Richard: Where did the name Anna Smudge come from?
MAC: Well, around six years ago I was waiting tables at this crummy diner, and I was always writing random things in my order pad during service to pass the time. And one day I just jotted down this phraseÖ "Anna is an ordinary girl. Even her name, if spelled backwards, is nothing new but plain old Anna." The phrase didnít make it into the book but it started the development of Annaís character.
Funny enough, Annaís last name was originally Fudge. But then a friend of mine mentioned that Judy Blume had a popular childrenís book character named Fudge. So, I changed the name to Smudge. (I needed something to rhyme with Sludge, which is Annaís nickname because sheís slow.) Kind of a lame origin, huh? But the name also seemed to fit.
Richard: Is there much demand for a younger audience book?
MAC: In comics I think thereís a big desire by both publishers and retailers to bring the kids back into the comic book stores. And kids love comics. They always have and they always will.
Richard: How well does Glenn Fabry's art compliment your writing?
MAC: Like peanut butter and jelly. Like Aerosmith and Run DMC!
Whatís brilliant about Glenn is that he has this fine line between humorous and disturbing, which was the exact chord I was going for. I sent Glenn a bunch of pretty nutty character descriptionsÖand he just started plucking these guys out of my head! We had some back and forth on a few of the folks, but, for the most part, he nailed most of the character designs on the very first try.
Richard: What is the basic storyline of Anna Smudge: Professional Shrink?
MAC: Anna Smudge is an eleven year old girl with an unusual knack for listening who becomes the top shrink in Manhattan. Through her therapy sessions, she unravels a mystery involving a cannoli-loving hitman, an art teacher gone mad, and the evil criminal mastermind Mr. Who. With the help of a bunch of her friends, Anna has to track down Mr. Who before he kills her dad. But no one has ever seen the guyís face and itís rumored that he might not even exist.
Richard: Who else will we see along with her in The Professionals series?
MAC: Each of Annaís friends will step up and take center stage in their own book to pursue their own personal vendettas against Mr. Who; their different professions acting as a vehicle through which another piece of Mr. Whoís master plan is revealed. Then in the sixth and final books everything fits together like a giant puzzle.
The next book focuses on Annaís best friend, Quenton Cohen. Heís the chef. Iím eating a lot of good food for research.
Richard: How did you come to be called MAC?
MAC: M, A, C are actually my initials. My full name is Melissa A. Calderone. But in school everyone called me MAC for short. However, Iíve been called many other things tooÖ like Calzone, Macaroni, Mel, Mel-icious, Smell, Mel Torme, Melanoma, Daddy MAC, the list is pretty long, so I wonít bore you.
Richard: Have you written any other comics or books?
MAC: For a while I was writing pretty regularly for Popular Science Magazine. I havenít written any comics although Iím a voracious comic book reader. And Iíve written a few books, but Anna Smudge is the first one to be published.
Somewhere in the bowels of my filing cabinet is a 436 page novel set in Antarctica in 1909, which I did almost a year of research for. Iím proud to say that I now know everything there is to know about scurvy. (Really great party conversation, btw.) Because I couldnít afford an actual trip to Antarctica, I went dog sledding in Quebec during a massive cold spell. Iím talking like 25 degrees below zero cold. Youíd step outside and it was like someone slapped you in the face. I got frost bite on two toes. They turned purple, then blue, and then, finally, white. My boyfriend kept teasing me that someone was going to have to chop them. Needless to say, I was not amused.
Richard: What do you have planned for the future career-wise?
MAC: Hmmm. Well, over the next few years Iíll be writing the remaining 5 books in The Professionals series. But Iíd also love to tackle some different mediums aside from childrenís books such as comics, TV, movies. That, or become a Cher impersonator in Vegas. I do a mean "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves."
Richard: How do you improve your writing skills?
MAC: I do crazy finger exercises to keep my hands limber.
Richard: Which comics did you read as a child and do you read now?
MAC: I actually didnít start reading comics until my freshman year of college. I picked up Neil Gaimanís Sandman, and that was it. I was hooked. I bought an ankh and died all of my clothes black (just joking!) After reading everything Neil Gaiman, I moved onto Garth Ennisís Hellblazer and Preacher. Never, in a million years, did I imagine that I would be working with Glenn eleven years later! Now I really enjoy reading anything by Ed Brubaker, Warren Ellis and Brian Michael Bendis. I read everything that First comics did from Mike Barronís Nexus to Mike Grellís Jon Sable. After all, Jonís a childrenís book writer who kicks ass!
Richard: How can someone contact you?
MAC: The best way to contact me is through my email address, Mac at whoismrwho dot com, which is listed in the Adults Only section of the bookís website www.whoismrwho.com
Richard: Any final words of wisdom?
MAC: Donít ever drink orange juice after you brush your teeth. Itís nasty!! One night, when we were all up working at some obscene hour in the morning, my book designer told me that. And did I listen to him? Nooo. I went right home and tried it. Disgusting.
On a more serious note, my main word of wisdom is "perseverance". Trying to get published is like jumping through a ring of fire while being doused in gasoline. Itís really tough. But you just have to keep working and trying. If someone tells you to rewrite your manuscriptÖdo it!