Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I am pleased to be interviewing award-winning author Dr. Mosetta Penick Phillips-Cermak on my blog today. Mosetta has authored 16 books. She is a retired psychotherapist and teacher. Her first published story was when she was 10 years old! She also served as an editor-in-chief of a magazine. Her most recent publication is Rajah and the Big Blue Ball.

Mosetta, could you please share more about yourself and your publishing credits?

Mosetta: First of all, Katie, I would like to thank you for allowing me to appear on your blog today. I truly appreciate it.

As you stated, my first book was published when I was about ten years old. But, I have been writing since I could hold a pencil. I cannot remember a time that I did not write.

When I was very little, I wrote The Pink Elephant. The Disney film, "Dumbo" inspired the story. I remember that when my mother took me to see it, she also bought me the book "Dumbo, the Flying Elephant" written by Helen Aberson and illustrated by Harold Perl. I didn't understand how the book became a film, but I knew that I wanted one of my plays or books to become a film. That is still one of my goals. I don't actually count it as one of my finished stories. It was about an elephant born pink, and he had to leave and go to another country to be accepted as he was.

When I was a child I wrote plays for my dolls and puppet actors to perform. Each summer I would write a new play and construct new puppets. My grandmother would help me to make the costumes. I would then stage a performance for my parents, and other relatives. At that time I fancied myself as a musician and composer, so I also wrote musicals...very bad musicals, only written for the right hand and the flute.

In second or third grade I wrote Inky and Me, my first dog story, featuring my Terrier. We got him from the Cleveland APL, too.

As a pre-teen, or very young teen I wrote Once Upon a Time on the Moon. Inspired by the launching of "Sputnik 1" in 1959, I am sure that H.G. Wells' First Men in the Moon also influenced it. It was a very simple story of three teenagers trying to build a rocket to the moon, and instead, blowing a hole in the roof of their parent's house.

The Lavender Dress was inspired by a racial incident that happened when I was only five (5) years old. I think I was fourteen or fifteen when I wrote the first draft.

In addition I have written two teen/YA romances, Each Day I Die (circa 1966). Donald (circa 1971), The Typewriter (Sci-Fi), The Wishing Flower, The Magic of Laven-Rock (two fairy tales), The Cloud (Y/A fantasy), The Book of Moncoto (Middle-Grade Chapter Book), The Viper and the Brown Barn Owl, My Grandma has Two Birthdays (picture books), and the six Rajah books. Of course I wrote in college, and I have a number of professional academic papers that I have written, plus my master's thesis and my doctoral dissertation.

Katie: What sort of writing awards do you have?

Mosetta: I only have what I consider one real writing award, and that was for my story Inky and Me. Of course I won school writing awards, but I don't count them. And I have received nominations for The Magic of Laven-Rock, last year, and this year I was nominated for the Moonbeam Children's Award, and the ALA' notable children's book list for Rajah and the Big Blue Ball.

Katie: Would you please share an overview of “Rajah?”

Mosetta: Rajah and the Big Blue Ball is about bullying, and not allowing ones fear to overtake them. It is about seeking advice and making good decisions. Rajah learns to make friends with the person who is trying to scare him. They settle their problems through talking rather than confrontation.

Katie: Rajah and the Big Blue Ball is a picture book. Have you written and published any other picture books? What are they?

Mosetta: I have written eight picture books. The Viper and the Brown Barn Owl and My Grandma has Two Birthdays are under option, and the six Rajah books. I never know whether to count the two fairy tales (The Wishing Flower and The Magic of Laven-Rock) as picture books. I am only counting the ones that are either already published, or for which I am under contract. Rajah and the Big Blue Ball is a bit long for a picture book. Most picture books are about 32 pages long, but the publisher and I compromised.

Katie: I know many authors have had difficulties breaking into the picture book market. To what do you ascribe your success in this area?

Mosetta: I was blessed, plain and simple. Some people would call it luck. A number of things all came together at the right time.

But, I do think that my story line for the first book was unique, and that I had something rather sweet and tender to say.

Katie: Your book is traditionally published. Do you have an agent, or were you able to deal with the publisher directly?

Mosetta: I could never get an agent. I was able to deal directly with the publisher. I wrote The Wishing Flower. It was picked up by a magazine, and published in the Mother's Day edition. After publication, when my rights were returned to me, I found out that I couldn't find any other publisher who wanted to buy it, so I started working on a teaching manual and lesson plans that featured the story. One of the colleges asked if they could use some examples from the book and the teaching manual.

At the same time my brother share the magazine piece with someone he knew who shared it with someone else. Someone shared it with another person who shared it with a fiftieth person way down the line. That person had started a publishing company and offered me a contract.

Katie: Can you share the path you took from the inception of the book to its publication?

Mosetta: This was relatively easy. PM Moon Publishers, LLC had published my first two books, and I submitted the manuscripts for the two Rajah books directly to the editor. I enclosed the outlines and summaries for the other four books, and I received a contract for the six. Then came the hard part…the editing.

Be prepared to spend six to nine months editing.

Katie: What three pieces of advice would you give to other writers who want to break into the picture book market?

Mosetta: The first thing that I always suggest is that a children's writer has to remember what it is to be a little person. Talk to children, asked them why...about almost anything. I love their concrete thinking processes. Read to children. See if they like your stories.

Next, one must read, read, and read some more. Try to read every children's book that comes along. Ask yourself want makes this book good. If you don't like a book, try to figure out what make it distasteful, boring, or just not as good as the one you read yesterday.

Of course I get books from the library, but not as much any more. I actually buy children's books (then I can highlight them) and I seek out the authors for autographs. Sometimes they are generous enough to offer me a word of encouragement, or a suggestion. I believe making connections is important, especially due to the solitary nature of writing.

Send out your work regularly, and to every agent and house that accepts your genre. One of the mistakes that I feel that I made for years was that I would only send out my work to the very big houses. I wouldn't even consider the smaller houses. Now that I have signed with PM Moon, I feel that I am home. I am very happy in my "little pond."

Thanks, Mosetta, for being a guest on my blog today. One can purchase Rajah and the Big Blue Ball on line at Publishers Graphics Bookstore (, at Alibris

(, and at PM Moon Publishers, LLC (

One dollar of each book purchased is donated to the Cleveland Animal Protective League (

She has a blog at and a website at Rajah LeBeau has his own website (, email address, Face Book page, and Twitter account (


Beverly Stowe McClure said...

I enjoyed learning more about you and your writing, Mosetta.

Great interview, Katie.


Emily B said...

I enjoyed learning about Dr. Mosetta's background. She also enlightened me about the world of children's books and picture books. I especially loved that she wrote plays for her dolls.

Wonderful interview.

Emily Biasini

Dr. Mosetta said...

Thank you Beverly for your kind remarks. I am glad that you enjoyed what I had to say.
And thank you to Katie for generously allowing me to be featured on her blog.
Dr. Mosetta

Amy Allgeyer Cook said...

Great interview, Dr. Mosetta, but I'm so sad that Rajah didn't get to say anything!! ;)

Scott Heydt said...

Dr. Mosetta,

I had no idea Rajah made the ALA Notable list. Quite an achievement. Congratulations! Has Rajah reached 100 friends yet on Facebook? :)

~Scott Heydt
"Live, Learn, Teach"

Dr. Mosetta said...

Dear Amy,
I love it when Rajah gets to talk, too.

Dear Scott,
Yes, we were nominated for the ALA notable book award and the Moonbeam children's Book award within the same week.
Rajah is only at 69 fans.
Thank you for asking.

Dr. Mosetta