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Author Showcase

Summer 2008 Featured Author Jennifer Swanson

RT: Welcome to the Reading Tub®! Penny & Rio: The Mysterious Backyard Meeting features two dogs as the main characters. Why do you think dogs make great lead characters?

Jennifer: Everyone loves dogs! It is easy to imagine dogs with personalities and human characteristics. In fact, a lot of people treat their dogs like they are human. Can’t you just imagine a dog digging in your backyard or sniffing around? How do you know he’s not looking for clues? Maybe your dog is a pet detective, too.

RT: On the Penny and Rio website, you share pictures of the real Penny and Rio. Which of their character traits in the story are truest to who they were in real life?

Jennifer: The real-life Penny and Rio are very similar to their characters. The real Penny used to dig holes all over our yard. There is a scene in the story where Penny digs out all of the dirt in a 3-foot patio planter and then hides in it. That really happened, and there is a picture of it on the website. Watching them is kind of where I got the idea for the book. I always wondered what she was looking at while sitting inside that planter. Rio, in real-life, is almost exactly as she appears in the book. She was lazy and slept a lot. As you can see from her real picture, she very rarely missed a meal. Rio tagged along after the real Penny, too. The two dogs were best friends in life as well as in the book.

RT: Is there any chance we can get a hint about what's next for Penny & Rio in their next adventure (The Locked Doghouse)?

Jennifer: I’m still editing it, but I’ll give you a hint. Penny and Rio come to the aid of a small mouse, Squeaky, whom we meet at the end of the first book. Squeaky left something valuable in the doghouse next door, but the doghouse is locked, so he can’t get it out. They will introduce us to Hobbes, the very large Great Dane who lives in that house. He’s a funny new character who fancies himself a detective, too. Penny, with the help of the ever-reluctant Rio, will come up with some ingenious ways to get into the doghouse. It will require all their skills as pet detectives to to help Squeaky.

RT: Are your children old enough to read Penny & Rio? Have they offered any ideas on what you should change or what the next adventure will be?

Jennifer: My children are my best editors. Sometimes they are my harshest critics, but in the best way. They have all read my stories many times and offered great advice. They help me stay true to my characters' “voices” and to the story. Together, we have brainstormed outlines for books 3 through 7. I can’t wait to begin writing them.

RT: You graduated from the US Naval Academy and later entered the civilian world as a chemistry teacher. Do you foresee drawing on your navy career or your chemistry background for stories?

Jennifer: I won’t be using my science background with Penny and Rio. But I have begun writing a non-fiction children’s book on water conservation which will draw on my science background.

RT: Like many writers, you are balancing lots of passions: kids, writing, hobbies, etc. How difficult is it to carve out time to write? What is the minimum block of writing time you need to feel like you've been productive?

Jennifer: The best time for me to write is when no one else is home. That means while the kids are in school and my husband is at work. I usually try to get at least 3 hours of writing in — at least three times a week. Some weeks I can get more, some less. Balancing a very active family with all our obligations and working on my masters at the same time makes finding time for writing a challenge. But it is my passion, and I love it. So I squeeze in writing whenever I can.

RT: In your amazon profile, you describe yourself as an author/illustrator since age 5. Do you still have those stories? Is there a favorite among them that you would like to work on and publish someday?

Jennifer: If those stories are still around, my mom would have them in a box somewhere. I don’t think any of them would be published. They were simple stories about my family. It would be fun to see them again, though.

RT: In second grade you directed a play that you wrote. Can you tell us about the play? Do you see yourself writing or directing another play someday?

Jennifer: I remember that I got a big book of fairy tales for Christmas and I read it all the time. It had all the classics: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Princess and the Pea, etc. The play I tried to stage was Beauty and the Beast. I recruited some of my friends and wrote a script for them based on the book. But, as I recall, I was a little bossy, so I don’t think it turned out well. I think I’ll stick to books. Now if someone should want to write a play about one of my books, well, then that would be great.

RT: Do you have an all-time-favorite book that you have shared (or can't wait to share) with your kids?

Jennifer: I have so many favorite books. When I was young, I was in love with the Nancy Drew mysteries. I read every single one in the series. I absolutely love mysteries! When I was young, I basically read every mystery I could get my hands on — and still do. Another one of my favorite books when I was young was, Harriet the Spy. My youngest daughter just finished reading my copy ... it is only about 30 years old! That meant a lot to me.

I suppose my favorite book series is Harry Potter. What an incredible series on so many levels. My entire family has read them and we discuss them frequently.

RT: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Jennifer: I am a life-long book lover. I spent so many days as a child reading or riding my bike to the library when I was young. I used to participate in the summer reading programs at the library. One summer, I read more than 500 books and got a special certificate. I still read all I can today. Our house is filled with books, and everyone in my house reads. We have a hard time walking past bookstores without going in.

I am also dedicated to the idea of rescuing dogs and helping them to find good homes. Both Penny and Rio were adopted from animal shelters. Since their passing, we have adopted two new dogs, Hannah and Lily, from animal rescue organizations. I firmly believe there are a lot of dogs out there who just need a good home, and a chance with a great family. To support this, I donate a portion of my proceeds to a local animal rescue organization. I'll close with one last hint: Look for Hannah and Lily to show up in a future Penny and Rio book!


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