When it comes to the tall order of reinventing fairy tales for today’s extraordinary generation of whip-smart kids, few writers would be willing to step up to the plate. Leave it to Zoë B. Alley and her “hysterically smart” pen to face the task undaunted. Her children’s books There’s a Wolf at the Door and There’s a Princess in the Palace turn fairy tales like Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood on their heads.
Zoë’s partner in creativity is her husband RW Alley, who illustrated her books. Bob is known internationally for illustrating Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear books, among many others. He is one busy guy!
Zoë has also lent her eye for children’s storytelling to the Enzo children’s series of books. Inspired by the book The Art of Racing in the Rain, the stories feature Enzo the dog. They are something special!
Zoë was generous enough to answer some questions about her writing process, dreams, passions, and more. Read on for a very entertaining interview! And be sure to order her books through your local children’s bookstore. I recommend The Blue Bunny in Dedham, Massachusetts!
Where did you find the inspiration for There’s a Wolf at the Door and There’s a Princess in the Palace? How did you go about creating the clever connections between the stories you retell?
Ah, inspiration! That all too difficult concept within the creative process! Actually, my so-called inspiration for these two books truly developed with input from my editor, Neal Porter, who was interested in developing “graphic novels”/comic book formats for the picture book market (kiddos generally aged 4-8ish).
Once I sat down to write, the idea of linking all the stories seemed to flow out of my pen! Isn’t that weird?! I have had many people say that my characters talk and sound just like me – am I that snarky and sarcastic?! Yeah…
Where do you get your wit and humor? For instance, the pig, when responding to the wolf who wants to blow his brick house in, quips, “Give it your best shot.” Little Red Riding Hood is a fashion victim who loves to wear red. Brilliant!
Oh, thank you so much! I have no idea from whence this comes! I kind of go through life as if there were subtitles to the situations in which I find myself! One reviewer called my book language “smartly hysterical”…I was so flattered by this that I use the phrase always. My now adult “kids” are sick of hearing it, but I don’t care!
What’s it like collaborating with your husband? What is your creative process in working together?
It’s wonderful! Truly! We have been together personally and professionally for so long that we subliminally know what each of us expects from the other – at least artistically!
When I write, Bob intrinsically knows how my I want my characters to look; likewise, I know how he will make them look. Again weird, right?! We are a great team, I guess! In picture books, the text always comes first. So, that is the system we follow, too. My words THEN his pictures.
Who inspired you as a child? Did you have someone special who read stories to you growing up?
Easy: my mom. She was a soft, warm, and loving book-reader to both me and my sister. Every night. There are books I read to our children in which I could still hear her voice. I love that! I so believe in the power of reading to kiddos, and this is due to her. Thanks, mom!
Which author or artist, living or dead, would you most like to share a meal with, and why?
I bet you expect me to name an amazing children’s book person here, don’t you?! Nope! John Irving! The simple reason being that I believe him to be a master of storytelling. That man can create an amazing story arc like no other, except maybe for Charles Dickens. The complexity of plot, the character development, the story itself – he is genius at it all! And, he writes sooooo many words! That is so impressive to me as a picture book author!
What kind of hours do you keep as a writer?
I am what I refer to as a “brain writer”. Before I actually sit down to write, I have spent many hours in my own head developing story, plot and characters. This all does not come out my pen until all is good and ready to look good on paper! To some, this may resemble sporadic writing; and I would say “sure” to that assessment. I write when my words need to tumble out of me!