Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
Having grown up in the middle of Nebraska, children’s author Pat Hall admits to having been claustrophobic when she moved to Wisconsin—too many trees and towns close together.
Here she married her husband, Tom. They live in Janesville and have raised four children. When she had a day job, she worked as a floral designer. Now retired, she volunteers at St. Mary’s Janesville Hospital, the Janesville Performing Arts Center and the Beloit Civic Theatre.
A compulsive gardener, Hall’s yard has twice been included on the Rotary Botanical Gardens Home Garden Tour. She claims to keep her sanity in the winter months by raising microgreens on windowsills.
Along with Ukrainian-style wax-resist egg art, Hall says she “sometimes writes things.”
Her first book, “Ida May’s Borrowed Trouble,” won a 2014 Moonbeam Silver Medal for Best Picture Book All Ages and two 2014 Purple Dragonfly Awards—first place for Illustration and honorable mention for Charity/Making a Difference. Her second book, “Beasties,” won two 2016 Purple Dragonfly Awards—first place for Best Picture Book Ages 6 and Older, and honorable mention for Illustration. Her latest book, “Gloppy,” is about a bowl of chili that comes to life. Hall’s books are illustrated by her daughter, Emmeline Hall Forrestal.
Hall also enjoys performing in community theater, and she has played the Wicked Witch in “The Wizard of Oz”; Susan in “Woman in Mind”; Miss Furnival in “Black Comedy”; Sylvia in “Silvia”; Emma in “Over the River and through the Woods”; Rose in “Last Romance”; and Amanda in “Glass Menagerie.”
1. What was the first thing you ever wrote? That would be “Lost in the Mists of Time.” I wrote some fairly dramatic poetry in middle and high school, including a piece called “The Death of Zacka Goban.” Zacka was a lonely alien on a deserted planet. It was heart-wrenching stuff. Excuse me ... I must go bawl my eyes out.
2. What was your favorite book as a child? “Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame. It was such a complete and wonderful world—the friendship between Mole and Rat, the antics of Toad, the horrible weasels and stoats, the transcendental experience with the demi-god Pan. It was a book full of fun but not dumbed down in its emotions.
3. Do you have any writing rituals? I get my best ideas in the middle of the night when I can sit in the dark and let my mind cavort freely. In the light of day, I write stuff down on scrap paper for the first draft (must be scrap paper—I feel free to mess it up). I revise for a few days, weeks, years ... whatever, and then type it up on the computer, and then revise it again. I always read my stuff out loud many times. And I like it very quiet when I write.
4. Have you ever cried over a movie? “Old Yeller.” What kind of heartless monster would not? And I’m not even a dog person. I like cats.
5. What is your astrological sign? Virgo. I don’t get excited about astrology, but I totally believe life has dimensions that are beyond the surface stuff. Invite me out to lunch, and we can talk about ghosts and dead relatives and psychic feelings.
6. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? Kind of a tossup here. How about singing and flying? As a kid, I was told to shut up and move my lips and let the rest of the class sing. Singers have a unique ability to reach into people more, it seems, than actors, writers and artists. Maybe I’ll come back in my next life as a songbird to sing and whirl and glide across the sky, and then get sucked in by an aircraft engine. Whoa ... rethink.
7. I’ve heard of chili “talking back,” but not in the way it does in your new book, “Gloppy.” Where did the idea come from? The original idea came from my kids playing with their food. Chili is one of those dubious food things where you’re not really sure what the cook might have hidden in there.
8. What is the best piece of advice you have ever received? Probably when a labor room nurse said, “Push!” Why? Because sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Oh, wait ... that’s a line from a famous book called “Ida May’s Borrowed Trouble.” I know the author.
9. Do you prefer the company of children or adults? I prefer the company of adults who haven’t lost their inner child. They feel free to pretend, to create, to try new things and to look at things a little sideways.
10. Where do you find inspiration for your books? Usually it’s just some small, odd thing. “Ida May’s Borrowed Trouble” started when I thought, “What if the phrase, ‘borrow trouble’, really meant you would knock on your neighbor’s door and offer to borrow some of their problems. The idea for “Beasties” came as I was reading a geology book on sand and saw a couple of lines about the old superstition that vampires and other scary creatures can be kept at bay by giving them something, like grains of sand, to count. “Gloppy” came from a playing-with-your-food incident. What if you form a face with your food and it really comes alive?
11. Are there any pictures on your refrigerator? Most of the refrigerator door is taken up by a calendar referred to as the “family brain.” There is a magnet with a picture of a gas can and the words, “Save gas. Stay home and read.” Then there’s a magnet from Penzeys Spices that we have punctuated in a new and exciting way. Try this at home: What can you do with, “Love people. Cook them tasty food”?
12. Who are your favorite and least favorite authors? I like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens for the breadth and depth of their characters and the windows they give into their times and places. I’m not going to point fingers and name names for writers I don’t like. Suffice it to say that I don’t like writing that is choppy, disjointed, boringly detailed or that leaves a lot of loose threads and shattered bits about. Good writing pours itself into our brains.
13. If Bigfoot wasn’t known as Bigfoot, what would it be known as: It would be a wookie. But somewhere there is a mom who still calls it “Fluffy,” whatever the rest of the world wants to say.
14. Your daughter, Emmeline Hall Forrestal, illustrates your books. What is it like being able to work on children’s books with your own child? It was a real privilege to work with my daughter on the artwork for the books. Our styles work together well, I think. Good illustration takes a story from being a script to a full show. My son Matthew played an important part in the “Beasties” book. He very scientifically developed the cookie recipe included in the book. Son Michael was the willing lab rat for a lot of the recipe testing and has perceptive ideas on illustration. Daughter Christina is my go-to person for background on martial arts classes (needed for “Gloppy”) and is a word usage and grammar queen. She’s an excellent writer herself.
15. On average, how long does it take you to complete one story? A first draft can take only hours or a couple of weeks, and then it’s good to let it sit for a while before looking at it with fresh eyes. I repeat that process several times. We’re talking months for a picture book or at least a year for a chapter book. For me, at least.
16. Share your favorite kid-friendly joke: Years ago, we were on a family trip to visit relatives. The drive across Kansas was long and hot, and we were all cranky and tired of each other’s company. One of the kids read out this joke from a book: “What’s the first thing that crosses a bug’s mind as it hits the windshield of a speeding car?” The answer: his hind legs. I laughed hysterically for miles.
17. When you write, do you use an outline or go free-flow? Let’s call it free-flow within a rough outline with occasional detours into unexpected places. But I know where I want to end, more or less.
18. What is the greatest challenge you face as an author? You mean besides actually sitting down and writing? I’m so glad there are now many avenues for independent publishing and self-publishing. I’ve had some frustrating decades trying to get into traditional publishers. So close, so many times. Like the seven ever-more-wonderful rewrites on one story that eventually got shot down by the marketing department. I work with a wonderful independent publisher, and I get to involve family. That wouldn’t happen with a traditional publisher.
19. Do you have access to children who can offer feedback on your work before you publish? We’ve got six grandchildren ranging in age from 3 to 16. I can check with them on how they’d talk about something or what technology they and their peers use (an important point).
20. Share something people would be surprised to find out about you: I am distantly related (on the Polish side) to Frenchman Roger Walkowiak, the 1956 Tour de France bicycle race winner.