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Interview: Mayra Calvani, Author of Frederico, the Mouse Violinist

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Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults. Frederico, the Mouse Violinist, an International Books Award Finalist, is her latest picture book. She’s had over 300 reviews, articles, stories and interviews published, and is a regular writing instructor at SavvyAuthors.com. Readers can visit her website, become her blog follower and download a copy of the FREE ebook, Writing Tips from the Children’s Writer’s Coaching Club.

Please tell us a bit about your book, Frederico, the Mouse Violinist, and what you hope readers take away from reading it.

Frederico, the Mouse Violinist is a children’s picture book for ages 4-8. Though it’s a historical fiction story, it also teaches the parts of the violin.

The story is about a mouse named Frederico who lives in Antonio Stradivari’s workshop. During the day, he watches the luthier create his violins; during the night, he sneaks into the workshop to examine the instruments. More than anything in the world, Frederico wants to become a violinist, but the violins in the workshop are too big for him. Then, one night, unbeknown to Frederico, Stravari sees him. During the next several days, Frederico watches as the luthier works on a small, mysterious device. Could it be a special Strad just for Frederico?

The book introduces children to the violin and to Antonio Stradivari. It also has fun activities at the end to further enforce the learning experience.

Who are your favorite characters in the story?

Well, there are just two characters in my book: Frederico and Antonio Stradivari… and I love them both!

Do you have a favorite line or excerpt from your book?

Since this is a children’s picture book, the text is quite short, under 1,000 words. But if I have to choose, my favorite part would have to be the ending, when Frederico at last has a tiny Strad just for him:

Frederico lifted the instrument and began to play. The notes swirled about him in a cloud of pure joy as Frederico moved the bow over the strings. He closed his eyes and swayed like a famous violinist on stage.

From the door Stradivari watched, pleased that he had made yet another violinist the happiest violinist on earth.

If your current release were to be turned into a movie, who would you love to see play what characters and why?

I wouldn’t mind having Kevin Costner play Antonio Stradivari. He has that ‘artistic’ flair about him.

What are your favorite aspects of writing?

I love the creative process, from idea to writing that first draft. Once I start revising, the right brain steps in and everything becomes more difficult. The process becomes more cold and calculated.

I love that I can stay at home and work in my pajamas all day if I want to. I love that freedom.

I also enjoy interacting with other children’s writers who share my passion and tribulations about the craft and the business side of publishing.

Your least favorite aspects of writing?

In the case of picture books, I always have a hard time coming up with the perfect ending. The end must have a twist of some kind and be sort of unexpected yet at the same time it must evolved naturally, organically from the story. This usually takes a lot of thought and brainstorming. It can get very frustrating!

I also dislike the submission process. It’s a waiting game.

Who are some of your favorite authors/books?

I love Kate DiCamillo. I think her writing is exquisite and her stories are full of emotional impact. She always makes me cry.

My top favorite books for adults are The Stranger, by Albert Camus, and The Awakening, by Kate Chopin.

I also love Anne Rice’s earlier books about vampires and witches. I enjoy her baroque, florid style of writing and the way she blends fiction with history and art.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished reading Writing the Paranormal Novel, by Steven Harper, which I highly recommend.

I also finished reading Latitude 38, by Ron Hutchison. This one will stay on my mind for a while.

Today I’m starting the children’s book, Aloni Gabriel and Mariposa Butterfly, by Elena Iglesias.

If you could have a dinner party and invite five authors – dead or alive – who would they be and what would you serve them?

My guests would probably be Albert Camus, Kate Chopin, Anne Rice, Tama Janowitz and Bram Stoker. I would cook them an elaborate Turkish dinner consisting of cucumber and black olive salad, feta and spinach filo pastry, stuffed grape leaves, grilled lamb chops, and pilav. For dessert, baklava and other syrupy, but-based desserts.

What is a book that you wish you could say that you had written and why?

The Stranger, by Albert Camus. It’s a short little book, but so powerful and insightful about the human nature. He won the Nobel Prize, so what more could I want?

What is the greatest piece of advice (for writing and/or just living) that you have heard?

For living: Live your life as if this were your last day (but without going crazy!).

For writing: I have always found Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way and The Right to Write, incredibly inspiring. She says: “Writing is about getting something down, not about thinking something up.”

These powerful words were very revealing to me and changed the direction I had with writing. If I have to ‘think something up,’ writing becomes something lofty, something I may not be able to grasp. I’m straining. On the other hand, if I focus on getting something down, I have a sense of attention but I’m not straining. It’s like I’m taking dictation. Or like I’m watching the movie in my head and writing down what I see.

This simple philosophy completely freed and revolutionized my writing.

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