Web Exclusive: Kate the Great

Local best-selling author Kate DiCamillo talks about toast, pigs, and <em>Mercy Watson to the Rescue</em>, a new play at the Children’s Theatre Company

Her children’s and young-adult books (The Tale of Despereaux, Because of Winn-Dixie) endearingly push past the impersonal, one-story-fits-all dryness of so much kid’s literature these days—hers is a quirky imagination at once huge and well-rounded and personal. In person, Kate DiCamillo is exactly as you’d hope, with the wry humor and sharp, uninhibited laugh of someone who doesn’t live in her head so much as in eternal appreciation of a good joke and a well-put sentiment: of the best writing, in other words.

Starting this weekend, the first major play based on her work hits the stage of the Children’s Theatre Company: Mercy Watson to the Rescue, based on the lovable, easily distracted star of several books—a pig with a thing for toast.

Q: Do you have any theatre experience yourself?

Kate DiCamillo: I surely do not. I had a small role in a high school play, O Men, Amen!

Q: Did you write it?

KD: No, I didn’t.

Q: Did you have anything to do with the script for Mercy Watson?

KD: No, but I’ve seen the script and it looks fabulous. I’ve been thrilled by the idea because they do such amazing productions at the CTC. And it’s nice for the premiere to be local. When Winn-Dixie was being made into a movie I was pretty involved, and I didn’t learn a lot doing that but it convinced me that writing books is what I’m supposed to be doing.

Q: You’ve already seen two of your books become movies. How easy is it for you to give up creative control of your ideas?

KD: I had a learning process with that. Certainly where one is most aware of that is with movies—you can’t control it. Translations—my books are in something like 44 languages now—that’s another area where you let it go. Ann Patchett wrote a wonderful article for the New York Times saying the minute you type the first word of your novel, you’ve compromised the beautiful vision in your head. I think about that: as soon as it goes into the world you let it go; as soon as you send it to the editor you let it go. It’s really Grinch-like to say “don’t put it on stage,” because it’s not mine from the get-go.

Q: I’ve heard you say that the Mercy Watson character gelled for you after your good friend Alison was going on and on and on about the many virtues of toast. Is this [local children’s book author] Alison McGhee by any chance?

KD: Yes. I’d just gotten a new car and I’d taken Alison to the airport and she got in with this hot buttered piece of toast, buttered to within an inch of its life, and I said, “Do you have to eat this toast in this car?” Which prompted a lecture on the virtues of toast. I had been pushing around this character for almost two years and I got home and knew I had what it needed.

Q: Were you tempted to ask for a cameo in the play?

KD: No, it never occurred to me until just now! When Winn-Dixie turned into a movie, I really wanted to be a cashier in the store. I love the idea. I should have asked. Maybe I will. As soon as we’re done talking I’m calling the CTC.

Mercy Watson to the Rescue
Now through October 23
See website for show times and ticket prices
Children’s Theatre Company, 2400 Third Ave. S., Mpls.