When I’m not posting regularly or I’m writing less often, I feel I should swat myself with a rolled-up newspaper, or even a board book. But my lapse in productivity of late has been forgivable, I’m sure you will agree, as we welcome our adorable newest family member—our granddaughter, Linny!
The Colonial Times, a newspaper in my town of Lexington, Massachusetts recently ran a lovely article about my experience bringing Me and the Weirdos back to life, inspired by its reincarnation as a musical. The reporter included details of my trip to the small town of Blanding, Utah, as well as the involvement of the illustrator and designer of the new edition, Doreen Buchinski.
The Weirdos Return
How a middle-school musical in Utah brought Lexington author Jane Sutton’s most popular book to a new generation.
By Jane Whitehead
“I write because I can’t be a rock star,” says Lexington-based children’s author Jane Sutton, laughing. But a musical adventure in a small town in Utah in January 2018 gave her a taste of star treatment and prompted her to publish a new version of her award-winning novel, Me and the Weirdos.
Sutton’s books include seven picture books, three middle-grade novels, and one YA novel. Back in 1981, she wrote Me and the Weirdos, the story of Cindy Krinkle, a little girl who is embarrassed by her family. (Her mother does cartwheels, her father rides to work on a bike with an umbrella while singing operatic arias, and her sister has a pet sea urchin.) The book, originally published by Houghton Mifflin, was an ALA-CBC Children’s Choice, won the Utah Children’s Book Award and sold over 90,000 copies.
“The book brought me loads of fan letters from children, and from adults who said it was their favorite book, and made them feel being different was OK,” says Sutton. But Me and the Weirdos has been out of print for decades, so in 2017 she was surprised to receive a “long, sweet email, very polite and respectful,” from two high school seniors in Blanding, Utah, Eva Perkins, and Ashley Berrett, asking her permission to turn the book into a musical, Me and the Krinkles.
As a child, Perkins had read Me and the Weirdos, a favorite of her mother’s, and thought the story would translate well into a musical. She and Berrett wrote to Sutton, not at all sure that she would reply, and “screamed with excitement” when they received her positive response.
“I, of course, said yes,” says Sutton, “and asked to look at the script.” The script and lyrics impressed her with their professionalism and smart changes to make the plot more workable on stage, with a middle-school cast. As they exchanged drafts and comments, Sutton learned that the pair held scholarships in music and drama, and had appeared in and directed other productions.
Braving the flight from Boston to Salt Lake City – in January – followed by a five and half hour drive to Blanding (population 4000), Sutton and her husband, science writer and educator Alan Ticotsky, attended the premiere performance of Me and the Krinkles on January 22, 2018, at San Juan High School.
“We were blown away by the professionalism and wonderfulness of the play, as well as the warm welcome from Eva’s and Ashley’s families and the whole town,” says Sutton. From the motel to the visitor center to the museum, Sutton was feted as “the author” from out of town, and she and Al enjoyed private tours of local natural wonders, including a visit to Bears Ears National Monument with a Navajo guide.
The excited middle school cast asked Sutton to sign everything from programs and posters to phone cases and a plaster cast. Searching online for the original book, they were disappointed only to find second-hand copies at high prices. So Sutton came home with a mission to bring Me and the Weirdos back into circulation.
For years, Sutton has taught a sold-out class on “Writing Children’s Books” for Lexington Community Education. Now she turned for advice to long-time students who have become successful authors and illustrators, Josh Funk and Doreen Buchinski. “You should just get it out there,” said software engineer and prize-winning author Funk.
In the interests of quick turnaround, controlling the editorial process, and the freedom to choose her own illustrator, Sutton decided to self-publish the book using the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform. She invited graphic designer and illustrator Buchinski to design the new edition and provide new illustrations, and the two started work in April 2018.
Buchinski enjoyed turning Sutton’s “rich descriptions” into graphite and wash drawings, and designed a new cover using her niece as the body-model for the heroine. But even as an experienced graphic designer, she found online self-publishing challenging. Unlike working with a printer with whom you have a personal relationship, with KDP “you don’t always get to talk to a person,” says Buchinski, so glitches that would be quickly solved in a traditional setting sometimes led to frustrating email chains.
“I’d always be finding things I wanted to change,” says Sutton, a self-described perfectionist. But by September, she had “revised, tweaked and pared” the text to her satisfaction, and by October the new edition was available in paperback and on Kindle. Sutton dedicated it to Eva Perkins and Ashley Berrett, in recognition of the creative partnership between two Mormon teenagers from Utah and a Jewish grandmother from Boston, an unlikely collaboration that’s real-life proof of the message of both book and musical, that “it’s perfectly fine to be different!”
The new paperback edition of Me and the Weirdos is available from independent booksellers and online. For more information, see www.jane-sutton.com
One of the most fun things about being an author is getting to dedicate books to meaningful people in one’s life. Thinking about this, I’ve decided to share the dedications in my various books starting with the most recent.
I never would have thought of re-releasing my middle grade novel Me and the Weirdos if Ashley Berrett and Eva Perkins of Blanding, Utah hadn’t contacted me about turning it into a musical to be performed in their high school auditorium. Hence (I love that word—it’s so pretentious), I dedicated it to them:
Following up on the 2 Hanukkah events mentioned in my last post … Both were fun. Special thanks to my daughter, Becky, and to Kim at the Harvard COOP and Alex at Brookline Booksmith. Both stores have wonderful children’s departments, active with events!
I got a kick out of this —Next Saturday the Harvard COOP will host Santa, but last Saturday they had a Hanukkah story time with moi! Next Saturday Brookline Booksmith will welcome supermodel Gisele Bündchen, but last Saturday they had a special Hanukkah story reading with moi!
This weekend I’m looking forward to reading my picture book about the well-meaning but shopping-challenged purple gorilla, Esther, at two Hanukkah-themed story hours:
Saturday Morning at 11 at the Harvard COOP in Cambridge, MA
Sunday Morning at 10:30 at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, MA
Come by for readings, games, and crafts!
Before I participated in Small Business Saturday last week, Trisha Woodridge of Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester and an author herself interviewed me. I forgot all about this until just now, when I saw a link to the interview on Facebook!
The thing is … unlike most people, who dislike taking surveys, particularly during dinner, I welcome the chance to voice my opinion. I can always reheat dinner. And the comment cards you get in hotels and restaurants—they’re too small to hold all my praise and suggestions for improvement.
Trisha’s questions were particularly interesting! See for yourself.
Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday Spotlight on children’s book author, Jane Sutton! Jane was just at our store for Small Business Saturday, so we have several signed books from her—particularly some Hanukkah titles that you can pick up just in time for the holiday!
Thank you so much for the interview, Jane! For those who arent’ familiar with you or your work, can you please tell us briefly a little about yourself and your writing?
I’ve written 11 books for children—7 picture books, 3 middle grade novels, and one YA whose title shall remain unmentioned, lest any children in attendance get uncontrollable giggles. In all my books, no matter the genre, there is humor and subtle, non-didactic messages about the importance of empathy and acceptance of oneself and others.
Besides writing, I teach writing classes to adults and children, tutor writing, and give presentations in schools and libraries, where I share my enthusiasm for writing and everything I’ve learned since my first book was published back in 1979. I was elected Class Comedienne in high school and to Phi Beta Kappa in College, which I suspect may be a rare combination. My husband, Alan, and I live in Lexington, MA and consider ourselves beyond lucky that our grown daughter and son and their families live in the Boston area.
How would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from your books?
In all my books–from picture books with animal characters, to middle grade novels, and one YA novel––there is humor and subtle, non-didactic messages about the importance of empathy and acceptance of one’s own and others’ foibles. These characteristics are true of ESTHER’S HANUKKAH DISASTER (a purple gorilla waits until the last minute to shop and buys her friends amusingly inappropriate gifts), WHAT’S UP WITH THIS CHICKEN? (Sylvia discovers why Trudy the chicken refuses to get off her eggs), and the new edition of ME AND THE WEIRDOS (MG, from the point of view of a girl who keeps trying to “unweird” her family).
What kind of research goes into your writing? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
WHAT’S UP WITH THIS CHICKEN? –When my friend Fay, (since we were 11 years old!) told me about one of her backyard chickens that refused to get off her eggs and her research into the reason, I knew this had to be a book! I learned all I could by asking Fay questions and reading articles. I learned that some hens are broody, meaning they have a super-maternal instinct that makes them really, really want those eggs to hatch. The trouble is that backyard hens’ eggs aren’t fertilized. I created the character of a girl named Sylvia and her grandma and made Sylvia solve the problem. I had to explain this un-fertilized business in a PG way, “But we have the kinds of eggs that don’t hatch,” says Sylvia. One of the favorite facts I used in the book is that broody hens often pluck their own chest feathers to create a warm blanket for their eggs. I really enjoyed surprising Fay with the book’s dedication page: to her, of course, and an extensive author’s note about her as my inspiration.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
Revise, revise, revise. Some people dislike revising, but I find it so satisfying to fine a way to improve what I already wrote. I always stress the importance of this when I talk to student groups (children and adults). I encourage people to read aloud, thereby noticing repetition of phrases and sentence structure, opportunities for adding more apt words, and of course, typos. Recently, another author clued me in to “Speech/dictate” under Settings (on my Mac, anyway). Activating this allows you to have the computer read aloud! You choose the voice and set the speed. Using this, I found countless mistakes and spots to improve while working on the new edition of ME AND THE WEIRDOS. Listening to the computer read made me feel more confident since I self-published this edition, and unlike with my traditional publishers, I’m the final proofreader.
What question do you wish interviewers would ask you, and what would the answer be?
I wish that just once, an interviewer would ask, “Did you know that you look just like Beyoncé?” And I would answer, “Yes, people often mistake me for her.” Sorry, couldn’t resist.
What has been your favorite adventure during your writing career?
Seeing my middle grade novel ME AND THE WEIRDOS transformed into the musical, ME AND THE KRINKLES. Two extremely talented high school seniors asked my permission to do this, and I conferred with them on the script and lyrics. My husband and I decided to fly out for the premiere, in Blanding, Utah (5 ½ hour drive from Salt Lake City), where I was treated like a celeb, shown the amazing natural sights in the area, met the playwrights—Eva Perkins and Ashley Berrett—and their families, spoke to high school classes about my writing process, signed programs for the middle school actors, and watched the play! It was absolutely delightful—entertaining, moving, and amazingly professional. Not only did Eva and Ashley write the script and lyrics, compose the music, and conceive the staging, they cast and directed the talented middle school actors, and even designed the posters and programs. The book, originally published as a Houghton Mifflin hardcover, Bantam paperback, and French edition, and winner of the ALA/CBC Children’s Choice and Utah Children’s Book Award, had been out of print for many years. As I said to the audience when called up on stage, it’s deeply touching to me that the heartfelt message of the humorous book I wrote so long ago, that it’s OK—and even a good thing—to be different, still has an impact. The experience inspired me to get out a new edition of the book, just released in October, with some revisions and tweaks and wonderful new illustrations by Doreen Buchinski.
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
Independent bookstores can order any of my in-print books, and (ahem) there are those on-line sources. My website also links to buying options.
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
My website: https://www.jane-sutton.com
The website includes a blog.
Search for Jane Sutton on Facebook
Thank you again, Jane, for the great interview and for being part of our Small Business Saturday! We do still have several of Jane’s books in the store—signed!—so stop in and pick out a title or three. For a gift, or for yourself to enjoy!
It was Small Business Saturday 2018, and I signed up to participate in the children’s author day at Annie’s Book Stop in Worcester, MA. I’m so glad I did! I’d never been there before. The store has 16,000 new and pre-read books!!!! Plus cards and gifts. Absolutely amazing floor-to ceiling selection and friendly, helpful employees. One could spend days there browsing and finding treasures.
I got to meet other authors in a cozy area of the store, including two terrific young authors (see below). I shared my experience of revising and re-releasing Me and the Weirdos and read Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster. Besides those two titles, the store has signed copies of my books Don’t Call Me Sidney, What’s Up with This Chicken? and the Writers’ Loft children’s poetry anthology, An Assortment of Animals.
It’s almost Hanukkah (it’s early this year!), which means I get to share my story of Esther the shopping-challenged purple gorilla with young audiences. Last week, Temple Beth Elohim in Acton, MA invited me to read Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster to two religious school classes and sign books at the temple fair book sale.
Thank you to the temple community for making me feel so welcome, to the attentive children (who laughed at all my jokes!) and to Silver Unicorn Bookstore for arranging my participation and selling my books at the fair.
Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester, MA is devoting this year’s Small Business Saturday to children’s book authors. What a great idea! Eight of us will be sharing our books with shoppers of all ages, answering questions, signing copies … it sounds like fun!
Last week my local library, Cary Memorial Library in Lexington, hosted a lovely Celebration of Lexington Authors, a group of over 660 of us! My husband, Alan Ticotsky–who writes science books for teachers–and I were among the invited guests.
A new authors’ panel was unveiled in the beautiful reading room, and there were refreshments, an opportunity to schmooze, music by the terrific Lexington musician Jon Dreyer (who’s my friend), and speeches. I was honored to be one of the authors chosen to speak on the topic “Why I Write.” We were told to limit our remarks to three minutes! This was a challenge for me. I’m not exactly a woman of few words (ask my kids, and they’ll roll their eyes.) But I honed my speech, practiced, and pared, as I thought a lot about my dad, a legendary advertising creative director who taught me less is more. The audience’s laughter as I spoke and afterwards the many people who found me to say how much they liked my speech was very gratifying. And I clocked in at 3 minutes! (Sorry, kids, I don’t plan to make brevity a habit.)