As you know from this post and this post, I’m a big fan of the Zoey and Sassafrass series, written by Asia Citro. When she agreed to an interview with me, I may have had a bit of a fangirl freakout. But I’m not about to admit that here!
Asia Citro’s next book and the fourth book of the Zoey and Sassafras series, Caterflies and Ice, comes out on November 21, 2017. I was lucky enough to interview her and talk a little bit about her characters, writing process, and bugs. Yes, bugs!
Though I’ve not met her in person, she is warm, funny, and her love of bugs is infectious. There’s also a little surprise contained within!
To make it easier to read, my questions are in bold and Asia Citro’s answers are in plain text.
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Without Further Ado: Asia Citro
Thanks for agreeing to this interview! As you know, I’m a very big fan of the Zoey & Sassafras series (as are my children). I love how you have combined science and magic, with a plucky heroine. I’m also a fan of the relationship Zoey has with her parents and how it’s presented in the series. How did the character of Zoey and this series come into existence?
When my daughter was reading early chapter books, I noticed that nearly all of them were just for fun. I felt like there was a missed opportunity there — that chapter books could be the perfect venue for teaching as well. I have my master’s degree in science education, so I began dreaming up a series that taught scientific lessons in an engaging way. Zoey herself is an amalgam of me as a child, my daughter, and another charming little girl we know, Lucy.
Caterflies and Ice Will Be Available on November 21
What can you tell us about your upcoming book and fourth in the series, Caterflies and Ice? I’m so excited about this book, by the way, and so are my children.
Oh yay! I’m so glad to hear that!!! In Caterflies and Ice, Zoey meets a brand new (and oh-so-adorable) kind of magic creature. Marion’s illustrations are (as always) amazing. Like the first three books kids will find lots of fun and easy science activities that they can repeat at home. Oh and Sassafras gets a new accessory. Hehehe.
What are your plans for the Zoey & Sassfras series?
I’d love to write somewhere in the range of 8-12 books in the series ideally, but I have to come up with more ideas first, hah! Right now I think I have something workable for book 6 and book 7, but waiting for inspiration at the moment for book 8 and beyond. Hopefully book 6 will come out in fall 2018 and book 7 in spring of 2019, but nothing’s set in stone timeline-wise for those yet.
Even Successful Mom Authors Have the Same Challenges as You or I Do
You’ve written several styles of books and you’re up to 8 published books so far. How long, on average, does it take to write a book? Do you stick to a certain schedule while writing?
It depends on the book, but around 4-6 months sounds about right. I like to spend a few months thinking about the new magical creature and running through the storyline in my head before I sit down to write. Once I sit down to write I like to get a complete finished draft done within about 2-3 weeks. From there I go back and forth with the editors over several months to get the storyline tweaked until we’re all happy with it. Then it goes off to Marion for illustrations (my favorite part) which is usually another 2-3 months.
Because I’m still a SAHM and our youngest is in part-time preschool, I tend to write over holidays/breaks when my husband or mother in law are able to take over watching the kiddos. I need at least 4 hours of uninterrupted time every day when I’m writing and on an average day that’s impossible to find!
There are more books coming!
How many books are you currently working on?
I’m really excited to be working with another amazing illustrator, Troy Cummings (who wrote and illustrated the Notebook of Doom series) on a board book (Vroom, Vroom Garbage Truck) that’s due out next fall. Marion and I are also working on getting Zoey book 5, The Pod and The Bog ready for next spring. I’m hoping to find time to write the 6th Zoey and Sassafras book over winter break, which — if I’m successful — will bring me to a total of 10 published books by the end of 2018. 10 was a big goal of mine, so that will be really exciting if it comes together.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I wrote A LOT when I was younger. So I think I’d just tell myself to keep up the good work, hahahaha!
The Publishing Process
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
It was really intimidating getting that first contract and I had a VERY tight schedule to adhere to. I remember being really overwhelmed. There are so many pieces that go into creating a book, sometimes it feels like you will never be done, hah. But once I’d completed one, I knew that I could do the others. So even though I still feel intimidated at the start of a new book, it’s nice to be able to look back and see that I’ve pulled it off before. I also learned which parts were hardest for me (the very beginning and the very end) and lots of other information about how I worked that I was able to apply to working on later books to streamline the process.
The Researching Process
What kind of research do you do and how long do you research before beginning your books? Was this process different for the Zoey and Sassafras series than your previous books?
For the activity books, I definitely did a lot of testing with my kids, which was super fun (because it’s playing!). For Zoey once I hone in on what scientific concept I want to cover, I generally get in touch with 1-2 experts on that topic and talk through my plan to make sure I’m being accurate. I have a degree in biology, but that was a LONG time ago so I appreciate being able to talk through it with someone who has thought a lot more about the concept a lot more recently than I have.
What is your favorite childhood book?
Oh that’s a tough one. I loved soooo many books. I don’t think I could choose just one book! I think probably my favorite authors were Judy Blume (particularly anything related to Fudge) and Beverly Cleary (anything Ramona).
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Heck no. I work hard on the books and want the credit for them, hahahaha!
What is your favorite bug? And what bugs live in your terrarium? Do they all have names?
My favorite bug right now is the bess beetle. I actually bring them with me to exhibit halls to share them with teachers, librarians, and booksellers because they are really cool. They can make about 14 distinct sounds to communicate and both parents work together to raise their babies until adulthood, which is almost unheard of in the insect world. They live in our terrarium with african millipedes (also super cool, but more sensitive to handling than the bess beetles). And nope, I don’t think I could tell any of them apart so they don’t have names. Poor bugs!
Fun At Home With Kids
I discovered your blog Fun at Home with Kids a few years ago, when I was looking for activities to do with my children that needed to also be safe for their ages at the time (ages 1 and 2). Now that your kids are a little older, do you still do science activities with them?
Yes we definitely still do a good bit of art and science, but it’s often squeezed in around other activities, like school and playdates, so it’s a lot less frequent than it was when they were home all day with me!
The Sneak Peak!
Is there a sneak peak of the Pod and the Bog you’d be able to share with Blissmersion readers?
I’ve attached a sneak peek of the cover sketch from Marion. 🙂
So many thanks to Asia Citro for this lovely view into her world and writing process. I absolutely love that she’s just like the rest of us moms and has to fit writing in around her daily life, meaning that we can all potentially reach our dreams!
Update: Caterflies and Ice came out on November 21, 2017. It will make an amazing Christmas or birthday gift (as will the entire set, if you haven’t read them already).
I’ve pre-ordered one for my family, my niece, and my best friend’s daughter already. The kids and I loved it!
The Pod and the Bog (Zoey and Sassafras #5) comes out on April 10, 2018. Again, I’ve had this pre-ordered since I first discovered it! Order your copy today!