#FirstPictureBook Q&A


February 15, 2016

Tags: Wednesday is Spaghetti Day, Maryann Cocca-Leffler, Scholastic, first picture book

Maryann Cocca-Leffler is the author and illustrator of over 50 books for children, including A HOMEMADE TOGETHER CHRISTMAS, JANINE, AND THE PRINCESS K.I.M. books. But today she is talking about the first picture book that she wrote and illustrated. Long before the movie "The Secret Lives of Pets", there was WEDNESDAY IS SPAGHETTI DAY!"

Q. Was WEDNESDAY IS SPAGHETTI DAY the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was your first manuscript and what became of it?
A. No. There were others…but I can’t even remember them. Obviously they didn’t sell—so not very memorable.

I entered publishing as an illustrator over 30 years ago. I had already published a few books written by other authors. On my yearly visit to NYC to show my portfolio, an editor, who I was working with as an illustrator, pointed to a cat character and asked if I had a story to go along with the character. I answered that I wasn’t a published author and she encouraged me write a story for this appealing feline.

Q. What event or person inspired WEDNESDAY IS SPAGHETTI DAY?
A. Two things happened: 1. I was cat sitting for my cousin’s cats. They were a bit crazy. When we went out, leaving the cats alone, we’d come back to a mess. I wondered what the cats did when we weren’t there. 2. I am Italian, and my mom,(an amazing cook) weekly made spaghetti and meatballs (Catrina uses her recipe in the book).

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began to write?
A. The story idea (cats inviting their friends over for an Italian lunch while their owners were away) stayed in my head for a long time after that meeting with the editor. I finally wrote a poem and made a dummy with rough drawings. I mailed my dummy out and began to get “encouraging” rejection letters, 7 of them! One interested editor encouraged me to rewrite the story, making the illustrations tell the story with limited straight text, (no poem). So after many revisions, Scholastic bought WEDNESDAY IS SPAGHETTI DAY, and it was published in 1990 as a hardcover picture book… the first book I both wrote & illustrated. It was in-print in paperback for about 20 years.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book? Were there other titles that you considered?
A. There was an old ad for Prince Pasta on TV …Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day…which was catchy. I wrote to the Prince Pasta Company to make sure there was no problem using my title. It was Okayed and the title stuck.

Q. What is your favorite sentence or scene in WEDNESDAY IS
SPAGHETTI DAY? Was it in the first draft?

A. Scene: When the cats are playing baseball with the ingredients… bat- a loaf of bread, ball-meatballs, Hat- a colander. Yes.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. Cat—Catrina. Making a name with CAT in it.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on WEDNESDAY IS SPAGHETTI DAY.
A. Ecstatic. It gave me the confidence to write more. Since then I have written and illustrated over 50 books.( It may be worth mentioning I never had a literary agent. I have always acted as my own agent.)

Q. How long did WEDNESDAY IS SPAGHETTI DAY take to be published—from the time you got an offer until it was printed?
A. It has been too long ago to remember, but all went smooth. I typically publish 2 books a year…with art taking about 6 months for each book.

Q. Is there anything that you would change in the book today if you could reprint it?
A. Not really. I was very happy with it at the time…there were SO many revisions, that we got all the bugs out. I was just so thrilled to finally have it out there.

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable letters from kids about your book?
A. I still get an occasional letter asking for a sequel…”Thursday is Guacamole Day”…as that is the last line of the book. I did submit a sequel, but it was never published.

Q. When you do readings, which part of the book gets the best

A. I don’t read this book too often anymore, but the cats cooking in a creative silly ways was always a big hit.

Q. What is your #1 tip?:
Stay focused, have thick skin and be willing to revise. Rejection letters are part of the process, learn from them and move forward.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. LOTS. I’m happy to announce that the VERY first book I illustrated, Thanksgiving At The Tappletons, written by Eileen Spinelli was reissued as a CLASSIC by HarperCollins in the Fall of 2015. (First published in 1982 and then in 1992 I re-illustrated it.)
I just sold a sequel to my 2015 book JANINE, which was very well received. www.janinesparty.com The title and Pub date is yet to be determined. I wrote a children’s musical based on my Princess K.I.M. books with the help of a very creative music team. I just signed with an agency in LA to bring my play, Princess K.I.M. The Musical national in 2016. www.PrincessKimTheMusical.com

To learn more about all of Maryann's projects, visit her website.