Watch out world. #Kidlit author Lori Degman Writes LIKE A GIRL!

Yes, you read that right: #kidlit author and rhymer Lori Degman writes LIKE A GIRL. (Literally and figuratively.) In fact, she has TWO new picture books.

JUST READ! ( Sterling/ Illus. by Victoria Tentler-Krylov)

“A chipper, colorful celebration of the limitless possibilities for what, where, and when one can read.” —Publishers Weekly

LIKE A GIRL (Sterling / Illus. by Mara Penny–releasing SOON!
August 13, 2019)

“As an introduction to women’s power and possibilities, this choice rises above the rest.” —Kirkus

Fun fact: Lori and I met at SCBWI Los Angeles many summers ago at the PAL signing table–because Dealey and Degman. How could two #kidlit authors who love crazy rhymes NOT become friends. Amiright?

Time to ask this girl some questions:

Q1: Which of your picture book titles best describes your path as an author? (or your revision process?) Explain why.

          a. Like a Girl

          b. Just Read

          c. Norbert’s Big Dream

          d. Cock-a-Doodle Oops!

          e. 1 Zany Zoo

Lori Degman: Would it be cheating to say all five?  I learned to write, and applied what I learned, LIKE A GIRL.  I knew if I would JUST READ other picture books and books on craft, that I’d someday achieve my BIG DREAM of becoming a published author!  Of course there were a lot of COCK-A-DOODLE OOPSES along the way, on my ZANY journey to becoming an author.  (I bet you’re sorry you asked!)

Haha–nope! By the way Lori is leading a session at #SCBWI LA on Friday, August 9th at 11:15. You won’t want to miss her talk about Writing in Rhyme Is Not A Crime–Unless you butcher it. (Love the title.) So I had to ask for a preview:

Q2 Can you give us a few tips, or a preview of your session, for those who write in rhyme, or think they should?

Lori Degman: I created the session to help other rhymers avoid the pitfalls of writing and submitting rhyming picture book manuscripts.  I believe many editors and agents reject rhyme because of problems in three main areas – story, rhyme and/or meter:

1. The story isn’t strong enough or it’s driven by the rhyme, so there are elements that would not have been included, had the story been told in prose. 

2. The rhymes are either too simple or uncreative; they’re not true rhymes; sentences are split in unnatural places to leave the rhyming word at the end of the line; and/or “flipped the grammar is”, to make the rhymes work (aka: Yoda speak).

3. The meter is not consistent, making the text difficult to read.  The text in rhyming picture books should read as naturally as those written in prose – you don’t want the reader to have to think about how they’re reading it.

I love that even her non-fiction book, LIKE A GIRL, rhymes. Check out the first pages here. Also, here’s one of the spreads:

Another COOL thing: This book is all about amazing women.

Q3 How did you choose the women you highlight in LIKE A GIRL?

Lori Degman: I wanted to include a diverse group of women from different eras, backgrounds, and geographical locations.  I chose some of the women because I’ve always admired them.  Others I had never heard of, but when I learned about them, I knew they would perfectly exemplify the lines I’d written.  I realized, while thinking about this question, that the first time I learned of several of the women was in movies about them – Helen Keller, Babe Didrikson Zaharas, Wilma Rudolph, Temple Grandin, and Irena Sendler.  I discovered Gertrude Ederle (the first woman to swim the English Channel) when I was doing research for NORBERT’S BIG DREAM, so I knew I wanted to include her.

So which-comes-first?

Q4 When you get a new idea for a book, what pops into your head first, the title, the topic, or the story?

Lori Degman: Usually a title pops into my head and I start with that.  Sometimes I hear a rhythmic sentence and I use it to start writing the story.  For example, I was waiting in line at the post office and the sentence, “There’s a cow in the kitchen and company’s coming,” * popped into my head.  It’s the title of the story, but the sentence isn’t in the text. 

* If that title is intriguing to any editors reading this, the story is still available.  It’s my mother’s favorite and she’s 89 – so if you’re interested . . .

Q5 They say most books are a tiny bit autobiographical. Which of the characters in your books are most like you?

Lori Degman: I’m actually like the pig in both Cock-a-Doodle Oops and Norbert’s Big Dream!  Both Pig (from Oops) and Norbert have can-do attitudes and they jump right in to do what they want – even if they’re not fully prepared.  I’m the same way in many aspects of my life – I get an idea and jump in with both feet before figuring out exactly what I need to do.

Fun fact: A good friend of mine came to my Cock-a-Doodle Oops book launch and heard the book for the first time.  Later, she told me that she recognized our group of eight college friends in each of the book’s characters!  They matched their personalities exactly – and I hadn’t noticed!

Sounds like the sweatshirt my niece gave me: “Be careful or you might end up in my novel.” Or picture book…

Like I said–Watch out world!

Q6 If you had a magic snow globe that could grant one wish, what would your Snow Globe Wish be?

Lori Degman: My Snow Globe wish would be that my grandchildren grow to be happy, healthy, and fulfilled adults!

I’m betting they will be READERS too! Like the kids in your JUST READ book trailer. Check it out here.

What fabulous art by Victoria Tentler-Krylov!

BONUS for Teachers & Librarians: JUST READ Teacher Guides with STEM and Language Arts extensions.

Full disclosure: As you probably know by now, I’m asking everyone my Snow Globe question because of my new picture book, SNOW GLOBE WISHES which I am so excited to share with readers everywhere!

(Illus. by Claire Shorrock / Sleeping Bear Press / Sept. 2019 / Pre-orders have begun!)

Thank you, Lori, for stopping by the blog and sharing your wonderful books with us. See you at SCBWI LA!

To learn more about Lori and her books, go to LoriDegman.com and follow her on Twitter & Facebook.

PS If you are going to SCBWI, please be sure to say hello. We won’t be at the PAL table this year, but we WILL be signing books as part of the Faculty. Hurray!

Dreams do come true. (Right Norbert?)

Meet #kidlit author Huda Essa

Today it’s my pleasure to interview Huda Essa, author of the upcoming picture book COMMON THREADS: ADAM’S DAY AT THE MARKET (Sleeping Bear / August 2019 / Illustrated by Mercè Tous.), and founder of Culture Links LLC. Both her books and her work revolve around encouraging others to celebrate our similarities instead of dwelling on our differences.

Isn’t the cover beautiful?

In COMMON THREADS, Adam and his family spend an exciting day at the colorful and bustling Eastern Market. But when Adam gets briefly separated from Mom and Dad, he mistakes a friendly, diverse cast of characters for his parents in their traditional Muslim clothing–and shows that we all have more in common than you might think.

This nearly-wordless picture book celebrates #diversity and community in vibrant, dynamic art.

I love that Huda teaches others to “…utilize our diversity as the great asset it is.”

Q1. What was your inspiration for writing COMMON THREADS: ADAM’S DAY AT THE MARKET? 

Huda Essa: Through my work, I have come upon many misconceptions that people have about various forms of cultural and religious dress. When I share images of the many similarities of these forms of dress, participants are pleasantly surprised. I realized more and more that we need to be explicitly taught to look for common threads that bind us together in our shared humanity.  Talking about our similarities and our differences helps to increase knowledge and understanding that allows us to utilize our diversity as the great asset it is.  It’s my hope that COMMON THREADS will to give adults and children alike, a resource to use to foster invaluable discussions around diversity and inclusion. 

Huda shared some of the GORGEOUS interior art on Twitter: “So cool to view the behind the scenes process of my illustrator, Mercè Tous, creating this colorful art filled book… especially when I can pretty much only draw stick figures.

PS To Teachers, Librarians, and Parents: The “Becoming a Cultural Detective” back matter in COMMON THREADS looks like a very cool extension activity and writing/discussion prompt.

Q2. Your self-published picture book, Teach Us Your Name, seems like an excellent story for teachers to share at the start of the school year. How did this book come about? Did the TED talk come first?

Click image above to view Huda’s TED talk.

Huda Essa: TEACH US YOUR NAME was written before my TED Talk and after experiencing the wondrous advantages of not only learning to pronounce my students’ names, but to also allow them to share the story of their names.  For several reasons, I grew up despising my name.  I now realize that this led to the loss of enlightening my peers and others with stories that increase our knowledge, connections, and understanding of others.  I also missed out on the opportunity to learn from their names, as well. 

“Our names allow us to discuss ideas such as language, family history, cultural traditions, social identities, and so much more!” 

I am honored to have learned that many people have shared my TED Talk in staff meetings and classrooms as well as social media to get the conversations started.  Immediately after viewing the video, people were eager to share their story and learn from others.  The reverberating effects of those conversations increased motivation to engage in more opportunities to learn and to build connections within and beyond school communities.  Along with my book, people can also find a free downloadable document with activities and discussion guides at culturelinksllc.com

Q3. Would you please teach us your name? 

Huda Essa: Huda is pronounced like the word “hood” and then the short e sound at the end.  Hood – eh   My last name, Essa, rhymes with Visa.  The pronunciation of my name is also on the cover of Teach Us Your Name to encourage others to do the same if their name is commonly mispronounced. 

Suggestion for Teachers: Pair this book with THE NAME JAR by Yangsook Choi.

Q4. Can you share a positive teacher or student reaction or aha moment that you experienced in working with schools through your foundation, Culture Links?  

Huda Essa: The most common reactions I receive are ones recognizing that learning about culturally responsive practices can add value to our lives in countless ways. 

Many people are unaware of the impacts of unintentional, learned unconscious biases. 

Huda Essa: Learning what our biases are and how they are formed gives us the power to take control of our thoughts, allowing us to work through potentially negative outcomes, and create positive relationships. This greatly enhances our ability to support not only our communities, but the world, as a whole.  It’s wonderful when participants leave feeling more confident and aware of how they can help to make our world a better place for all.

Q5. If you had a magic snow globe that could grant one wish, what would your Snow Globe Wish be? 

Huda Essa: I would wish for a world where social justice is valued and positively experienced by all. 

Thank you, Huda.

Full disclosure: I asked Huda Q5 because I’m so excited about my picture book, also from Sleeping Bear Press, SNOW GLOBE WISHES with wonderful illustrations by Claire Shorrock. (Pre-orders have begun!) The main character of my book would LOVE Huda’s wish for #inclusion and social justice. And so do I!

Thank you, Huda, for stopping by the blog and sharing such important messages with us.

To learn more about Huda Essa, her books and work, go to CultureLinksLLC.com and follow her on Twitter @culturelinksllc and Facebook.

As we gather for the 4th of July, I wish for one and all, a world where we celebrate our COMMON THREADS.

Meet #kidlit Author Sarah Scheerger and her MG debut OPERATION FROG EFFECT!

Happy Summer, dear #librarian and #teacher pals–and now that you have a moment to breathe –or READ–meet Sarah Scheerger author of two YA novels, an early chapter book, three picture books, and her NEW middle grade novel OPERATION FROG EFFECT.

Friends, you will LOVE sharing this book with your students. And they will love you (even more) when you do! Here’s why:

A heartfelt novel with complex characters who realize that to promote change in the world, they first have to change how they see each other.” John David Anderson, author of MS. BIXBY’S LAST DAY

“Compelling…teachable moments aplenty in the kids’ experiences and camaraderie…enticingly readable…offers multiple discussion possibilities for classes seeking to expand from Andrew Clements.” BULLETIN

“…readers follow the fifth-grade year of Ms. Graham’s class (and their class frog, Kermit!).Her characters are genuine and complex as they grow and change… A thoughtful exploration of the power of the collective voice—growing up is owning up and speaking up.” —KIRKUS  

Meet Sarah Scheerger:

Q 1. Congrats on your MG debut, Sarah! Tell us–Are you a “pantser” or a plotter” –?  

Sarah Scheerger: Omigosh. I want to be a plotter in the worst way. I do (try to) plot. I could save so much time if I was a better plotter. But alas… I’m a pantser. I usually have a general idea of where I want to go, but it’s really the characters that lead me there. I can go in circles plotting and plotting and then wind up changing it all anyway.

Q 2. Does this approach differ when you are writing YA novels (ARE YOU STILL THERE? / THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE)? Picture books (MITZVAH PIZZAH )? Early readers (THE BOULDER BROTHERS)?

MITZVAH PIZZA
(Kar-Ben Publishing / May 2019)

Sarah Scheerger: This approach is true across the board. I do really try to plot… so I suppose I’m not 100% a pantser. But my best writing happens when I forget myself and just get absorbed in a character’s reality. This happens during a writing process but not during a plotting process (for me).

An early sketch of some of the characters by Gina Perry, who also did all of Blake’s graphic novel panels.

Q 3. Which of the following quotes from OPERATION FROG EFFECT best describes your path as an author? Explain why.

 a. “…a small change in one thing can lead to big changes in other things…”   –Mrs. Graham

 b. “I’m lucky.”   –from one of Blake’s cartoons

  c. “I like writing. Because I’m quiet, people think I don’t have much to say, but the opposite is true. I have so much to say. ”  –Aviva

  d. “I can read and mop at the same time.” –Kai

   e. “Anything and everything we do–positive or negative, big or small–can influence other people and the world.”  –Mrs. Graham

  f. “Sometimes it’s easier to speak the truth through a ball point pen…” –Sharon

 Sarah Scheerger: Okay—I love this question! I think the one that best describes my path as an author, is “c.” I am shy. In fact, I wrote my first couple books under my first and middle name—because initially I wasn’t planning to tell my friends and family that I’d started writing. That’s pretty darn shy! But truly, I have so much to say.

I will add that “d” describes my sons. They get ready for school (brush teeth, eat breakfast) with a book in their hands… I have to keep saying “put down that book!” I’m glad they love reading so much.

The other quote I’d like to reference is “e”. This doesn’t represent my writing life so much, but it does represent my work as a school-based counselor. I love talking to kids about putting positivity into the world, and choosing the kind of person they want to be.

BTW I highly recommend the audio book of OPERATION FROG EFFECT, told by nine different, amazing, voice over actors, plus a commentary by the author.

Meet the cast.
Click HERE for FREE links.

Q 4. You’ve mentioned that OPERATION FROG EFFECT was inspired, in part, by a teacher you had in school, Mr. Nubling. How does it feel to see the many ways your book is inspiring today’s teachers and their students?

Sarah Scheerger: That’s kind of an author’s dream, honestly. Often it’s teachers very similar to Mr. Nubling who get excited about creative ways to extend use of the book and foster discussion. This inspires me too. I would have loved it if Mr. Nubling could somehow know he inspired a book. For any teachers who might be reading this post—Operation Frog Effect has tons of Social Emotional Learning tie ins, and is also a good way to teach about “voice”

Teachers:Click here for lesson plans & reproducibles.

Q 5. I love how the friendships in Mrs. Graham’s class grow, and they stand up for each other. Was there ever a time when you wanted to stand up for someone but you were too shy? OR a time when another student stood up for you, or you wish they had?

Sarah Scheerger: Yes. I remember vividly sitting in class in fifth grade and hearing other students gossip about and tease a male student in my class. I felt completely helpless. I hated what they were doing and yet I did not feel I could do anything about it. At that time in my life I was so shy that I don’t think I even considered standing up for him. I regret that to this day. (The good news is that he wound up being an extraordinarily successful person. I think in his case the hardships sparked personal growth. But I still feel guilty for not doing more for him when we were kids.)

Q 6. If you had a magic snow globe that could grant one wish, what would your Snow Globe Wish be?

Sarah Scheerger: Ohhh… I’m all for wishes! But is it like a birthday wish or a penny-in-the-pond wish—if I say it out loud does it make it less likely to come true? I’ll give you a hint. . . I’m the type that often wishes for big scale things, sometimes world-wide things. . .

There you go! You’ll have to guess from there.

Thanks Sarah! Sounds like your world-wide wish might be the same as the main character of my upcoming picture book SNOW GLOBE WISHES (Sleeping Bear, Illus. Claire Shorrock, pre-orders have begun…) But I’m not telling what her wish is just yet either…

Meanwhile, to learn more about Sarah Scheerger’s books go to SarahLynnBooks.com and follow her on Twitter @SarahScheerger & Facebook SarahLynnScheergerBooks.

Wishing you Frogtastic Reading!

Debut Picture Book Makes a Splash!

Happy Summer Reading to all! Lauren Kerstein’s ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE MAKE WAVES will make a splash with young readers.

(Illus. Nate Wragg / Two Lions / June 2019)

With pool rules and swimming skills, this debut picture book is a PERFECT summer read.

“…young dragon lovers and fans of mischief…will revel in this silly romp.” KIRKUS

” This book was so silly and cute! We loved Charlie and the great care that he took of Rosie, and made sure Rosie behaved at the pool, and had snacks, and that she was careful with the other kids. And that they had a fun day at the pool! The illustrations were so fun, very vibrant, and eye catching. This is one of those kids books that I don’t mind reading over, and over again. ” —ThePagesInBetween

Lauren is READY.
Are you?

Click image below to view the trailer:

Let’s dive in to learn more about Lauren, her process, that sweet duo of Rosie and Charlie, and #kidlit advice for not-yet-published authors:

Q. Which swimming skill best describes your writing process for this book?

a. learning to float

b. flutter kicks

c. treading water

d. diving into the deep end

e. swimming the Individual Medley (IM)

Lauren: Swimming the IM seems fitting since you have to swim a different stroke for each leg of the race. I needed to switch the structure of the narrative arc, and my approach to this manuscript many times. I also added actual swimming skills (per my agent, Deborah Warren’s brilliant suggestion) which changed the manuscript in the most wonderful ways! By the time Rosie and Charlie splashed to shelves, I felt like I had swum the IM.

Q. They say most books are a tiny bit autobiographical. Are you more like Rosie or Charlie?

           Lauren: I am definitely more like Charlie. I am a list-making, graphic-organizer creating, spreadsheet-designing kind of gal!

Q. Did you ever have (or wish you had) an unusual pet like Rosie?

           Lauren: I used to collect the long worm-like things that fall off oak trees and put them in my baby pool. (I just looked them up and they are called catkins (or more technically aments)). I pretended they were seahorses. As a child, I always wanted a seahorse as a pet! Now, I would just love to see one in its natural habitat.

Q. Congratulations on your debut picture book. Any advice for beginning, not-yet-published #kidlit writers?  

            Lauren: Thank you! There are two things I wish I understood better right from the beginning of my journey.
            One– Writing is not a solo endeavor. Critique partners, paid critiques (through conferences or other offerings), and beta readers are just as important to the process as solo BIC time. (Or in my case SAYD- Stand at Your Desk) moments.

            Two– Focus on developing your craft right away. Craft books, workshops (such as Erin Dealey’s workshop about character development 🙂 * Disclaimer–I did NOT pay Lauren to say this.), classes, and conferences are extraordinarily important. Reading mentor texts is critical as well. You have to know the rules inside and out if you want to break them. You have to know what works and what doesn’t. You need more than just a good idea. You need to hone your craft so that your manuscripts are as strong as possible.

Q. Do you have any #kidlit heroes? Did you use any picture books as mentor texts?

Lauren: I have so many #kidlit heroes. I think my biggest heroes are authors who are able to incorporate lots of humor, or conversely, writers who are able to truly capture emotional resonance. For example, I love Mo Willems’ humor so much! I also love Ame Dyckman’s humor! I am in awe of the emotional resonance in THE REMEMBER BALLOONS (Jessie Oliveras) and MY DAD’S DREAM FOR ME (Beaty/Collier).

I read tons and tons of mentor texts. There are mentor texts I read over and over again like MOTHER BRUCE (Higgins), STRICTLY NO ELEPHANTS (Mantchev), and anything Mo Willems. I also have mentor texts I read with a specific purpose (i.e., to analyze arc, emotional resonance, and humor). Mentor texts are a critical part of the writing process!

Q. If you had a magic snow globe that would grant you a wish, what would your Snow Globe Wish be?

Lauren: My Snow Globe Wish would be that everyone might experience the beauty of random acts of kindness every single day. (Is that too corny?)

Full disclosure: Not corny at all. In fact, it fits right in with my upcoming holiday book. (Yes, that last question was sneaky but Lauren Kerstein, you might be psychic…) My jacket flap bio says: 

You can learn all about Erin Dealey and her books at erindealey.com. She believes in magical snow globe mornings and the power of kindness. As her mother used to say, “Actions speak louder than words.” Her snow globe wish is that this book might inspire many acts of kindness in our world.

But TODAY, let’s celebrate ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE MAKE WAVES. Spread the word, take a pic at the pool with it and tweet it to us. To learn more about Lauren, see LaurenKerstein.net and/or follow her on Twitter: @LaurenKerstein & Insta: @laurenkerstein.

Coming soon: Meet Sarah Scheerger, mg debut author of OPERATION FROG EFFECT –who made the switch from writing YAs and picture books too!

Digging Up the Truth –an interview with #AudreyHepburn biographer, Robert Matzen

I am so in awe of Robert Matzen’s latest biography, DUTCH GIRL: Audrey Hepburn and World War II (on shelves next month: April 15th / GoodKnight), I reached out and asked for an interview.

Matzen’s answers are as riveting as the book, itself. See for yourself:

“…a long lost brother.”

Q. I was touched by DUTCH GIRL’s genuine, heartfelt Foreword by Audrey’s son, Luca Dotti. What was it like connecting with him?

Matzen: I had refrained from contacting with either Sean Hepburn Ferrer or Luca Dotti during the research and writing of the narrative because I wanted to be free of any family influence. It’s the same process I followed with Carole Lombard (Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3) and Jim Stewart (Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe)–let the facts take me where they take me and then let the family in on it. So after the last trip to the Netherlands, when I had come up with the first rough draft, I emailed them both. Luca responded right away to say he’d been trying to find me for months! He’s the family historian and had heard about my work from his contacts in Arnhem. Well, from there it’s as if I had found a lost brother. We realized from the first instant that we were on the same wavelength, with similar beliefs and creative impulses, which led to some great conversations. When he reviewed the manuscript and made corrections and additions, it felt pretty tremendous, not only because it was validating for me as a writer, but because Audrey’s son had become my creative partner.

“…how was I going to get at the truth?”

Q. Without divulging any spoilers, what was one of the biggest “ah-hah” moments in your research/discoveries? How did it come about?

Matzen: My temptation was to paint Audrey’s mother Ella as a villain. She had been on the record as pro-Nazi. She had met Hitler, and ran around with a Nazi boyfriend. She was also a stage mother through Audrey’s ballet career. Immediately at war’s end she had covered her tracks about that Nazi past, as did so many, which made it impossible for me 70 years later to determine her true sympathies. Man did I sweat that for quite a while–how was I going to get at the truth. Then came the aha moment when I realized that she must have done a 180 in 1942–if you read the book you will know exactly when and why–and the reason I know she flipped was because two unimpeachable sources trusted her: My Dutch researcher Maddie van Leenders had located Count van Limburg Stirum’s diary in which he talked about Ella, and I had stumbled upon the all-important Dr. Visser ‘t Hooft. They’re the two male heroes in the book and very smart men. Both put their trust in Ella van Heemstra, which meant that heading into 1942, she had turned on the Nazis and was A-OK after all.

“Total, true inner beauty to match what was visible, plus incredible strength and courage.”

Q. How did your perspective of Audrey change as you worked on this book?

Matzen: I wasn’t a fan of Audrey Hepburn’s. Like everyone else I recognized the timeless beauty in that face, and admired her work for UNICEF, and that’s as far as it went. The only picture I ever saw of hers on the big screen was Robin & Marian. I’d never seen Roman Holiday, or The Nun’s Story. I still haven’t forced my way through War & Peace. To me you can’t be a big fan of somebody and try to chronicle their lives because how are you going to be objective? But over the three years getting to know her, walking in her footsteps and learning what I learned, I became not a fan of hers, but an admirer. I understand her so very well, and to me there’s nothing not to like, and a great many things to marvel at. Total, true inner beauty to match what was visible, plus incredible strength and courage.

Q. Which of the following Hepburn film titles best describes the path (or your writing process) of this phenomenal project?

a. Roman Holiday ——— d. Charade

b. War and Peace ——— e. My Fair Lady

c. Two for the Road ——— f. Other:_________

Matzen: Other: Secret People, a crazy, dark melodrama that was Audrey’s big break, really. She was about 20 when she made it but still a teenager at heart. There’s intrigue and angst, which mirrors the research phase, struggling for sources, building alliances, seeking support, digging through Nazi documents–talk about groping through dark alleys hoping to come out alive at the other end. And of course writing about the SS, SD, the war, particularly that war, is dark stuff, just like Secret People.

Q. Besides WWII and Hollywood, are there any qualities or common ground that you feel –or you’ve discovered–Carole Lombard, Jimmy Stewart, and Audrey Hepburn share?

Matzen: They’re three smart people, one an extrovert (CL) and the other two passionate introverts, but I’ll tell you one thing they had in common that’s pretty great: Each had a killer sense of humor. Imagine the three of them alone in a room at the same time–if that ever happens on the Other Side, hijinx will ensue.

“Audrey Hepburn was up to her elbows in blood.”

Q. What “take-aways” would you like your readers to get from reading DUTCH GIRL?

Matzen: I’d like people to look at Audrey Hepburn with new respect and understanding, knowing now exactly why she was a hero. One of her biographers said basically, “She was only 14 or 15 in the war so she couldn’t have been in the Resistance.” Well guess what. That war made you grow up fast and the Resistance relied on young people down to kids as young as 9 or 10 as I document. Here’s the kind of war it was: Dr. Visser ‘t Hooft had dog tags made for his children–in case they were killed in the bombing or ground combat, he wanted to be able to tell whose body was whose so he had metal tags made for them to wear around their necks, each with a name stamped on it. The idea caught on and all the children of Velp had dog tags. There’s no surviving documentation that Audrey had dog tags, but I bet she did. They lived in one of the most beautiful villages in the Netherlands, a big-money place where people retired after making a fortune in the Dutch East Indies, but in 1944 and 1945, the war hit full force and oh brother did 15 year olds participate in it. Audrey Hepburn was up to her elbows in blood. Princess Ann went to war.

Matzen with three of the Velpenaren–Ben van Griethuysen, Annemarth Visser ‘t Hooft, and Rosemarie Kamphuisen in Velp, June 2017. In Matzen’s words: “They, and a few other of the Dutch, have become family in the last two years.”

Q. What tips do you have for aspiring biographers?

Matzen: Two things: 1) In the field of biography, don’t trust what’s already been written about a person. I found so many errors in scholarship of Audrey resulting from one author trusting another author and repeating bad information. It’s really shocking in some cases. Always go back to primary sources as much as possible. Rudy Behlmer took me to the woodshed about that and I’ve never forgotten it. In the Errol & Olivia rough draft I stated that Lili Damita had been married to Michael Curtiz in Europe and Rudy flipped out. Where did I get that? he demanded. We were in the Smoke House in Burbank, sitting there, and I swallowed hard, looked him in the eye, and said I saw it on the internet. Word to the wise: Never say “I saw it on the internet” to Hollywood Historian Rudy Behlmer. He was as pissed as I was embarrassed and ever since that day at the Smoke House, I am careful. I’ve learned to deconstruct my subject and rebuild him or her from the ground up using primary sources. 2) My advice for anybody writing a book about anything is, write a thousand words a day. If you do that for 100 days, you have a book. Don’t worry if they’re good words or bad words, just corral all those words and worry about putting your brand on them later.

Q. What’s next? How do you follow a book like this?

Matzen: You know what, Erin? I have no idea. I have been working since 2011 pretty steadily on what has become my “Hollywood in World War II Trilogy” and it’s the strangest thing not to be working on something. I’m certain that I don’t want to settle on just any old thing as my next subject, which is a trap biographers can fall into. The publisher insists on an author keeping his name relevant. I want the next thing to come up and grab me. Back after Fireball I started to round up research on Basil Rathbone because Rathbone has never been done. I went out to Hollywood and poked around the places he lived and went to the Herrick Library nosing around trying to get myself into a Rathbone frame of mind, but it didn’t feel right. Baz and I just didn’t hit it off for whatever reason, so I let it go. Then my friend John McElwee–Greenbriar Picture Shows John McElwee–announced what I should do next: Jimmy Stewart in the war. We were sitting in a restaurant and he said that and I remember thinking, I can’t do that! Stewart refused to talk about the war, so where would the facts come from? But a few days later, after I’d slept on it, the idea snuck up and grabbed me. I thought, just because nobody’s ever done it doesn’t mean it can’t be done. I relished the challenge of it and off I went chasing through the War Dept. records with Ann Trevor, my DC researcher. So now I’ll leave it to the cosmos to tell me what’s next. Some good story that’s never been told. Hopefully a WWII story because it’s the biggest, most dramatic thing that’s ever happened to the world. My wife sure wants to know what’s next because when I don’t have a book to work on I get restless and cranky.

Endless gratitude to Robert Matzen for sharing his insights and discoveries with us. For more about Matzen and his work, see RobertMatzen.com (I am hooked on his blog.), and follow him on Twitter at @RobertMatzen.

DUTCH GIRL: Audrey Hepburn and World War II is available for pre-order here. Check out my FIVE-STAR review of DUTCH GIRL.


“I’ll leave it to the cosmos to tell me what’s next.”

I can’t wait to read what the cosmos has in mind for Matzen’s next book.

Can you?