Diane Stanley interview with David Alan Binder

posted Apr 16, 2016, 7:45 AM by David Alan Binder   [ updated May 16, 2016, 6:21 AM ]

Diane Stanley interview with David Alan Binder

 

Her bio from the Harper Collins Website:  Diane Stanley is the author and illustrator [bold and underscore added by interviewer] of beloved books for young readers, including The Silver Bowl, which received three starred reviews, was named a best book of the year by Kirkus Reviews and Book Links Lasting Connections, and was an ALA  Booklist Editors' Choice; The Cup and the Crown; Saving Sky, winner of the Arab American Museum's Arab American Book Award and a Bank Street College of Education Best Book of the Year; Bella at Midnight, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year and an ALA Booklist Editors' Choice; The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy; The Mysterious Matter of I. M. Fine; and A Time Apart. Well known as the author and illustrator of award-winning picture-book biographies, she is the recipient of the Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children and the Washington Post-Children's Book Guild Nonfiction Award for her body of work.

Ms. Stanley has also written and illustrated numerous picture books, including three creatively reimagined fairy tales: The Giant and the Beanstalk, Goldie and the Three Bears, and Rumpelstiltskin's Daughter. 

Diane Stanley’s website: www.dianestanley.com 

Amazon author page: http://smile.amazon.com/Diane-Stanley/e/B000APBEL4/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1460408320&sr=8-2-ent

HarperCollins author page: https://www.harpercollins.com/cr-100005/diane-stanley

 

1.     Where are you currently living?

 

Santa Fe, NM.

 

2.     What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?

 

There are so many things! But if I had to pick just one, I guess it would be editing. One I have my first draft down, I keep going over and over the manuscript till I can’t stand it anymore. Every pass gets better. On every pass I find some darlings I’ve been clinging to but clearly have to let go. I find sections that are rough or awkward, descriptions that are clichés, dialogue that goes on too long, characters that aren’t consistent. The more I look, the more I find, and every year I get better at finding them. I even edit my emails.

 

3.     What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?

 

I write backwards, at least compared to a lot of other authors. I don’t start with a premise and a plot, and then fill it in with characters and details. I start with a single scene, or a character, or a dim idea that is nowhere near a plot, and then I just start writing and discover along the way who my characters are and what the story is about. My “outtakes” file for a book is usually as long as the finished manuscript. It’s a messy and inefficient approach, but it’s the only way I know how to do it.

 

4.     Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?

 

I’ve never self-published. I like having a publisher that provides me with an editor, a copy-editor, marketing and design people, and a sales force, all to help me make and sell my books.

 

5.     Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they?

 

HarperCollins. New York.

 

6.     Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

 

I read a lot of eBooks, and I think they’re here to stay. I’m glad my books are available in both formats, so buyers can have a choice.

 

I don’t know much about alternative publishing and have never looked into doing anything besides conventional publishing. Guess I’m pretty old-school.

 

7.     Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?      

 

Sadly, no. I’ve been writing and illustrating for a very long time, well over thirty years, and for much of that time worked for a single editor and publisher, so they came to know and trust me and are willing to take that next book. So I don’t honestly know what it’s like to start from scratch with a new book in today’s market. Probably a lot harder than when I began. But however hard it might be, first books are still getting published, and publishers/editors/agents are actively looking for fresh talent.

 

8.     How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent?  Any tips for new writers on getting one?

 

I got my first agent a long time ago, but not until I’d published five or six books without one, mostly picture books. I asked a friend to recommend an agent, and though that particular person declined to represent me, someone else in her office, slightly more junior, was happy to take me on. When it came time to switch agents, something I’ve done twice for various reasons, I was sufficiently established that it was pretty easy.

 

9.     Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?

a.     Know your market but don’t slavishly follow it. Go to bookstores and libraries and read the best current books of the sort you want to write. But beware of following the latest trends. Your book needs to be original and very much your own.

b.     Be self-critical without beating yourself up. Self-confidence is great, probably essential to flourish in this business, but listen to constructive criticism. Ask yourself how the book/chapter/paragraph could be better, and work to make it so.

c.      Treat writing like a job, not a hobby. Even if you have a day job (and a family to care for) and can only work on your book in your rare free time, make it a priority and a regular thing.

d.     Write because you love the act of writing, not because you want to “be published.”

10.                        What was one of the most surprising things you learned your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?

I started my career as an illustrator, moved on to writing as well as illustrating picture books, moved from picture-book fiction to writing and illustrating biographies, and then moved to writing long fiction for middle grade readers and young adults. It wasn’t till I came to the end of this arc that I finally found myself where I really belonged. Long fiction digs deeper and is vastly more satisfying, intellectually and emotionally. I get so caught up in my work, I find myself laughing and weeping over the keyboard. Now more than ever, my work is not merely a job; it’s essential to my happiness.

11.                        How many books have you written? 

Over fifty. I stopped counting a while ago. But the numbers are skewed at the beginning of my career, when I could illustrate two or three simple books a year, or was writing picture books I didn’t illustrate. Then my illustrations became vastly more elaborate and time-consuming, the biographies required months of research, and I was lucky to do one a year. That’s pretty much my schedule now.

12.                        Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)? 

 

Continue reading quality books. It’s how you get a feel what good writing sounds like.

 

Set your standards high. Push yourself. Have fun.

 

13.                        Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?

They come to me as I write. Whenever I try to plan out a book in advance, I come up with boring and unoriginal ideas. But a book that’s well on its way is like a living thing. It grows and develops on its own. But it needs something to build from on—an existing scene, a developing character.

Avoid the formulas that are so familiar from movies and thrillers. The suspense/action/goal-frustration needs to be real and intrinsic to the story and characters, not tacked on to keep the thing moving. It’s a common trap that can turn a potentially good book into something formulaic and boring.

14.                        What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?

 

Originality of the story and characters. The quality of the writing. An appealing author’s voice.

 

15.                        What are some ways in which you promote your work?

 

I’ve done a lot of speaking at schools and conferences over the years, and I enjoy doing it. I enjoy interviews like this. And though I joined Facebook reluctantly, on the advice of my publisher, I find I enjoy that, too. Book signings, not so much.

 

Obviously, book promotion has changed a lot in recent years. It’s moved online, and authors are expected to do a lot of it themselves. Some are remarkably good at this and find inventive ways to get their books out there. That’s fabulous—as long as they’re equally inventive and dedicated to writing the books they promote.

 

16.                         What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?

 

I’m not sure I’d do anything different at all. I’ve followed my heart throughout my career, learning from my mistakes, figuring things out. For better or for worse, I am my own creation.

 

17.                        What would you like carved onto your tombstone?  Or what saying or mantra do you live by?

 

No tombstone inscription, no mantra. I just try to live each day as well as I can using whatever pearls wisdom I’ve accrued over the years.

 

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