I’m interviewing Darcy Pattison today. Not to be boxed into a corner, she specializes in two arenas: writing teacher and author. Her latest nature book, Desert Baths, describes the way animals bathe in the desert. (I’ll be reviewing Desert Baths in my next blog entry.)
Darcy, in 2010, I had the pleasure of hearing your keynote speech and participating in an intensive workshop for picture book writers at WIK10 (Writing and Illustrating for Kids), the fall conference put on by the Southern Breeze Region of SCBWI. I’ve been following your success since then and was thrilled to see the release of your latest nature book, Desert Baths. I really want to talk about that. But first, I’d like my readers to know a little about you.
Where are you from?
I was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico and lived in the mountains 100 miles north of there until I was ten. Then, we moved to Arkansas and I’ve been there ever since. I’ve lived in the same house for 33 years.
Tell us a bit about your family.
My husband, Dwight, and I have four children, three sons-in-law, two grandsons and one granddaughter. Here’s a tip: Get grandkids, because they are the best.
What is your favorite quality about yourself?
What is your least favorite quality about yourself?
What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life?
Four children, three sons-in-law, two grandsons and one granddaughter!
What’s your favorite place in the entire world?
Now, that is hard, because I like to travel. I love my home, but I also love going places and seeing new things. In the end, maybe it’s the Buffalo River in the Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas—but that’s because I have been there so many times. I know it more intimately than other places, but not as intimately as my own home. It’s comfortable there, but not so comfortable that it no longer thrills.
Now, I’d like to find out what led you to writing. How did your upbringing influence your writing?
Growing up, there were seven children in my family and my mother always read books to us at night. We lived far from a library, so Mom had the New Mexico state library mail her books. We grew up hearing the best of children’s literature read aloud to the family. Later, Mom arranged for a book mobile to stop at our house, and people from 30 miles around would come to our house to check out books. I remember once that I asked for a certain book and when the bookmobile came the next time, I anxiously climbed the steps and was amazed that the book was there. We may have been raised in the country, but we were a literate family.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
In sixth grade, I read Lord of the Rings and even then, I wondered what it would be like to be on the other side of a book, to be the writer. But I didn’t do anything about it until I was raising children of my own and started reading the best of children’s literature to them. I started researching how to write and sell and that’s how it started.
And when did you realize that you could actually succeed at it?
Am I supposed to realize that I can succeed at this? Have I succeeded? Like every writer, I always doubt my successes and predict my failures. All I know is that I can do it day after day.
Tell us about the first book you every wrote.
My first novel—which will never see the light of day—was a mystery called Fool’s Gold. It taught me to write with Show-Don’t-Tell and that’s about it.
What inspires you to write and why?
I write because I can and because I can’t not.
After doing some research, I came away amazed. You write nature books, other types of picture books, books on how to write, and you’ve even ventured into middle grade novels and graphic novels. Wow! What genre are you most comfortable writing?
Novels. But editors aren’t most comfortable buying them!
There’s sometimes a gap between what we love to do and what we are good at. I am a great writing teacher, (she says humbly, but with complete honesty); I am a good writer. Sure wish it was different sometimes, but we need to accept our place in the universe and rejoice in what we can do well. Right? I write picture books because I love to play with language; I write novels because I love to play with character; I write how-to-write to explain something or to organize information in my own mind. Each is comfortable in its own way.
What do you consider the biggest challenge in writing in general?
The total indifference of everyone to what you create. And really, why should anyone care? Unless your writing powerfully touches their lives, there’s no reason for them to care. Here’s an example: the person who will win the 2013 or 2014 Newbery Award is already an award-winning writer. S/he was an award winning writer as soon as s/he wrote, “The End,” on that last revision. Yet, there’s probably a two-year (or more) gap between writing that novel and it winning the award. In between—what? No one much cared about his/her writing, except a few kind souls. That’s what writers have to survive, the indifference of the audience. How do you keep on writing and writing and writing, when no one much cares? It takes two to make a successful book: a writer and a reader. But often it’s hard to find that reader.
Have you ever had writer’s block?
Have you ever had writer’s block?
That's fantastic! Tell us your latest news.
I am venturing out into the book review world with a set of websites: 2ndGradeReading.NET and 3rdGradeReading.NET. I’ll add other grades if these do well. The idea is that parents and teachers don’t care if a book is appropriate for grades K-3. They have a 2nd grader (for example) and they want a 2nd grade book. We’ll see if the venture works out—but please come by and read and sign up for our newsletter that delivers the reviews to your e-mailbox. And invite teachers, parents, librarians and kids to stop by.
The title, Desert Baths, is perfect. Was there any back-and-forth going on with yourself about it?
No, it just worked.
Why did you choose to write this particular book?
I heard the story about anting first. This is where a bird will sit on an ant’s nest and let the ants crawl through its wing feathers to clean off dirt and mites. Or sometimes, a bird will crush an ant and use it like a washcloth to clean off feathers. Scientists say the formic acid from the ants acts like an antiseptic.
When I head that story, I went looking for other bath stories. I wrote it first as a fictional story with a boy in the bathtub with animal toys. But the editor suggested that I put in in a specific habitat and of course, the desert habitat was the one with the most humor.
What was the hardest part about writing this book?
The research for each animal was hard. But hardest was finding the right mix of animals, trying to balance birds, mammals, amphibians, arachnids, insects, etc. For example, I wanted to use a desert tarantula, but they don’t really bathe, they just shed their exoskeleton. I had already stretched to get the diamondback rattler in the story, so couldn’t stretch the definition of “bath” yet again. Instead, the illustrator put in the tarantula for me. Besides the species balance, I also had to balance which animals are awake in the day or night (diurnal or nocturnal). There were many animals I researched that I finally had to exclude. So the biggest problem was finding the right mix of animals.
Will the publisher promote your work?
Sylvan Dell does an amazing amount of publicity and promotion. They also have many contacts which lead to exciting opportunities, like being featured on the Girl Scout website this fall: http://studio.girlscouts.org/author/darcy-pattison/
I keep them in the loop about everything I do, and they are constantly looking for new ways to market.
One of the nicest things they do is a 50-page Teacher’s Activities guide, a free download at their website: http://www.sylvandellpublishing.com/bookpage.php?id=DesertBaths
Where can we purchase Desert Baths? (By the way, the Spanish version, Las Duchas en el Desierto is also available now.)
Amazon, B&N, Powells, your favorite online bookstore. It can be ordered by any local store.
Online versions for schools are licensed at Sylvan Dell’s website and iBookStore and Spanish in iBookstore.
Will you continue to write others in this same genre?
I want to be like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who built a career partly by alternated Terminator-like movies and Kindergarten-Cop-type movies. I’d like to alternate nature books with novels. Working on that plan now: this is my third nature picture book and I hope for many more.
I just have a few more questions that will help my readers understand who Darcy Pattison really is. Have you ever considered anyone as a mentor?
Heck, I have 50+ mentors: they are every how-to-write book that I’ve ever read. Give me written directions and I can follow them. Give me inspiring directions and I can run with it.
Who is your favorite author and why?
J.R.R. Tolkein, who took me to an utterly Other World; I’ve never quite come all the way home.
Have you started another book yet?
Of course. Several!
What advice do you have for those of us who have a mound of rejection letters?
After you get a rejection, you may pout, cuss, cry, kick, throw things—whatever—for three days. Then get back to work. Never let that fourth day come without working again. Get over it.
These days? It’s more like three hours.
If you could leave your readers with one bit of wisdom, what would it be?
If you can quit, quit. If you can’t quit, welcome to the most wonderful, most exasperating career you could ever imagine. It will take you places that only you could imagine.
Thanks, Darcy, for sharing yourself with us. Continued luck on your fabulous career!
If you want to know more about what Darcy’s up to, go to www.darcypattison.com. If you’d like to learn more about her books, watch the trailers at www.youtube.com/DarcyPattison.