Meet Rising Star
Author Daniele Arndt!
Let’s start with a speed round…
● Top three favorite children’s books of all time? Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev and Tae-eun Yoo, Giraffe problems by Jory John and Lane Smith, and Love Monster by Rachel Bright.
● Coffee, tea (or neither)? Neither. I actually have a love-hate relationship with coffee. I love the smell but hate the taste.
● Where is your safe place? Anywhere my husband and kids are.
● Dogs, cats, (or neither)? Dogs are sweeter, but cats are more entertaining. Can I say both?
● Early bird or night owl? Early bird.
● Three words to describe what it takes to make it in the kidlit world… Faith, Perseverance, and Critique partners.
AD: Okay, now down to the serious stuff….Please dish us the dirt on who you are and your journey into the fabulous world of children’s books.
DA: First of all, thank you for having me! I can’t even believe I’m getting interviewed for Rising Stars in KidLit!!! I teared up when I got your email saying Chelsea Tornetto nominated me. For the longest time, I wouldn’t even say I was a writer. The librarian at my local library recently asked me if I was a teacher because of all the picture books I’m always borrowing. I took a deep breath, and I did it. I told her I was a writer. It felt so amazing finally saying it out loud.
So… I’m a writer, and I’m a wife to a wonderfully kind, supportive man and a mother to two amazingly fun and funny teenagers (help). Growing up, I loved reading. Reading was the only thing that held my attention. I was constantly daydreaming, and when I read, I didn’t get distracted by other things. Although I was never diagnosed, I’m sure I have ADD. My son is diagnosed with ADD, and he struggles with the same things I did/do. Learning was difficult for me, and that made me self-conscious and scared, so I didn’t allow myself to have dreams for my future. Because of that, I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. It took me until I was thirty to finally know. In 2003, after we had our firstborn, I went into a bookstore to buy books to read to him. I walked into that store, not knowing what I wanted to do with my life, and I walked out knowing that I wanted and needed to write picture books. I immediately went home and wrote my first story. It was awful! I didn’t know what I was doing, but it made me so unbelievably happy. But after that, I kept telling myself I was too busy to write.
Then in 2016, thirteen years later, I was finally honest with myself. I knew that fear was the only reason I wasn’t writing. I thought, because of my learning struggles, I couldn’t learn how to write. It was a huge revelation for me. I vowed right then and there I would believe in myself and I would try with everything to make this dream a reality. I would learn how to write.
So I started with research, and somewhere I read if you want to write, you need to read and write every day. Almost five years later, and I’m still, for the most part, doing that. I wake up, get my kids off to school, pray and do my devotions, and then I read, and I learn, and I write. I’ve made some fantastic friends on this writing journey. I’ve truly never met a more encouraging community. It’s amazing and wonderful and lovely! I belong to four critique groups, and I have the best critique partners anyone could ask for. They just encouraged me to enter my first writing contest—Vivian Kirkfield’s 50 precious words. Again, fear kept me from entering these contests because I couldn’t imagine I could write a story with only 50 words or less. I was thrilled to find out I received an honorable mention! Wow! So, I’m going to keep learning and writing, and one of these days, I’m going to go into that bookstore, and I’m going to pick up a book, and it’s going to be one of my picture books!
AD: Wow! What an inspiring story, Daniele. I’m so glad Chelsea nominated you for the feature, too! Taking that leap to acknowledge ourselves as writers is huge. I always tell my art students, if they made a piece of art, their artists. The same goes for writing. Do you write, yes….than you’re a writer. How brave of you to commit to overcoming your fear. What a great role model you are for your family, too!
AD: Did you always know you wanted to be an author? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs?
DA: I went to college for two years, but you can only go so long without knowing what you want to do. I explored many different things, trying to figure out what I enjoyed. I tried waitressing. I decorated cakes. I was a bank teller. I worked for a media company based out of a hospital where I made medical slides for doctor’s presentations. I was a photographer for our local newspaper. I even worked for a landscaper which was the most physically demanding job I’ve ever had. I just kept trying different things. I didn’t realize it then, but I was searching for that feeling I got in that bookstore—that feeling of knowing where you belong and what you’re supposed to be doing.
AD: I love how a bookstore fueled your fire to write for children. They sure are magical places to visit and hang out! 🙂
AD: What t
opics or themes do you tend to focus on in your writing? Favorite genres you like to write in or favorite techniques?
DA: I write fiction, and aside from something I wrote in memory of my father, I only write humorous stories.
AD: I envy those who can write humor! It’s an area I’m still working on. It’s so necessary for children to experience all the feelings and ranges of emotions in picture books!
AD: Breaking into the publishing industry is not easy! What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far? What have you done to persevere?
DA: Self-confidence and waiting. Because it took me so long to get here, I feel like I need to hurry. I’ve sent so many stories to agents before they were ready. I didn’t know they weren’t ready at the time, but I cringe when I look back at them. I’m finally at the point where I force myself to set stories aside for a while before doing anything with them. I’m always happy I did because I always find something I want to change. To persevere, I just keep praying and hoping and writing. It helps to have a supportive family and wonderful CPs/friends who know how rejections feel and how it feels to want something so badly.
AD: As creators (and humans), we tend to focus on the flaws of our creations or areas for improvement. This helps us grow and develop, but we need not forget the many things we are doing well. With this in mind, what has been your biggest accomplishment or something you are most proud of thus far on your writing journey?
DA: I’m most proud that I’m doing it. That I’m not giving up even when it seems daunting. It takes me so much longer to do or understand things because I have to read instructions at least three or four times before I understand them. I’m proud that I’m not getting discouraged by that, and I’m pushing forward and giving it my all.
AD: Yes! Showing up and not giving up are HUGE!
AD: In a similar vein, what do you feel are your strengths as an author? What makes your writing unique to you?
DA: I think I’m fairly funny. I make myself laugh, anyway. And I have fun/unique story ideas. I’m a giant dork with a super cheesy sense of humor, and that, oddly enough, helps my writing.
AD: What inspires your work?
DA: Picturing kids laughing at something I wrote. My daughter had severe separation anxiety for five years. I did everything I could think of to make her laugh. It’s hard being sad when you’re laughing. She loves reading my stories. They make her laugh, and that makes me happy.
AD: Tell us about your creative process and what you do to keep ideas flowing or what you do when feeling stuck?
DA: I read picture books. Anytime I feel stuck, I open a picture book, and the ideas start to flow. Also, I sometimes need to set my writing aside and take a break and go for a walk. Being outside, especially near any body of water, makes me happy and refreshed. If I could set my desk and computer near a lake, I’d never leave.
AD: Breaks and nature are necessary for rebooting!
“Anytime I feel stuck, I open a picture book, and the ideas start to flow.”
AD: What sorts of things have been most integral in your growth as an author?
DA: My faith. I can’t concentrate or do anything if I don’t spend time with God. I’ve found, if I’m having a bad day or am just feeling out of sorts, it’s always the days where I didn’t take time to pray. My family is a huge part of my growth, too. My husband and kids are my biggest cheerleaders. They get so excited when anything good happens with my writing. My husband is the best person I know. He works 50-60 hours a week so I can stay home and focus on this dream of mine. And my critique partners. I couldn’t do this without them. Also, after I do a few rounds of revisions from critiques from my CPs, I try to get paid critiques. I use Kate Allen Fox and Chelsea Tornetto, who are amazingly talented. The two of them and my CPs challenge and push me to uncomfortable points where I just don’t think I can go, and I love that. My stories are always better for it. I also try watching webinars on writing, and I completed Susanna Leonard Hill’s Making Picture Book Magic. I feel like Susanna’s class is a must-do. And I’ve read several books on writing picture books.
AD: It sounds like you have an amazing support system, Daniele and ways to keep grounded. It’s nice that you’ve surrounded yourself with other creatives who will push you outside your comfort zone in order to grow and develop. That’s so important!
AD: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?
DA: Make sure you have critique partners. Read. When you think your story is ready, set it aside for a bit. If you can, get paid critiques. Watch webinars. Believe in yourself and never ever give up. You can do this! And don’t let fear and doubt stand in your way of trying. You’ll never know if you don’t try (I think those are actually lyrics to a song).
AD: Where can readers find out more about you a
nd your work?
DA: I’m terrible with technology. Shout out to my CP and friend Janice Woods for picking up her phone every time I have a technology-related question. I plan on someday having a website, but for now, you can find me on Twitter at @edearndt. I love interacting with the kidlit community!