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JOHNNY DEPALMA
Author/Founder of Umbrelly Books – Children’s Literature

by Richard Vasseur - (Posted: 9/2/2007)

Johnny DePalma

Richard: How did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

Johnny: Well, in actuality, writing has sort of crept up on me over the years. I had written many things: children’s books, poetry, plays and short stories – however, never really considered myself an author of any sort. More of a bored kid with a wandering imagination… Looking back on it today, I realize that I grew up in a very strange world. The lines between reality and fiction were very rarely made clear and the stories that I tell today often follow suit. I’m still horrible at paying attention to anything. My mind wanders about creating little stories that eventually land themselves onto a piece of paper.

I think it was Picasso who once said, "Every child is an artist. The challenge is to remain an artist once you grow up." Well, my so called form of art was my imagination. And as a way to justify being a dreamer without criticism, I figured I would have to make a dollar or two doing it… and so, I became an author.

Richard: Can you tell us about the story in "The Raindrop Keeper"?

Johnny: "The Raindrop Keeper" is a whimsical look into the life of one boy with a terribly odd obsession: collecting raindrops. Through this narrative journey, we are able to see first hand the progression of a daydream through the eyes of a child. Constantly moving from one situation to the next, each time upping the stakes. With his trusty jelly jar in hand (his preferred raindrop catching device), our hero circles the globe, eventually flooding major world cities along the way. But, with a thirst for fame and fortune and to one day become The Almighty Raindrop King our lowly keeper continues on until he… well, you’ll just have to read the book!

Richard: Why collect raindrops?

Johnny: Ha! I am asked that all the time, and the simple answer is: I have no idea. I was actually writing a much larger rhyming book at the time and eventually caught a terrible case of writer’s block. I took a break from that particular project and did some writing exercises, just to get my mind loose again. Simple stuff like alternating rhyme schemes, speed writing and whatnot. Anyway, one of the exercises I came up with produced "The Raindrop Keeper." It took about fifteen minutes to write the entire book, cover to cover and in rhyme form. At the time I was typing so fast, I never stopped to ponder the logic behind it. Why Raindrops? Why this? Why that?

I do remember however, putting a glass outside my window on stormy days to collect the rain when I was young. It is my favorite type of weather. Stormy, cloudy, rainy, puddle weather is always welcome at my house. I look forward to it each year and I’m sure a certain amount of that plays into why I wrote what I wrote. Yet it was never a story that itched at the back of my mind, screaming out: "Write Me!" It was more of a live day dream, flowing out onto the paper as quickly as my mind could think it up.

Richard: What inspires you to write children's stories?

Johnny: Not so much what, but whom… There are so many people who encourage and inspire me to write everyday. As far as style goes, I draw a great amount of inspiration from author Roald Dahl. What an amazing man. It took me a little over a year to collect all of his original work, which now takes up a great deal of my bookcase. As far as my love for children’s literature itself, Doris Dillon is the one responsible. She was an amazing teacher who sadly passed away a few years back from Lou Gehrig’s disease. She was the kind of woman who could get anyone excited about reading and truly got involved in her work. Often showing up to class dressed up as characters we had read about the day before. Constructing week long activities around one book… She really made us all appreciate everything there was to learn. In fact, my new book, "Once Upon a Christmas Tree" is dedicated to her. And come to think of it, Roald Dahl even has a brief cameo in the illustrated world of the story as well.

Today most of my inspiration is drawn from my family, friends and my beautiful girlfriend, Amanda.

Richard: What is "Once Upon A Christmas Tree-A Holiday Fairy Tale" about?

Johnny: "Once Upon a Christmas Tree" is the heart-warming tale of two love-struck ornaments who have been placed at opposite ends of an enchanted pine. One, a Small Wooden Soldier, and the other, a Tiny Winter Dancer. With only a very short window of Christmas Magic, the Soldier must escape his decorative hook and reunite with his one true love before Midnight - Christmas Day.

Richard: Do you have any children?

Johnny: I would love to have kids one day. It’s something I would like very much. I do however have some rather spectacular nieces and nephews. They do keep me on my toes whenever they’re about. One of which is just slightly old enough to appreciate my particular form of nonsense. And sadly, thanks to me, he is under the impression that a leprechaun revolution is brewing just off the coast of California.

Richard: Molly Crabapple is the artist on the two books. She has worked for DC Comics as well. What do you think of her work?

Johnny: Molly is an amazing artist and a spectacular individual. I had already been a huge fan of her work prior to hiring her, and what she’s done for these books… well, no one else could have. Her style is so whimsical and charming, yet at the same time so very, very sassy! I don’t know how to explain it. She has truly made all the difference.

Richard: Will you be writing any more books?

Johnny: Wild Emu’s couldn’t stop me! I do plan to produce one book a year, every year. At this time, my little black book of ideas is overflowing and I will have to choose my next project very soon. Miss Crabapple is signed on for the next three.

Richard: Have you written anything else besides these two children's books?

Johnny: I wrote a play a few years back that was produced entitled "The Stagehand." It was a fun experience. However, the most interesting part of the whole thing was being able to see the mass reaction to my work from the audience. Today, I can’t imagine writing anything other than children’s books, but who knows - ask me again in five years.

Richard: What comic books did you read as a child?

Johnny: X-Men mostly. I would favor the occasional Batman or Superman comic as it was passed my way, but X-Men drew me in like no other.

Richard: What do you do with any spare time you have?

Johnny: I read lots of children’s books, drink gobs of tea, watch a terrible amount of television and practice the culinary arts. Once in a blue moon I’ll also audition for local theater companies. I do love acting and have been doing it now for about thirteen years.

Richard: How can someone contact you?

Johnny: People can always contact me through my website at www.umbrellybooks.com

Richard: Any final words of wisdom?

Johnny: The only advice I can give is to believe in your project whole heartedly. So many people will start projects just to start them, without any real passion behind it. Be completely honest with yourself. If you love the story, ask yourself, will anyone else?

Also, never take yourself too seriously. Life is too short not to enjoy a little nonsense now and then.


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