Deborah Diesen’s first book, THE POUT-POUT FISH (illustrated by Dan Hanna), was published in 2008 and has developed into a Pout-Pout Fish book series that now includes three more pouty picture books, three mini-adventure board books, a lift-the-flap book, a wipe-clean alphabet/numbers workbook, a sticker book, and several plushes. She is also the author of the picture books CATCH A KISS (illustrated by Kris Aro McLeod), PICTURE DAY PERFECTION (illustrated by Dan Santat), and THE BAREFOOTED, BAD-TEMPERED BABY BRIGADE (illustrated by Tracy Dockray). She has worked as a bookseller, a bookkeeper, and a reference librarian. She and her family live in Michigan.
For what age audience do you write?
I write picture books for young children. Many of my stories are written in rhyme.
Henry: Writing rhyme is so fun and so hard to do well.
Tell us about your latest book in the Pout-Pout Fish Series.
THE NOT VERY MERRY POUT-POUT FISH is the newest book in The Pout-Pout Fish series. In the story, Mr. Fish’s attempts to find perfect presents for his friends do not go very well. He shops till he plops but has nothing to show for it but a yuletide pout! Happily, Miss Shimmer reminds him that the best gifts of all come straight from the heart. With her help and encouragement, Mr. Fish makes handmade presents, and then gathers with his friends. Together, they celebrate peace, joy, and love – what a very merry gift!
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
Most of all, I hope readers will enjoy the story. Dan Hanna’s artwork is amazing, and I hope readers will lose themselves in the fun of exploring the pages. But I also hope that Mr. Fish’s experience will remind them that the holidays, celebrated in many different ways by many different people (and fish!), are above all a time not for commercialism but for connection, community, and caring.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
One of the most delightful aspects of being a writer has been discovering and exploring the way books connect us to one another. I’ve met (in person and virtually) children and families I would have otherwise never known, simply because they’ve read the stories that I’ve written. I’ve also met many writers and others in the children’s book community. Everyone I’ve met has been welcoming, encouraging, and inspiring. I feel very lucky and grateful to be a part of the world of children’s books!
Henry: Ditto. It’s wonderful how collegial our fellow KidLit writers are.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
I love to write, and yet I do not do enough of it. An ongoing challenge for most writers is committing enough time in one’s schedule to actual writing time. It’s too easy to get distracted by other things that seem to need doing first. Thankfully, once I do settle into the task, I always enjoy it. Writing is challenging, frustrating, and wonderful, all at once!
Henry: Those pesky life responsibilities like earning a living and taking care of family!
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
My best bit of advice is to find a good writing group. I rely on the members of my critique group for their feedback, their advice, and their friendship. Their generosity with chocolate is also a plus!
Henry: I agree on both counts. Critique groups are invaluable to honing one’s craft. And because chocolate.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
There’s a kind of longish one, attributed to William Penn, that I really like: “I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.” I definitely don’t always live up to that advice, but the quote is a good reminder of how I’d like to try to live my life. In short: be kind!
Henry: “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.” – Saint Basil
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
I’m not sure I’d call it a ritual, but I think it would probably seem strange to an observer to see me when I’m revising a rhyming manuscript, as the process involves me reading the same thing over and over and over out loud while snapping my fingers to the rhythm, then periodically stopping abruptly and writing or scribbling, or flipping open my thesaurus or rhyming dictionary, then returning to the over and over and over again reading and finger-snapping.
Henry: I track my meter with dots and dashes. We rhymers are a weird crew.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
There are at least three thousand I’d love to meet! So I’ll go with a top-of-my head answer, choosing from the no-longer-with-us category, and invite Dr. Seuss, Carl Sandburg, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’m not a very good cook, so we’ll be ordering pizza.
Henry: Wikipedia helpfully offers:
“Carl Sandburg was an American poet, writer, and editor who won three Pulitzer Prizes: two for his poetry and one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln. During his lifetime, Sandburg was widely regarded as “a major figure in contemporary literature”, especially for volumes of his collected verse, including Chicago Poems (1916), Cornhuskers (1918), and Smoke and Steel (1920). He enjoyed ‘unrivaled appeal as a poet in his day, perhaps because the breadth of his experiences connected him with so many strands of American life.’”
“Laura Ingalls Wilder was an American writer known for the Little House on the Prairie series of children’s novels (1932 to 1943) based on her childhood in a settler family. The original Little House books, written for elementary school-age children, became an enduring, eight-volume record of pioneering life late in the 19th century based on the Ingalls family’s experiences on the American frontier. The First Four Years, about the early days of the Wilder marriage, was discovered after Lane’s 1968 death by her literary executor Roger MacBride and published in 1971, unedited by Lane or MacBride. It is now marketed as the ninth volume.
Since the publication of Little House in the Big Woods (1932), the books have been continuously in print and have been translated into 40 other languages. By the mid-1930s the royalties from the Little House books brought a steady and increasingly substantial income to the Wilders for the first time in their 50 years of marriage. Various honors, huge amounts of fan mail, and other accolades were bestowed on Wilder.”
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love to read, especially but not exclusively cozy mysteries. And I’m a fan of long walks. I also like doing crosswords, and I recently discovered kakuro puzzles, which are mildly addictive.
Henry: Wikipedia again to the rescue:
“Kakuro is a kind of logic puzzle that is often referred to as a mathematical transliteration of the crossword. Kakuro puzzles are regular features in many math-and-logic puzzle publications in the United States. In 1966, Canadian Jacob E. Funk, an employee of Dell Magazines came up with the original English name Cross Sums, and other names such as Cross Addition have also been used, but the Japanese name Kakuro, abbreviation of Japanese kasan kurosu (addition cross), seems to have gained general acceptance and the puzzles appear to be titled this way now in most publications. The popularity of Kakuro in Japan is immense, second only to Sudoku among Nikoli’s famed logic-puzzle offerings.”
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
“Not here yet!”
Henry: Well played.
Where can readers find your work?
Head to your local library. Whether or not you find any of my books there, you’ll discover dozens of other books just waiting for you to take them home! Or try your favorite bookstore. In the FishLit section. 😉
Henry: FishLit, the up and coming subgenre of fantasy… Thanks for spending time with us, Debbie. This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.