Coffee & Conversation with Jean Heilprin Diehl

Hello, friends! It’s Friday and the weekend is upon us. Hooray!!

I know you’ve been working hard on those challenges and must need a break. What better respite then a visit with the lovely Jean Diehl?

First and foremost, some great news for Jean. Today is the release date for her picture book THREE LITTLE BEAVERS!!

Woohoo!! Congratulations!!

Welcome to the Cybercafe, Jean and thanks for being a part of the SCBWI regional blog! 

Thank you for inviting me to participate; I’ve enjoyed reading past entries.

Let’s get started. First off, what’s your favorite coffeehouse beverage?

A cup of regular coffee with warm two-percent milk.

And your favorite snack?

May I make that plural? Plain chocolate with almonds or hazelnuts;

zero-percent Greek yogurt with fresh blueberries;

toasted bagel with light butter.

Okay, now I’m starving. All great choices, though I am forever partial to chocolate!

When did you decide to be a writer?

I was eleven. I’d written poems, mainly in the form of dialogues, which my sixth grade teacher suggested I pull together into a collection. I called it, “Poems about Nothing in Particular but Something.” After that, I knew I wanted to be a writer.

Seeing as how hindsight is 20/20, what advice for beginners do you wish you would’ve followed?

Have more confidence. Set the baggage down. Write every day.

Great advice! So, what is your favorite writing how-to book, techniques, and websites that have helped you improve your craft or provide inspiration?

Books about writing that have inspired me: The Writer’s Craft by John Hersey, and The Art of Fiction and On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner.

I recommend two books by writers I have worked with: Jesse Lee Kercheval’s Building Fiction and Darcy Pattison’s Novel Metamorphosis, a workbook that can help novelists analyze completed drafts.

A wealth of knowledge about the business of publishing for children is available on Verla Kay’s Blueboards: http://www.verlakay.com/boards/index.php

Where’s your favorite place to work?

My desk in my office on the ground floor of my house.

How were you inspired to write your current or upcoming release?

I was thinking how common it is – and possibly upsetting – for kids riding around in cars and on school buses to see dead animals along the road. Human development encroaches more and more on wildlife habitats. I decided to write a story book for young children about urban wildlife conflicts. So many of these end badly for the animals; I went looking for real-life stories with happy endings. I found one about beavers and started researching. Of course, beavers are a remarkable keystone species with a huge economic and environmental legacy in North America.  Some of their physical features could belong to superheroes, like teeth that never stop growing and built-in swim goggles on their eyes.

I spent time in Madison, New Hampshire observing beavers, beaver dams, beaver lodges, tree trunks chewed to pinpoints by beavers. For this story, I was also inspired by a line I read once that had stuck in my head: ‘the goal of middle childhood is to differentiate the self.’

Are there any genres of books that you would never want to write? Why?

Since 2005, on the side, I’ve been writing for educational publishers, which tends to reward a willingness to try anything. Writing K-12 ELA content for the education market turns you into a person who can write fiction and non-fiction to suit as many specs as you’ll find in a NYT Sunday crossword puzzle… So I guess that’s my answer: Nope, I’d be glad to try anything.

For one day, time travel is a reality and you have the opportunity to visit any famous deceased author you want.  Who do you pick? 

Since the intersection between any writer and reader is the work – the words (or perhaps, as the book form evolves in this century: the media) – I’m doubtful a personal meeting with the writers I admire will improve my understanding of them and could just be full of awkward silences. Although I would like to tell Virginia Woolf not to put those stones in her pocket, and I would like to thank Olivia Manning and Dickens and Twain and Dante and Doyle – it is a long list. They have all made my life wonderful. At any rate, I pick Shakespeare, as a meeting with Shakespeare would, I hope, put the authorship question to rest…

Time for the lightning round—no more than four words per answer!

Do you . . .

Outline or wing it? Wing it, then outline.

Talk about works-in-progress, or keep it zipped? Oblique answer if asked.

Sell by proposal or completed draft? Complete draft.

Prefer writing rough drafts or editing? Editing.

Dread marketing/blogging or love it? Somewhere in the middle.

Read Kindle or traditional books? Both!

And finally, what’s your favorite:

Time to work? Morning and afternoon.

Music to listen to while writing? Words; sometimes classical piano.

Writing tool? Laptop, printouts, white college-ruled pads, sharp Ticonderoga pencils, gray Pilot razor point pens.

Pair of shoes? Acorn slippers + fuzzy socks.

Guiltiest pleasure? If guilt, in many cases, is a form of baggage, then see above.

Line from a movie? “Whumsical is much more whimsical than whamsical.” –  The Gay Divorcee (1934)

Thanks for participating, Jean. Best of luck on your new release!!

Have a fabulous weekend, everyone!!


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About Susan Mannix

Susan worked as a biomedical research editor for the Department of the Navy for fourteen years and has been a member of SCBWI since 2007. She writes young adult and middle grade novels. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time doing all things horses, including attending her teenaged daughters’ many competitions. Susan lives in Maryland on a small farm with her husband, two children, an adorable black lab, two cats, and three horses.
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