Author Spotlight: Cirocco Dunlap
Pleasant Tuesday, average, literate citizen. Welcome to the internet website known as Picture Book Spotlight.
The serious blog for serious people about serious picture books.
If you came to be entertained...you can leave right now. Because this isn't "one of those blogs." Absolutely not. This is ART, people. ART IS NOT FUNNY. ART IS SERIOUS. BOOKS ARE SERIOUS!
If you are a non-funny, serious appreciator or writer/creator of picture books you might want to consider subscribing. When you subscribe, you will receive emails filled with serious content that is in no way visually appealing or entertaining. We examine picture books in the most dry, anodyne, and stone cold way imaginable. If that sounds like your plain cup of tea (without honey), you've come to the right place.
Okay, okay. I couldn't resist. This blog is the literal opposite of everything I just said. Are you paying attention? Hope so.
In actual seriousness, I'm very excited to feature Cirocco Dunlap. It's not often that I find a writer who makes me feel like there's a place for my type of humor and voice, but the first time I read, This Book Will Not Be Fun I remember thinking, YES. Maybe I DO have a shot at this.
So when I reached out about an interview and she agreed, I was only slightly screaming inside.
Both of her picture books are a pure joy to read. Recently, her second picture book, Crunch the Shy Dinosaur was nominated by the Missouri Library Association for a Building Block Award. Crunch totally gets my vote.
Cirocco is mostly known for her work as a television and screenwriter. Some of her credits include writing for Russian Doll, Big Mouth, Man Seeking Woman, Bird Girl, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Tick, The New Yorker, and McSweeney's. She has also worked on features with Disney, Fox, and Sony animation.
We do have a giveaway with this post so check out the bottom for more details on what's up for grabs!
Milk. I’m an adult who likes milk.
Name three things could you not do your job without.
A window looking at some kind of tree.
A good blanket.
If you could have a super power...what would it be and why?
I feel like if I got a superpower I’d have a lot more responsibility that I’m unprepared for.
I watch a lot of TV and then it gets very late and then I eat.
You have a very broad background as a professional writer. You’re also an actress, a producer...how in the world did you fall into kid lit?! Why picture books?
Yes, I’m primarily a TV and film writer! But I have always really love children’s books. I want to take time with the next children’s project I do because I love the things that get a bit darker like Maurice Sendak or The Little Prince or Alice in Wonderland.
What has it been like jumping into the kid lit community?
It’s been very nice, and it’s a very different pace than what I’m used to. I’m looking forward to writing a longer, middle grade novel.
In your two picture books, you’re great at using the text to provide wonderful illustration opportunities. Here’s an example of what I mean. In your debut picture book, This Book Will Not Be Fun, the third page says, “I don’t know why you’re still here. Even this flying whale is bored, bored, bored.”
Later on the flying whale straight up eats the words on the page and the text vanishes! I think this skill is difficult to master for a lot of PB writers--to show with your words rather than tell. Did your manuscripts also include art notes or did you let the words speak for themselves?
Thank you! For that one, I did include the art note. I have worked a bit in television/film animation for kids, and it’s really fun to have more than just words to play with. I also got extremely lucky with both of the illustrators for my books, they are so talented and added more to the words than I could have dreamed.
Your second book, Crunch the Shy Dinosaur was equally as entertaining but maybe a different kind of fun due to its inter-activeness. Interactive texts can be really enjoyable for kids and the person reading the book since they get to talk back to the story and watch the results of that communication on the following page (with ridiculous results no doubt). What are some of the benefits for getting kids engaged in a story by using this type of literary device? Did you always want Crunch to be this interactive, or did it evolve in the process of writing it?
I loved the idea of encouraging a child to respect another person (or dinosaur’s) personal space and boundaries, and I think interaction was a fun way to do this.
What was your inspiration for This Book will Not Be Fun? Was your main character always a nerdy mouse or was that something the illustrator, Olivier Tallec decided? How did you come up with Crunch the Shy Dinosaur?
I thought the idea of a blank, safe book was very fun. I liked the idea that this mouse was the custodian of what was typically a very boring book and on this day, opening the book this time, for no reason at all, a flying whale appeared. I had imagined it as a small mouse with glasses because it seems about the right kind of creature that would guard a dusty book in a library.
Tell us a little bit about how you know a piece of writing or a story is ready.
I’m not sure it ever is! I can rip apart anything I’ve published. But I know when I think “This is enough.” I’m often wrong.
It’s really up to Crunch, and he’s hard to get in touch with.
Meta books aren’t going away and every time I see one I get super excited. Love playing around with that style in my own writing. Why did you decide to go this particular route with your first picture book? Were there other books that use this convention that inspired you?
I think it’s very in style now! I went and read a million books when I was coming up with ideas, and there were several great ones. I think I was influenced by the current trend, and I think going forward, I might try to go a more traditional, narrative route.
Your books have really stuck with me in terms of humor and voice. The first time I read them I remember being immediately encouraged to continue my snarky over the top style. What authors have been inspirational to you in developing your voice as a writer?
Voicewise I love Sylvia Plath, Dorothy Parker, Lydia Davis, Jack Handey and David Sedaris. I started writing consistently for The New Yorker, and I think in those Shouts & Murmurs I preferred writing concise, surreal ideas. Any snark I use typically belongs to a specific character, and it’s always self-directed. It’s a fine line because I personally don’t enjoy humor that can be construed as mean. I do however like self-deprecation, or when the joke is actually on the person who is snarky for pushing away others. They then become a warning of how not to behave.
I’ll always love “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.”
As a writer with such a versatile reach, across so many different mediums, which kind of writing or genre gives you the most joy?
This changes all the time! I actually don’t know that there’s one I like the most, I think the ideas tend to dictate where they would work best.
We know you are currently writing for the Netflix show, Big Mouth--that show out of control funny and super not for a picture book audience. You’ve written for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, for the New Yorker, for the Netflix series Russian Doll, a million other things...and you write kids books! How does it work bouncing in and out of different audiences so much? Why is it so important for writers to know their audiences?
I’m not sure audiences are so different. Everyone is smart, and everyone responds to emotional honesty. I think if you are honest and not pandering, people of any age tend to respond. I continually strive to be more authentic and vulnerable in my work, whether it’s for cool hip 30 year olds or cool hip 3 year olds.
I am not working on any children’s books right now though I would like to! I am working mostly on film and television projects which means the things I’m working on will either be huge hits or you will never hear about them.
You are extremely busy as a writer! How do you achieve a work-life balance...or is that not a thing for you?
It’s important to me to keep my friendships and life as a human as the priority, otherwise I’ll have nothing to write about. So I guess in that way it’s all really in service of writing, so nevermind, my career will always come first.
How would you respond to someone that says, “Hey, Cirocco! I have an idea for a picture book!”
I usually say that’s great and ask about it.
What is something upcoming for you that you would like to promote?
Nothing specific! But I can use this space to say that my name is pronounce Shir-ock-oh for anyone who might see the spelling of my name and panic.
Thank you, Cirocco!
And thank YOU for reading, kidlit fam! To thank you for stopping by, Cirocco will be giving away 3 signed copies of Crunch the Shy Dinosaur! See details below on how to enter.
3 signed copies of
are up for grabs!
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The deadline for this contest is Tuesday, July 16th at 9AM CST
The winners will be contacted on Tuesday, July 16th and announced on Twitter and Facebook
About Cirocco Dunlap
Cirocco Dunlap has written for Russian Doll, Big Mouth , Man Seeking Woman, Bird Girl, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Tick, The New Yorker, and McSweeney's. She has also worked on features with Disney, Fox, and Sony animation. Her short film "Everything is Okay" played at SXSW 2018. You can see more of these on the "Shorts" section of this site.
Her picture book, "Crunch, the Shy Dinosaur", came out with Random House in Summer 2018.
She wrote this essay for the New Yorker. As an actor, she is typically typecast as a gender-neutral child.
Other Interviews and Reviews Featuring Cirocco Dunlap
Brian Gehrlein is an expert yeti hunter but that's not important. What is important is that he writes books for children. If you own a time machine, you can travel to the future and find his books wherever books are sold. If, in fact, they are still being sold after the robots invade. If books aren't being sold anymore, then you can't read Brian's books. This makes you sad. Sad enough to hop into that time machine and prevent the robots from taking over in the first place. Then you can go back to the future in the reality where Brian's books ARE on the shelves and human beings are still running the show. You read them and chuckle to yourself. It makes you remember this exact blog post and pretend biography. It makes you nostalgic for the past. And honestly kind of hungry for a taco. So you hop back into your time machine and you come back to this very moment (after you swing by your local Mexican hot spot for a tasty taco). And then you reread this blog and contemplate the deep