Deborah Diesen: Author Interview
Recently, I posted a book review of The Pout-Pout Fish, by Deborah Diesen, and now here comes the fun part … an exclusive interview with the lovely author. The extra insight into the world of Mr. Fish makes me adore the story even more. And wait until you read the description of her next book to be published, it sounds hilarious – but you’ll have to read the interview to find out more …
Bianca: The Pout-Pout Fish is such a fun book, what was the inspiration behind it?
Debbie: The story grew out of an actual pout! My elder son, who was about four at the time, was having a grouchy afternoon. I was trying to tease him out of his grumpy mood, so I made an exaggerated pouty face. He smiled and then pouted right back, and as we pouted back and forth, it struck me that the two of us looked like fish. I started writing The Pout-Pout Fish that same day.
Bianca: Is Mr. Fish modeled on anyone in particular?
Debbie: Mr. Fish isn’t modeled after any particular person, but I do think he’s a bit of a familiar type. I think we’ve all encountered a Pout-Pout Fish or two in our travels; and we’ve all had moments of being sure that our mood and outlook are determined by forces beyond our control. The character of Mr. Fish is a good reminder to me about the importance of attitude, and of the significance that a small gesture of kindness can make in the life of another.
Bianca: Is The Pout-Pout Fish your first published book?
Debbie: It is, and I’m still pinching myself! Having a book in print is a truly wonderful experience. And sharing the book with kids – that’s absolutely the best!
Bianca: How did you get paired with illustrator, Dan Hanna?
Debbie: My editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux selected Dan, and I couldn’t be happier. His art is delightful, and he created a lively vibrant world for Mr. Fish and his pals. I’m not a visual person, so I really didn’t have an idea of what Mr. Fish looked like when I was writing the story. But when I saw Dan’s art, I thought, “Aha! That’s it exactly!”
Bianca: How long did it take you to complete writing The Pout-Pout Fish?
Debbie: I completed the first draft of The Pout-Pout Fish within about a week. Then I fine-tuned the story over the course of a month or so before I took it to my critique group. After their feedback, I did a little more fine-tuning. Then I started submitting. All told, it was a fairly smooth writing and revising process. Not all of my stories travel that same path, though. I have a couple of manuscripts that are now in double-digit revisions that I’m still not satisfied with. Writing is certainly a surprising adventure!
Bianca: Did you always aspire to be a writer?
Debbie: I’ve always enjoyed writing, and when I was young I definitely wanted to be a writer. But after I hit adulthood, I back-burned that desire for a long time. It just didn’t seem very practical. Though I still occasionally wrote – an attempt at a novel, and a lot of bad poetry — I certainly didn’t consider myself as a writer. But after my kids were born, the daily exposure to children’s books reawakened my interest in writing. I think it was my experience of reading books aloud, over and over, that reconnected me to my love of words.
Bianca: Do you have a special place that you like to be while you write?
Debbie: I’m a Write Anywhere kind of gal. I tend to do most of my first drafts long-hand; so as long as I’ve got a pen and a pad of paper, I’m ready to write – on a sofa, on a porch, in a tree, on a merry-go-round, or at a stop light. I even wrote a couple pages once on a (docked) submarine! If I’m working with a story in rhyme, though, I do like to have some space to spread out during the first draft. I’ll often use one notebook for each stanza, and then array them out around me. It makes for less flipping pages back and forth to do it that way.
Bianca: Can you tell us a little bit about your next book, The Barefooted, Bad-Tempered Baby Brigade?
Debbie: The Barefooted, Bad-Tempered Baby Brigade is a story in rhyme about a bevy of fed-up babies who take to the streets to protest bibs, baths, belly kisses, and more. They’re an ornery but lovable bunch. The story was so much fun to write, and it’s really one of my favorite things I have written. I can’t wait for it to become a book! It will be out from Tricycle Press in 2009 or 2010.
Bianca: What are your favorite books from your childhood?
Debbie: When I was a kid, I read quite a lot. Like many kids, I adored the Little House series. I also loved the All-of-a-Kind Family books. And I read plenty of poetry, too. I was particularly fond of John Ciardi’s You Read To Me, I’ll Read To You; and the poetry volume of our Junior Classics set grew well-thumbed. It still falls open to “Jabberwocky.”
Bianca: If you were stuck on an island and could take only one book, what would it be, and why?
Debbie: Now that’s a hard question! My initial thought was a thesaurus, or a good dictionary, as I can often lose hours browsing in either one of those. But I think instead I might want to take the biggest poetry anthology I could find. I think that would keep me happily busy until the rescue ship arrived!
Bianca: Do you have any last words to share with the readers?
Debbie: There are so many wonderful books for children, and it can be overwhelming at times to think of all that there are to choose from. But whatever you choose, the important thing is the shared experience. When you share words and stories with a child – whether it’s your own child, or a child in a classroom, or a child at a story time – you’re giving a gift that will last forever. So keep reading and sharing, every day!
Thank you so much, Debbie, for sharing such encouraging words and for the glimpse at the life of a children’s book author. Congratulations on your first published book. I can’t wait for The Barefooted, Bad-Tempered Baby Brigade!