WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES
INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION
Even before I started writing for children, I knew the name Dianna Aston. Her beautiful nature books for young kids are widely used in the schools. So you can imagine what a thrill it was to connect with her when I joined the kidlit community. And then I met her at the WOW Retreat…and had a one-on-one critique that turned into a two-hour chat where we shared our passion for picture books. I’m honored to have her visiting today…especially since it is Valentine’s Day as well as International Book Giving Day. Make sure you scroll through all the way to the end of the post…to enter the GIVEAWAY of TWO BOOKS.
Welcome, Dianna! It is a pleasure having you here.
ME: Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?
My all-time favorite book from my childhood is “Andrew Henry’s Meadow” by Doris Burns, which was published a year after my birth, August 12, 1964, also known as International Youth Day. It’s about a boy whose imagination is off-the-charts creative. He has visions of pulleys and axles and how to make things work. But he tries to implement them in the family house. It’s not possible to live among parents and sisters and carry out his inventions. But Henry, being unstoppable Henry, gathers his tools and ideas and strikes out on his own. He goes to the meadow, where he builds a little house. His courage to make his dream happen inspires other kids in the neighborhood to follow, to build their own tiny homes. Soon, the meadow is a village of children, united by their dreams in a peaceful meadow. Each homemade dwelling reflects the child’s vision of home. The home of their heart.
The favorite of my books is “Dream Something Big,” illustrated by Susan Roth. It’s about a man like Andrew Henry. Simon Rodia, creator of the Watts Towers, had a vision. For half his life, he built towers out of trash, found objects and his own special mix of cement. People called him crazy, but he remained true to his vision. Like Andrew Henry, Simon—also known by children as Uncle Sam—was unstoppable. The towers rose, the tallest 100 feet. No ladders, no nails, no screwdrivers. Thirty-four years after he picked up one chip of tile, he decided he had accomplished his vision. He pinned his life-savings to his suit, gave the deed of ownership to his longtime neighbor, and walked away. He never returned. In 1990, twenty-seven years after he died, the towers were designated as a National Landmark. The city of Los Angeles, earthquake-ville, thought they might be dangerous so they did a stress test on them…tried to topple them. The crane went up in the air.
When I visit schools, I tell them about the towers and Uncle Sam. “If someone calls your dream crazy,” I say, “then you know you’re on the right track.”
When my son (now 25) was in 2nd grade, we found out he had dyslexia. Back then, it was called a “learning disability.” Sigh. The more I learned, the more I realized it was a gift…or could be a gift if the dreamer wasn’t discouraged. If you have dyslexia, you’re different. You think way outside of the box. Because you’re not part of the majority, people say, “What’s wrong with you?”
What does this have to do with Andrew Henry? He thought differently and followed his dreams. If his character is based on a real child, he probably had dyslexia. Once, when my son was about five, he tied up the garage with some kind of string machine, just like Andrew Henry did. Back then, I thought along the lines of Andrew Henry’s parents. Rolled my eyes. Sent him inside. Detangled. I so wish I could change that day. Now, I would say, “Way to go, James! I never could have thought this up.”
Here are others who had dyslexia, thought the “impossible” could be done… and were called crazy for dreaming what they did:
It’s crazy to think you can light up the world, Thomas Edison
It’s crazy to think you can stand in Kansas and talk to someone in France, Alexander Graham Bell
It’s crazy to think men could rocket to the moon and walk upon it, John F. Kennedy
It’s crazy to think we could create a United States of America and declare ourselves free, Thomas Jefferson.
Vivian… until you asked me to write this, I’d never made the correlation between my favorite childhood book and how it’s so a part of my writing life now. Answering the simple question, “Who was your favorite….?” This was eye-opening for me.
ME: Dianna…wow…I’m so happy about that! What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started writing for children?
Writers aspiring for publication may be frustrated with this answer. Which is, I wouldn’t change a single thing.
I didn’t know that passion and perseverance was The Key. Wanting to write one story wouldn’t have imbued me with perseverance. To have passion means you want to write many. And with that passion, you won’t be stopped. Over 4 years, I wrote, I read, I studied, I networked. It wasn’t an effort. Learning the craft and knowing I had something to say kept me passionate. Unstoppable.
Of course there were times then, MANY, after checking the mail and reading yet another No Thank You… when I just hung my head and cried. Prayed. Made another pot of coffee. Revised. Read 40 picture books a week, checked out from the library. Made another pot of wine.
ME: Where do you like to write/draw – inside, outside, a special area in your home, on the computer, in a notebook? And when do you find time to write?
Twenty years ago, I began writing in earnest with the hope of publishing children’s books. After my kids got on the bus, I went straight to the computer in a tiny den with a big window in Suburbia. The ringing of phones and doorbells annoyed me. In the quiet, I was totally in the world of creating.
All of that changed when I moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in ’06. Suddenly, after all those years of solitude, I woke up to a world of non-fiction. No TV, no media. It was like looking at the world through baby eyes. What a beautiful world!
The den evaporated and I began writing in the courtyards of Mexican restaurants. One was Dila’s, a Sri Lankan cuisine restaurant. The courtyard was painted bright green and had a canopy of fuschia bougainvillea. The sunlight in San Miguel is platinum. So the colors and the light inspired me. At the big wooden table at Dil’s, I wrote a few books. One, “A Butterfly Is Patient,” is dedicated to him, Dilshan Madawala, my soul-mate brother.
There was one other restaurant where I wrote in San Miguel. Longhorn Smokehouse, a barbecue joint owned by a Brit who had had a bbq restaurant in Houston before setting up in SM. There I wrote “A Nest Is Noisy” and began work on “A Beetle Is Shy.”
Always, I wrote outside. I made so many friends at these places, people from all over the world. They were respectful and usually didn’t interrupt while I was writing. But often, one would shout across the patio, “A butterfly is magical!” or “A bug is creepy!” Or suggest I write about a talking cactus.
Now I write at a pirate bar in my new home, Port Aransas, the only town on Mustang Island, Texas. At The Gaff, where there is no air conditioning when it’s sweltering and only space heaters when it’s freezing, I write. I market. I book school visits. I have what I call “my table,” where I can spread out notebooks, computer, purse, satchel, datebook, plug into an outlet, plug in my earbuds to listen to music. There isn’t platinum sunlight inside this smoky, neon-lit place. There is a jukebox, slot machines and pirate paraphernalia. It is a Cheers bar, where everyone knows your name. And cares about you. And roots for you.
ME: When during the day (or night) are you most productive? Do you set a schedule for working or do you write/draw when the muse speaks?
Ideas come to me at night and I jot them down on scrap paper. Receipts, envelopes, bank statements. In my early den days, I wrote mornings. Now, I go to my fitness class, get cleaned up and write/market/book in the afternoon.
ME: Why do you write for children?
There’s a part of “Dream Something Big” when Uncle Sam, an Italian immigrant who had a difficult time learning and speaking English, was asked why he was building towers. I watched a DVD of him being interviewed.
When asked, he replied, “Why a man make the shoes? Why a man make the pants?”
That’s my answer. I have no idea. Why a man make towers? Why a man make a phone? Why a man light up the world?
Each of us has a passion, a vocation. For now, this is mine.
ME: Dianna, if you have any thoughts or advice for aspiring writers, please share. As well as anything else you want to talk about that parents, educators, writers, librarians might want to hear.
Writing is not solitary. You need your family and friends to cheer you on. BUT you need your fellow writers to cheer you on…AND tell you how you might consider improving your manuscript by doing this. Join SCBWI. Attend workshops and conferences. Volunteer at them. Be giving with your time and insight for fellow writers. Writing and publishing is about teamwork. Think about it.
When my son was young, we listened to books on tape for the summer reading program at the library. With dyslexia, the print to him was a jumble. But, boy, he could listen. We read by ear all the Newberry books. Back then, I had to convince librarians that auditory reading is reading. You don’t need eyes to read. Just ask a kid who’s reading with her fingertips. They finally gave him the credits for reading.
In seventh grade, still struggling with reading print, the school admins suggested he be put in special ed. Grrr. On his auditory vocabulary, he was on par with 11th grade students. He still tries to tackle books, but the way he learns is by watching/listening to documentaries.
So my advice to parents, teachers and librarians…there are many ways to read. And reading is Learning.
That is GREAT advice, Dianna. You’ve given so much more than I ever expected…honestly, I believe that what you’ve shared will have a huge impact on all of us.
If you’d like to connect with Dianna and find out more about her books, please visit her website:
Her wonderful books are available at just about every online and brick and mortar bookstore.
And Dianna is not done sharing…she’s got two very special Valentine’s Day sweet treat recipes for you.
First, a Gluten-Free recipe:
Paleo Sugar and Spice Cookies (from Rebecca Bohl – http://www.paleogrubs.com)
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup coconut flour
1 tsp baking soda
Orange zest from half an orange
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
For the frosting
3/4 cup white chocolate chips
2 tbsp coconut oil
1/3 cup pureed strawberries
In a medium bowl, mix the coconut oil, eggs, and honey together with a hand mixer. Mix in the orange zest and vanilla. Add in the coconut flour and baking soda and stir with a spatula. Place the dough in the refrigerator to harden for one hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out the chilled dough between two sheets of parchment paper to 1/4-inch thick. Cut out shapes with a cookie cutter and transfer to the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden. Let cool on a wire rack.
To make the frosting, melt the chocolate and coconut oil in the microwave, stirring regularly. Remove from the microwave and slowly mix in the pureed strawberries until desired color is achieved. Spread over the cookies as soon as they are done baking.
Servings: 14 cookies
Other cookies: http://www.cooks.com/recipe/jd223549/sugar-and-spice-cookies.html
And here is the second recipe…Dianna’s favorite:
SUGAR AND SPICE COOKIES (from www.cooks.com)
1/2 c. butter or shortening
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 tbsp. molasses
1 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ginger
1 c. confectioners’ sugar (powdered sugar)
Set the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Grease the cookie sheets. Get a large mixing bowl. Measure the shortening and put it in the bowl. Measure the sugar and pour it over the shortening. Cream them together. Get a cup and break the egg into it. Add the egg to the creamed mixture. Beat it with a mixing bowl. Measure the molasses and pour it in. Stir everything together. Stir well. Set the mixing bowl aside. Measure the flour, the baking soda, the salt and the 3 spices into sifter. Sift them into a bowl. Pour the sifted ingredients onto the molasses mixture. Stir until all the flour is mixed in.
Use an eating spoon to scoop out a spoonful of batter and push it off onto the cookie sheet. Leave plenty of room around each cookie. Put them into the oven. Don’t open the door for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes look at the cookies; if they are not firm let them stay in the oven 2 more minutes. Take the cookies out of the oven and lift them off the sheet with a spatula. Set them on a wire rack to cool.
Get a cereal bowl and a serving platter. Pour the powdered sugar into the bowl. Take a warm cookie and put it on the sugar. Flip it around until it is covered with fluffy sweet sugar. Set it on the serving platter. Do this to all the cookies. Then pass them around.
You bet we will, Dianna! Who’s up for making these tomorrow? I think kids would LOVE to help with the sugar coating.
Now I know this has been a long post…but we are NOT done yet! Dianne had posted something on Facebook about a favorite book of hers…just imagine how surprised I was when she mentioned it in the interview. I was intrigued…and I believe this is a book we should all read…even as adults. So I am offering a GIVEAWAY of a copy of Andrew Henry’s Meadow by Doris Burns.
But that’s not all!
I’m also giving away a shiny new copy of Dianna’s An Egg is Quiet. Whoot-whoot!
If you’d like to be entered to win one of the books, please leave a comment below and tell me if you have a preference. And if you aren’t already on my email list, I’d love it if you would sign up…my newsletter (which is in process) will be geared for parents, teachers, children’s librarians, and kid lit writers. and I would love to be able to share it with all of you. Each quarterly newsletter will also contain a book giveaway…because I just LOVE giving away books! To sign up for my newsletter, just click here: http://eepurl.com/8pglH
Happy Valentine’s Day! Happy International Book Giving Day! I hope you have a beautiful week, dear friends. And please, if you have a moment, share this post…with so many insights shared by Dianne and a two-book giveaway, I’d hate anyone to miss out.
Just to clarify my short story for anyone who might not have understood it on the first reading, I tried to include several themes, metaphors, in it without it being obvious because for me, as a child, I remember being read books that had those things in them; also, when children came up to me to talk to me, I think they liked that I wasn’t talking down to them as though they were stupid or not intelligent. I never spoke to them in a baby voice because when I was child, I didn’t appreciate it when adults did that to me. Throughout the U.S., in the past decade, 14-year-old middle school students were required to read “Speak”, a novel about a 14-year-old-girl who was raped.
It’s not only for all of the quiet, introverted children who are teased by their teachers or students about having a quiet personality, letting them know not to let others judgments of them affect and hinder their lives, and to be proud of themselves; it’s also about letting others who judge them know that their initial impressions of someone might be incorrect, whether based on race (the rabbit’s light brown color), appearance (a person having two large front teeth), or personality (being quiet). I guess you’d also have to be a little familiar with rabbits’ behavior; I haven’t ever owned any, but I know that they like quiet sometimes, yet also like to have friends, and they do munch on food loudly with two front teeth.
I made it gender neutral because I’ve heard boys complain that they didn’t like the stories that were read to them, or that they were required to read at school, with themes of romance or friendship between girls and boys, or mainly with a female protagonist, saying that they were “boring”, which is understandable because at that young age, they’re not romantically interested in girls that way.