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Keepsake that Educates!

Interview with Author Mary Casanova



Mary Casanova is an award-winning children’s author of novels and picture books. Much of her work stems from her life on the Minnesota-Canadian border yet, increasingly, Casanova’s research takes her as far away asFranceandNorway. Wherever her stories are set, Casanova engages readers of all ages with stories that both entertain and challenge readers.

Regionally, her honors include two Minnesota Book Awards, a Fellowship in Literature by the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, and Career Opportunity Grants by the Minnesota State Arts Board. Nationally, her book awards include: American Library Association “Notable,” Aesop Accolades by the American Folklore Society, Parents’ Choice “Gold” Award, Booklist Editor Choice, and others. Voted on by children, her books frequently land on state children’s book award lists across the country.

If you’d like to learn more about Mary Casanova visit

Interview with Mary Casanova author of The Day Dirk Yeller Came to Town

I want to thank you for being my guest here on Mymcbooks Blog

What is the last book you read?

The last two I read were this year’s Newbery Award winner, MOON OVER MANIFEST, and one of the Newbery Honor books, called HEART OF A SAMURAI. Both are historical fiction and middle grade novels. Loved the writing, loved reading about a story of a plucky girl set during the depression and about the first Japanese to arrive in America. I recommend them both as great summer reads!

What were your earliest memories of writing?

I’m a late bloomer. I honestly do not remember feeling connected to my own writing until I was in high school. I was sixteen years old, and somehow, through writing essays for political science, Russian History, and World Literature, I discovered how powerful words are as a bridge between writer and reader. 

Were you encouraged to write or was it something that came natural?

I have a little talent, and lots of “want to.” My love of the writing craft helped me get through college with a degree in English, and it helped propel me after college to learn from other published authors at various writing workshops and conferences. Along the way, a college instructor said I could make it as a freelance writer someday, if I wished. Those words of encouragement carried me a long way. And later a mentor and author friend, Pam Conrad, expressed her belief in me that I would eventually be published. It meant a lot, especially since at the time I hadn’t yet finished writing one book.

What was it like to receive your first award for your book?

My first award came as a huge surprise. I remember going up to the stage to accept the Minnesota Book Award, twice in one evening for two different titles, and thinking, “I wish I’d written a few notes” of something to say. I had convinced myself other books would win over mine that year. It’s good to be wrong sometimes.

Are you working on a new book?

Always. In November, UTTERLY OTTERLY NIGHT, also illustrated by Ard Hoyt, comes out. And next April, we will have a sequel to SOME DOG!, called SOME CAT! out. In the meantime, I’m polishing up a hush-hush project with American Girl.

What inspired you to write The Day Dirk Yeller Came to Town?

All stories have their origins, and my most recent picture book, THE DAYDIRK YELLER CAME TO TOWN, dropped into my lap. A gift. On a trip to New York Cityto visit editors, I woke up at mignight in my hotel room with these words rolling through my head:”The day Dirk Yeller came to town, the wind curled its lip, cattle quit lowin’ and tumbleweeds stopped tumblin’ along.”

I’m not the kind of writer who sleeps with a notepad at my bedside table. I try to sleep. If it’s a really good idea, I figure, it can wait till morning. But these words seemed so crisp, so clear . . . and just this once, I decided I better get up and write them down. To not wake Charlie, my husband, I went into the bathroom and wrote the words down on toilet paper. And then, I went back to bed.

The next morning, I examined the sentence, surprised that it sounded pretty good…and then sat down and wrote the first draft. Within two cups of coffee, I knew the plot and got it down on paper before heading to my10 ammeeting. And guess what? That crazy opening sentence is still the same. I haven’t changed a word.       

How did you come up with each characters?

Dirk Yeller seemed clear in my head from the beginning, but it took a little longer to fully realize Sam, the young boy who narrates the story and who heroicially steps into the outlaw’s shadow and leads him to the library.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

Regularly. If I feel stuck, I take time away from my computer. I go for a horseback ride, play the piano, read a book–sometimes take a day or two off from a project. Generally, I believe writer’s block is about fear of failure, fear of imperfection. That’s why I try to write rough drafts fairly fast, and then I return to revise more carefully and critically. I have learned to toss the critic off my shoulder when I’m creating something new. Of course it’s not going to be perfect. Of course it’s going to need revision. But I have to get the concepts down on paper first. Fear surfaces, but I try not to take it seriously and instead, Trust the Process.

What is the most difficult part of writing?

Getting started. Writing the middle. Closing in on the ending.

What do you do when you’re not writing or promoting your books?

I love to be outdoors. I ride my horse, Sable. My husband and I spend time at our cabin that we heat with wood, and where we read lots of books. No tv, no internet. It’s a great place to get away.                                            

How do you react to a bad review?

I remember every word. Why isn’t that true with the good reviews???

 What do you hope that readers will take away from your book?

I hope readers of all ages will delight in this tall tale about an outlaw who is causing trouble, but who underneath his rough exterior, is a struggling reader. The more we can build empathy and compassion for those on the fringes of society, the more we can draw them into the world of learning and books, the better we are all as individuals and as communities.

Who are some of your favorite authors you would love to dine with?

I wish E.B. White were still around. I’d skip the dinner part and go hang out as his farm in Maine. Maybe we’d just do chores together and have a few snippets of conversation about writing along the way.

What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?

Deadlines always keep me focused. When they’re not imposed on me by

a publisher, then I try to set goals for myself. I am generally at my desk Monday

through Friday,9 am to 1 pm. That’s my routine, which I allow myself to deviate

from often, just so it doesn’t feel too much like a real job.

What advice would you give parents on selecting the right books for their children to read?

Keep ’em reading. Ask the children’s librarian for suggestions. I was a reluctant reader, so I strive to write books kids can’t put down. And so it’s little wonder that from my subconscious came the story about a struggling reader/outlaw.

What advice you would give to new writers?

Learn the craft by reading other literature, by studying with published writers,

and by showing up. You have to put in hours and hours alone, learning to find your voice and the stories that only you can write. That takes time. Patience. Passion. And mostly–Persistence.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

I visit schools and conferences across the country and love to get kids motivated to read–and to write stories only they can write. For more info on all of my books, from picture books to novels, from series to books for American Girl, go to my website at: or visit me on facebook.



October 9, 2011 - Posted by | Meet the Author | , , , , , ,


  1. As a retired Kindergarten teacher I saw what a wonderful world a book can open up for a young child. Thank you visiting schools…our school would treat you like royalty!

    Comment by Ruthie B | October 9, 2011 | Reply

  2. I loved the interview. I intend to use this book in my next “going to the library” themed storytime. I have been looking for another book to add to my “camping” themed storytime and Mary’s ONE-DOG CANOE sounds perfect….found a “Look Inside” for it on when I went to check out SOME DOG and UTTERLY OTTERLY NIGHT.

    Comment by YvonneJ | October 9, 2011 | Reply

  3. I was excited to read this review as soon as I saw the word Minnesota! Thats where I was born and raised.
    I love the honesty of the author, and her ideas.

    Comment by Larissa | October 10, 2011 | Reply

  4. I really enjoyed the review and Mary’s website. I wasn’t aware of how many books she’s written. I love your Historicals and your picture books are so very well done. My grandkids range in so many ages and there’s a book for all of them. I’m glad I met Mary here and found her website.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

    Comment by Carol L. | October 10, 2011 | Reply

  5. I love this interview, especially the part about getting up during the night to write the first line on toilet paper! I have written bits and pieces on everything from candy wrappers to the backs of utility bills, so I can relate.

    Comment by april yedinak | October 10, 2011 | Reply

  6. Great interview, I love getting to know the authors of books that I read to my kids.
    nbellowsdove at gmail dot com

    Comment by Naomie | October 10, 2011 | Reply

  7. “I believe writer’s block is about fear of failure, fear of imperfection. That’s why I try to write rough drafts fairly fast, and then I return to revise more carefully and critically. I have learned to toss the critic off my shoulder when I’m creating something new. Of course it’s not going to be perfect. Of course it’s going to need revision. But I have to get the concepts down on paper first. Fear surfaces, but I try not to take it seriously and instead, Trust the Process.” I think this author is so incredible. She should write a textbook on writing.

    Comment by Kathleen Bianchi (@joekathbia) | October 11, 2011 | Reply

  8. I love the story of how the book came about…I find it comical that it started on a piece of toilet paper! 🙂

    Comment by Kristie | October 17, 2011 | Reply

  9. Great interview! Thanks for sharing!

    Comment by Kelly Moran | October 23, 2011 | Reply

  10. Great book about teaching kids the importance of reading and helping others. Thanks! cwitherstine at zoominternet dot net

    Comment by Amy W. | October 25, 2011 | Reply

  11. Great Interview. I love that she didn’t change the opening sentence.

    Comment by Angela Cisco | October 25, 2011 | Reply

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