Q & A with M.C. Delaney: OBI, GERBIL ON A MISSION

Obi, Gerbil on a Mission - CoverToday I welcome M.C. Delaney to Dog Reads, a blog that features interviews with authors who’ve written a canine story for kids or young adults.

AOB: What is the title of your book? Pub date and publisher? Genre? Targeted age group? Illustrator?

The title of my book is OBI, GERBIL ON A MISSION! It’s part of a series of books about a little gerbil named Obi.  Wait, you’re saying, a gerbil?  But isn’t this a blog about dogs?  Well, dogs play a big part in this series.  In fact, the reason Obi, the gerbil in the series, goes on a mission in OBI, GERBIL ON A MISSION! is to rescue a dog.

Publisher: Dial Press 2012 (hardcover) Puffin Books (paper) Also 2012

Age Range: 3rd to 5th grade.  However, my goal when I am writing a book is to create a fun story that everyone, young and old, will enjoy.

Genre:  Humorous animal fantasy

Illustrator:  Me

AOB: Who is your key dog character(s) and what kind of dog is he/she? Feel free to list as many different breeds or mixes as necessary. Tell us a little more about him/her.

Obi, Gerbil on a School Trip - CoverThe main dog character is named Kenobi.  He is a very cute, very fluffy, very excitable golden retriever puppy. In addition to running around the house like a maniac and chewing up everything in sight, Kenobi has a sad-eyed, puppy-dog look that he uses whenever he knows he’s been a bad dog and wants to be forgiven. There are also a couple of minor dog characters, including a really mean German shepherd who isn’t sure if he can trust his owners because they serve him dog food that says “Real Beef Flavor” on the dog food bag but that the German shepherd swears has hardly any flavor at all.  There’s also a Newfoundland who thinks he can read.

AOB: In 70 words or less, provide a succinct plot description of your story.

Obi, the gerbil, is very happy being an only pet.  But all that changes when Rachel, her human mother, receives a new pet on her birthday – a golden retriever puppy that Rachel names Kenobi. Much to Obi’s dismay, Rachel now gives Kenobi all of her love and attention.  Jealous, Obi takes matters into her own paws.  She shows Kenobi how to escape from the house.  With Obi’s help, Kenobi slips out the kitchen screen door and runs off.  Rachel is heartbroken at the loss of Kenobi.  Obi feels just terrible about what she has done. She sets out on a mission to bring the puppy back.  She goes where no gerbil has gone before – outdoors.  It is a world of ferocious dogs, a hungry owl, and mean spirited cats with sugary-sweet names.  Obi has to find the puppy and then get the puppy – and herself – home safely.

Obi, Gerbil on the Loose - CoverKirkus called my book “fast-paced and funny.”  I hope that everyone who reads the book finds it just as entertaining.

Other links to reviews or blurbs you wish to share:

AOB: What inspired you to write this story?

Well, there really was a little gerbil named Obi.  She was my daughter’s pet.  At the time, my daughter was in third grade. The reason why my daughter had a gerbil for a pet was because she really wanted a dog for a pet.  But we lived in a small apartment and we couldn’t have a dog for a pet so we got her a gerbil for a pet instead.

My daughter named her gerbil Obi, after her favorite character in Star Wars – the Jedi knight, Obi Wan Kenobi. Which is just what the girl in the Obi books does.  She names her pet gerbil after Obi Wan Kenobi.  When we got my daughter her gerbil, the gerbil was just a little baby.  Nobody knew if the gerbil was a boy gerbil or a girl gerbil.  Not even the person who worked at the pet store knew.  And that’s just what happens to the Obi in the book.  None of the humans in the story know if she’s a boy or a girl.

My daughter’s pet gerbil also figured out how to sneak out of her cage.  So does the Obi in the book.

ObiSo how did Obi come to be written?

Well, my editor at Dial (then Dutton) called me one day and asked if I had any animal stories – if I did, she said, she’d be very interested in reading it. I told my editor that, yes, as a matter of fact I did have one. But I was just saying that — I didn’t really. So I got busy trying to think of a story about an animal. I couldn’t think of a darn thing, though. Weeks went by and I still had nothing. Then one morning I was at my desk, trying to think of a dog or some other animal that I could write about.  I was having trouble concentrating, though, because I kept hearing this squeak, squeak, squeak coming from my daughter’s bedroom down the hallway.

The noise was coming from her pet gerbil, Obi. The little gerbil was running around like crazy on her exercise wheel. This, in turn, was causing her exercise wheel to squeak like crazy. Squeak!  Squeak!  Squeak!  It was squeaking so much, I couldn’t think.

Kenobi“Hey, c’mon, Obi, knock it off!” I yelled out.

Like the gerbil could understand what I said, right?

Well, the gerbil kept right on running. And the exercise wheel kept right on squeaking. And then, suddenly, inspiration struck me. “Hey,” I thought. “What if I wrote about a gerbil?”

I started thinking about what a gerbil might do in a story.   Well, one thought led to another thought and before long I had an idea for a story about a gerbil named Obi.  And that’s how the Obi books got started.

AOB: What was the biggest challenge you had writing your story? How did you overcome it?

Really Mean DogThe illustrations were probably the biggest challenge.  While I love to draw, I’m really not that good of an illustrator.  I’m particularly not that good at drawing dogs and other animals.  I had to draw and redraw the animals so that readers (as well as my editor) wouldn’t stare at one of the drawings and ask, “What the heck is that supposed to be?” My latest Obi book has a guinea pig in it.  I quickly found out as I was doing the illustrations that I couldn’t draw a guinea pig to save my life.  My drawings of the guinea pig look more like a furry meatloaf than a guinea pig.

AOB: What other YA/MG books have you written? Do any of them feature a key dog character? If so, which ones?

Deep Doo Doo Cover439What are these stories about?

A number of years ago, I wrote a children’s middle school novel titled DEEP DOO DOO.  Now out-of-print, it was a political whodunit.  Who did it was a black Lab who came onto people’s TVs as a mystery dog called Deep Doo Doo. His surprise TV appearances (and political commentaries) disrupted the local governor’s race.

AOB: What kind of story can we expect next from you? Is it about a dog? If so, what is it about?

The latest book in the Obi series (OBI, GERBIL ON A SCHOOL TRIP!) was published last year (2013). In this new story, Obi goes to school where she meets a bunch of school pets – a guinea pig, a hamster, two bunnies, a turtle, and a frog named Einstein who is something of a math wiz – he knows, for instance, that 2 + 2 = 9. Sorry, no big dog roles in this latest story. Kenobi does show up, but it’s just a brief special guest star like appearance.

AOB: What else would you like us to know about you or your story?

Newfoundland Who Thinks He Can ReadOBI, GERBIL ON A MISSION! was chosen by Bankstreet College of Education as one of the “best children’s books of the year, 2013.” The first book in the Obi series – OBI, GERBIL ON THE LOOSE! – was the winner of the Florida Sunshine State Children’s Choice Award in 2011.

AOB: Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? And why?

Booth Tarkington’s PENROD.  It wasn’t that I loved the story so much, it’s that I enjoyed the experience of reading the book. I would read it after my parents put me to bed.  I would read under the covers with a flashlight so my mother and father, should either of them happen to look in on me, wouldn’t know that I was still up, reading.

Lost Dog - Plot Description DrawingAOB: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Don’t give up.  That’s what I keep telling myself, at any rate, when I’m trying to draw something that I’m having a lot of trouble drawing – you know, like a guinea pig.  That’s also what I tell myself when I’m trying to write something that just isn’t coming out the way I would like it to.

AOB: Where can readers go to find out more information about you and/or your books?

My website:  

Thank you M.C. Delaney for joining us at Dog Reads!

Thank you for having me!


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