Simply 7 with Candace Spizzirri: FINLEY: A MOOSE ON THE CABOOSE

Any time a picture book is set in Alaska, I immediately find a need to track it down.  That was certainly the case with today’s picture book.

Candace headshotCandace Spizzirri grew up in a small town in New Jersey. As a child, she spent hours playing at the park, catching minnows in a nearby stream, and exploring the woods at the end of her street. Passionate about education, Candace is a co-founder of an elementary and high school in southern California. She now splits her time between SoCal and Pennsylvania. Candace’s debut picture book, FISHING WITH GRANDPA AND SKYE, illustrated by Beverly Love Warren published by Clear Fork Publishing/Spork on April 19, 2022. You can learn more about Candace at her website or by following her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook @CandaceSpizzirri.

CoverFINLEY: A MOOSE ON THE CABOOSE is her second picture book.  I was doubly curious when I saw that it was published by Gnome Road publishing (a newer independent press) as I hadn’t read a lot of their books yet.  This is a sweet story of a moose named Finley who resides in the small Alaskan town of Talkeetna.  He sees a train come and go with travelers every day and longs to see the world himself, but sadly finds out that moose are NOT allowed on the train.  However, Finley is determined to get on that train and adopts a variety of silly disguises that will have young readers giggling along.

Welcome Candace!

Me: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey as a writer?  What made you want to write picture books? What brought you to this book?

Candace: I grew up in a small town in New Jersey with tree-lined streets and old Victorian houses. As a child, I spent hours playing at the park, catching minnows in a nearby stream, and exploring the woods at the end of my street. 

I hold a degree in child psychology with an emphasis on emotional development. Passionate about education, I am a co-founder of an elementary school and high school in southern California. I now split my time between SoCal and Pennsylvania. I love spending time with my husband of forty-two years, two grown children, a daughter-in-law, and five grandkids.

I first started writing back in 2016. In January 2017, I joined SCBWI and 12 X 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, connected with critique partners, started taking classes/webinars, and absolutely fell in love with writing! I sold my debut picture book, FISHING WITH GRANDPA AND SKYE, in February of 2019.

Growing up I loved books in rhyme and enjoyed making up my own silly rhyming songs. I even had a little ditty I would sing to the fish I caught with my Grandpa Henry before releasing them back into the water. This song is featured in my book FISHING.

I never planned to write picture books, but this journey has been such a wonderful, unexpected experience. I am still hoping to publish a rhyming book one day as I have quite a few manuscripts and my love of rhyme is truly why I began writing.

I joyfully spend time each day writing, honing my craft, and connecting with the fabulous KidLit community.  It was a trip to gorgeous Alaska sparked the idea for FINLEY, a moose who longs to ride the rails.

Me: I love Finley!  He’s such a great character.  What gave you the idea of an Alaskan moose who wants to ride a train?

Candace: The idea for FINLEY: A MOOSE ON THE CABOOSE came to me while visiting the gorgeous town of Talkeetna, Alaska. The scenery was spectacular in every direction! During my stay, an enormous moose appeared in the town center, wandered about a bit, then disappeared into the woods next to the railroad tracks. I was delighted to see this big-eyed moose up close (but not too close as they are extremely dangerous) as I’d never seen one before. Later that day, I came across a little shop called Once in a Blue Moose and it sparked an idea for a picture book about a friendly moose who wants more than anything to ride the rails.

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Me: Your story reminds me (ever so slightly) of one of my favorite books, LIBRARY LION by Michelle Knudsen and Kevin Hawkes, where rules are important, until they need to be broken.  Was this always the backbone of your plot?  Or did this come about in the revision process?  How many revisions did your manuscript undergo to get to this published stage?

Candace: I read LIBRARY LION after reading this question. What a great book. I can see why it is one of your favorites.

The idea that some rules need to be broken was always a main plot point of my story. I don’t know exactly how many revisions there were for FINLEY, but I generally go through many before I feel a manuscript is ready to submit. 

Me:  The illustrations by Chantelle and Burgen Thorne are absolutely perfect for this story.  Were there any illustration surprises for you?  What were your favorite illustrations?

Candace: Oh my gosh, I agree. I couldn’t be more thrilled with Chantelle and Burgen’s illustrations for FINLEY! I must admit that when I saw the final art, I cried tears of joy. It was everything I had hoped for and so much more.

One surprise was the little bluebird that accompanies Finley throughout the story. What a sweet, unexpected addition!

It’s hard to pick favorites. But I especially love the spread where Finley is running towards the train saying, “I’ll make my dreams come true” and the art where he is dressed up as a hot dog, a Christmas tree, and a penguin.

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Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?

Candace: Most of the story came together quite easily for FINLEY but I struggled to get the ending right. Even so, I decided to participate in a Twitter pitch party.

Sandra Sutter, the owner of Gnome Road Publishing, who was considering another one of my stories at the time, liked a pitch for FINLEY. I sent in my manuscript, it joined my other in acquisitions, and came back with a revise and resubmit. The team felt that the ending wasn’t strong enough. Oh no!  BUT I was thankful for the R&R and worked at it until I was happy with the new ending.

I resubmitted, waited, and wondered about both stories. I was thrilled when Sandra contacted me saying the acquisitions team had fallen in love with Finley Moose. She added, “Finley has stolen our hearts, and he won’t let go.” What a delightful surprise!

Me: I love that!  This is your second published picture book.  Do you have a writing process?  How frequently do you sit down to write?

Candace: Yes, FINLEY is my second picture book. My debut, FISHING WITH GRANDPA AND SKYE, was published in April of 2022.

I’m a morning person, so I usually write new drafts early in the day. Sometimes I’ll write a first draft at the beach taking in the ocean breeze and sounds of the surf for inspiration, or tucked into a quiet spot at my local library, or in a cozy chair at home with a cup of coffee.

After I write a story, I like to put it away for a while. Then I do a bit of revising and send it off to my critique partners. I am a member of several groups and don’t know what I’d do without them! After each person has weighed in, I carefully consider all of their comments/suggestions while staying true to my vision for the story. FINLEY did require a lot of tightening, cutting of darlings, and line/word edits.

I am revising manuscripts all the time but only sit down to write a new draft when a story has been rumbling around my brain and I can’t stop thinking about it. I do try to do something writing-related each day.

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Me: Any advice for new picture book writers and/or illustrators?

Candace: Never give up! Take classes, attend conferences, find critique partners, join writing groups, and connect with the kidlit community. What an amazing and supportive group they are! 

Try to relax and enjoy the process. Publishing is a slow go. There will be ups and downs along the way. Patience and persistence are the names of the game. I have trouble with the patience part. Persistence comes much more naturally. You’ve got this!

That is great advice Candace.  Thank you so much for stopping by my blog today.

Dear readers, if you’re curious about the types of books that might be published by Gnome Publishing, here is a great example.  This is a story with a great character who will steal your heart as he tries repeatedly to get on the train.  It’s a fun Alaskan adventure that you won’t want to miss.

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