I first encountered Michael Scotto when I participated in a giveaway for an interactive book app he was introducing. Much to my surprise, I won! Thus began an interaction not just with the media, but with its creator. Now, Michael is one of my “tweeps”, and I’m honored to be able to host him here on my blog. We recently connected through the bits and bytes of the ether, in celebration of the release of his upcoming book, Postcards from Pismo, which releases May 15th.
Me: I’m sure everyone asks you this, but how did you get the inspiration for this book? I love that you made each experience so real just through Felix’s responses to place.
Michael: My inspirations came from a few different places. One major inspiration for the book’s letter format was Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary–I’ll be writing more about that specifically over at Nerdy Book Club on May 10th. What moved me to write Felix’s story specifically came from two areas in my own life. First, I was interested in writing a book about a family that lived in a tourist area. I wanted explore what life is like for people who actually live and work in a vacation spot. Second, the military side of the story was inspired by a member of my extended family, who is a 1st Lieutenant in the Army, currently serving a second tour in Afghanistan. This family member was injured during his first tour, and I remember it being so difficult to find information about what happened. That also fueled my drive to write this book.
Me: Did you get to visit any of the locales featured in the book while you were writing?
Michael: I’d been in and around Pismo Beach a number of times before I wrote the book. My wife and I lived in Los Angeles for a while after grad school, and we’d frequently escape up that way. While writing, I did a lot of description from memory, and the hundreds of photos I’d taken on my trips. As I finished the book, though, and did my last revisions, I took one more trip out to Pismo Beach and did a lot of fact-checking. I even rented a bike and rode all the routes that Felix, the main character, rides in the book. I think all the research paid off. This year, I got to travel out that way one more time to do a school visit right in town–and the kids were so impressed with my knowledge of the area that they wondered if I’d lived there!
Me: As I read Felix’s replies to his pen pal, Marcus, I found myself wanting to read Marcus’ letters to Felix, and yet at the same time not needing to, because Felix’s replies really do tell the whole story. I guess the question I’m asking is whether you actually wrote those letters for yourself in order to make Felix’s interactions feel more realistic.
Michael: I wrote a handful of letters from Marcus’s point of view, but generally I just went from an outline that tracked his progress through the story, and what he would have been going through. I also wrote a lot of other material from Felix’s point of view that didn’t fit the story’s format — journal entries, third-person descriptions of events. The trick for me was to develop a full picture, and then narrow it down to what Felix sees and understands (and sometimes, what he doesn’t understand).
Me: I know you’re active in your community, and I personally appreciated the resources at the end of the book which gave me and my students an opportunity for action after reading Felix’s story. Each of your books and story apps is written to inspire children to make something more of themselves. Can you share one piece of advice for young students as they learn t be citizens of the world?
Michael: That’s a great question! My advice is to keep an open mind and an open heart. A willingness to listen is crucial as a storyteller, and it’s also a key to being the best human being you can be.
I want to thank Michael for visiting, and for bringing his own special brand of positive thinking to us through this book (which I’ll review here soon! Yes, I read it, I loved it, and I will share). You can visit him on his blog, or over at Midlandia Press, where he works with a team of very creative designers; you can also find him on Twitter, where we met, @michaelascotto, and on Facebook, too.