Today we're talking with Jane Gerencher, author of Santa's Sugar
FQ: First, I have to know – is Sugar based on a real cat?
My younger daughter had a black cat with green eyes and a stubby tail. Her name was Melba. I always liked her spirit and playfulness. She adored my daughter and loved to snuggle—when she was ready! She also was the queen of the household, keeping her "brother," Burrito, in his place, though he was 3 times her petite size! So although Sugar is white on the outside, I like to think that she is Melba inside.
FQ: Santa, elves and a cute kitty – a great combination! Where did the idea for the story come from?
My husband and I were traveling to visit our daughters one Christmas. There were decorations everywhere, holiday music around every corner, so my mind was stimulated by that. I thought about Santa and his calling and thought that at the end of his deliveries we tend to forget about him as a person. I started to think that Santa needed a pet to pay him special attention and to bring some personal joy to his life. A kitten seemed like the right fit for a busy person. Then I thought about how Santa would care for the kitten. He would want her loved and cared for when he couldn't be with her. A gentle spirited, playful elf who was struggling with his identity seemed like a good choice. Every good story must have a problem and someone who grows with having to solve that problem. Nugget fits that description.
FQ: The story teaches a very important lesson about believing in yourself. Was that the intent from the start?
As the story line develops, I want readers of all ages to understand that we all make mistakes, but we are defined by how we resolve them. Nugget needed to get outside of his own problems and care about something else. In letting go of his own uncertainties, he was able to be brave and do the right thing. The wonderful results of that were beyond his wildest dreams. I think there is a little "Nugget" in each of us.
FQ: I wanted to hug poor Nugget when he found that Sugar was missing. He was so sad. Do you think children will relate this to how they've felt at times?
Having been a child, having had children of my own, and now revisiting childhood through my darling granddaughter, I have no doubt that children can be very empathetic. It is important for children to learn that being human involves feeling sad at times and then coming to terms with the sadness through some constructive way.
FQ: I mentioned the illustrations in my review – they're wonderful. Would you tell me a little bit about Michael Patch, your illustrator?
Michael is a young professional illustrator I met at a Book Rack bookstore in Mesa, AZ. The owner who knew of his talent introduced us. Michael showed me his work and I loved it. His pictures do not disappoint, do they? We had a good time collaborating on the artwork for the book to achieve the timelessness of the story I was hoping for.
FQ: Another question about the artwork. There is quite a bit of it in your book. Would you tell our readers about the process of working with your illustrator, coming up with ideas, discussing your vision for the book, etc.?
As a writer, I find I picture my writing in my head, like a little movie. I had a good idea what pictures I wanted when the story was done. I wanted the appearance of the book to resemble a copy of Clement Moore's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas I had as a child. As an artist Michael lives in a world of pictures. This required me to explain what pictures I envisioned to complement the text. Not being an artist, I had to find words that connected to his talent. It sounds harder than it was. I found it exciting waiting for the next batch of pictures to arrive, a little like Christmas morning! With a little tweak here and a little tweak there, we reached the delightful pictures in the book. (Whew! I’m glad you didn't ask me which is my favorite picture!)
FQ: There are a lot of Christmas books on the market but so many of them are, well, commercialized to the point of missing the message of Christmas. Was that something you wanted to bring back to children - that Christmas isn't about toys but really, about love?
I never intended to make a commercial book. I wrote the story for the pleasure of writing a story. Every good story should challenge us to think. I wanted children to know that children like Nugget and even adults as famous as Santa make mistakes. How we deal with our mistakes is what builds character. Friendship, forgiveness and kindness are also important values that Nugget discovers as modeled by Santa and Mrs. Claus, the cooperative efforts of the elves, and the respect paid to the reindeer. When Nugget decides to follow his heart, he has grown considerably. He is willing to take the consequences of his choice because he wants to do the right thing. And, this is a children's story, so it is only fair that his actions would lead to a happy ending with Sugar safe, Santa proud of Nugget, and Nugget having a new friend in the reindeer Twizzle. He feels taller too which is another way of saying he feels more grown-up and confident.