Mike and Vanessa Give Thanks, with Pumpkin Pie and Ballet Tights

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!

Mike 3-D

Mike Allegra – he writes, he blogs, he draws, he looks fabulous in a pair of 3D glasses.

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?

Sarah Gives Thanks cover

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:

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Interrupting cow.
Interrupting co–
MOOOOOOOOOOO!

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…

Mike and Vanessa as ballet dancers

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 Mike!

Thanks Vanessa! I wonder where I put those ballet tights, what with Halloween coming up…

Mike Allegra

Mike Allegra

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102 responses to “Mike and Vanessa Give Thanks, with Pumpkin Pie and Ballet Tights

  1. Gee Mike got off fairly easy.. the photo of him in his tights should have been in the beginning… I love this interview for a few reasons… the first being; Vanessa (One from the Motherland) questioning the reason for Thanks Giving… second .. now I know why they celebrate Thanks Giving, and here I thought they were celebrating their freedom from England… so I stand corrected… Thirdly you have gone so far up on a pedestal now, hobnobbing with the celebrities, play writes and authors… and here I am a mere golfer in the midst of these people… what an interesting chap this is, and he sure had you beat, he answered how he wanted and not how you wanted… good for you Mike, I think she can be a bit of a bully….
    I love your blog Vanessa .. just pulling your leg, although they are kind of sexy when your in your tutu…

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    • I did contemplate putting the tights photo right at the beginning, but then I decided that would have been rather self-indulgent of me because that photo was my bit of fun. I wanted to let him have his say about himself and his book first, even if I did tease him a bit with all that too! But then Mike and I have a bit of a history of ribbing each other about things, so I figured he could handle it! And don’t put yourself down Rob, you’re a celebrity in the golfing management software world 🙂 I’m quite pleased with how I look in that tutu too! I always wanted to be a ballet dancer actually…

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    • Hi Bulldog! Thanks for your kind words. Vanessa is a cruel and merciless interviewer. I’m glad I survived.

      I’m glad I could clarify the Thanksgiving thing. Americans actually celebrate their independence from England on July 4. To be honest, however, England is rarely mentioned when we celebrate on that day. The Fourth is just a day to get a long weekend, be patriotic in general, and blow things up.

      Perhaps England should consider celebrating Thanksgiving, for the holiday commemorates the removal of some rather odd people from your shores. In one bold act, you improved the British gene pool. Well done!

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      • As I live in South Africa I think England already has a holiday celebrating the day they kicked us out… lol.. you at least left and then told them to shove it, and maid a holiday of it as well… I love that, the only problem is you won your battle with them and we lost ours, oh well blow something up for me next 4th of July, as for Vanessa she is cruel and merciless, she played golf with me with my interview and then still had the cheek to beat me…

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        • I remember that interview. If I were you, I’d demand a rematch — but be sure to have an impartial third party there to make sure she doesn’t cheat.

          Oh, and consider a small part of America blown up on your behalf. It’s the least I can do.

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  2. “when you’re in your tutu” is what I meant

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  3. Re: the pic caption. Two out of three ain’t bad. A fellow Garden Stater. He can’t be all bad. Lawrenceville is actually quite pretty. It’s a nice time of year to be there.

    Sarah Josepha Hale is a classic over-achiever. She makes me feel like I’m not trying very hard, which I am not.

    If those Native Americans could have peered into the future they would have eaten the Pilgrims at that feast.

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  4. Vanessa, you are like the best interviewer ever–no leading questions, great comedic timing–oh yeah and the guy you featured was pretty good too!

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  5. “Tutu” fun to read — two of my blogger friends talking with each other! You two are hilarious!

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  6. Wish I could be as funny and witty as you are, Vanessa! I enjoyed the comments as much as the post! Hope you didn’t get blown away in this recent storm!

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  7. Ah! – great pic – worth waiting for – kept that one secret didn’t you? Doesn’t it make your eyes water though, Mike?

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  8. OUT-standing interview, Vanessa and Mike. What a sense of humour. You’re introverted? Really. Hm. You sure have a lot of fun for an introvert.
    I would love a chance to win ‘Sarah Gives Thanks’ for my grandkids. ‘-)

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  9. What a great story about Thanksgiving, Mike! I would love to read it. And Vanessa, an insightful interview. You too look lovely at the ballet. I’m tearing up now.

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  10. Always love your style! An interview done by Lord Voldemort would be an interesting thing to read. Ponder that…. 🙂

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  11. You crack me up Vanessa! Great interview. And I thought the reason we celebrated thanksgiving was to have an excuse to pack the fridge with a weeks worth of mashed potatoes.

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  12. Great interview, Mike and Vanessa! It kept me laughing with both of your witty remarks. Good luck on the book, Mike. I’m glad Sarah pushed for Thanksgiving to be a holiday, because it’s my favorite with family and friends (and not too commercialized–although the stores try hard to make $$$ on it too; they just haven’t succeeded yet…except for the grocery stores. I think they do pretty good)

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  13. Okay, I can’t come up with a comment anywhere near as good as these earlier ones. Love your interviews, Vanessa, and congrats to Mike on going into a second printing on the book!

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  14. Has made his living “as a writer and editor for the past 15 years,” writes about a strong female character, and avoids fast food—I already know I like this guy! Great interview. 🙂

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  15. Um, trying to be clever. Too much pressure. Sort of like the pressure Mike felt while wearing those tights. But different, because I’m a female. A female writer who (1) loved the interview, (2) loves Mike’s book (I won it once before, but I hope I’m in the running to win again, because I have only 1 book, and 6 grandchildren. (3) am so impressed with Sarah Josepha Hale that she’s my new hero(ine), but that’s makes Mike a hero because he’s brought her out of obscurity and into the hearts and minds of children everywhere (or at least children who are lucky enough to read Mike’s book).

    HOWEVER, I am very disappointed that this interview did not include a video of Mike playing his banjo.

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    • Hey, don’t worry, you don’t need to be clever!…not that you’re not clever, but…I just meant…oh dear. Anyway, yes, of course you’re in the running to win again, good luck! You’re right, Mike is a hero for letting everyone know what a hero(ine) that gal was. But wait, there are videos of Mike playing his banjo somewhere?! Now I’M disappointed we didn’t include one. Next time.

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    • Still stuck on that banjo, thing, eh? Well it ain’t gonna happen!

      Although a few days ago I would’ve said the same thing about wearing tights. Hmm..

      Hey, Vanessa, can you Photoshop my head onto Earl Scruggs?

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  16. Brava or bravo or cheerio. A charming interview. And now I am going out to find out if my library can hook us up with Mike’s book. Sarah Josepha Hale sounds like the kinda gal I want my boy to learn about.Thanks Mike and Vanessa.
    Love,
    Shalagh

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  17. Sounds like a great book, Mike, especially because I am a New Englander, and I love Thanksgiving, and I’m totally supportive of moms doing it all. Wonderful interview, Vanessa. You hit all the right notes of funny! 🙂

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  18. Sarah Josepha Hale definitely knew how to give thanks – and help others to do the same. The idealistic spirit of the holiday comes through in her story…and Mike’s story about her!

    Great interview, Vanessa. You always know how to make get-to-know-you posts that much more engaging for us simple readers. 🙂

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  19. First off, great work, both of you!
    Second, congratulations on the book, Mike. My daughter’s name is Sarah and i think she’ll get a kick out of the title and cover. Her first children’s book is almost complete and she’s experienced the same delays where an illustrator is concerned.
    Overall, another winning post, Vanessa-Jane!

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  20. MIke and Vanessa, This is HYSTERICAL! The ballet photo is quite the hoot! Terrific interview! p.s. I already have a copy of Mike’s book, but would love to win a copy for the kid I tutor. So, pick me! 🙂

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  21. Hey, I worked at Burger King, too, between my first and second years of college. I wonder if we have similar scars. While I could throw out the uniform and those grease-covered shoes, the smell will remain lodged in my olfactory memory forever.

    Mike, I love your book! We’re reading it again at school, and at home, this year. Actually, we never stopped reading it throughout the year, but TG seems like a good time to celebrate the power of strong women.

    I’d love to see a YouTube video of the pas de deux. Nice interview, Vanessa!

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    • Thanks for your comment Jilanne – I’m thinking that maybe everybody should be made to work in Burger King (or similar) during their college years and then it might put everyone off fast food for life!

      That’s good to hear how much you like the book, and I’ll see what I can do about the pas de deux video! 😉

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    • A victim of the hellish broiler! Oh, you poor thing.

      My grease burns were the result of the poorly designed tongs they issued me. Their bent metal construction served as a kind of grease trough. Gravity allowed the scalding stuff to dribble down the handle onto my forearms whenever my tonged hand was elevated above my elbow — which due to the broiler’s construction, was whenever I took a burger off the fire.

      To recover, I took all of my breaks in the BK freezer.

      I am so very glad you and yours like my book, my friend. Thanks for your kind words!

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  22. Yay Sarah! Yay Mike! Yay Vanessa! This was like a David Frost interview but way more fun. The one thing you forgot, Mike, was the original prayer said by the Pilgrims during their first Thanksgiving feast:

    Let’s give thanks, we didn’t die!
    Pumpkin, pecan, apple pie!

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  23. Love the story of Sarah Hale! Illustrations look great.

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  24. Vanessa, your interview was a hoot and you and Mike are having way to much fun!

    Mike, thanks for the sentence (paragraph) of Sarah Hale. I had no idea it was a historical non-fiction book. It sounds like a great read-aloud book, makes me almost wish I was still teaching.

    By any chance, have you visited Plymouth Plantation? Gives quite a picture of daily living and from the food that I saw being prepared, with flies swarming all over it, I think that the Pilgrims ought to give thanks that they lived to eat another day. 😉 Nowadays, I think it’s just another day where you can tell your friends to get stuffed…and they won’t be offended.

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  25. Thanks so much for the chance to win! samke23@gmail.com

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  26. One thing I never imagined, Mike, was ever seeing a picture of you in tights! Vanessa, great interview! They are not easy to do and I find I am never quite as witty as you. 🙂

    While our Canuck Thanksgiving is over for this year, Grandson will be able to better appreciate Sarah Gives Thanks by the time it rolls around next year. All this talk about Thanksgiving’s origin has me thinking, why does Canada celebrate it a month earlier? I suppose it’s because our growing season is shorter, being that we are much further north, so it makes sense that we would celebrate the harvest earlier, but I really don’t know for sure. I’ll have to go look it up! Thanks for the insightful and hilarious interview! 🙂

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    • I never imagined seeing a picture of me in tights, either.

      You’re probably right about why Canadians celebrate the holiday a month earlier than the U.S.

      Before Sarah came around, the U.S. never had a set day for the holiday. Different New England states celebrated the holiday on different days. (It was also not unusual for different communities within a state to celebrate Thanksgiving on different days.) Not only did Sarah persuade the entire nation to celebrate Thanksgiving, she also got the entire nation to celebrate it on the same day. No small feat, that.

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    • Thank you, glad you liked it! Mike in tights is quite something to see right? Interesting about Canada too, would be good to find out about that.

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  27. Terrific interview Vanessa! Loved the ballet photo. Mike, your book has a great one sentence summary. Sounds like a good read for little girls too. 🙂

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  28. Loving the photoshopped photo, and some great background on Mike’s book…all in all a hilarious and informative interview, thanks Vanessa. H xxx

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  29. Great interview, Vanessa and Mike. You two were made for each other! Thoroughly enjoyed it! 🙂

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  30. Pingback: Random Tuesday | Vanessa-Jane Chapman

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