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.
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:
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!
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!
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!
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?”
*LAUGHING* That IS my voice! That’s how I talk, so that’s how I write! And, since this book is told by an Unseen Narrator who is possibly-maybe-probably-definitely me, that’s the (our!) language! And, it just seemed appropriate as the language for the Narrator, who’s sharing what THEY’VE experienced with regard to Life.
I’m fascinated by other authors’ use of art notes in their manuscripts. Talk to us about how often you utilize them in your books and your attitude toward them as a kidlit creator.
I use a lot of art notes—because I keep my text short, and when an art detail is necessary because it plays into the plot later. But it’s important not to step on an illustrator’s toes with art notes. The example I like to use is “The Tiny Monster”:
Suppose you’re writing a story where a kid’s scared of a monster they haven’t yet seen. When they finally do, it turns out the monster’s small and cute! It’s okay to use an art note like this:
And THERE was the monster! (Small, cute.)
But not this:
And THERE was the monster! (Small, cute, with pink-and-purple polka dotted fur and tiny yellow horns, wearing a diaper and a t-shirt that says, “HERE COMES TROUBLE!” and sucking on the tip of its tail like the tip of its tail is a pacifier.)
UNLESS each and every one of the above details is plot-critical to the story later on.
I’m SO PUMPED about your next book coming out this June, YOU DON’T WANT A DRAGON! (a follow-up to YOU DON’T WANT A UNICORN!) What teasers can you share about this book?!
THANKS for the YOU DON’T WANT A DRAGON! anticipation—Liz and I had SO MUCH FUN with this one, too! All I can say about DRAGON! is—like with the cupcakes in UNICORN!—you’ll NEVER look at a barbeque grill the same way again! (SORRY IN ADVANCE! HA!)
THANKS SO MUCH for having me, Brian! And THANKS for reading, readers! LOVE YOUR LIFE!
Thank YOU, Ame!! Have a very, very, very happy book birthday!
Ame is hosting a super fab picture book critique giveaway on her Twitter account, so watch for her to post about it and check it out!
And make sure to grab a copy of THAT'S LIFE! for yourself and anyone experiencing, well, life right now! SO, SO GOOD!
About Ame Dyckman
Ame Dyckman is a New York Times bestselling, award-winning, internationally-translated children's author who decided to write for kids so she “NEVER!” had to grow up. Ame's books include BOY + BOT; WOLFIE THE BUNNY; YOU DON'T WANT A UNICORN!; the MISUNDERSTOOD SHARK series; the WEE BEASTIES board book series, and MORE. (Ame's next book, YOU DON'T WANT A DRAGON!, pubs 6/9/20!) Ame lives in central New Jersey with her family, her crazy cat, crazier squirrels, and the characters from her books. You can learn more about Ame’s books on her website (www.amedyckman.com), or visit Ame on Twitter (@AmeDyckman), where she Tweets book news, goofy poetry, and pretty much EVERYTHING that pops into her head!
IN A WORLD...ravaged by normal bios. Longish bios. And legitimate bios...one bio stood above the rest. A bio willing to stand and fight. A bio for the people. A bio about...absolutely nothing. This. Is. That. Bio...Once upon a time there was a bio. A bio so bold, so epic, so shockingly spectacular that it was passed down through the ages and seared into the collective hearts and minds of all who read it. Its words and letters danced along the page and in the brains of those literate few who dared to read its sacred runes like the trickling waters of Olympus. Some say it had healing powers. Others say it had super powers. Still others say it was just a bio. A bio with a profound lack of biographical information. In fact, it did the opposite of a normal biography. It provided negative information. Negative. Those who read it knew less about the guy it was intended to be about before they started reading it. Wait, what? They knew less? How can you know less of something? That doesn't even make sense. Hey, are you still reading this? This is the fakest bio in the history of fake bios. And that is saying something if you've ever read Brian's bios. If you want to learn more about Brian, why don't you just google him? Isn't that how you kids are learning things nowadays? No, there is no hidden emoji code. Thanks for looking. I commend your diligence. But sometimes we don't find what we're looking for...I guess...that's life.