Meet D.C. Blackbird, Author of Jekyll Says (Good Deeds That Cats Do, That You Should Do Too)
What inspired you to become a children's author?
Oh, if only I as so lucky to be inspired! But that is not what happened at all. Many years ago, an elite team of Bulgarian Cub Scouts and I embarked on a secret expedition in the Amazon on behalf of a secret U.S. government entity. I was chosen because of my vast botanical exploits and mineralogical interests and my rare and edible herbarium collections, which they hoped would be helpful during mealtime. My primary mission was to complete a classification of a specific flora that they thought would cause invisibility in humans, common earthworms, and some GE Appliances. Needless to say, we were all very excited.
Once we reached 8,700 feet we prepared to make camp. Suddenly, we were covered in shadows. Some rather attractive members of the Tupiniquim tribe surrounded us. At first, I wasn’t sure what tribe they were from, but then I saw that they had their Family Crest and Coat of Arms embroidered on their hats.
We were led to their village and were absolutely terrified. Who wouldn’t be? We had no idea how long they were going to keep playing the same Dusty Springfield song over their loud speakers. And, hey, I like Dusty Springfield, but after hearing “Son of a Preacher Man” 48 times in a row, we were all getting on edge.
Finally, the Tribal Elders came out. Were they going to eat us? Torture us? Make us dance The Electric Slide or the Zapateado? We were not sure. Finally, they fed us some tasty Thai Coconut Soup with Tofu and told each one of us to never return unless we accomplished various milestones in our lives. We also were not allowed to tell each other what we were told to do. But, I did overhear one guy being instructed to walk up and down the Atlantic City boardwalk in a duct tape Speedo, and another guy was told that he needed to skip rather than walk from the subway to his office everyday for a week. A friend of mine was told that he needed to go to the opera and sing along. One man started to cry when he was told that he needed to put mosquito netting around is cubicle at work and make lion noises. Finally, it was my turn. One of the Tribal Elders asked me what my name was and I told him “D.C. Blackbird.” They were confused. Another Elder asked me if I was a man or a woman. When I told them they began to laugh hysterically.
They debated for a while over what I would be instructed to do. I heard one whisper to another, “He can not use punctuation in emails for 6 months.” They giggled and shook their heads. Finally, one of them looked directly at me and said, “You will write children’s books.” I was confused. “That’s it?” I asked. They nodded. I asked what the books should be about. They shrugged. I asked them how they would know whether any of us did what they told us to do. They all leaned back in unison. Finally, one said, “Because we will all meet for tea in Miami for Valentine’s Day and we will be your dates. And of course you will tell us. After all, honesty is the foundation of any relationship.” I just nodded and got up as another member of our expedition entered.
So now you know the answer.
How did you come up with the idea for your first book, Jekyll Says...(Good Deeds That Cats Do, That You Should Too)?
Oh, that’s easy. It was Jekyll’s idea. He figured a book filled with his advice would be better than traveling around on speaking engagements. Jekyll was not keen on staying at motels off the Turnpike.
How long was the process of getting Jekyll Says...(Good Deeds That Cats Do, That You Should Too) published?
It was very slow. We have an agent who is so busy that he simply did not have the time to read the whole book at once. So we had to text him 1-3 words a day for about 6 months. Dealing with the Publisher wasn’t any easier because ours worked out of the Flatiron Building in Manhattan and it sometimes took 20 minutes to go up to the 6th floor because of the hydraulic elevators. But once the decision was made to publish, it went really fast and smooth. I think it took 17 hours. Not including a lunch break.
When you first began writing about Jekyll did you know it was going to be a series or did the idea come to you later on?
At 382 pages, the first book was too long. Or so I was told. So I broke it up into two volumes: JEKYLL SAYS … (Good Deeds Cats Do That You Can, Too!) and JEKYLL SAYS MORE! (Lessons & Trends for Felines & Friends). Interestingly, they both ended up being around 34-36 pages each. Hmmm, 300 pages are missing. I better check under my sofa.
Now, I am working on some more sequels. Next, will be JEKYLL III. In it, Jekyll will get into a squabble with a brash, arrogant, outspoken British cat named Mr. Tea. Then there will be JEKYLL IV. That one will be a drama, too. It will have lots of excitement as Jekyll confronts a bully named Evan Dogo. Oh, wait. Sorry. I’ve got those semi-confused with the ROCKY series. Sorry.
What do you hope children will learn from your book?
Well, in the same way that parents really need to stop showing pictures of their babies to strangers, I’d like to stop children from opening their lunch boxes and showing pictures of their parents. So far this has only happened 5 times to me in my life, so clearly someone has been tackling this problem before I got around to it. However, what I really want is for more people to walk around with pictures of their cats in their purses and wallets. After all, cats are cute!
Oh, and if parents and kids read the JEKYLL BOOKS, they’ll learn all about how wonderful it is to take baths! That alone would be a great contribution to society.
Children's authors don't always get to choose who illustrates their books. Are you happy with how your illustrations turned out? Are the characters as you imagined them?
So far I have been very happy with this interview and I like you a lot, but are you sure you want to reveal in a public forum that you know this well-guarded secret in the publishing industry? I think most people are convinced that most authors are also the illustrators or the two of them grew up together in Kentucky.
OK, if you are brave enough to expose this to the world, then I am with you. Let’s do it.
For starters, you are so right. We artists have as much freedom over choosing our illustrator as a prisoner in a Russian gulag gets over his daily lunch choices. But thanks to bribing some publishing Big Wigs with vegan gingerbread cupcakes, I actually did get a bit more flexibility than other authors. I was flown to Slovakia (where my books sell very well, btw!) and brought to a field where 9 aspiring illustrators waited patiently while eating Baklava. When I arrived I was handed some arrows and a bow. Each of the 9 aspiring illustrators then proceeded to put apples on their heads. Yes, they were green apples. Even in Slovakia they are not as valuable as red ones. I was then instructed to shoot the apples off their heads. As best I could anyway. I cannot reveal the results, but let’s just say that a lot of trees are missing leaves. In the end, the one illustrator who did NOT flinch got the job. I later found out that it was because she was very near-sighted. She did not even know I was there. She did not see the arrow coming. In fact, she did not even know what was going on. She thought she was waiting for a bus. In any event, she did a wonderful job with the illustrations and I am very happy. Everyone else is, too. Including the Vatican because they ordered 984 autographed copies last week. My wrist is killing me. Thank goodness I taught myself to write with a pen in my mouth. I can now sign books twice as fast. But I am going through a lot of pens. The moisture dilutes the ink. Oh, well.
Are you currently working on any more books about Jekyll?
I do not want to exploit my relationship with Jekyll who I loved so much. I will never do anything that devalues his name or memory. He went to Kittyland on June 9, 2011. There wasn’t anything I could do to save him. I wish there was. All someone had to do was name it and I would have done it. Give up my home? No problem. Lose my hair? Fine. Give up a leg? I would have done it. Anything. But, there wasn’t anything I could do to keep Jekyll here any longer. I was powerless. I felt like I let him down.
Throughout history, people have come and gone. Some are remembered, but most are not. Some non-human animals are remembered, but most are not, beyond their human family. I did not want Jekyll to be forgotten. I also thought that there was a benefit to mankind if people could learn about and from Jekyll.
I do not have the money or power or influence to build a monument to Jekyll. And even if I did, what would be good enough? Bronze? Stone? Sooner or later, they could, and probably would, be destroyed. Jekyll deserved better than that. So I built a monument for Jekyll out of the only things I had to offer. I built him a monument with words. Words are the best that I could offer. And they will last as long as people have breath to speak them and eyes to read them. Jekyll deserves a monument. Now he has one. I loved him. I was proud of him. I am confident that others can learn from him. If more humans were like Jekyll, and learned from the lofty examples he set, then I honestly feel that the world can be a kinder and better place. When “Jekyll Says” something, I think people should listen. I did. Others have, too. So whether or not I ever write any more poems, or songs, or stories, or books about or inspired by Jekyll isn’t nearly as important as the fact that, thanks to the ones that have already been written, Jekyll lives on.
Minister of Tourism
You can find out more about Jekyll by visiting www.welcometokittyland.com.
Watch Jekyll's video Do The Things I Say
Follow D.C. Blackbird on Twitter @2kittyland
Kittyland is also on Facebook
Stacie Theis / firstname.lastname@example.org / copyright 2012