1. How did you and your illustrator, Lee Wildish, work together?
We worked together as most picture book illustrators and writers do, though this is a novel. That is, we never met or talked or emailed until after the book was done. Most publishing companies want it done this way. All the communications go through the editor. There were a few places that I made suggestions to our editor to specify some historical changes that needed to be made to the drawings. And there were also a few places where I changed the text to match the wonderfully drawn illustrations. And I have to say that the cover is perfect! It captures the sense of adventure and fun for 3rd to 5th grade readers.
2. If you had to go on Thomas’s quest, what three things would you want with you? (He had a donkey, a vest, and a sword)
Well, I’d definitely take Bartholomew, the donkey along. Having a companion and helper in a dark place is worth a great deal! As long as I have someone I can throw my arms around to nourish my soul with friendship, I’m much braver. Then I’d take a large pouch of Ma’s baked goods to nourish my body. Finally, I’d take a copy of the complete works of Shakespeare to nourish my mind, to share with others I met on my quest, and to provide a great quote for my final words—should it come to that! (I’d probably be too dumb-founded to think of anything other than “Say what?”)
3. What do you think is Thomas’s best trait?
I love Thomas’ tenacity and sense of responsibility. It did not matter that he was small and that the odds were not in his favor. He was the one that was available when the king needed someone, and therefore he was the one to do it—as simple as that. Thomas had been raised by his family without any regard to his small size. At home he was expected to pull his weight and to do his share of the work, so he never considered that somebody else ought to be the one to go.
Also his stubbornness is admirable. He waits and waits upon his king to bestow his knighthood, patient and uncomplaining. He repeatedly stabs Starfast into the tentacles of the lake monster. He slowly and steadily makes his way on Bartholomew. He takes on the chore of caring for the dragonlets . . . whatever needs to be done, he does his best to do it. It may not be glamorous, it may not be elegantly accomplished—but it will get done with the best of intentions.
4. In what ways did you put yourself or people you know into Thomas and the Dragon Queen?
Actually, there are quite a few personal references to friends and family in THOMAS AND THE DRAGON QUEEN. First of all, the book is dedicated to Peter and Eleanor Pollack, two good friends. Eleanor is, of course, Princess Eleanor. And the real-life Eleanor is just as spunky and resourceful as the fictional one. And I borrowed my friend Peter for the sweet, dirt-streaked little brother. (Though the real Peter is very tidy!) My husband Gerald was the role model for Sir Gerald: thoughtful, loyal, strong, and there when you need him.
Thomas is a composite. Bits of me are certainly mixed into him—not my bravery (I’m a scaredy-cat), but my experience of caring for lots of younger kids. Growing up, I baby-sat for my three younger siblings, as well as the five children of my parents’ best friends who lived across the street. So I was always caring for at least eight others! One skill I put to use when I babysat was storytelling . . . it was a good way of keeping all little ones calm—and me sane. They would often ask for a repeat story. And since I was making up the stories as needed, sometimes I’d tell a story a little differently and then I’d be reminded “That’s not how it goes!” This is very similar to Thomas’s siblings arguing about the story Da told them at the beginning of the book. Every writer puts a little bit of him or herself into his or her characters.
5. What is your favorite mythical creature?
I love narwhales. Of course, they’re not mythical. They just look like they should be! Well, I have to say dragons. There seems to be the most variety in dragons within the world’s mythologies and symbols. I’m not sure why they have such a hold on our imaginations—perhaps due to ancient terrors and nightmares of huge beasts we did not understand. I love that in some eastern mythologies dragons are symbols of good luck. One of my granddaughters was born in the year of the dragon—she’s a lucky child
Finally, I love that there is that link between dragons and dinosaurs. When we first started finding dinosaur bones we thought they were dragons. And now, we’ve discovered that those huge dinosaurs are related to birds. Who knows, perhaps I’ll write next about a bird-like dragon. After all, the topknots on my dragons in THOMAS AND THE DRAGON QUEEN are made of feathers! Not a coincidence.
Thanks so much Shutta!
Click here to visit Shutta's website (where she's giving away a signed copy of Thomas!)
Click here to read my review of Thomas and the Dragon Queen!