin America during that time, but mostly to Colombia, where I worked in a program for street children. Now I live in Ottawa, Illinois, with my two sons (ages 6 and 10). In addition to writing children’s books, I work full-time at the public library in Ottawa and I review funny books for kids with my pals Andrea Beaty and Carolyn Crimi over at www.ThreeSillyChicks.com.”
Congratulations on the upcoming publication of Angels Watching Over Me, illustrated by Elisa Kleven (Simon & Schuster, March 2007)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?
Angels Watching Over Me is an adaptation of the African-American spiritual by the same name. My mother used to sing me to sleep with it when I was a baby, and I in turn sang it to my boys…only my youngest son would take forever to fall asleep, so I’d keep making up new verses until he finally dozed off (at which point I’d make myself a stiff drink and remind myself not to have any more babies!).
Your previous titles include Dream Hop, illustrated by Jared Lee (Simon & Schuster, 2005). Could you tell us a bit about this book? What did Jared’s illustrations bring to your text?
Dream Hop was inspired by my oldest son when he was going through a particularly bad bout of nightmares. One morning he woke up and asked if I’d ever “dream hopped” from a bad dream into a good one. I started writing Dream Hop the same day. As for Jared Lee, my sons and I are huge fans of his Black Lagoon series (written by Mike Thaler, Scholastic) so we were thrilled when he signed on for Dream Hop. His illustrations are a perfect blend of scary and silly!
Along with Linda Sue Park, you also are the co-author of Yum Yuck! A Foldout Book of People Sounds, illustrated by Sue Ramá (Charlesbridge, 2005)(interview with Linda Sue). Could you describe the process that you shared with Linda Sue?
Much of what I know about writing I’ve learned from Linda Sue, so collaborating with her was a treat. The process itself was something like: one hundred e-mails, two dozen phone calls, and one crucial brainstorming week-end in New York City. It could also be described as: mucho research, beaucoup drafts, molto fun.
What advice do you have for beginning picture book writers?
Think like a kid. Get rid of your “wise elder” voice. Let loose and have fun (it shows!).
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Between my job at the library and the hard work of raising boys (i.e. playing Legos and Guitar Hero and basketball…whew!), I’m usually too tuckered out for much else. I may be the only person in America who has never seen an episode of “American Idol” or “Desperate Housewives” or “Lost.” But I read and do a crossword puzzle every night without fail. Nerdy-girl habits die hard.
What can your fans look forward to next?
Pest Fest, a picture book illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster, June 2007); The Walls of Cartagena, an historical fiction novel (Simon & Schuster, 2008); Under the Mambo Moon, a story in poems (Charlesbridge, 2009), and Go-Go Gorillas, a companion to Cha-Cha Chimps, illustrated by Eleanor Taylor (Simon & Schuster, 2009). I’m also working on a project with my lovely critique partner, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer (author of Reaching for Sun, Bloomsbury, March 2007), which has been a blast!