Grand Ledge author promotes first bookPublished 8:41am Wednesday, October 21, 2009
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
Some authors sign autographs on book promotion tours.
Deborah Diesen ties shoelaces.
The Grand Ledge children’s author, who has two kids, 10 and 7, made her first visit here Tuesday.
It was her 11th stop for 26 presentations during four weeks of touring.
Diesen read her first published book, “The Pout-Pout Fish,” to grades K-2 at Patrick Hamilton Elementary School.
Previously, the closest Diesen came to Dowagiac was Buchanan.
She grew up in Midland, where her mother served on city council.
Her book debuted in March 2008.
“I’ve had a tremendous amount of fun with it,” she said after her afternoon talk, which followed a morning appearance at Dowagiac District Library.
“Visits like this, for me, are the best part of being a writer,” said Diesen.
She brought along an armload of books to impress upon students how many authors and illustrators live in Michigan.
“If you keep reading,” she says, “there are so many wonderful books that eventually you’ll find one that seems like it was written just for you.”
Diesen tells students she uses her dictionary, thesaurus and rhyming dictionary so much as a writer that “to me they seem real.”
Slipping behind a curtain to don sandwich boards and hats, “regular Debbie” becomes each writing resource in turn.
“I’m a very good speller,” her dictionary character brags.
Her Roget’s thesaurus, in a yellow beret, doesn’t just collect words, “I organize them, so when Debbie told me she was going to write a book about a fish which liked to pout, I said, ‘Don’t just use pout, use frown, glower and grimace.’ And she did. She used all those words’ ” to make the point grouchiness can be reversed by a smooch or a smile.
“You are all writers,” she encourages the youngsters, “even if you are just learning your letters or how to put words into sentences.”
Diesen also shared “insider information” – four things necessary to be a good writer and to stay healthy to generate good ideas and to make school visits: get a good night’s sleep; eat lots of fruit and vegetables – “broccoli is my secret weapon”; exercise – she walks and plays games with her kids “to keep my body moving”; and wash hands many times a day.
She was introduced by Betsy Hull, continuing education coordinator for the Library of Michigan, which sponsored her book tour along with Target.
“I have two books coming out next year,” said Diesen, who has yet to meet her illustrator, fellow rookie Dan Hanna.
Maybe they’ll cross paths working on the sequel, “The Pout-Pout Fish in the Big, Big Dark.”
Next spring, with a different publisher, she also will bring out “The Bare-Footed, Bad-Tempered Baby Brigade.”
“It’s also a children’s picture book,” she said.
“It’s about a bunch of babies who go on a protest crawl.”
“My parents read me a lot of Dr. Seuss,” she answers a question about whether her rhyming writing style was influenced by him. “I will never achieve that level, but I love to rhyme and it’s a goal to reach for. There’s actually a rap version of The Pout-Pout Fish that somebody did a YouTube video of. It cracks me up.”
Diesen’s idea for The Pout-Pout Fish “came from real life, actually. My son was pouting about something when he was much younger. I was trying to tease him out of his pout and get him to laugh by exaggerating my pout. He started doing it to me. We were doing it back and forth, and I said, ‘We look like fish.’ It took me a while to write the actual story, but the idea came all at once.”
Diesen said, “My college roommate used to say (a thrust-out pouty lip) was a knick-knack shelf: ‘Should we get something to put on that knick-knack shelf?’ ”
She attended Michigan State University as an undergraduate, then library school at the University of Michigan.
“I worked for a while as a librarian,” she said.
“When my kids were born, I left fulltime employment and worked as a substitute librarian for a while. More recently, I’ve done bookkeeping and grants management for a non-profit organization. No, I’ve never been a teacher, but I’ve learned a lot in the last year and a half. Kids are such a forgiving audience because I’m not a good public speaker with snappy visuals. They just want to have someone show enthusiasm. I get such a kick out of ‘em.”
She holds up a pen.
“With pen in hand, I capture dreams, with pen in hand, those dreams come true. With pen in hand, I search and find, the treasures hidden in my mind. It’s amazing what a pen can do, it just needs paper, time and you. All of you have stories in you that only you can tell. Keep a pen handy and be sure to write them down.”
As for how you publish a picture book with someone you’ve never met, Diesen said, “Luckily, the editor takes care of all of that. Dan lives in California. After the book came out, we’ve corresponded by e-mail. Authors don’t get a say in what the illustrations look like. I’m tremendously happy, real pleased with the book.
“The words are one thing, but he brought Mr. Fish to life. It takes the visuals to make a book and he just nailed it. It speaks to Dan’s talent that they paired two newcomers. Usually, a new writer would be paired with an experienced illustrator, for the name recognition if nothing else. His background is in animation.”
The Michigan Reads tour wraps up this week.
“My last set of appearances will be in Hamtramck,” she said.
“I love to write,” she says about possibly writing big people books in the future.
“I write a little poetry, but not good poetry. I write awful poetry.
“I have written a young adult manuscript that I don’t know if it will ever get published, but I hope to see that someday.”