Salley, storyteller and professor emerita of children's literature at the University of New Orleans, has written her first book, a retelling of the Three Billy Goats Gruff, set on the banks of the Mississippi.
PW: How did the publication of Who's That Tripping over My Bridge? come about?
CS: I did the tape years ago of Cajun Night Before Christmas [Pelican, 1972]; from then on, the owner [of Pelican] has been on my case, "You have to give me a story." I said, "I'll give you a story if I can choose the illustrator." I thought that would shut him up, but he said okay.
I've known Amy Dixon [the illustrator] long before we ever did this book. She's really an accomplished artist. She has shows in art galleries all over the country. She also is the mother of three children. This [book] is the result of a collaboration she did through friendship for me. So it's both of our first book.
Amy and I went up to the country and took pictures of the hills and hollows and old creaky houses and bridges I had scouted out. Moss-hung trees, little country houses. We launched the book at the art gallery that handles her original art and sold about 150 copies, and she sold several pieces of the art.
PW: How did you first start out in your career?
CS: My first library job was at Winthrop College for Women [now Winthrop University], in their laboratory school. The rest of the whole world was fighting black and white—this was 1962—but they were all a-twitter because a male had applied to this 200-year-old teacher's college. I'm exaggerating, but it's at least 100 years old. They'd never had a male student. The library, instead of being the quietest place in the building, was the noisiest. I had to admit I was the source. I only lasted there two years.
PW: What was it like to pen your own tale, rather than to bring other authors' work to life?
CS: I feel really guilty about this whole process, because the books that are being published are stories I've been telling for the last 50 years. All I had to do was put it on paper.
[I started telling these stories because] when I go to the west bank of New Orleans, those kids have never been across the river. They won't ever get to Norway, but they might get to St. Francisville [where the goats wind up at the end of the tale]. As soon as you cross the creek [into West Feliciana Parish], it's a whole different terrain. The change is so sudden. Maybe one day, a kid will be sitting in the back of the car, and he'll see a sign that says "Thompson Creek," and he'll gasp and say, "I know who lives under that bridge."
PW: Do you have other books in the works?
CS:Epossumondus, illustrated by Janet Stevens, will be launched at BEA, and will be in bookstores September 3. Janet heard me tell that story years ago and said she wanted to illustrate it. It's been stewing for several years.
I'm better at promoting than I am at writing. What author's experience have I had? Me picking my own artist? Eve Bunting has done 50 books, and I don't think she's ever gotten to choose her own artist. How often does that happen?