ACT ONE—Harriet Ziefert, publisher of Blue Apple Books
Q: Harriet, how did you meet Bernadette Peters?
HZ I was introduced to her by a mutual friend, Michael Casey. At a lunch date, he posed an interesting question to me, "Would you like to publish a book by a really nice celebrity?" His idea was that a children's book about a dog would be a good way for Bernadette to raise money to help shelter animals, a cause which she is passionate about. In September 2006, he introduced the two of us. Later, I learned that the tenth anniversary of Broadway Barks and the fifth anniversary of Blue Apple would occur in June, 2008—a good omen for both of us.
Q: Can you characterize your first meeting?
HZ The meeting took place at Bernadette's penthouse apartment. I was nervous. Not because I was meeting a celebrity whose career I followed on Broadway, but because I knew she had two dogs—and dogs usually frighten me.
When I arrived, I asked that the dogs be put in their crate, and Bernadette was kind enough to oblige. It wasn't until months later that she told me she hadn't believed me when I said confining the dogs was necessary because I was allergic. To this day, Bernadette still tries to demonstrate that I have nothing to fear when either of her dogs attempts to "kiss" me.
Bernadette and I spoke for a long time about process—how a picture book unfolds in stages as various parties collaborate. By the end of two hours of discussion, the story of Broadway Barks and its lost-dog hero was beginning to emerge.
Q:Did the two of you have any difficult moments?
HZ The hard part was to get Bernadette to agree that her own dog, Kramer, could not, and should not, be replicated exactly by Liz Murphy. Liz had to create her own artistic version of the dog in order to develop him as a character.
However, when it came to how Bernadette would be depicted in the book, Bernadette was not at all difficult. She accepted Liz's depiction of her, from the length and color of her hair right down to the party shoes!
Q: As both the editor of the book and the publisher of Blue Apple, what were your main concerns?
HZ The celebrity-book trend in publishing is a disturbing one, and I felt that the world of children's literature didn't need yet another not-very-good celebrity picture book. I wanted our book to be about something important, so that it would resonate with readers of all ages. The separation-loss-reunion story at the heart of this book does just that. And the original song ("Kramer's Song") that Bernadette composed, a first for her, surely touches everyone deeply.
ACT TWO—Bernadette Peters, the author
Q: Bernadette, where did your love of dogs come from?
BP As far as I can remember, I was always begging my parents for a dog. We finally got Susie when I was nine years old. She was part of the family for many years. One day she wandered away from home to die, as some animals do. My father was heartbroken and took it very personally, saying, "I never thought she would do this to us."
Q: How did your love of animals turn into the cause Broadway Barks?
BP We had just raised a lot of money for Broadway Cares when Patty Saccente, my assistant, and Richard Hester, the stage manager from the show I was in at the time, Annie Get Your Gun, said, "Why don't we do this for shelter animals?" So for the first time, the large, well-known shelters in NYC united with the grassroots shelters. We staged an adoptathon in Broadway's famous Shubert Alley.
Mary Tyler Moore is the other half of Broadway Barks. She started with us 10 years ago and is a big part of the event, which many celebrities help us with every July. This year is our 10th anniversary, and I very much wanted the publication of the book to coincide with this milestone.
Q: How much of your time do you spend caring for animals?
BP A lot. My assistant, Patty, and I often drive the Jeep to the city shelter and take dogs from there and place them in one of our twenty-six rescue groups.
My own dogs, adopted from shelters, get lots of attention. Kramer is an ll-year-old shaggy dog, Heinz 57 variety. Stella, my other pooch, is a 10-year-old pit bull. They eat right, get lots of exercise, listen to music, and participate in lots of conversation. Did you ever talk to a dog? Try it. It's fun!
Q: With this book you are a first-time author and first-time songwriter. We already know how you came to be an author. How about songwriter?
BP So that the book would end on a proper note, Harriet wanted a good-night song. She said I could sing a public domain piece, or I could write a song of my own.
I have always had respect and awe for composers. I never ever thought of writing an original song; in fact, songwriting intimidated me. But, as you know, I had never written a book before either! I was on a plane and the song just came out of me—music and lyrics all at once.
As soon as I got home, I sang the lullaby into a tape recorder. Then, at Patty's insistence, I tried it out for my musical director, Marvin Laird. He wrote some orchestrations, and in the recorded version that is included with the book I am accompanied by a string quartet. I never recorded a children's book before either - lots of firsts!
Q:What artists do you admire?
BP Vanessa Redgrave, Eileen Atkins, Al Pacino, Sting, Lyle Lovett, and zydeco music. Basically, I love all types of music - and especially Stephen Sondheim, who has provided me with many great roles over the years.
Q: You look fantastic! What's your secret?
BP It's no secret that one needs to exercise to keep one's body together. I've never smoked, nor have I been a big meat eater. But having Italian genes doesn't hurt either (I don't mean the kind you wear).
Q: Will you write another book?
BP Because I love both of my dogs equally, the next book will be about my adorable pit bull, Stella.
ACT THREE—Liz Murphy, the illustrator
Q: Liz, what did you do to make Kramer, a lost dog, into a realized character with a personality?
LM This was my first book where I had to develop a character, and I must admit it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. The dog needed a real personality, and I had to show emotions on his face and with his body language. What's more, the dog was to be based on an existing, rather scruffy pet named Kramer, who belonged to Bernadette Peters.
After studying photos of this dog, I began to make sketches. The more I focused on reality, trying to get everything just right, the more restricted I felt, and the tighter I became. I struggled to align the looseness of my style with the accuracy I thought Bernadette was looking for. After many pages of drawings, none of which came close, Harriet told me to switch gears and just draw lots and lots of dogs.
This was a great relief. After a while, I began to loosen up, and the drawings felt true to my illustration style. However, I still believed that I needed to show a resemblance to that big black-andgray dog upon whom Bernadette's story was based. The big challenge: How do I show facial expressions? This was difficult—black eyes and eyebrows on a black face— what was I to do?
One night, frustrated and exhausted, I fell asleep. After a restless few hours, I suddenly sat bolt upright in bed with a clear image of a tatty, patchwork dog made out of knitted fabrics pieced together. Inspired, I went to my desk, and Kramer the character came to life at last. I went to sleep relieved and happy.
In the morning I needed to make a three-dimensional version. I searched my house for woolen articles of clothing that I could pull apart. With sweater, socks, and scarf in hand, I had the makings of a stuffed dog. When I finished sewing, I was really able to envision the collaged Kramer that I would paint.
Once Harriet saw my doll, she also knew that we had our dog, so the sketch phase could begin. But Harriet still had the job of convincing Bernadette that this was the "right" Kramer for the book.
Q:How did you face the task of drawing Bernadette, and how did you feel when you met her?
LM I have to admit that growing up in England, I'd never heard of Bernadette Peters, so I had to do research to determine what she looked like. As soon as I saw her photo, I was thrilled. She has a great physique, and her hair is an illustrator's gift. The challenge was to make her look not like a little girl with an abundance of curly red hair, but instead a fun-looking, friendly, mature, sophisticated woman.
I drew many outfits as I tried to best represent her New York look. One day, I arrived at the Blue Apple offices with Bernadette in the form of a paper doll, complete with several sets of clothes. Harriet and the others commented on the various outfits until we agreed on suitable clothes that I could dress her in.
Q:What are your feelings about dogs?
LM When I was a child, my parents had a toy poodle. Unfortunately, this dog never accepted being knocked out of prime position when my twin brother and I were born. The poodle did not take kindly to us, so I have to say I wasn't a great dog lover. But now I love them.
Q: What are you working on now?
LM I'm having a great time illustrating a book that Harriet wrote called The Party Dress. My mother used to make me dresses when I was little—I love to sew too—and this book evokes all the pleasure I had as a child when I found a new dress on my bedpost in the morning. Of course, when it's been written, I'd love the chance to illustrate a book about Bernadette's other dog, Stella.
Contributor: Blue Apple Books
Pictures by Liz Murphy
Named after the pet adopt-a-thon founded over a decade ago by Bernadette Peters and Mary Tyler Moore, Broadway Barks tells the simple but sweet story of a homeless, nameless dog. The cute canine used to be called Douglas, and used to live in a tall apartment building. For reasons unknown, he is now on his own, and all alone. One day, his luck changes when he sees someone who looks an awful lot like Bernadette Peters on a park bench. The next day she returns and befriends our hero, feeding him biscuits and bringing him to Shubert Alley, where he meets other homeless dogs and cats, then goes onstage in front of a live audience. The Artist-Formerly-Known-As-Douglas quickly loses his stage fright, singing and dancing in his own unique doggie style. Although afterward he fears no one will want him, he ends up with a nice home and a new name from a girl in the audience. Complete with charming mixed-media artwork and a CD featuring Peters reading the book and singing a lullaby she wrote for this story, Broadway Barks is sure to touch the hearts of many young readers, as well as their parents. All the author’s royalties will be donated to the Broadway Barks charity. 2008, Blue Apple Books, $17.95. Ages 5 to 8. Reviewer: Naomi Milliner (Children's Literature).
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