Interview with Deborah Diesen
I grew up in Midland, Michigan, and I developed an interest in writing early on. My parents encouraged my interest; in fact, I remember the first poem I ever wrote, because when I showed it to my Mom, not only did she tell me it was “Wonderful!” she also told me I should put a date on it, because “real writers always date their work.” That bit of encouragement helped me develop a good writing habit and also provided me with a lifelong belief in myself as a Real Writer.
I had wonderful English teachers throughout my primary education, including an entertaining writing teacher whose voice I still hear in my head when I employ colons, semi-colons, and other punctuation challenges. I wrote creatively throughout those years, and well into college.
During college, writing began to take a backseat as I explored a number of potential career paths and interests. I took courses in telecommunications, psychology, political science, acting, philosophy, anthropology, and more, but I never found a field of study that fit quite right. After I graduated, with a multidisciplinary social science degree, I worked for many years at an independent bookstore. I loved being in the constant presence of books as well as in the company of wonderful co-workers. During that time, I took a few classes in accounting, with the thought that I might some day work for the GAO, ferreting out government waste and corruption; but though my accounting coursework introduced me to the fascinating world of numbers, the accountant career possibility didn’t fit quite right either. Finally, I decided on librarianship, and I returned to school to earn my MILS. After graduation, I began work as a librarian.
My husband and I started a family, and our children were enthusiastic about books from a very early age. I found myself immersed in children’s literature on a day-to-day basis, and the experience reawakened my interest in writing. I began to write stories for my boys and discovered I enjoyed it more than I had any other genre of writing. I joined SCBWI and then became a member of an extraordinary critique group, through which I’ve learned immeasurably about the craft of writing. Writing in rhyme is especially appealing to me, as it combines my love of words with my more analytical love of form and rhythm.
My current day-job is as the financial manager of a small nonprofit organization, and I enjoy the work tremendously. But my true joy comes from writing for children. Writing for children has allowed me to combine all the various paths I’ve traveled and explored into one pursuit that — at last — fits just right. http://www.deborahdiesen.com/index.htm
Interview with New York Best Seller author of The Pout – Pout Fish, Deborah Diesen
I want to thank you for being my guest here on Mymcbooks Blog
What is the last book you read? Usually I have about 3 or 4 books I’m in various stages of reading. I read a lot of mysteries, interspersed with a few novels, and the occasional bit of nonfiction. The book I most recently finished goes in that last category, as I just re-read Mem Fox’s Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever. It’s a wonderful book about how children learn to read and what our role is in helping them discover and love books.
What was your favorite children’s book? I had many! As a young child, I was a big fan of Dr. Seuss books; and when I was a little older, I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. But the book that stands out particularly from my childhood years was John Ciardi’s poetry collection You Read To Me, I’ll Read To You. The poems “About The Teeth of Sharks” and “Mummy Slept Late and Daddy Fixed Breakfast” remain favorites of mine to this day.
Are you working on a new book? I have several picture book manuscripts that I’m currently playing with, one in rhyme and the others not. I don’t know if any of them will turn into books, but I’m enjoying the writing and revising process. Plus I’m working away on a new adventure for Mr. Fish and his friends! Hope to have more news on that front soon.
What inspired you to write The Pout-Pout Fish and the sequel? The Pout-Pout Fish came about when my elder son, a toddler at the time, was having a pouty day. Trying to amuse him out of his grouchies, I made an exaggerated pouty face at him. Pretty soon we both got to making giant pouty faces at each other and then laughing about it. After a while, I said, “We look like fish – like pout-pout fish!” And there it was – the idea for a story! I jotted that phrase down, and I started work on writing the story later that very same day. The sequel, The Pout-Pout Fish In The Big-Big Dark, was inspired by some brainstorming with illustrator Dan Hanna and our editor at FSG. Out of the brainstorming emerged a “scared of the dark” theme, which was then the spark for the story line of that book.
What do your children think about the Pout-Pout Fish? My kids are a little older now than the target audience for The Pout-Pout Fish, but they still enjoy it. And they both know they’ve played a crucial role in my becoming a writer, so I think they feel a real connection to my books due to that.
Your book was named by Time magazine as one of the Top Ten Children’s Books of 2008, could you explain how you felt when you were told? I could scarcely believe it! It was such wonderful news, especially for a first time author. But I do think most of the credit for the book’s place on the list goes to Dan Hanna, illustrator of The Pout-Pout Fish. His art created an absorbing ocean world that kids dive right into. And the cover image for The Pout-Pout Fish – who could resist a pouty face like that? Not Time magazine!
What is the most difficult part of writing? Getting inspired by an idea and starting a project is always fun. Taking the idea all the way through to a complete first draft gets a bit harder. But the step after that is where things get most challenging. I don’t always enjoy the long process of revising a story draft, but it’s the most important part of writing. Happily, I have a critique group that helps me see where my writing needs work. Their feedback makes doing the revisions a little less painful.
What do you do when you’re not writing or promoting your books? I work at a small nonprofit organization doing their bookkeeping and grants management. It may sound like an odd job for a writer, but I enjoy numbers nearly as much as I enjoy words!
How do you react to a bad review and have you ever suffered from writer’s block? I try not to worry too much about bad reviews. Not every book is going to appeal to every person, nor should it. When I share The Pout-Pout Fish during school author visits, I always tell the students, “Some of you probably liked that story. A few of you may have loved it. And some of you might not have liked it at all! But no matter what you thought of it, it’s totally OK with me. The world is full of books, and if you keep reading, and keep listening to stories, some day you’ll find at least one book that seems like it was written just for you.” As long as each of my books plays that part in at least one child’s life, I’m a happy author. As for writer’s block, so far I haven’t suffered from it, mostly because I cross-train: if I get stuck on one thing, I just switch to another. Sometimes it pays to have a short attention span!
What do you hope that readers will take away from your book? What I love most about picture books is that they’re meant to be shared: a parent with a child; a librarian with a story time group; a teacher with a class; etc. I hope that children will take away from my books the joy of sharing the reading experience with someone special. I also hope that my books are just a few of the many thousands they’ll experience in their lifetime!
Who are some of your favorite authors you would love to dine with? Assuming I have a time machine for traveling to my meal, I’d love to have dinner with Carl Sandburg!
What author inspires you the most and why? I’m inspired by almost every author I read and/or meet! I’m amazed at the array of talent and topic and approach in the world of writing. But I think my largest inspiration comes from the writers in my writing group. They amaze me with their word-working, their critiquing, and their friendship.
What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.? I would love to say I follow a regular schedule for writing, but I don’t. During stretches of time when I’m doing a lot of writing events or that I’m busy with my non-writing job or family activities, writing takes a bit of a back seat for a while. But I always eventually come back around to it. And often when a new idea grabs me, I toss aside everything else for a while and throw myself completely into the writing (at least until the size of the laundry pile exceeds the size of my desk…).
What advice would you give parents on selecting the right books for their children to read? The best book for a child is a book that he or she enjoys! So I think it’s important for parents to allow their kids to gravitate toward their own reading interests and selections. But I think it’s also crucial that parents actively enjoy the experience of sharing books with their kids. If a book appeals to the parent reading it aloud, that enthusiasm can’t help but be contagious. Choosing books that are fun for everyone involved ensures that reading never feels like a chore.
What advice you would give to new writers? I guess I would share two bits of advice. The first is that if you want to be a writer, it’s important to love to write simply for the sake of writing. To be a published requires writing well, but given the statistics (the great number of manuscripts written and submitted and the limited number of books that can be published), writing well does not guarantee getting a book into print. If you know that going into it and want to write anyway, you’re on the right track. Second, a great writing group is worth more than its weight in gold! I’d encourage any aspiring writer to reach out to other writers and find a critique group in which to actively participate.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers? It’s been such a pleasure to be here today! Thank you so much for having me. If your readers would like to know more about my books, further information is available at http://www.deborahdiesen.com/books/
Thank you for this interview.
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My name is Ella Johnson. I started Mymcbooks to promote reading. As a former teacher, I know that making basic education fundamentals interesting to children can be challenging. Education can be fun, exciting and captivating for children with the right learning tools. So my goal is to “make learning interesting and fun” for the children while they learn, by introducing them to fun books with colorful and captivating illustrations.
In 2009, I start the giveaway program giving away free school supplies at random to 2 winners each year. I also started a monthly free giveaways for books and gifts.
August 2010, I extended the free school supplies from 2 to 5 winners at random on my blog and also give away 20 bags full of school supplies to familes in need at Chick-fil-A in Brandon, Florida during their family nights. And in 2012, I beat my that number and gave away a lot of school supplies to needy families. Hopefully, I can continue to do this each year.
In 2011, I started writing reviews on children’s books then giving these books away free on Mymcbooks Blog. I increase the number of books we giveaway free to help support parent. My goal is to give away as many as I can each year. This is also a great way to introduce parents to new books.
Mymcbooks blog is always looking for other ways to give kids free books. So I started Mymcbooks Birthday Library http://mymcbooksbirthdaylibrary.wordpress.com/
My goal is to giveaway at least 300 books to children each year.
Books Given in 2011: 315
Books Given in 2012: 380
Books Given in 2013: 330
Books Given in 2014: 257
Books Given in 2015: – 127
Read Interview about Ella Johnson, http://melangeofcultures.wordpress.com/2011/07/31/interview-with-ella-johnson-founder-of-memorable-children-books-gifts/ Interviewer: Nicole Weaver
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