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What do you know about The Muzzles-the Manatee-universe?

Victoria & Craig Weeden Interview by Maggie Bishop


1) Tell us about your latest published book and current writing project.


V & C: Mia’s Gift: A Muzzles the Manatee Story was published in April. It’s about an eight-year-old Hispanic girl whose ability to communicate with a manatee gets her into and out of predicaments in both the real and fantasy worlds. Although Mia’s Gift is technically categorized as a middle-grade novel, our goal was to write it in a way that would appeal to all ages. If pushed, I (Craig) would say it’s for the pre-Harry Potter crowd. However, we’ve had a lot of grandparents say they really enjoyed it. I think there’s a lot going on in the book on many levels, which enables it to entertain a wide audience. So far Mia’s Gift has won an Honorable Mention at the 2009 New York Book Festival, and it’s received some great reviews.


We’ve written synopses for a 13 book series. Next up is The Boat Parade, in which Clark (Mia’s best friend) moves to the forefront. In Sarasota, Florida, just before Christmas, a lot of folks decorate their boats and have a parade that follows the coastline, then ends up in a boat basin downtown. The larger boats have carolers. All the colored lights on the water at night make for a spectacular event. In The Boat Parade, Mia and Clark spend tons of time making decorations for his boat, only to find them missing on the night of the parade. Totally dispirited, they decide to participate anyway. Heading for the starting point, they come upon a disabled speedboat, filled with some of the rich kids from school. And the speedboat is decked out with the stolen decorations. You’ll have to read the book to find out how this dilemma is resolved.


2) Why manatees?


V & C: Remarkably, manatees and children have many similar characteristics: they’re friendly, gentle and innately trusting. Manatees are beautiful aquatic mammals whose nearest relative is the elephant. Their flippers even have elephant-like toenails. Manatees have bright blue, intelligent eyes and a naturally sociable disposition. Since most children go through a phase where they’re infatuated by dinosaurs, it seems reasonable they’d like a gregarious manatee as well.


3) Why are manatees endangered?


V & C: Speedboats and pollution are the main culprits. Manatees prefer warm, shallow water, and they typically rise to the surface every three or four minutes to breathe. Speeding boats often hit the unseen manatees. As noted in Mia’s Gift, scientists actually name manatees based on the shape of the scars left by propellers. No wake zones have been created to force boats to slow down, but many boaters ignore them.


Pollution is another problem. One form is when rain washes fertilizer from lawns into the waterways. From there it floats out into the Gulf of Mexico, where it fertilizes massive red algae growths called “red tide.”  These red tides create toxins that that are most lethal right above the surface, where manatees breathe. These toxins can paralyze the respiratory system, causing the manatees to drown.


4) What was your first encounter with a manatee?


V: The Parker Manatee Aquarium in Bradenton, FL, houses a manatee that was rescued as a baby in the Miami area. I was captivated by “Snooty” on my very first visit. He put his flippers on the edge of the tank, pulled himself out of the water, and looked me right in the eyes. He’s very gregarious and fun to watch. I was charmed by his personality and I feel children would feel the same way. Snooty will be 61 in July.


C: Also, the first condo we owned on Siesta Key had a boat basin out back. A mother manatee had a calf there, protected from the boat traffic on the Intracoastal Waterway.


5) Why did you write a novel for middle grades and not someone younger?


V: As we created Mia’s Gift, we found we had many stories to tell, along with a whole universe of characters. A series seemed to fit with a slightly older group of readers. We’ve written coloring and picture book manuscripts and a TV show for younger audiences. There are samples on our website:


C: I personally like the challenge of taking some rather sophisticated elements and writing them clearly enough so that middle graders can totally understand what’s going on. And if their parents and grandparents find the material interesting, all the better.


6) What are the related projects you’re working on?


C: The Muzzles-the Manatee-universe, with its website-based educational component, is our main focus. It’s multi-tiered, targeting preschoolers through the middle grades. Our coloring and picture book manuscripts, along with our hour kids TV show, Nuzzle Up! (for which we’ve written two episodes), are for this younger audience. Mia’s Gift, which we feel could easily be adapted into an animated film or TV show, targets middle graders. We’ve actually written a bible, 13 episode synopses and concepts for about another 40 shows for the Mia’s Gift TV show.


The rules for the contests on our website, which is a work in progress, will teach such things as story structure. For example, the rules for a 10-page story might call for a 1 page setup of the characters’ “regular lives,” before the “inciting incident” occurs and throws them out of their regular lives.


Our Muzzles Puzzles are for preschoolers, and when put together reveal facts about manatees.


We’ve already had some success licensing Muzzles’ likeness for beachwear, resort wear, mouse pads, umbrellas, etc. Vicky spent six weeks working with one of Hasbro’s top plush designers to create a 28” stuffed manatee prototype. It’s far better than anything I’ve seen on store shelves.


The bottom line here is that we’re trying to build the foundation of our universe in such a way that we can “subcontract” certain portions of it, while retaining enough control to maintain our vision throughout.


7) How were you inspired to think in terms of family-oriented entertainment?


V: We feel there’s too much “entertainment” that glorifies cynical, mean-spirited behavior and disrespectful attitudes. We want to create content that can be shared between generations, and provide nourishment and positive spirit for our younger readers.


8) How is the work divided on your wife-husband team?


V: I’m a designer and character creator, and I “see” what the characters look like. I hear them speak and think in terms of their personal traits and attitude. I edit and look for smooth, natural development and continuity. I worked with our illustrator (Del Hopewell) to translate ideas into images. Del is a dream to work with.


C: Vicky and I discuss what we’d like to accomplish and possible ways to make it happen, then I write it up. Writing being a process of discovery, things often happen in the story which we didn’t expect. When I’m done, we pass the manuscript back and forth, looking for ways to make it better.


9) What is the most difficult aspect of working with your spouse?


V: It’s easy to work with Craig. We each respect and value other’s strengths. We know that together we have a richer product, and high quality pleases us both. The only difficulty is lack of time—not my partner!


C: If she weren’t so attractive, it’d be easier to focus on our work.


10) Tell us something about where you’ve lived.


V: It’s been my privilege to live in all regions of the US. Each region has its own beauty; each is distinct, and each contributes to the whole.


C: We’ve lived on Cape Cod, Siesta Key, and now up here in the mountains. Each place teaches different lessons.


11) Chat about your pets.


V: After having an array of cats over the years, we got a standard poodle four years ago. I indulged my love of exhaustive research and came up with a winner…for our family, anyway!


12) What are your favorite vacation spots and why?


V & C: Key West. It’s on the water, has a vibrant creative culture, and its architecture is very New England.


Marbella, Spain. Again on the water, it has old world charm, narrow cobblestone streets, great small shops, and dinner at 10pm!

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