Saturday, November 3, 2012

Monkey Tales

From L to R: Monkeys Amy, Sarah & Kristen
The Turbo Monkeys

Once upon a time, in October of 2010, eight strangers participated in a Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Mentorship Program. None of them could have predicted that this writing workshop would transform them into the Turbo Monkeys.

In April of 2011 when the mentor program ended, the eight stayed in touch. A few months later, the writers formed a critique group.

But where did the monkey moniker come from? Well, in August of 2011, some of the writers attended a SCBWI conference in Los Angeles. Participants dressed as characters from their favorite bedtime story. This group suited up as the fun-loving, accident-prone primates from Eileen Christelow’s Five Little Monkeys. Soon afterwards, they decided to call themselves the Turbo Monkeys.

But that was not “the tail end” of their story. During the summer of 2012, they launched their Turbo Monkey blog. And I’m wondering what this creative and inspiring barrel full of monkeys will unleash next!

This eclectic group consists of an architect, archeologist, illustrator, media maven and teachers. They span the United States from Maine to California. And yet, it works. When these monkeys bump their proverbial heads, they don’t call the doctor, they call each other…

Check them out at: where they focus “on the craft, production, marketing and consumption of Children's Literature.” And each dons an interesting monkey title.

From L to R: Monkeys (friend) Charlene, Sarah, Amy, (friend) Joanna & Hazel

Amy Allgeyer Cook
Your title is "Writer Monkey, Cupcake Eater".  Why?
Cupcakes...yum!!! The whole idea of a cupcake intrigues me! It's a whole cake, but TINY!!!

What's your favorite cupcake?
My favorite is an almond-flavored cupcake with coconut frosting. Lucky for me, I'm a terrible baker. :) Keeps me skinny.

What were you like as a kid?
I'm the youngest of seven, so I was pestered, abused and spoiled, in equal measure. My brothers and sisters are all very witty. There was a lot of laughter in our house and I grew up trying to make people laugh. I do the same in my writing...try to make people laugh.

How did you go from architect to writer?

I've always been a writer and when I was in high school, I had to decide what to major in -- creative writing or architecture, which I'd become very interested in. My dad said architecture was probably a more stable way to make a living, so that's what I pursued.

Do you think there's a connection between the two careers?
People think of architecture as a very math-y profession, but there's so much creativity required. And design is an ART -- there's not a right or wrong answer. Just a series of decisions that creates one whole that (like writing) either holds together and appeals to the senses or doesn't. I get the same gut-feeling of "yes, this is working" with a well laid out floor plan that I get with a well-written sentence.

Do you still enjoy your job? Or do you hope to write full time one day?
I love my work. Would I give it up to write full time one day? I could, if I felt stable enough, financially.

Craig Lew
You've got the title of "Media Monkey, Cowboy". Could you explain that?
Well the Cowboy became my nickname at the Nevada Mentorship as I almost always wear cowboy boots...started when I was a wee boy...always wanted to be a cowboy.

Amy named me Media Monkey because of my film background and now I've started a trans media company. My current project launches in two weeks. The Goths is a graphic novel with Augmented Reality, a web series and ebook...possibly a movie if we can generate enough fans.

I also have two other animated projects in the works.
What were you like as a kid?
I think I inherited my mother's charm and my father's wit. When I was 7 I used to go to each and ask them for money to get an ice cream from the Baskin Robbins next door. I'd return with a Rocky Road cone and they'd all think they bought it for me...but I of course had pocketed the excess for future scoops.

How did you become a screen-writer, director, and producer?
I was the President of a consulting firm that specialized in technology and management. One day I received a call that my name came up at a meeting for an emerging movie studio. Well, when I met with these Mavericks it became obvious I was in the presence of something big...turned out to be the original DreamWorks SKG and I was meeting with THE Steven Spielberg, Jeffery Katzenberg, and David Geffen.

So for me to help them create their new studio I had to learn from them how they did their business. Observing the manufacture process of movies, I met people like Michael Crichton.

So I produced a computer animated film called The Fish then went on to write, direct and produce a live action feature set in England. Well I quickly learned that quirky dramas are hard to sell. So a friend at Paramount Studios asked me to help create some horror film concepts.

You write scary YA thrillers - why that genre?
I received a few awards for my horror screenplay The 13th Reflection. And became branded as the Scary Story guy.

As a child I always started my stories with "It was a dark and stormy night" or "Once upon a junk yard heap."

What's the most exciting thing that's happened in your life?
I think the Mentorship has been the most that it validated I am a decent writer and lead me to meet the most important people in my life.

Ellen Jellison
Your title is "Writer Monkey, Time Traveler". Could you explain that?
I am called the Time Traveler because I love history. My favorite genre to write is historical fiction because I can go back in time.

What were you like as a kid?
I was a quiet kid. I grew up in the mountains and had a horse. Even as a child, I loved books about history. My favorite childhood memories are riding horses with my friends up into the mountains.

What was being an archeologist like? And why did you switch careers?
Being an archaeologist was exciting. I liked uncovering past cultures and putting the pieces of the puzzle together with the artifacts found. I became a teacher when my kids were little. Being an archaeologist was demanding and I was away from home a lot. But as a teacher, I taught middle grade history, which I loved doing.

Do you have a fond and/or funny story from your teaching years?
I think my best memory from teaching was planning a lesson and having the kids really enjoy what I was teaching. It's fun to see 8th graders really get into American history!

How's retirement?
Retirement is great. I've been monkeying around and having a great time!

I get to write a lot and travel, but I still go back on occasion and substitute for a few teacher friends.

How long have you been retired?
I retired when my youngest graduated from high school, so three years.

What has your greatest travel adventure been?
In real life or in books?

How about both?
In my time travels, I think the Roman Empire is my favorite . . . or maybe Colonial America or the American West . . . hmmm that's a hard one! As for a present day travel adventure . . . I really am in awe of the Pacific Northwest. I've hiked in the Olympic Park and it is magnificent!


From L to R: Monkeys Amy, Ellen & Marilyn


Hazel G. Mitchell

Your title is "Writer-illustrator Monkey, Sailor". Do you own a boat?
I grew up in a coastal town and love the sea. I joined the Royal Navy when I was 22 and worked as a graphic designer! Now I love to go sailing when I can, and especially on schooners in Maine! But I do not own a boat.

Why did you move to Maine?
We moved here from SC in 2004 and have built a house. My hubby is American and we married in 2000 when I moved here from England. So America is my home now! I love Maine, it feels a lot like Yorkshire, where I come from.

Wow - 2 dogs, 2 horses and a cat. Have you always had a lot of animals?
It seems that way! I wanted to be a vet when I was a kid, but I hated science! I always rode from the age of 7. My hubby and I had 10 dogs at one point, and we have rescued many strays, so I guess animals have always been part of my life and always will be. They are my kids!

What were you like as a kid? I was always busy as a kid. I made stuff all the time - for my dolls and my toy horse stable. I was always 'setting out' as my mum called it. If I wasn't drawing or creating I was exploring on my bike or at the stables.

From your bio, it seems like drawing is a passion of yours. Always. I drew from when I can remember. And if I don't draw I feel down. I have always written, but not seriously until now ... maybe because art always paid my bills! But now I am unleashing that side of me and am working on a variety of projects including picture books, a mystery middle grade and an adventure YA. So hopefully I will get them to submission in the near future!

And what do you usually blog about?
I have several blogs. On my personal blog ( I blog about my work and new books and a bit about my life.
I also have a 'childhood rememberings' blog ( which I love and is just sketches I remember from my childhood).

Then there is Pixel Shavings, which I started with 4 other illustrators and that is just an occasional post about illustration.(

I have a Tumbler blog which is my sketches only ... (

And now there is Turbo Monkey Tales! We only blog once a month each and on this I am blogging more about the craft and business of illustration.

Julie Dillard
Your title is "Writer Monkey Soup Vixen". Tell me about that.
I'm the soup vixen because I made a crockpot of cheesy enchilada chowder at an SCBWI mentor retreat that went over pretty well. I'm not really a soup vixen, but I try. ;)

How do you juggle your four kids, teaching and writing?
I pretty much just get psoriasis. :) It's a work in progress. I thought it would get easier to eke out writing time as the kids grew, but with them increasingly out in the world and with their ever more complex homework, it's tough. Next semester, I've arranged for hours of writing time in the library as my youngest will be in preschool Tuesday/Thursday. I'm pretty excited about it.

The teaching always seems to take a huge chunk of my time because there's the not wanting to ever let a class full of students down. I sure do love them, though--so I guess I'm a lucky girl to be so busy with things I love at least!

Have you learned anything from your teen writing students?
My teen students always blow me away with their creativity. They teach me daily about how worthwhile it is to follow a "possibility" to see where it goes.

How about from your kids?
My own children have taught me about the enormity of love (and fear). I use the emotions they bring up to inform the more emotional parts of my writing.

What were you like as a kid?
As a kid I was a reader. I remember lolling about on a recliner with Laura Ingalls or Roald Dahl. My mom would tell you I was dramatic, but I prefer sensitive. :)
We were a military family, so I had the pleasure of exploring the world with my brother and parents.

How did you find your agent?
I met Tracey Adams through connections I was so fortunate to make with Nevada SCBWI. Emma Dryden introduced us and the next day Tracey was on a panel critiquing query letters. Mine got some great feedback, she requested the manuscript, and she offered a month later. I still pinch myself! Adams Literary is a terrific agency to work with in every sense.

From L to R: Monkeys (friend) Joanna, Amy, Julie, Marilyn & Kristen
Kristen Crowley Held
Your title, "Writer Monkey, Sewster" is obvious, but do you sew for the Monkeys at all?
I do sew a lot! Basically, you can tell when I'm having trouble with a story based on how many fairy houses or dolls or whatever I've created that week.
I did make a monkey muse for our blog launch giveaway and would love to make another!

I found it interesting that you have a MFA in costume design and a background in opera, theater, film and TV.
I started out studying historic costume and collection management in grad school because I thought I wanted to work in a museum, but then I took some costuming classes and found I much preferred working with textiles I could touch without wearing white gloves or worrying about destroying something priceless. So I left grad school and went to work in Hollywood for a while. When my husband decided to go back to school to work on a PhD, I decided to get my MFA in costume design.

I was working at the San Francisco Opera before my daughter was born and I loved it, but I got put on bed rest. I ended up getting an internship at a literary agency that let me read through their slush pile at home. It was probably the best education I could have given myself on what NOT to do when querying an agent!

DO. NOT. SEND. GLITTER. Or snapshots of yourself. Or snapshots of the spirit orbs that live in your barn. You may think you've come up with the most clever way EVER to catch an agent's attention but, trust me, they've seen it all. Just follow the submission guidelines specific to whatever agent you're querying and be professional!

What were you like as a kid? My mom was a sewer and she taught me the basic skills, so every year for Halloween I would create some elaborate costume that I'd planned for months and months.
I also really liked to write and I recently found a copy of the first "book" I wrote. It involved a werewolf with a penchant for hotdogs and I illustrated it with a hot pink felt tip marker. Good stuff.

Do you include your life experiences in your stories?
The story I'm currently working on is the one I worked on with Emma D. Dryden in the mentor program. She calls it "Men in Black with Fairies" and it's definitely inspired by my work in Hollywood. LA is a fascinating place, both completely tainted and magical.

Marilyn Hilton
So, how long have you been tap dancing?
I've been tap dancing as an adult for 5 years. It's so much fun--thanks in great part to our teacher, Wendy--and it's great exercise. It has also reminded me that even grownups get to play once in a while.

I imagine that's how you got your "Dancing Fool" title.
It is, but (ssshhh, don't tell anyone) that title is kind of tongue-in-cheek, because I'm pretty shy and self-conscious. Although tap dancing has helped me overcome that.

What were you like as a kid?
I climbed trees and jumped off low roofs, listened for approaching trains with my ear to the tracks, and beat up and kissed the boys (sometimes the same ones). I had an abundance of cousins both in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and we never ran out of things to do with our imaginations.

Have you always written as a career?
By day I work as a technical writer. But I always wanted to write fiction and poetry and essays, so I wrote creatively whenever I could. Also, years ago I wanted to go to graduate school for creative writing. I went to school part-time while working full-time. Getting a two-year master's degree took me five years. And during that time I also got married and had one baby, with our second on the way. I turned in my final thesis and then the next day went into labor!

"Found Things" is a great title. That's your work in progress, right? What's the story about?
Found Things
will be my debut novel, and I'm so excited about it. The more I've written and revised it, the deeper I've understood and fallen in love with it. Isn't that what all our stories should do? Found Things is a contemporary middle-grade story with a touch of magical realism, and without giving away too much, I'll say that it's about having hope and finding miracles.

Sarah McGuire
Your title "Writer Monkey, Algebra Goddess" is of course because you are a math teacher.
According to one of my younger sisters, I liked playing teacher, but I think that was more an older sister thing- an excuse to be bossy. It wasn't till I was older that I realized I liked explaining things. I loved the ah-ha moment. I still do. That push for understanding or clarity is something that teaching and writing share.
What were you like as a kid?
I remember being sixteen and totally shocked when someone told me they thought I was being a snob. I'd been nervous, and nervous+quiet+really tall = snobby, I suppose. (I made a point of smiling when I was nervous after that.) I was so curious! About people, the physical world, words. I still geek out about meteor showers or new words, or old ones I'd forgotten about like defenestration. And I love to watch people! I am, however, much noisier now.
And how/when did you decide to become a writer?
I didn't call myself a writer until a few years ago, and that was when I had to explain to people at work that I needed days off to attend the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program. But I've adored stories for as long as I can remember. I stayed up so many nights, fixing stories that I'd read. (I think I added a princess from Arkenland to The Silver Chair.)
I didn't think about writing till around 2000, and I didn't take it seriously till 2006, when I joined a local crit group. (Hi Slushbusters! I suffer from an embarrassment of riches; I'm part of two great crit groups.)

I love your little "Stay on the dance floor”, “Don't give up" words of advice from one of your posts.
My dad uses that expression. It's important to pursue something even when, especially when, it doesn't come easily. When you think about it, most of how we actually write day to day is our way of staying on the dance floor. We concentrate on word count, or outline, or don't outline, or have files for deleted material— all as a way to keep going. We KNOW those rituals keep us moving. They keep us from becoming disheartened by the state of our first or second or third drafts. They keep us from giving up.
So, giving up is not an option. Does chocolate come in handy?
Let's be clear: chocolate ALWAYS comes in handy. It's like safety pins or duct tape.
There's never been a thought of stopping, even if I knew I'd never get published. What discourages me more is the thought of writing poorly and not being able to fix it. That is demoralizing. And for me, that's where the writing community comes in. You need people to hold your hand and kick your butt at the same time, as Julie said in one of her posts.

From L to R: Monkeys Sarah, Craig, Amy & Hazel

What has being a part of the Turbo Monkeys meant to you?
Amy: They're so much more than just a critique group for me. Collectively, we've seen each other through divorces, deaths, robberies, kids going off to war....on top of the day-to-day stuff like out-of-town spouses, dirty diapers, job stress and the classic "my writing sucks I suck I will never write another word for the rest of my life ever AGAIN!" We're like a family who understands 'good rejection' letters. Or a critique group who cares about potty-training. I talk to them every day and more than once, they're reassured me and/or kicked me in the butt to keep me going. There's a lot of love and respect in this group. And they're all so incredibly talented. I'm a lucky monkey.
Craig: The Turbo Monkeys is a very special thing for me. They are my best friends and keep my sanity just above the loon line. We FB chat everyday...morning and evenings...Hazel first because she's east coast, then Amy, then Kristen...mid morning it's Ellen at night it is Sarah, Marilyn, then Julie...who is a night owl.
Ellen: The Turbo Monkeys are first friends. We value our friendship and we value each other. Yes, we are a critique group and we have a blog together, but first and foremost we are buddies.
Hazel: It's great to be part of a group that met in reality. We talk frequently (some of us daily). Sometimes you go on a workshop with people and just bond.

Julie: The Turbo Monkeys have meant so much to me. Their talent, their support during the hard times, their feedback--just incredible. I love how their work is so different and yet still so enjoyable. It reminds me how much room there is for diversity of voices in stories.

Kristen: I love my Turbo Monkeys! Meeting all of them was such an incredible bonus. I had an inkling when I applied for the mentor program that it would change my writing life, but really I had no idea. Having friends you can talk to about your writing, who get what you're going through, and who don't think you're crazy, is priceless!

Marilyn: Because we are first a critique group, the Turbo Monkeys has given me a place to be supported and supportive, to be accountable, to have fun, to have friends that get the whole writing life, and to be serious and taken seriously with my writing. I love that we are on a journey together and share in the joys and pain along the way. I also love that though each of us is writing very different stories with diverse themes and unique voices, we're able to give each other effective and constructive feedback. Since we began critiquing over a year ago, we've grown to respect and appreciate what each person brings to the table, and to trust each other's judgment. When my crit partners speak, I listen!

Sarah: They're part of my community! They know me and my writing. They help me be a better writer. I'm thrilled that I get to be part of such smart, funny folks.
From L to R: Monkeys Craig, Amy, (friend) Joanna, Kristen & Marilyn
Publicized works:
The Iron Bodkin (Createspace 2010)
Baby Steps (Short Story, published in Creek Kids, a short story anthology, 2009)
“How Poop Saved A Palace” (Stories for Children, 2011)
“Fostering Nina” (A Fly In Amber, 2009)
“A Real Smile” (Stories for Children, 2008)
“Coming Home” (Stories for Children, 2008)
“Fishing for Clean Hands” (Family Fun, 2007)
The Goths Graphic Novel (coming soon, 2012)
A spotlight article in Screentalk
Rock Jocks (Just Released 2012)
(Rock Jocks Trailer:
Lil Emo's Halloweemo 2010
Barking Mad 2010
Mementos 2004
Though Destiny's Lens 2004
The Fish 2000
Little Indiscretions 1999
Numerous screenplays:
The 13th Reflection (Script Magazine Award)
Death Town
The Lord of Shanghai
New books coming from Charlesbridge and Kane-Miller in Spring 2013!
Messy Martha and In the Spotlight (Learning 2012)
Sleeping Bear's Journey by Anne Margaret Lewis (Blue Tree Creative 2012)
Hidden New Jersey by Linda Barth (pub Charlesbridge 2012)
How to Talk to an Autistic Kid by Daniel Stefanski (pub Free Spirit 2011)
(Foreward Reviews Gold Medal, Finalist Books for a Better Life Awards, best of 2012 lists Chicago Public Library, Charlotte/Mecklenburg Library, 2012 Learning Magazine Teachers’ Choice Award for the Family)

All-Star Cheerleaders 4 book series by Anastasia Suen (pub Kane Miller 2011/2012)
Why Am I Here? by Matthew Kelly (Beacon 2009)
Eric Hoffer Independent Book of the Year 2010.
Sabu and Me by Maura Lane (Alton Lane 2010)
Creative Child Magazine Picture Book of the Year 2011
SCBWI Bulletin
"The History of Upton, Siskiyou County, California" (article)

Found Things (fiction, Atheneum, upcoming)
The Christian Girl’s Guide to Your Mom (nonfiction, Legacy Press, January 2004)
Short stories and poems:
“American Gaijin” (poem), Japanophile, Spring 1993 (17)
“In Tama’s House” (poem), Japanophile, Spring 1993 (17)
“Mother to the Child” (poem), Reed, Spring 1994
“Festival” (poem), Japanophile, Fall 1994 (18:4)
“Among the Lotus Eaters,” Mid American Review, Fall 1995
“Finding the Perfect Lens for Your Work,” Spirit-Led Writer, December 2002
“Good News, Too,” (article) Busy Parents Online, 2004
“Coping with Mid-Life Infertility: An Interview with Expert Ann Douglas,” Busy Parents Online, 2004
“Sowing Seeds in Clay: How to Keep Creativity Alive When Your Mind is Not,” Spirit-Led Writer, January 2005
“Polishing Your Prose: A Tech Writer’s Tips," (column) Spirit-Led Writer, 2006


Craig Lew said...


Such a wonderful interview and i know it must have been a chore with so many of us and all of us talking over each other. Great job.

And thank you so very much.



jeanne curtin said...

Craig - I wouldn't use the word "chore". Maybe "challenge" :) It was such a pleasure to get to know all of you creative, talented and kind-hearted monkeys.
I do truly hope that our paths cross.
Stay in touch~

Marilyn said...

Jeanne, thank you so much for the time, thought, and effort you put into interviewing us! I hope to meet you in person one day :)

jeanne curtin said...

Marilyn - It was fun to enter the Turbo Monkey world.
My fingers are crossed that we will meet one day!!
with warm regards~

KC Held said...

Thanks so much for the lovely interview, Jeanne! And I'm right there with you on the mint chocolate chip ice cream :).

jeanne curtin said...

Kristen - I enjoyed getting to know you and the rest of the monkeys.
MCC ice cream is the best!! A close second for me, interestingly enough, is Chunky MONKEY! :)
all the best~

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