Made by Raffi by Craig Pomranz
1- Do you know how to knit and sew?
I studied at The Goodman Theatre, The Art Institute of Chicago. When I was on a work scholarship one of my jobs was to work in the costume shop. I learned to sew, but I would not say I mastered it! I did make a terrific pair of pants once. Now I am limited to sewing on buttons.
2- What five words represent your most notable characteristic or values? #In5Words
Compassion, Enthusiasm, Ethics, Generosity, Honesty
3- What ignited your passion for writing?
I was galvanized by a true story that I wanted to share with kids, parents and teachers. My godson was nine when the incident happened -- his mother told me that he wanted to know why he didn't like sports and liked to knit. "Is there such a thing as a tomgirl?," he asked. I had never heard of the word tomgirl, but was struck by the many stereotypes and concepts it encompassed and immediately realized it was a story that needed to be told.
4- Would you share a picture with us of your book in an iconic location?
5- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?
Made by Raffi has reminded me of how much impact a children’s book can have. The book's reach (eight languages and 11 countries so far) shows how all cultures are the same when it comes to how we treat one another. I hope to provide an opening for conversations and to challenge ideas, as well as remind people to be kind and empathetic. I am working on future books that empower children.
6- I hear there's a song that goes with the book. What can you tell us about that?
Yes, it is very exciting! Composers Amanda McBroom (Bette Midler’s award-winning song “The Rose”) and Michele Brourman ("The Land Before Time" series) were inspired to write a song for me after reading Made by Raffi. My "real" job for most of my life is singing in nightclubs around the world. I am based in New York City, but travel from Los Angeles to Chicago to London performing. Once I recorded the song, "Different" I was completely thrilled to debut the song with my book at The International Edinburgh Book Festival. Here is a link: Different. Please feel free to share it!
7- What is your favorite book (by someone else), and what do you love most about that book?
I collect biographies and cookbooks, and of course the best cookbooks are a form of autobiography. I am inspired by true-life heroes, especially the lesser-known ones. M.F.K. Fisher has written remarkable food books that are like long poems. I love the emotional honesty and thoughtfulness in anything Ruth Reichl writes. I have been lucky enough to meet Nora Ephron and she is hilarious and someone I admire.
8- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?
Other than my mother? LOL. I hear from readers of all ages all over the world. I love the parents, aunts, uncles and teachers who are eager to share Raffi’s story. I am particularly moved by hearing from children. A mother in Sweden sent me a picture of her little boy knitting that still puts a lump in my throat, and this lovely drawing was made by a girl in Taiwan who designed a cape for Raffi to sew. Below is a picture at the International Edinburgh Book Festival with twins wearing the original scarf made by Raffi and Isak from Sweden and the drawing from Taiwan.
9- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?
I hope the book evokes compassion and encourages empathy towards those who seem to be different than us. When I read the book to children, they tend to be quiet and reflective, perhaps because there is a lot at stake for the little hero who is trying to ignore bullies who don't understand him. My favorite scene is when his mother says to him “you are our wonderful boy with your own special interests. Dad and I are very proud of you.” If we all had the kind of support that permits us be true to ourselves, we would see real change.
10- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?
My editor, Janetta Otter-Barry, found a way to simplify my story and yet keep the complex ideas intact. I learned so much from her.
11- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?
Raffi is memorable because of his calm centeredness. Kid's books tend to be high-spirited, but Raffi's secret power is to quietly keep doing what he loves. He earns respect that way.
12- In what ways are the main characters in your book diverse? https://diversebooks.org #WeNeedDiverseBooks
My protagonist is a little boy who is teased because he is perceived to be different. Maybe not physically, although his hair is longer than the other boys, but more because of his quietness. One of the characters is teased because he is overweight. Margaret Chamberlain's marvelous illustrations show students of all colors and sizes and with disabilities. Diversity is a reality, and I wanted to capture and celebrate it all.
13- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?
Raffi is both naive and wise. He doesn't see himself as a victim, even as he is tormented. His parents help him understand that he doesn't need to change anything but just to be himself.
14- Does your book hold a mirror up to society, and in what way?
THAT is the core idea of my book. Society remains clogged by stereotypes and expectations forced upon us. Why aren't you married yet? When are you going to have children? Why do you live that way? Wear those clothes? Like that awful music? Follow those unusual religious beliefs? I hoped to spark conversations among parents, teachers and kids about how to cope with social control and the power and challenges of conformity.
15- Do you feel like you've stayed true to yourself throughout your life?
I have always been true to myself in my world, which hasn't always been easy. But the tougher challenge is to feel free and comfortable in one's own skin. I am wary of isolation, which would permit me to be whatever I want much more easily. We live in a world that fosters isolation -- we can live on social media and converse with only like-minded people -- but we have to find a way to exist in a heterogeneous world.
16- Can you think of any small change in the world you could make to benefit hundreds of other authors or readers potentially?
I am not sure if you mean a small change I personally could make -- that wouldn't be easy. One change is simple: encourage reading! It is wonderful that students are learning how to write computer code, but if they don't know how to write a sentence, communicate feelings and ideas, what is the point?
17- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?
My apartment in New York is packed with hundreds of books -- I built new bookcases last year and they are already all full! I don't need much encouragement to buy a book. I used to wander through bookstores and wait for something to catch my eye: either the subject matter or an author I like. Now I read more reviews and take recommendations from my literary friends.
18- How will you measure your publishing performance?
This is my first experience with all of this. Made by Raffi has already surpassed my expectations, and yet I feel like there is a longer life for the title and other countries to tackle. Raffi is currently being looked at in India, Sri Lanka, Spain and Israel. On one hand, I hope people will buy it for generations to come, on the other I hope that one day we will not need a book that encourages children to be themselves. Below is a sampling of the International editions of Made by Raffi.
19- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?
My publisher, The Quarto Group, is a large global company. Even so, I felt very well taken care of during the editing and illustration process -- the imprint, Frances Lincoln, is small and dedicated to diversity-focused children's books. During the marketing process, I found that no one is as passionate about a book as its author. I did not consider self-publishing because I was a new author with no backing or idea how to get started.
20- What's the best book marketing strategy you've come across?
My publishers reached out to librarians; I reached out to parent and teacher bloggers, as well as child psychologists and those who do podcasts. One of the realities of publishing is that authors have to make themselves much more visible. We have to do our own homework to get interviews and articles published. This takes a lot of hours but is well worth it.
21- What is one question or discussion topic) which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?
With the current political climate around the world attention must be paid to how we treat each other. There is greater visibility and acceptance of non-traditional gender behavior and yet there seems to be a growing need to conform to traditional roles. What new ideas are there that will help change attitudes towards gender stereotypes?
22- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?
Craig Pomranz bio – Craig is an internationally known singer/song-stylist, actor... and now author! Made By Raffi is his first children’s book. Craig received New York’s MAC Award for Best Male Vocalist in 2012. Originally from St. Louis, Craig got his professional start performing at age 12 at The MUNY, the largest professional outdoor theatre in the country. He attended Carnegie-Mellon University and The Goodman Theatre - The Art Institute of Chicago. Craig lives in New York City and travels the world performing in nightclubs and theatres. His popular CDs “More Than A Seasonal Thing” and “My Heart Don’t Skip A Beat” can be heard on radio stations around the world and are available on iTunes, CDBaby and his website http://www.craigpomranz.com.
Craig is working on several new books. He hopes his books will continue to enlighten and empower children. He also continues to travel the world singing. You can find his schedule on his website and see if he is in a town near you.
Follow on Twitter - @CraigPsings and @MadeByRaffi
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Book Blurb: “Raffi feels different from the other children at school - he doesn’t like noisy games, and sometimes he gets teased. But when Raffi discovers knitting and sewing, everything changes, and everyone wants something that is - Made by Raffi”
Made by Raffi by Craig Pomranz