Gatekeeper Press (2020)
Christopher Minor is a lifelong music and cat lover. When he’s not writing, he’s either playing the guitar, watching baseball or listening to records. Once upon a time, Christopher had a kitten named Lily who loved to sit back and listen to music with him.
Hi Christopher, Welcome to Reader Views Kids! We’re delighted to talk with you today. First, tell us a bit about “Lily’s Grooves,” your debut picture book!
Hello! Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my friend Lily. Lily’s Grooves is the story of a kitten who learns that music is the only thing that can calm her wild tendencies. Her owners, Carrie and Ed Simon are about to open their record shop and they know they can’t leave Lily home alone all day without coming home to mayhem and destruction. They decide to take Lily to their shop where they get into trouble with the owner of the building, the nasty, kitten-hating Mr. Donald!
What was your inspiration behind the story?
I once had a kitten named Lily and we were inseparable. We would always pal around the apartment before I left for work and whenever I put a record on, Lily would hop on top of the stereo for a while and watch the record spin around on the turntable. Her ears would perk up and she would be completely mesmerized. It was quite the sight to see.
The book is a love letter to Lily and to all the small businesses who have nurtured mine and countless others’ passions for music, literature, and culture for generations. I sincerely hope that people shop local businesses this holiday season and beyond.
So, Lily is real! Tell us about her!
Lily is certainly real, and her presence was larger than life. I haven’t seen her in a few years now, but she is living with her mother and being treated as a queen. While she wasn’t quite as rambunctious as the Lily of my story, she had all the warmth, love and charisma of her fictional counterpart. She was a fellow music connoisseur, my partner in crime and one of the best friends I’ve ever had.
What called you to become a picture book author?
I have loved to write since childhood, but I never really considered writing picture books until the idea for Lily’s Grooves started to take shape. I started to remember the impact that children’s literature and entertainment had on me throughout early childhood and how it shaped my beliefs, my tastes, and my perception of the world. I genuinely believe that what we consume in our formative years can have a real impact on our world view into adulthood. The experience of tapping into that sense of wonder was both cathartic and educational.
How does music help calm cats (and people)?
Whenever I would play music around Lily, she would always seem content and calm. Although I can’t speak for all cat owners, I generally believe that music calmed her an made her feel at home, probably because I was always listening when I was home. When there was nobody home, I left the radio on for her and I think that contributed to her mellow, happy demeanor. At the end of the book, I included a page where the reader can write down a song that makes them feel peaceful. I think it is so important for people of all ages to find music that speaks to them and listen actively. I know that my lifelong passion for music has made it easier for me to express myself creatively. That in itself is calming and reassuring to me.
What is the most important point you hope young readers take away from Lily’s Grooves?
I hope readers can see how music can smooth out the rough edges in life. There is nothing like the right song or album to bring peace when one is restless. Just ask Lily.
I also hope readers see how Lily, Carrie and Ed meet Mr. Donald’s bluster and bullying with love, patience, and a clear intention to do what is right. They are not intimidated by his reactionary threats. I hope children, and adults see that the best way to stand up to a bully is to remain calm and confident. If one follows their own path while keeping earnest and compassionate, the bully has no case.
How did you find your illustrator?
My illustrator Katrina Ostapovicz worked at a grocery store with me for a while. We were chatting one day, and she told me that she was a professional illustrator. When I saw some of her work, I was blown away at how intuitively she could portray a character to the point where their facial expressions could tell a story on their own. Lily’s expressions in the book are a great example of this.
What was it like working together with your illustrator to bring your story to life?
When Katrina showed me her first illustration of Carrie and Ed at the breakfast table, I knew I couldn’t have asked for a better artist to add life and dimension to my story. Along with her spot-on portrayal of the characters, she uses color in such an eye-catching way that I really think will draw readers to the book. Throughout the process, we both thought on the same wavelength for how the characters should look and how Lily should really be the center of the illustrations. Katrina works in the science field as well so I’m so grateful that she took the time to illustrate my project and poured so much care and creativity into each drawing.
What is the biggest challenge writing for a young audience?
The biggest challenge for me was whittling my story down to an appropriate length for a picture book while maintaining the plot, the narrative, and enough action to make the story interesting for young readers. My first draft was well over a thousand words and I eventually cut that down by more than half.
What do you like to read and what are some of your favorite children’s books authors and stories?
I’ve always gravitated towards political memoirs as well as mid-twentieth century American literature. As far as children’s stories, I have wonderful memories of being in second grade and volunteering to read to the first-grade classes after lunch. I remember reading a lot of Jan Brett, Rosemary Wells and Eric Carle in early childhood.
Which writers have inspired your own work as an author?
As a kid, I would always read collections of the Peanuts comics by Charles Schultz. I appreciated how those stories could convey a message to children without pandering or talking down to the reader. I believe that children have more awareness than they are sometimes given credit for and that it is important to recognize that fact when writing for young audiences.
How did you feel when you held your first book in your hands?
From my first notes on the story to publication this past October was about two years, so it was extremely gratifying to hold the finished product and be able to share the story with readers. In person promotion has been tricky during the pandemic, but I’m doing a zoom story time event in January with my local library here in Dedham, MA and I think that will be a lot of fun.
As a new writer, what was the most challenging part of the process?
There were a lot of steps involved in editing, finding a publisher, and promoting my book that I had to learn as I went along. The biggest challenge was finding the right publisher during the pandemic. Luckily, Gatekeeper Press and specifically Eden Tuckman who managed the publishing process were so helpful in putting everything together and walking me through each step.
What do you enjoy outside of writing?
Reading of course! I’m also an avid record and pop culture memorabilia collector, and I play some guitar and bass. Some other hobbies of mine are following baseball (Go Red Sox) and American politics.
So, what’s next? Do you have another story in the works?
I have written a few more Lily stories that I am hoping to edit and eventually publish sometime in the future. She has many more adventures ahead.
Where can readers purchase your book?
I’ve been trying to encourage readers to ask their favorite independent bookseller if they have Lily’s Grooves in stock or if they can order it through them. It is currently in stock in store and online at The Blue Bunny in my hometown of Dedham, MA and at Wellesley Books in Wellesley, MA, along with a few other shops. It is available on Barnes & Noble, Amazon and most other online retailers as well.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, about writing or about life in general?
Write as often as you can and read twice as often. Inspiration can come from anywhere.
Given your own experience, do you have any advice for aspiring/emerging picture book authors?
People will tell you that it’s difficult to get a book out there and, in many ways, it is, but there are so many great resources out there for new authors like you and I. Be open to advice but follow your intuition and never let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Both children and adults need to sit down, take a breath and read now more than ever, so that means that we need as many stories as we can get. Don’t be afraid to put your words out into the world. Somebody needs to hear them.
Chris, thank you so much for joining us today on Reader Views Kids!
Thank you for having me! Have a wonderful Holiday season.