Anika Denise is the author of several critically acclaimed books for young readers including three illustrated by her husband Christopher Denise: BAKING DAY AT GRANDMA’S, BELLA AND STELLA COME HOME, AND PIGS LOVE POTATOES. Publishers Weekly hailed her latest picture book MONSTER TRUCKS—illustrated by Nate Wragg—“a mash up made in heaven” in a recent starred review.
For what age audience do you write?
I’m published in picture books (those are for all ages, right?) and I have a particular love for rhyming books, but I’m also at work on a picture book biography and a middle grade novel.
Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book MONSTER TRUCKS is a high octane, action-packed rhyming Halloween book about trucks who are monsters in a spooky nighttime race.
Henry: As a fan of fantasy, starting with WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, I have a special place in my heart for monster books.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
Pure fun! I want them to shout, “read-it-again!” And I’d love if it were a perennial favorite for Halloween story hours, and the truck and monster-loving set.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
Probably finding the hours to write every day. Juggling writing with being a mom, promoting new books, and doing school visits and appearances can be a challenge. This year (knock on wood)—with my littlest in full day school for the first time—I’m enjoying a more consistent writing schedule. We’ll see if this helps with my second greatest challenge, which is not abandoning longer works when I hit a slump. Before I chalked it up to being away from the piece for long stretches and losing the thread of the yarn. But really, it’s fear. The only way around that kind of self doubt is through it—and that means showing up.
Henry: Butt in chair!
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
I think that’s it, the bit about pushing through fear. Fear often shows up to the same party as creativity. Occasionally, they dance. But fear should never lead. My best work comes when I let go and dance (write) like nobody’s watching—including my own inner-critic.
Henry: If you’ve ever seen me dance, you’ll understand why fear is present.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
Sitting on a panel between Maira Kalman and Chris Raschka. I remember being star-struck, with the Talking Heads lyrics running through my mind: “How did I get here?” Bob Shea was on the panel, too. He was reading aloud from DINOSAUR VS. POTTY, declaring, “Potty wins!” in a boxing match announcer’s voice. We were asked to read only a few pages of our books, so Bob never got to the end; and Chris leaned over to me with a wry smile and whispered, “So, who won? Dinosaur or Potty?” I think part of the reason I remember this is, I’d been so nervous. And Chris totally broke the ice.
Henry: Nothing breaks the ice like a potty-trained dinosaur.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
The same advice I give myself: finish. Don’t give up.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
I’ve always liked, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
Henry: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.,
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?
I wouldn’t say this is strange, necessarily, but I do occasionally burn sage in my workspace to clear the energy. And I infuse essential oils like eucalyptus and peppermint that are supposed to help with concentration and creativity. Plus they smell nice.
Henry: I infuse pie. Plus, it smells nice.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Invisibility. For sure. A writer needs to observe and listen. Invisibility would make that a whole heck of lot more convenient, am I right?
Henry: There’s a picture book right there.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
Maurice Sendak, Zora Neale Hurston, and Elizabeth Gilbert. Maurice and Zora because they were both fearless voices in their genres. And Elizabeth because she (literally) wrote the book on living a fearlessly creative life.
Henry: We all know of Maurce Sendak. Wikipedia helpfully offers:
“Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) was an American novelist, short story writer, folklorist, and anthropologist. Of Hurston’s four novels and more than 50 published short stories, plays, and essays, she is best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Elizabeth Gilbert is an American author, essayist, short story writer, biographer, novelist, and memoirist. She is best known for her 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, which as of December 2010 has spent 199 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, and which was also made into a film by the same name in 2010.”
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
I’d have to go with the Phoenix. I love the symbolism: rebirth from the ashes. It’s also cool that it pops up across various mythologies and cultures. Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Egyptian and Native American all have a version.
Henry: Plus, it’s a dry heat…
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I love nesting with the fam: reading, cooking, baking, gardening—I’m a bit of a homebody at heart.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
She was funny and kind. And made the best guacamole.
Henry: Achievement unlocked
Where can readers find your work?
Pretty much wherever books are sold. (But when you can, shop indie!)
Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Anika