Books And More

Catching Up With Kate

TIME For Kids talks with award-winning author Kate DiCamillo about her latest novel
 
March 18, 2016
DON HEINY FOR TIME FOR KIDS; COURTESY CANDLEWICK

Ten-year-old Raymie Clarke has a plan to get her parents back together. She will enter the Little Miss Central Florida Tire Contest and take home top prize. Upon hearing the news, her father will return home. But first, timid Raymie must learn to twirl a baton and overcome stage fright. Fortunately, the contest sparks a friendship that gives Raymie the courage she needs. Author Kate DiCamillo tells this story in her latest novel Raymie Nightingale.

“I hope readers see that they too contain all kinds of strength and are capable of remarkable things,” DiCamillo told TFK.

Check out the full conversation and video trailer below.

TFK:

What idea did you start with when you began writing Raymie Nightingale?

KATE DICAMILLO:

I started with the Little Miss Central Florida Tire Contest. This is how my strange brain works. That contest name popped into my head, and I thought, ‘This will be a funny story. I’ll put an inept kid into the contest and it will be lighthearted and humorous.’ But the whole time I was writing the story it kept surprising me. The question comes up, ‘Why does Raymie want to be in the contest? Oh, because her father is gone.’ It’s like you write behind your own back a lot. I don’t always know what I’m doing.

TFK:

Raymie becomes friends with a couple of unique characters, Louisiana Elefante and Beverly Tapinski. Did you base these characters on anyone you know?

DICAMILLO:

I never make up characters; the characters find me. When I sit down to write, I never know who is going to show up. This story surprised me. I thought the story was about Raymie, and then here come these girls Beverly and Louisiana who I didn’t anticipate at all. They are entirely made up. I hesitate to say that because they seem so real to me. But they’re not based on anyone I know. 

TFK:

Did anyone ever tell you that they recognize you in these characters?

DICAMILLO:

That’s the weird thing. Friends see me in all three characters. Even I can see that. I wish I could be brave like Beverly, but I’m terrified all the time like Louisiana, and I’m watching and hoping all the time like Raymie.

TFK:

Raymie, Louisiana and Beverly develop a tight friendship. Did you have a support network like theirs?

DICAMILLO:

I have been fortunate my whole life to have incredible friends and this book is like a thank-you to them. When I was a kid, I had friends and I have them now. I don’t know where I would be without them.

TFK:

Did you think about your friends as you wrote Raymie Nightingale?

DICAMILLO:

As I was writing, I only thought about these three people who seemed very real to me: Beverly, Louisiana, and Raymie. I watched them move closer to trusting each other and forming a bond. I was watching them, and not thinking of anyone else. It’s when I’m done writing that I can see parts of me in the characters. But when I’m writing, it’s all about getting out of my own way and letting the characters talk to me.

TFK:

Your father left when you were young. Your mother raised you by herself. Do you feel that you are often writing about that sense of loss?

DICAMILLO:

Absolutely. I tell my story to school kids and they get it. I tell them how when I was six years old, we moved to Florida and my father stayed in Philadelphia. It’s not that I didn’t see him again, I did, but he never lived with us again. I stand up there and I tell that to the kids and then I face them. I say, ‘I think this is why I write.’ It’s just like this thing that was so hard has actually been a gift for me in a way.

TFK:

Does writing help you to work through that loss?

DICAMILLO:

It does, even though I’m not aware of it at the time because, again, it’s always about concentrating on the story. I think I’ve been writing about this sense of loss in one way or another since I started writing. This latest novel is the most straightforward way I’ve written about it. I guess it’s painful and joyful.

TFK:

When you were a child, did you (like Raymie) come up with a plan to get your father to come home?

DICAMILLO:

No, but like most kids in that situation, I thought I should fix it somehow.

TFK:

You have said Raymie Nightingale is fiction, “but it is the absolutely true story of my heart.” What do you mean by that?

DICAMILLO:

Everything in that book is made up, but that is how it felt to me to be a kid.

TFK:

What do you hope kids will take away from reading Raymie Nightingale?

DICAMILLO:

I hope they laugh because it is still kind of a funny story. I hope they’re moved. And I hope they realize that they contain all kinds of strength they didn’t know they have. That’s what Raymie realizes: she’s capable of remarkable things.

TFK:

You, much like Raymie, learned to twirl a baton and entered a Little Miss Contest when you were younger. What was that experience like?

DICAMILLO:

It was the Little Miss Orange Blossom Contest. I prefer never to think about it again. I remember being on the stage and thinking, ‘Wow, I should not be here.’ I’m not sure why my mother entered me in the contest, but for some reason I was in it. I don’t think I would have asked to enter it. Baton twirling was just one of many lessons that I took. I never truly understood anything I was doing in those lessons, and never learned how to twirl a baton.

TFK:

Can you talk about your writing process for Raymie Nightingale?

DICAMILLO:

When I started writing, I committed to doing two pages a day. I was working full time then. I would get up early and do my writing before I went to work. I still do two pages a day, but sometimes I’ll do even more. I’m very rigid about writing before I do anything else or talk to anyone.

TFK:

Do you ever get writer’s block?

DICAMILLO:

There are bad writing days. But I’ve found that things will loosen up when you least expect it. The most important thing to do is show up, and try not to despair too much. I can always make myself write something, although it might be lousy. I’ll have a month of bad writing days, but on the 32nd day, something might happen. That’s why I believe in showing up, even when the writing isn’t going well.

TFK:

What makes you keep plugging along?

DICAMILLO:

I’ve worked a lot of different jobs. They gave me great experience, but I don’t want to go back to a time when I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do, which is write. I’ve worked in a book warehouse, which was spectacular. I worked at Disney World for a long time. I worked at a green house, and a theme park called Circus World. All the people and all that experience at Disney and Circus World really shaped me. I learned so much.

TFK:

What did you do at Disney World?

DICAMILLO:

I worked at Spaceship Earth at Epcot Center and I told kids to watch their step. “Look down, please. Watch your step. How many in your party, please? One up front; two in the back. Two up front; one in the back. Look down, watch your step.”

TFK:

How do you come up with story ideas?

DICAMILLO:

I always keep a notebook with me. If I see something that will make a good story, I’ll write it down. And if I keep thinking about the idea for days after, then I’ll add it to a list at the back of the notebook. This is a list that might become stories. I kept on thinking about the Little Miss Contest for a few days, so I officially added it to the list at the back of my notebook. And then I thought, ‘OK I’m going to write this funny novel.’ Ha ha.

 

 


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