If you liked the art project of a cute little pug with a butterfly perched on his nose in my last post, you’ll enjoy today’s interview with author, Jean Alfieri, who knows all about pugs, because she’s rescued two! She loves their lap-dog size and cute, mooshed-in faces so much that she’s written a series of picture books about them!
And Jean has a give away! Enter the Pick your Favorite Pug Picture Contest with your vote, and you could win your choice of a Zuggy book!
Now please welcome Jean Alfieri, Award Winning Author of Zuggy the Rescue Pug book series and Alexandra Ruiz, the series illustrator. You’ll enjoy learning more about them, the pugs, Zuggy and Zoey, and these colorful picture books!
Q: Please tell us a little about yourself and how you began writing.
A: I have always loved reading and writing, as far back as I can remember. I entered a short-story contest in 6th grade. That entry was selected to advance to a State competition for my age group and it won!
I had forgotten all about this accomplishment until some 20 years later. I was entrenched in Corporate America when I ran into my former junior high classmate who had also entered that same competition. Her book had taken 2nd place in the State contest.
When she asked what I was doing now, and I told her, she replied with shock and disappointment, “Oh no! You should be writing! I read your story back in 6th grade and it was great!”
I had no idea it had left such a strong impression on her, but those comments started the wheels turning again!
Q: Did you have pets when you were growing up? What pets do you have now?
A: My love of dogs was resisted by my parents for several years. To get around that, I sort-of adopted a couple of the neighbor dogs. We lived in a rural area that was mostly horse farms, so the dogs (an Irish setter and a white lab) traveled a couple acres to visit our house. I made sure it was worth it. We’d make forts, search for frogs and salamanders at the nearby creek, and occasionally I would convince my mom to buy dog biscuits from the store (even though we didn’t have a dog)!
Finally, when I was 7 years old, my parents brought home a handsome red Doberman. Rumble was the joy of my childhood. He was dressed up in nightgowns when I had friends sleep over. I decorated his collar with lilacs each spring. He was pampered and loved but he was no “softy.” He was a fierce protector of me as I grew up.
To date my husband and I have adopted over a dozen senior rescue dogs. (We love the vintage puppies!) Running the house now are: 8-year-old Silly Sally Sue (former Airedale show-dog), 11-year-old Princess Zoey (blind pug), and 15-year-old Sir Reginald (6 lb. toothless chihuahua).
I love the names you give your dogs!
Q: What was your favorite thing to do as a child?
A: Reading was one of my favorite things and my mom and I made weekly trips to our local library. Summer was (and still is) my favorite season. I loved to ride my bike and play in the shade of our front-yard sandbox.
Q: What were some of your favorite childhood books?
A: I couldn’t get enough Dr. Seuss. I was as riveted with the crazy illustrations as I was with the unpredictable word choice and enchanting rhythms of his stories.
One non-Dr. Seuss book that I read repeatedly was “Noisy Nora,” by Rosemary Wells. I reached out to her a couple years ago to thank her for being an inspiration. You can imagine my delight when I heard back from her! In her email she wished me well in my writing journey.
Q: What is something not too many people know about you?
Q: What inspired you to write the Zuggy stories?
A: When my first rescue pug died, I was heart-broken. I adopted him when he was 5 years old and we were blessed with almost 10 years together. I didn’t just miss his physical presence. I worried that all our wonderful stories and his sweet-stubborn personality would be forgotten. So, I started journaling. The more I wrote, the more I cried and laughed and cried again. After a year of writing, I was able to look at those pages from a different perspective. I’d captured some really funny stories. I decided to put a few of them to verse, and the rest, as they say, is history!
A: Almost every Zuggy story is grounded in some element of real-life, and then I add the proper embellishments to ensure it’s entertaining. You can’t beat real life for great material! My current pug, Princess Zoey, is the new “Zuggy” mascot. She stars in some Zuggy stories as his little sister.Q: Do you have a new Zuggy book in the works?
A: Yes. Zuggy’s newest book, “Spooky-Ooky Stories” will be released in time for summer break, on May 20 – for National Rescue Dog Day!It is a collection of three suspenseful scary stories: 1. The Whispering Ghost 2. Secrets of the Haunted Barn, and 3. Fright Night. Any of the three can be read separately, but they are all related and build on each other.
It looks like a spooky-fun read!
Q: How does your Christian faith impact your writing?
A: No writing would be accomplished without His guiding hand. The ideas aren’t mine. The words I struggle with aren’t mine. I pray for guidance and help when writing, critiquing, and revising. It really feels like a partnership and in many respects, that takes much of the pressure off. I can have fun, knowing the Lord is leading. That isn’t to say it’s not a considerable amount of work. I want to produce the best stories to glorify God.
I pray over the manuscripts before they are sent to my illustrator and again before they go to my print design and lay-out person. Sometimes the stories reflect a Christian theme. Other times they don’t. I believe the right person (child or grown-up) will read the right book at the right time for them.
Q: You volunteer at the Pikes Peak Humane Society. What do you do?
A: I’ve done a variety of jobs over the years. One of my favorites is being a “matchmaker”. I get to introduce people to the dog they’ve selected to meet. It’s heartwarming to see when the relationship clicks, and a connection is made.
Recently, I’ve been making “rescue runs” to pick up dogs from partnering shelters around the State. If there are dogs struggling to be adopted, we drive out and transport them back to Colorado Springs. Our community embraces pet adoption so this provides them a greater chance at finding a forever home.
Being a dog-walker is also great fun. It’s important the dogs get exercise while at the shelter. It’s good for their physical and mental health. The Humane Society welcomes new volunteers. Those interested can find more information at: www.HSPPR.org
What a great idea to volunteer at the Humane Society! I’m sure some of my readers would love to help rescued dogs!
Q: Do you always write in rhyme? Is it hard?
A: I don’t always write in rhyme. In fact, none of the stories I’ve written for various publications that have been selected to be “traditionally” published are in rhyme. Hmmm – maybe that should tell me something!
Creating a story in verse is challenging. That’s what I love about it. It’s like a puzzle and there is only room for the perfect words. The rhythm and rhyme must be compatible to give it the right cadence. Some of Zuggy’s poems have taken years to polish!
Q: What would you like children to take away from your books?
A: The joy of reading. It should be fun, or kids won’t be interested. Poetry is mind-tingling. It helps younger readers learn new words and gain a better command of the language. But all of that is a bonus. I just want them to laugh and keep turning pages!
Just like you and Zoey!
Q: What advice would you give young people who might like to become writers?
A: Life offers an abundance of material …if you pay attention. The struggles and victories you travel through can feed and inspire your writing and help others along their path. Keep your chin up. Writing is not an easy job, but it is one, if it’s truly your passion, that is incredibly fulfilling.
Q: You have 2 new books out that are not part of the Zuggy series. Can you tell us about them?
A: As Zuggy was coming to life from all the stories of my first rescue pug, I realized how much of our personal stories are lost in just a single generation. I wish I knew more about the lives my grandparents led, where and how they met, who influenced them, their dreams and accomplishments, even what they learned from their failures. Sometimes we don’t write down our great memories because we simply don’t know where to start.
I decided to create a guided journal. “Blessed to be Me” is designed to help people capture their great life stories. “Blessed to be Your Dog” was requested by those who bought the first journal! They wanted a dedicated place to celebrate the stories of their fur heroes. As a fellow dog-lover, I completely understood! Both books are filled with a variety of long story-starters and short prompts, coloring pages, inspiring quotes, and plenty of space to write and doodle. They are a fun and easy way to create a treasured keepsake.
These sound like lots of fun and journaling is how you got back to writing!
Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your upcoming projects?
A: www.JeanAlfieri.com This site connects to both Zuggy’s website and the website for my guided journals. Readers can connect with me to schedule a Virtual Author Visit (best for first and second graders). There are also links to purchase my books and a Zuggy photo library as well.
Q: Where can readers find your books?
A: They are all available on Amazon. The links are on my website and Zuggy’s: www.ZuggythePug.com Anyone interested in shopping locally can find them at the Covered Treasures Bookstore in Monument, CO. They also carry stuffed Zuggy toys and tote bags, which make great gift packages!
A Zuggy tote bag! How fun!
Q: You have said it was interesting how you met your illustrator.
A: My first book was released through a small publishing company. I was able to select my illustrator but was not allowed to work directly with that person. I had to communicate through my rep.
It was recommended that I create a social media platform not just for me as the author, but for Zuggy, my main character. I was reluctant but was ultimately very happy I did. Turns out, Zuggy’s social media posts are much more popular than mine!
And just a couple month after Zuggy’s FB page was created and the book contract ended (so the publishing rights returned to me), the illustrator found me via Zuggy’s FB page! She introduced herself and said things I knew had to be her! It was so wonderful to finally be able to tell her how much I appreciated her incredible work. We have been working together ever since.
Q: They’re so colorful, Alexandra. Tell us about the tools you use and who has influenced your artistic style.
A: I use a drawing tablet. It’s a handy tool which enables me to draw on my computer using certain programs such as Photoshop instead of having to draw traditionally on paper and scanning it onto my computer. My art style is basically a mix of Western cartoon and Anime. A huge inspiration for my works is Disney, specifically the works of Glen Keane who was one of the legendary animators who worked on Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and other classic Disney animated films and Aaron Blaise who worked on animating Raja from Aladdin, The Lion King and who also directed Brother Bear.
Q: What are your favorite things to draw?
A: I enjoy drawing portraits of people and making fan art, but I love drawing animals the most! There is just something about their innocence and playfulness that makes me happy when I draw them. I have three cats of my own and they play a huge part of my life as well as my inspirations for my drawings. Zuggy is a very lovable and playful pug and when I illustrate him, I also use one of my cats, Munchkin, as an inspiration because they have very similar personalities and playfulness.
Mary Cassatt, the artist I wrote about to begin this series about dogs, loved to paint people and used her pets as models sometimes, too!
Q: Does your daily work allow you much creative “freedom and flexibility,” or do you illustrate mostly for individual projects?
A: I am currently working as a freelance artist, so my daily schedule is pretty flexible. Fortunately, most clients I work with allow me to have creative freedom. This is great because it lets me think outside the box and with collaboration, I’m happy to know they love the finished work. I also like to constantly update my clients with my progress, that way if they want to have something changed along the way it’s easier to edit before I finalize with coloring.
Q: What else about your work / passion would you like to share?
A: Other than character drawing I’m still practicing on drawing backgrounds and scenery since it’s one of my weakest points. I will admit that there are times I get discouraged seeing other artists’ works that are better than mine, but I like to take that feeling and turn it into inspiration to help me improve.
Growing up, I was that student who filled her notebooks and books with drawings and there were times I was told to “slow down” and focus on more important things. But I think art is just as important as anything else. And especially in these dark times right now, art is one of the things that helps me escape and keep my mind off the negativity happening around us, so I’m glad my art can brighten people’s days.
Q: This is such a great attitude for your work and how you worked to improve! What other advice would you give an aspiring artist?
I’ve had people ask me for tips on how to draw, and I always tell them one thing: to practice. There is no other way to improve than to keep practicing and not let anyone or anything stop you from doing what you love.
Molly and I couldn’t agree more!
And Molly and I thank you both, Jean, and Alexandra, for visiting and telling us and our readers about yourselves, your work, and the wonderful PUG picture books about Zuggy the Rescue Pug!
If you’d like to learn more about Mary Cassatt, her painting, and her dogs, and enjoy a cute pug art project, please go to these 2 previous blogs. https://kathythepicturelady.wordpress.com/2021/04/10/mary-cassatt-american-impressionist-artist/
And now to thank all you readers, here’s the Pick your Favorite Pug Picture Contest!
Chomping my Toy / Santa hat / Toothy smile.
All entries will be entered to win a “Zuggy the Rescue Pug” book of your choice. The drawing will be held on May 10th, and the winner will be announced and notified via email.
All you have to do is comment and tell us which one you think is the cutest.
You can also send your vote to: ZuggythePug@gmail.com
Please only vote once!