Logan Mifflin: Author, Illustrator, and Car-Driving Zebra
Logan Mifflin is a colorful character who shares his home with an assortment of pets as well as his family. His daughter must have inherited his imagination as his book Tobey the Zebra is based on the very first sentence to pass her lips, “The zebra drives the yellow car!” This unusual image served as the inspiration for Tobey the Zebra, the first character Mifflin introduces to us from the Penny Park Zoo. Read on to find out more about Tobey and his friends at the Penny Park Zoo and what adventures we can expect as we follow them on.
You wrote Tobey the Zebra “to translate life questions and morals into enjoyable tales for children” since you became a parent yourself. What has been the reaction to Tobey the Zebra in your household and with friends’ children?
The reaction to Tobey the Zebra (originally titled The Zebra Drives the Yellow Car) has been very favorable in my house and at the local park near this house. My daughter, in her own way, invented the story when she was 3 years old, and the neighborhood kids think of me as the storyteller. I’ve invented a few sequels to Tobey already and have told these tales to the children at the park, as well as my own daughter. All of these have been met with praise, especially the newest member of the Penny Park Zoo, Sleep, the sleep dragon.
Many different types of animals live with you and your daughter. What made you choose to write about a zebra as the main character for your first book?
No offense to the dogs, but they really do bark a lot, which ruled them out precisely at minute one. Actually I’m kidding at the dogs, but there is a bit of a story behind the whole Tobey the Zebra character, and reasoning behind his story.
So I dropped my wife at the mall so she could get her hair done and took my daughter to Target for various things we needed around the house. Stopping for a moment at the gas station to fill up on gas and check the tires. Once these things were completed, I wiped the sweat from my brow (I live in Arizona) and continued on the trail to Target. After about a minute, my daughter exploded from the back seat!
“The zebra drives the yellow car!” she exclaimed. This was, of course, very profound because it was her very first sentence. I laughed at the absurdity of the exclamation, but complimented her sentence. Still I had to respond to her with, “No, Daddy is driving the yellow car.” All the way to Target my daughter insisted that the zebra was driving, and after a few minutes, I succumbed to her imagination and pretended I was a zebra.
We did our shopping with no incident, and we went to the checkout, at which point the cashier informed me I had a little something on my face. Messing with the tires got my hands dirty, wiping my sweat got my face dirty, and as it turned out, “The zebra really was driving the yellow car.”
You also created the illustrations for Tobey the Zebra. Did you prefer that part or the writing of Tobey the Zebra?
This is a great question and might be one of my favorites on the list of questions we have here. I can actually say I have no preference to either of the two activities. I love to write the stories because I get to test them out with my child and the neighborhood, and they can usually see when it’s right or when it’s wrong. I love to do the illustrations, because my daughter sits right along next to me and does her own drawings.
It’s really not a matter of work when you’re having a good time doing what you do. But, that said, the drawings take the most time to get them. I mean, matching a few lines of text to a picture that hasn’t been drawn yet is tough. That’s when you need to get creative and really make that one picture worth the one thousand words of value. Sometimes, you find yourself with a great picture, and it doesn’t match the text; on the other hand, it’s reversed. The process is give and take when that happens: Change the text to match the picture, and/or change the picture to match the text. It’s a give and take thing and a choice. You ask yourself, “Which is more important?” “Which is better?” And then you change one to make the story as a whole work. I think I’ve already answered a future question, but we’ll see.
Is there any particular reason you named your book’s hero Tobey?
It’s amazing to think a character in a story has a hidden meaning behind their name. I mean when you come in the world there are stories about why your parents named you. Tobey, his name (as my child in print), has no originality or story behind himself. He’s just a guy who wants to drive a car and happened to have the name Tobey.
I can tell you this; come closer, it’s a secret . . . Okay, 6 of the animals in the Penny Park Zoo have particularly inspired names. All I can say about it is this: The beaver and elephant are best friends, the fox and the giraffe are best friends, and maybe even the mouse and moose are best friends.
Are you currently working on any new book projects and, if so, could you give us a sneak preview of what we can expect?
I love to work. Here are two previews; Two for the price of one.
There once lived a creature at the penny park zoo,
His shoulder was cold; Ice is warmer, it’s true!
One day he discovered he needed his friends
that day he discovers he can’t win without them.
A race for the prize but he couldn’t be nice,
The rest have been thinking his heart is like ice.
Sometimes help is needed when something goes wrong,
Klondike never asks for help, he just says “So long.”
The polar bear tries, but he won’t ever win,
unless he asks “Help,” in this situation!
He is stubborn and angry and lets out this Roar!
“I’m king of the beasts and I am much more adored!”
Klondike has been maybe, the hardest to teach,
His grumpy heart angry and cold at my reach,
But this is his story with his growl and a yelp
Klondike, the polar bear finally asks for some help.
Here is your second preview.
Sneak can creep and knock down trash
Zoom can fly as quick as a flash.
Sneak can’t read, but he’ll shred some books.
Zoom can’t run, but he’ll swim in brooks.
Sneak and Zoom; and Zoom and Sneak,
One will fly, and the other will creep.
Zoom likes his fish; his favorite food,
Sneak prefers trash it betters his mood.
Zoom and Sneak; and Sneak and Zoom,
One sleeps at night, and the other near noon.
Sneak likes all foods; anything will do.
Zoom prefers sushi and some lettuce too.
Zoom likes to eat bread and an occasional fig,
Sneak can use his hands to grab objects and dig.
Zoom can’t grab, but he’ll waddle and quack
Sneak can’t quack, but he will always find snacks.
You’ll have to be on your best behavior to get a preview of the Mighty Sleep Dragon. Just saying, however, the kids love that story. If you don’t believe me about the sleep dragon you could always ask Sneak or Zoom.
How was your experience working with Trafford as Tobey the Zebra’s publisher, and would you recommend Trafford to other authors?
First off, you’ve got to know your stuff is good. Self-publication is a tough business, and you have to be willing to put a monetary value on your own idea, and then pay that value. But even still, once your stuff is good and you pay out the money it costs, you might still lose the overall game. (Never start a sentence with the word but) It’s contacts. Contacts. Contacts. Be at the ready to need your friends (just like Klondike), always ask for help.
This is embarrassing, I answered the wrong question. Yes, I would recommend Trafford, they are difficult to get on the phone at times, but that is probably because I’m a bit tough to be dealt with. But Trafford depends on being professional and helpful, and believe it or not “encouraging!” Who gets that? In this business, everyone needs a shake and a poke once in a while. The answer is yes.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors when considering self-publishing their work?
This question cannot be answered by any author, sorry to say it, but it is true. You want to write a book about meatloaf and chicken, write a cookbook, but make sure your food is GREAT. If you are inspired in a dream about gnomes living under your house, make very sure those gnomes are written well in your masterpiece.
Now if you are writing some things for children, I can answer this question. Watch their imagination; that is something better than yours. My daughter has alien friends (named Gare and Baby), maybe it could be a book. Aliens in my Bedroom I coined it, so you can’t steal.
Honestly, I’d give the same advice as I tell my kid when she doesn’t get her way. Keep trying, always try, tomorrow has already said you haven’t failed yet.
Self-publish if you need to; otherwise, you’ve already gone nowhere. Trust in what you do, and strive to find chances. Once you see your book you’ll never feel sorry.
Do you have a particular writing ethos or process you follow that might be of help to other authors?
Chicken pox is not caused by chickens. And you can’t get an eggplant if you bury an egg in your yard. That being said, no, I have no advice to anyone. Be yourself. Love what you do, and put it on paper if this is what you want. Otherwise, think of what you want and strive for it. Never hold yourself back because you think you are wrong, stupid, or unqualified. Quality is in the mind of the reader. No one gets on the Best-Seller List by wishing. Robin Williams is a very busy man. Determination. And here is something you haven’t seen on TV.
There once lived a creature at the Penny Park Zoo,
He had stripes, and a mane, and a dream, One or two.
He wanted to do something, to be famous; have fun!
But he couldn’t get favor from his friends, not a one.
One day he would claim to drive all over this place,
he’d drive through the zoo, with some, Speed and some grace.
A Yellow car and a zebra could be perfectly funny
But a zebra could drive just as real as a bunny.
[Bunnies don’t drive yellow cars] Unless they wear big shoes.
The car he desired came around every day
when the car came around it always did say
“Tobey’s the best, everyone give a treat”
but the zebra dreamed he could drive the car in the street.
Tobey can have a fast chance in this tale,
it’s kind of like getting a toy in the mail;
Sometimes your dreams can take off, bounce, and go far,
like Tobey the Zebra, and the Adventures of this one Yellow car!
Just do your thing. If you like it, it will work. If you hate it, think of something else. If the world was filled with writers, well, we’d have a run on pens. Kidding aside, my advice is this: If you are going to do it anyway without thought of money, you’re a writer. If you are doing this thing for money, you might need to make a few phone calls and check your sanity. Be prepared to fail, but dream of success. I still dream, and one day, it might come true.