You’ve read the blog, you’ve seen the book, now meet the author, it’s Mike Allegra ladies and gentlemen! He’s here to shoot the breeze with me and to give away a copy of his wonderful children’s book, SARAH GIVES THANKS, to one lucky blog reader – it could be you!
Right then Mike, let’s get the boring…er, I mean…the exciting biography bit out of way first…
Thanks Vanessa…what do you mean boring? Well nevermind, here goes – I have earned my living as a writer and editor for the past 15 years. My first picture book, SARAH GIVES THANKS, was released in September 2012 by Albert Whitman & Company. The book has earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, is an Amelia Bloomer List selection, and is now in its second printing. As a playwright, I have had my work read and performed around the U.S. and was the recipient of a New Jersey State Council on the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship. A former journalist for North Jersey Newspapers, I am currently the editor of The Lawrentian, the alumni magazine of The Lawrenceville School (Lawrenceville, NJ). During my tenure, The Lawrentian has won a dozen regional and national awards, including Gold and Silver honors from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).
There, that wasn’t boring was it? Vanessa? Vanessa?! Are you asleep?
What? No, of course not! I was just…well, let’s move on to the book. In one sentence, what is SARAH GIVES THANKS about?
One sentence? You gotta be kidding me.
OK. Fiiine. Here goes:
SARAH GIVES THANKS is the story of Sarah Josepha Hale, a 19th century New Englander, who led a 36-year, grassroots campaign to turn Thanksgiving into a national holiday.
If I had more than one sentence, I would’ve also mentioned how Sarah was the first female magazine editor in America. And her magazine eventually became the most widely read periodical in America. And she founded charities. And she raised money to preserve historic landmarks. And she became a tireless advocate for women’s education. And she wrote and/or edited dozens of bestselling books. And she is the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” And she did all of these things while raising five children as a single mom.
Well I’m only allowing one sentence Mike, so you can’t say that other bit. Sorry. Now, I’m always interested in how long the writing and publishing process takes, so how long was it from the time you first thought of the idea for the book, until the day it was published?
Too long. But the circumstances were unusual. Partway through the process, my editor quit her job. Also, the first illustrator, after much hemming and hawing, decided not to sign her contract. This delayed the book for a year. In the end, however, this hiccup turned out to be a huge blessing because my new editor, Kristen Ostby, shared my vision for SARAH GIVES THANKS in a way my first editor never did. And the illustrator Kristen selected, David Gardner, had the exact same artistic style that I had imagined for the book.
So it took a while, but everything worked out perfectly. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation.
You’re not really answering my questions are you Mike? Let’s see how you do on this one – for the benefit of us Brits, what’s so great about Thanksgiving?
I don’t know how much Brits know about Thanksgiving, so forgive me if what’s below is common knowledge.
Way back in the early 1600s, a group of religious zealots were tired of being persecuted by the British king. So they sailed to America and set up a colony at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts. Once there, they immediately began to persecute themselves with far more zeal and enthusiasm than your king could’ve ever imagined. These folks were the Pilgrims. They dressed in black and liked wearing buckles on their hats and shoes. They also liked accusing each other of witchcraft.
The Pilgrims had a tough go of things on these shores, and many of them died during their first New England winter. In 1621 however, with the help of the indigenous Native Americans, they managed to have a decent harvest. So Pilgrims and the Native Americans had a feast where they thanked their Maker for the food, their friendships, and their good fortune.
The Pilgrims were not America’s first colony, and they certainly weren’t the most successful or the most forward thinking, but that Thanksgiving feast did tap into America’s sense of idealism. The idea of a special feast to thank God for all the blessings in one’s life captured the imagination of many New Englanders.
The rest of America’s colonies, however, which had their own unique histories, generally ignored the holiday.
That is until Sarah Josepha Hale came along.
Thanksgiving meant a great deal to Sarah, not because of the Pilgrims, but because the holiday forced people to put their lives in perspective. Then, as now, it was so easy to get bogged down with all the aggravations in life. It was so easy to dwell on the negative. Thanksgiving, however, was all about reflecting on the positive. Or, as Eric Idle once wisely sang, “…the bright side of life.”
In Sarah’s case, the holiday helped her to cope with the death of her husband and find a way to support her family. If Thanksgiving could help her, Sarah reasoned, it might be able to help others. And so Sarah began her campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Thanksgiving, she believed, was good for America’s soul.
So that’s why Thanksgiving is important to Americans. People also use that day to get a day off from work and watch football.
Well I was looking more for something like “It’s so great because we get to eat lots of turkey and pumpkin pie.” Something like that, you know? But ok. Let’s go a bit wild and crazy now – can you tell us a random fact about yourself; something that you’ve never mentioned on your blog, and very few people know about you?
I recently took a test online to see if I was an introvert. Out of 23 questions posed, I provided 22 introverted responses. And that lone remaining question was sort of borderline. I think I will go hide under my desk now.
Well that certainly was wild and crazy Mike, thanks. Let’s find out now a bit more about what makes Mike tick. What are your favourites of these…
You’re just asking these questions so you can spell favorites, with a “U,” aren’t you Vanessa? Admit it!
I admit it! But let’s do it anyway:
a) Your favourite joke –
I don’t care for jokes, really. I’m more of an amusing anecdote person. But I do like this one:
b) Hehe, MOOOOOOO! Now, what’s your favourite fast food –
I try to avoid fast food at all costs. My very first job was manning the broiler at a Burger King. I only did it for one summer, but the work left me with severe emotional scars. Also grease burns. If I were forced to pick, however, it would be Roy Rogers’ roast beef sandwich. It doesn’t taste exactly like roast beef – the texture is all wrong – but it’s close enough.
c) First you make a joke about a cow, and now you want to eat it! Nice. Right, what’s your favourite TV show –
I am a new fan of Breaking Bad, which just ended its run on TV. I have been buying the old seasons on DVD, however. It is, in my view, one of the most sharply written and superbly acted shows ever.
d) And the final one in the favourites round – Who is your favourite person from England who is funny, charming, and intelligent, whose name begins with V, and who has interviewed you?
Dang. There have been so many. Vanessa Redgrave… Lord Voldemort…
Oh, Vanessa, it’s you. Definitely you!
My goodness Mike, that’s so unexpected, I don’t know what to say! Thank you. And the very final question, going back to your playwriting, if you were to write a play where you would take the lead role, what type of story would it be, what type of character would you be, and who else would you like to be in it with you?
Years ago I wrote a comedy/drama titled Rebounders. One of the characters, named Sean, is a complete and total pig. I had so much fun writing for that character. Audiences find him hilarious and the actors who have tackled the part over the years loved the opportunity to say and do such gleefully offensive things. I’m too old for the part, really, but that would be the one I’d pick. As for other people I would want to act with…? There is a good part in Rebounders for a talented actress. Interested?
Oh Mike, yes, it would be so wonderful to be on stage with you again! Do you remember the last time we were on stage together…
I certainly do Vanessa, what a memorable performance that was.
Ok, well, we’re done here, except to say that to be in with a chance of winning a copy of SARAH GIVES THANKS, just leave a comment below by the end of Wednesday 6 November, and one lucky winner will be randomly selected after then. Oh, and if you don’t follow Mike’s blog already, you really should – heylookawriterfellow.
Thanks Vanessa! I wonder where I put those ballet tights, what with Halloween coming up…