Genevieve Petrillo is a wonderful and inspirational friend who I met in the 12 x 12 in 2012 picture book writing challenge. She recently turned 60 and has an adorable 5 year old dog named Cupcake. Genevieve is not the only writer in her home as her dog Cupcake writes for her own blog. We are fortunate today as, not only has Genevieve kindly agreed to answer our interview questions, but her sweet little dog Cupcake is also taking part in this interview.
Tell us a little about yourselves.
I was born, grew up, played and worked within the same few towns in northern New Jersey.
I was an elementary school teacher for 34 years.
I LOVED being a teacher, and feel very blessed to have spent my days working and playing with kids and actually getting paid for it!
Being around children day in and day out was inspirational!
Since I retired, I keep busy supervising student teachers for Bloomfield College, reading books on tape with Ocean County Volunteers for the Blind, and as part of a therapy dog team with TheraPet.
I lived all over the place till Mom found me and brought me to our forever home.
When Mom brings me to the Veterans Home, I make disabled veterans smile and remember happy times. I cuddle and snuggle and get treats. We also work at the public library where kids read stories to me, and I cuddle and snuggle and get treats.
Do you use a pen name?
No pen name for me! I waited WAY too long to see my name - on a book - on a shelf - in the library – at the bookstore.
Before I was rescued, my name was Ka-Ka. Mom named me Cupcake because I’m so sweet.
Do you have any writing accomplishments to share with us?
My first (and hopefully not last) picture book, Keep Your Ear on the Ball (Tilbury, 2007), earned a Moonbeam Award and recently became part of the IBBY Documentation Centre of Books for Disabled Young People.
It’s the story of Davey, a blind 3rd
grader, and his sighted classmates, learning an important lesson about interdependence.
The story is based on the year I spent in a sighted classroom learning from David DeNotaris, a blind boy who changed my “view” of life, teaching, accomplishment, and acceptance. There’s a link to his website on my website.
Cupcake: Mom wrote a story about ME, and I’m hoping it gets published so I can go along on Author Visits. Then I won’t have to look out the window all day.
My stories, poetry, teaching ideas, kiddie recipes, and craft activities have been published in lots of children’s and teachers’ magazines, including: Spider, Highlights, Ladybug, Turtle, Creative Classroom, and Instructor. One of my poems appeared on the NJ ASK, standardized test, and I recently sold a poem to the publishers of an English language textbook in Belgium!
Once I ate a piece of ham.
What type of writing do you do? What genre do you write in?
I consider myself a poet and picture book author.
I am not at all snobbish about submitting my stories to magazines.
Would I rather see them as picture books?
Of course! Is it exciting and thrilling to be in a magazine, knowing thousands of kids are reading my words? OF COURSE!
Cupcake: I don’t know how to write, but once I chewed a pen and some colored pencils. Mom helps me write my blog where I tell about my life as the pet of a children’s author.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? What was it about writing that drew you to it?
Genevieve: I was always a pencil and paper kid, “making books” every time I found a piece of scrap paper around the house. As a teenager, I created countless unfinished “novels” filled with teen angst. It was in college that I started thinking I’d really be able to be a published writer. When I was teaching, the ideas were EVERYWHERE, but I only wrote in the summer, because teaching is a full-time job and 65 part-time jobs combined.
Cupcake: One night, I typed QQQQQQQ when I fell asleep with my ear on Mom’s iPad.)
What books/authors have influenced your writing?
Genevieve: I can’t say there are books/authors that have inspired me – well, OK – Judy Blume, Dr. Seuss, Cynthia Lord, Treasure Island, The Wizard of Oz.....but it was really my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Nelson who read stories to us every single day right before the bell rang, and always left us wanting more. In 5th grade we were certainly too-cool-for-school, but Mrs. Nelson immersed us, pulled us in, and made us love words, stories, language, learning, listening, and imagining. It’s why I became a teacher, and it’s why I became a writer. I wanted to make kids feel the way she made us feel.
Cupcake: My favorite stories have dogs in them. My least favorite story is The Cat in the Hat. I don’t like cats and I don’t like hats.
What are your current writing projects?
Genevieve: I’m always working on multiple projects. Right now, I’m part of 12x12in’12, so I am creating a new picture book manuscript each month, which is easy to say in February. Check back with me in October, when I may or may not have lost my mind.
Cupcake: I’m learning to fetch. Apparently, there’s something about bringing the ball BACK involved. I don’t get that “coming back” part.)
Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you get through it?
Genevieve: I don’t feel writer’s block. I actually set a timer and write for exactly an hour a day. I stop writing after an hour, even if I’m in the middle of a word. This ensures that I will know what I’m doing when I sit down to write the next day. I also work on many projects at once, so if one story turns to a rock, I work on something else.
Cupcake: I am afraid of soccer players. When I see them playing in the field by my house, Mom has to carry me because I turn to a statue and forget how to walk.)
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
The most challenging thing about writing is getting the work to the right place at the right time, and having somebody say, “We LOVE your work and we want to buy it!”
I was in the right place at the right time when Mom adopted me. I was smaller than she wanted and older than she wanted, but it was love at first sight. She said, “I LOVE her! This is my new dog!”)
What do you love most about writing?
Genevieve: I love visiting schools to read my book and talk about being a writer.
Cupcake: Mom also loves going to “work” in her pajamas!
Is there anything that you have learned about yourself through writing/pursuing your career as a writer?
Genevieve: I used to think that after 100 rejections I’d give up the idea of being published. I’m well past the 100 mark, and I’m still going strong. I guess I’m more determined (relentless) than I thought I was.
Cupcake: I love wearing cute dresses.
If you could become one of your characters for a day, would you? (and who/why?)
I’d like to be Chrissy from my story Chrissy’s Terrific Sneakers.
She’s an imaginative little girl who uses her old, outgrown sneakers for everything from a hermit crab cave to a tree house elevator to a water dish for her kitten.
I like how she thinks out of the box, and what writer wouldn’t want to be overflowing with ideas!?
I am already a character in one of Mom’s stories! Cupcake Learns is about how I went from being naughty to being a good girl and a therapy pet.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Genevieve: I would tell writers to say YES to everything. Say yes to ideas that you don’t think will develop. Say yes to submitting to unlikely places, like online poetry sites, and small magazines. Say yes to entering contests. And say yes to invitations, which are marketing opportunities.
Cupcake: I would tell writers to always have a dog in every story they write.
Please thank Genevieve and Cupcake for sharing a part of their writing journeys with us by leaving a comment below.