Author Kate DiCamillo.
In this interview with book publisher Candlewick Press, author Kate DiCamillo talks about her novel’s style and inspiration—and her love of food, too!
Candlewick Press: Candlewick has dubbed Flora & Ulysses “genre-bending” because it features a split narrative format incorporating graphic and comic style layouts and illustrations. Did you write the book this way purposely? Is this a genre you intentionally wanted to experiment with?
I love it when you guys dub things. I’ve been going around for the last few weeks saying to myself, “I have written a genre-bending novel.” It makes me feel zippy. Alas, I cannot take any credit for the genre-bendiness. I wrote the novel as straight text. The editorial and design geniuses at Candlewick came up with the idea of doing part of the text as comics. I thought the idea was brilliant, and I said, “Holy bagumba! I will give it a try!”
CP: Our entry point into the story of Ulysses is literally and figuratively through a vacuum cleaner. Explain how your own connection to the vacuum cleaner of all vacuum cleaners first inspired this story.
My mother had an Electrolux tank vacuum cleaner that she was, um, obsessed with. Actually, she loved the vacuum cleaner. And in a weird way, the Ulysses 2000X, and what happens because of it, is an homage to my mother. My mother loved to laugh.
CP: Were you a comics reader as a child, like Flora? Do you remember having any favorite superheroes?
What I read as a child, what I lived
in as a child, was Charles Schulz’s Peanuts
. My brother and I checked out Peanuts
anthologies from the Cooper Memorial Library and read them from front to back and then started over again. My favorite superhero is Charlie Brown.
CP: Did you have any kind of strong reactions when you first saw K.G. Campbell’s art for the book? Is it anything like what you envisioned while you were writing?
I did have a strong reaction. I levitated with joy. It’s nothing like I envisioned. It’s better than anything I am capable of envisioning.
CP: Another common strand in many of your books is the emergence of an unlikely hero. Ulysses is about as unlikely as they get. What drew you to a squirrel for this story?
Well, there was a squirrel death on the front steps of my house. And I thought, “What if the squirrel didn’t die? What if the squirrel were rescued?” It is that “marvelous what-if” that continues to preoccupy me.
CP: Your books have certainly navigated humor writing on many levels, particularly the series for younger readers. Was it a challenge to sustain a humorous, laugh-out-loud sort of narrative of this length?
All I know is that this book never failed to make me laugh. I did a lot of rewrites, and I laughed my way through all of them. This could be because I am crazy. Or maybe it is because the book is funny. You decide.
CP: Many of your characters have very healthy appetites, even food fixations. What is it about food-driven characters that you love to write about?
Well, obviously, if I write about food-driven characters, then I get to write about food. Which means I get to think about food. Which I love to do. Almost as much as I like to eat food.
CP: Flora & Ulysses has a big, bursting heart, and central to that is Flora’s relationship with her parents. She winds up in a very different place with them by the end of the story. Can you talk a little bit about that journey?
Well, that takes us back to the “marvelous what-if” again. What if things can be put back together? What if there is a way for us to reach out to each other? What if there is a way for us to take hold of the people we love? What if we were brave enough to do that? What would happen then?
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(Interview adapted from Candlewick Press website: http://www.candlewick.com/book_files/076366040X.art.1.pdf)