Sue Cowing is an award winning poet and author who’s lucky enough to live in Hawaii! She’s also a lover of history, art and Asian culture which have found their way into YOU WILL CALL ME DROG, a fascinating story for young readers with a tiny bit of scariness but also bullies and aikido and a military academy and … well, you’ll just have to read it and see for yourself!
Can you tell us how this book, or any of your books, came to be published?
I had published lots of poems and stories, both for children and adults, but You Will Call Me Drog was my first novel, and I didn’t realize that I was submitting it to editors prematurely. As a result, I got a lot of enthusiastic and complimentary. . .rejections. Then Drog, the puppet character in the story said to me: “So are you going to do this for the rest of your life? Get me an agent!” As it happened, I found just the right one that same day. She was smitten with Drog and with Parker, but she also asked questions that led to some big revisions, and when we were both happy with the changes, the book sold in a month.
Tell us why we should read this book.
Because I wrote it just for you!
Because you’ve never read anything quite like it.
Who or what has been the greatest inspiration for your stories?
I’d have to thank my Mom who read us lots of poems and stories—myths, adventures, fables, mysteries, fairy tales (I loved anything with a magic object in it)—and told us stories from her own life. She taught us to love language, art, music, and the natural world and to use our imaginations. Her motto was “make your own.”
You have the chance to give one piece of advice to teen readers. What is that?
Well, since I spent most of my teenage years trying to be the kind of person to whom no one would give unsolicited advice, I guess I’d better not give any!
What’s an important “nugget” that you’d like readers to take away from your book?
Drog would sum it up as “Speak for yourself” or “You’re nothing without a voice. Nada.” But then Drog doesn’t hesitate for a minute to give unsolicited advice.
The philosophy of Aikido is an important element in this novel, and Parker’s Aikido teacher sums it up this way: It is wrong to hurt someone, so if you prevent someone from hurting you, you are doing them a favor.” Parker’s eventual solution to his puppet problem is a kind of Aikido solution.
Why did you write this book?
To have some serious fun! I love to read and write stories that are completely realistic except for one impossible element—in this case the talking puppet—so that things are always teetering a little. Also I’m fascinated by the questions explored in this story, such has how to live with controlling, boundary-crossing people and how deal with violence without becoming violent yourself. And Drog’s outrageous comments throughout inject a little humor into otherwise dire situations.
Why do you write?
I once heard Gary Hoffman, a master cellist, say: “If you do something you love and do it as well as you can a for as long as you can, you become more and more yourself, and what could be better than that?” For me writing is that something I love.
Why do you write for young people?
Eight- to twelve-year-olds are my favorite people on the planet. I believe they’re the growing tip of the human spirit. They care so much about things, they’re open to possibilities and a little magic, and they love and enter into stories completely. I know they can hear me. Some adults, the wise ones I believe, retain a childlike joy and wonder and simply add to it as they learn from experience growing older. I write for them, too.
Do you have a favorite quote?
Yes, it’s from poet Theodore Roethke’s notebooks and it’s framed on my wall: “Trust all joy.”
Is there a sequel?
No, but some readers have urged me to write a prequel about Drog’s life before he ended up in the junkyard trash can.
What are you working on now?
I’m just finishing a story in three voices—one for each of two boys who are different from one another in almost every way, and the third, in graphics, a brilliant and funny dog named Bravo that both boys love. Of course the dog doesn’t actually speak. Or does he? I’ve also just finished a retelling of the Three Billy Goats in which the youngest goat, a girl, persuades the troll to go vegetarian.
Why should kids read books when there are so many other things to do?
Because there are so many wonderful stories in them!
Because identifying with the characters in books helps you imagine possibilities and think about different ways to live and be human.
Some favorite books?
Many, many, but here are a few: The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer, The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak; Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis; Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, by Gary Schmidt, Under the Baseball Moon by John H. Ritter, The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote.
Can you deal better with wind or rain?
I wouldn’t like to live where it doesn’t rain much. I need my surroundings to be wet and green. Rainy days make me want to write and make things. That’s why I’m happy living in Hawaii!
Favorite comfort food:
Right now it’s fresh strawberry mochi, the kind with a whole strawberry inside coated with azuki bean paste. Yum! Also just about anything dark chocolate.