I'm happy to showcase fellow Epic Eighteen member Andi Diehn! Andi is a debut picture book author - her new books, WAVES, ENERGY, MATTER, and FORCES, are part of the Picture Book Science Series with Nomad Press. Read on for Andi's thoughts about stories . . . creativity . . . and connection!
STORIES – Discuss what inspires your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.
First of all, thank you for having me as a guest blogger on your site! I have huge appreciation and admiration for the work you and all book ambassadors out there are doing.
Inspiration is such a weird thing. I have three kids, which means I spend a lot of time driving them places, sitting on the edges of sports fields, karate dojos, theaters, and in the parking lot, and while yes, this gets tedious, it’s also where a lot of creative work gets done.
Inspiration has always seemed to me to be a two-part process (just two?!)—the initial hit from the universe and then the exploration part. The initial hit, for me, is sparked by memory, those kids of mine, other books, movies, conversations, stuff I overhear at coffee shops . . . the list goes on. The exploration part, which I consider to be an integral aspect of inspiration, requires me to listen with my gut. Is this interesting enough? Charming enough? Important enough? What happens when I look at it in this light? What if I turn it upside down? It’s a very active process. I think there’s a misconception that inspiration hits like the proverbial bolt of lightning and bam, the idea for a book is born. But even the initial idea requires a lot of labor.
For my series of four nonfiction picture books, called Picture Book Science, that first part came in the car (because, kids). I work for Nomad Press, an independent publisher of children’s nonfiction books, and we’d been toying with the idea of a series for 5-to-8-year olds, and I had no plans on actually writing one, but I found myself merging onto the highway thinking about all the definitions of the word “wave.” Because that’s how kids (and grownups, really) sometimes think—they start with a huge impression of something, and that impression whittles down into more and more detail as they become more knowledgeable.
I jotted my idea on the back of a receipt when I got home, and checked it for the gut reaction part of the inspiration process. I fiddled, erased, fiddled more, got distracted, jotted more ideas, and later that week brought it up at an editorial meeting. My colleagues loved it, and a series was born.
CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?
My sons are 15, 13, and 9, which provides a ridiculous amount of opportunity for creativity in our house. I feed off of their weirdness. Just the other night, the nine-year-old and I were reading a book before bed when the 13-year-old came in to the younger boy’s room and began rustling around, with an eye toward disruption. My youngest is a collector of All The Things, so there is plenty in there to disrupt.
“Why does Barnaby have like a thousand tiny plastic forks?” the 13-year-old asked.
“In case he has a lot of tiny little food to eat!” I answered.
And then we laughed and laughed and laughed and started thinking of all the tiny food that required tiny forks (one-bean casseroles, a single cheesy macaroni) and bedtime was delayed.
This is the garden-variety creativity that is such an important part of both my work and my happiness in general. I have a very creative job, but it’s not super-free creativity like I find in conversations with my kids, or in books that take hold in my brain, or in details I notice about the couple standing in front of me while I’m in line at the coffee shop to get my spiced chai.
So for me, it’s not so much about showcasing, it’s about folding creativity into every move you make. And actually, when I try to get creative about stuff like cooking, decorating my house, and gardening, it’s usually a bit of a flop (let’s not even mention my attempt at chicken fricassee).
CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?
I’m a pretty hardcore introvert, so connecting with readers face to face has always been a struggle. I have to force myself to reach out, to schedule classroom visits, to email people who might want to take a peek at my books. It’s anxiety-inducing, every. single. time. But what I find when I do steel myself for interaction is an amazing wealth of knowledge, support, and heart. I feel like every time I turn my attention to the world of KidLit I find a new blog, news roundup, author collective, or other ingenious way of someone getting books into the hands of kids.
Like many introverts, I’m WAAAAAYYY more comfortable chatting with kids than I am with adults. Kids are amazing. I’m lucky to have my own, which gives me a pretty convenient entry point into the local schools and clubs. And whenever they have friends over, I corner young creatures at the kitchen table and ply them with banana bread while I pick their brains over what they’re curious about, what’s going on in schools, how they feel about the world, what kind of books they want to see. Yes, it’s mortifying for my own progeny, but hey, they get banana bread, too. And, you know, rides to their games and a constant source of emotional support. I think it’s a fair deal.
Andi Diehn is a writer and editor with a BA in English and an MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College. She is the author of four books in the Picture Books Science series, along with Shakespeare: Investigate the Bard's Influence on Today's World; Technology: Cool Women Who Code; and Explore Poetry With 25 Great Projects. She lives in Enfield, New Hampshire, with her family.
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