Author Spotlight: Ame Dyckman

Author Spotlight:

Ame Dyckman

Happy Tuesday and welcome to Picture Book Spotlight!

Today we have very special Author Spotlight with one of my absolute favorite authors. Ame Dyckman is a New York Times bestselling, award-winning, internationally-translated author and a true kidlit superstar. Her new book, THAT'S LIFE! comes out TODAY!

I'm thrilled to celebrate this book birthday with her in this interview. Ame is doing a giveaway for this post so watch for details at the end on how you can participate and celebrate with her!

Her new book is all about life. Speaking of life...isn't life just...full of...surprises?

Yes. That's the word. Life isn't anything if it isn't surprising.

Wherever this surprising time finds you, it is my sincerest hope that you are finding moments to carve out normalcy, meaningful work, and creativity that is life-giving for your soul. Just keep swimming, kidlit fam. Focus on what you can control and give it all you got.

Here's Ame!

Let’s get down to business and begin with the most important question first... if you were a new crayon color, what color would you be and what would you call yourself?

*LAUGHING* Hi, Brian! And hi, readers! Okie, my crayon color would be the color you get when you wash your Manic Panic Atomic Turquoise-dyed hair with Pert Plus (coincidentally, my “normal” hair color), and I dub this new hue… “BRAINFREEZE!”

I can’t do my job without my laptop, my super-supportive family, and bananas. (I eat a banana before every performance. People think I have a LOT of energy but really, I just have potassium.)

And of course, I can’t do my job without my fabulous Super Agent. (Don’t tell him I listed him after bananas. THIS LIST WAS NOT IN ORDER!)

Your new book, THAT’S LIFE! (out TODAY!) is all about... Life. In the book you say, “Just brace yourself. Life can be a little... WEIRD!” What a great quote for the time we currently find ourselves in! Things ARE weird right now. How have you been spending your time and what does your life look like lately?

It IS a weird time! How I’ve been spending it:

BOOKS:

I’ve been…

  • Wrapping up details (jacket copy, etc.) for two upcoming picture books: TINY BARBARIAN with the amazing Ashley Spires and a yet-unannounced project with another incredible illustrator. (These illustrators, right?! HOW AM I SO LUCKY?!)

  • Chatting with Super Agent about possible homes for newly-finished manuscripts.

  • Looking ahead to the June release of YOU DON’T WANT A DRAGON! with the phenomenal Liz Climo!

And, thinking about new ideas I’d like to make into books!

HELPING:

I’ve been recording read-alouds of my books for Operation Storytime, posting my goofy little “pep” poems, and together with illustrator pals Charlene Chua and Rubin Pingk, started “WHAT SHOULD I DRAW?” (@DrawWhat and hashtags #WSIDAsk and #WSIDArt), where wonderful illustrators draw funny illustrations requested by kids!

HOME:

This morning, I tried to make waffles from scratch. (The good news is, if we ever need to replace any shingles on our roof, we’re READY.) Grateful that we’re all well… DESPITE my cooking!

TV:

I just discovered GILMORE GIRLS, and I DIG it! They talk ALMOST as fast as I do!

In your 2019 Read and Shine interview, you shared that your writing process often involves hearing or seeing a part of a story and then allowing yourself to organically discover the rest of it by asking questions like: WHAT is happening, WHO is saying it and WHY, etc; how did that method manifest itself for this book? Give us the story behind the story.

Even with this book—which I started by making a list of all the popular “greeting card” sayings about life I hoped to include in the story in a tongue-in-cheek way—I STILL played Question Time!

WHAT is happening? The tangible (and FUZZY!) Life arrives—in a crate! With no instructions!—on a child’s doorstep.

WHO is saying it? I played with a few voices, then decided on Unseen Narrator for this one. (Our Unseen Narrator’s kinda like the narrators of other “inspirational” gift books, but with a bit more sass and comedic timing.)

WHY? I wanted to make a FUNNY gift book that would be perfect for several different occasions. And what do we all have in common? LIFE!

I really love that you use a capital “L” for the mischievous character Life throughout the book. The metaphorical nature of the character is crystal clear. I can’t think of a more appropriate time for a story like this to release. And rereading it as I prepared this interview actually settled my heart in a way. How do you imagine this story can be helpful for young children experiencing the fear and uncertainty of this time?

I’m so glad! I’d be honored if THAT’S LIFE! helped people—little kids, AND their “Big Kids”—remember that no matter HOW unpredictable and even CRAZY Life can be, Life is BEAUTIFUL, too. And as we say in our book,

So, love your Life! ‘Cause when you do…

your Life will love you back.

When I first read this book I immediately thought of OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO! I can easily see this book working for a more universal crowd than what we typically intend for picture books. What a perfect gift for a high school or college grad! Or just... anyone of any age experiencing Life. Did you write this with a larger audience in mind? Talk to us about your hope for this story.

WOW and THANK YOU! And yes, though our pictured protagonist (the one trying to keep up with Life!) is a child, I hoped THAT’S LIFE! would resonate with folks of ALL ages, for ALL their new adventures and celebrations—birthdays, graduations, career changes, engagements, weddings, new babies, anniversaries, moving, retirement… etc.! *LAUGHING* No matter what we do or how old we are, we’re ALL just trying to keep up with our Life!

I CAN’T WAIT for everyone to see Cori Doerrfeld’s HILARIOUS illustrations! Like so many others, I’m a HUGE fan of Cori’s work, particularly her empathic masterpiece, THE RABBIT LISTENED. But lemme tell ya, Cori’s also FUNNY—and so are her THAT’S LIFE! illustrations! I DARE y’all to make it through the “Your whole Life can flash before your eyes.” spread and NOT giggle! This illustration—and all of ‘em, really!—couldn’t be funnier and/or cuter!

You have been a kidlit creator for over ten years and have produced some of my very favorite picture books. I’m curious about some of the big things you’ve learned. Reflecting back on your journey, how has your writing process evolved, and what lessons have you really gotten into your bones?

AWWW, THANKS for the Book Love, Brian! The biggest lesson I’ve learned as an author is:

Seatbelts are for safety—not story.

FEEL FREE TO MAKE YOUR STORY as WILD AS YOU WANT! There’ll be plenty of time during the process—when your agent reads it, when your editor reads it, when your sales team reads it, etc.—for your story to be tamed a wee bit if it needs it. But during the creation stage, stand up, pop your head outta the sunroof, and steer with your toes!

Remember, guys: we’re sponges. Even when we’re not typing or drawing, we’re taking ALL the emotions and feelings in, and somewhere, deep in the brain wrinkles where we’ve stored more song lyrics than high school trigonometry, all THIS right now is being processed into Sumthin’ Good. Take as long as you need for it to come out—and take care of yourselves, too.

Complete the following sentence: “The world needs picture books because…”

…we all need to be just a few years old sometimes. And EVERYONE—whether actually five or a hundred-and-five—gets to be a kid when they read a picture book.

What’s something you absolutely must have in the refrigerator or pantry?

I MUST have peanut butter, pita chips, and lemonade mix in the pantry, and hummus in the refrigerator. I’ve survived MANY deadlines with just those four items when I’m too madly-typing/editing to bother to cook lunch or snacks for myself! (But DON’T try mixing them all together to save time to eat. Trust me.)

I think many times we learn by deconstructing or “unlearning” things we previously held as true. What lesson are you “unlearning” right now?

Similar to my advice above, I’M finally realizing that you can’t tell a story before it’s ready to be told! I used to try to run with a story idea the moment I had it, and often the story—and/or I!—just wasn’t ready. So now, I try to lessen the pressure (on BOTH of us! HA!) by having multiple manuscripts going at once. When one manuscript wants the day off, I can just work on another one.

I noticed THAT’S LIFE has some fun language in the text (“hafta” “gonna”). Why was it important to speak in this particular voice rather than using “have to” or “going to?”