Thursday, May 21, 2015

Interview with Anne Sawyer-Aitch, author of 'Nalah Goes to Mad Mouse City'

Anne Sawyer-Aitch (pronounced like the letter “H”) is a puppeteer and stilt-walker. When she decided to create her first book, Nalah and the Pink Tiger, she began experimenting with different styles of illustration, and finally discovered a technique that uses her skills as a maker of color shadow puppets. She calls it “Illuminated Illustration”, and it involves cut-away designs, layering, and backlighting. In her capacity as a puppeteer, Anne creates puppet pieces of all kinds: parade floats, giant stilt puppets, and intricate color shadow shows. She is a MN State Arts Board Roster Artist, teaching puppetry all over the state, and has been touring around with her first book & her Nalah and the Pink Tiger show for the last two years. Nalah Goes to Mad Mouse City is her second book. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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Can you tell us what your children's book, Nalah Goes to Mad Mouse City, is about?

Nalah is a little girl with a huge imagination. This is the second of her adventures. One day Nalah finds herself bored and lonesome because all of her imaginary friends have gone away on vacation.
But wait – not all. Mad Tooth, the little mouse who lives in her sock drawer, is still busy munching away on her knee-highs. When she finds out why Nalah is sad, she offers to take her down through the sock drawer into a mouse metropolis. The result is a tale of wild dancing, cousins and mice, taffy and a sock monster.

Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

Nalah is a real little girl: my niece. She’s very mischievous. Nalah and the Pink Tiger was the first book she inspired. We were playing a game about imaginary animals, and she invented a pink tiger who leapt about the room. When the book came out, my other nieces and nephews wanted to be in a book too. They are all there in Nalah Goes to Mad Mouse City.

Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel or do you discover it as you write?

I start with a central idea and then let my imagination loose. That’s the most fun for me. Also, sometimes the ideas that you put down without editing are the best ones. Not always, but I think there’s value in plowing forward full steam ahead and saving the revisions and self-editing for later.

Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

Yes! Mad Mouse City is in the title, after all. It’s the kind of place that I used to make with stuff from the family junk drawers when I was a kid. It’s also the hidden city that I used to fancy might be just around the corner – under the bed, in Mom’s closet.

Which holiday is your favorite and why?

Well, here in Minneapolis, we have a pretty special holiday called May Day. It’s always on the first Sunday of May, and it’s a big parade with giant puppets and a lovely pageant that brings the sun across the lake to symbolize spring. I’ve been lucky enough to make puppets for that parade and perform in that pageant for years. You should look at some of the pictures on the web. Go to and click on the May Day Parade tabs.

If we were to meet for lunch to talk books, where would we go?

Considering that right now it’s cold and snowy as I write this, I would say a nice little outdoor cafĆ© in Costa Rica. I hear the coffee is great.

What do you like to do for fun?

I love to sew and paint. I listen to audio books when I work with my hands. I like going out to dinner with my friends. Cooking and baking too.  Although I don’t enjoy preparing food for myself alone. Then I usually keep it pretty simple.

When the weather is nice, it’s great to kayak up north at my folks’ lake cabin. Here in Minnesota, we have a lot of water, as in “The Land of 10,000 Lakes.” When I’m stressed out, I just imagine myself up there out on the water with the sun and the view of trees all around. Sometimes you’ll see a family of loons or heron. We have a pair of nesting bald eagles too. You can hear the babies squawking from the middle of the lake.

What do you like the most about being an author?

I love creating the books – I illustrate them too. But the best moments are when I get to watch children interact with the books. To hear them giggle at certain parts, or watch them discover little details in the drawings. I do give-aways for economically disadvantaged students through grants sometimes. Seeing the look on the kids’ faces when they understand that they get to take the book home and keep it – that never gets old. There are children who don’t have any books at home. I was so fortunate to grow up in a house where reading was a valued and beloved activity every day. I want to pass that love of stories and reading on to as many children as I can, even if it’s only in a small, individual way.

What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors?

I guess everyone writes in his or her  own way. The key seems to be finding out how you work, and keep expanding ways to access that creativity. Visuals are very important to my process. Sometimes sketching or making a collage helps me to figure out what’s going on in my head. Then I can tap into that. For some people it might be journaling, or speaking aloud into some recording device, or yoga. Oh, and caffeine never hurts.

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