I’d like to introduce you to one of my special writing buddies; Steve Swinburne. I met Steve at the 2008 Highlight’s Foundation Summer Workshop at Chautauqua New York. Steve was a presenter. I believe we met the first night. Steve’s lovely wife, Heather, introduced herself and said that I could be her husband’s sister. It turned out that her husband, Steve, and I had a great deal of things in common. We both were born in London and immigrated to the United States when we were 8 and yes we do look a bit alike. We’ve gone back over old family names, but haven’t found any links…
Steve has a bachelor’s degree in biology and English from Castleton State College in Vermont. He worked as a park ranger in several national parks before he became a successful writer. He loves to travel and observe nature and wildlife. He’s been on safari in Africa, hiked in Scotland, monitored sea turtles on a Georgia island, trekked through Yellowstone in the winter and observed shorebirds in New York. Steve’s observations and adventures have resulted in a great deal of success as a writer. He currently has 27 children’s books on the market.
ME: First let me say thanks for stopping in today for a chat, Steve. Meeting you has truly been an inspiration. I know you’ve had a busy spring. How many new books do you have in 2010?
STEVE: I had three books published in this spring. It’s pretty wild; I’ve never had three books come out at the same time. Normally it’s about a book a year. The three books were: WHOSE SHOES? – A SHOE FOR EVERY JOB (a photo concept book for Pre K – 2nd grade); OCEAN SOUP – TIDE POOL POEMS (poetry book about tide pools); and my first novel, WIFF AND DIRTY GEORGE-THE Z.E.B.R.A. INCIDENT (grades 3 – 6).
ME: WIFF AND DIRTY GEORGE is your first published novel. What inspired you to write it?
STEVE: I grew up in London and my mum called me Wiff. My best friend down the road was called George. But because George was so untidy, my mum called him Dirty George. When we left England and boarded the Queen Elizabeth for New York City, I kept those two names tucked away in my head, in my heart. After writing nonfiction for over ten years, I retrieved those two childhood names and decided it was time to tell their story. In the beginning, I had no story, no plot, no characters. All I had were those two names- Wiff and Dirty George. In the process of writing the book, I discovered who they were and what story they wanted to tell.
ME: I’ve noticed that most of your books are published by Boyd Mills. Do you work with one particular editor or do you work with several?
STEVE: I have an editor at Boyds Mill Press, as well as one at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Charlesbridge.
ME: Which would you rather do? Book store signings or school visits?
STEVE: I’d rather visit schools any day. If you’re not a huge name, book store signings can be deadly. But when you visit a school, the kids have read your books, the librarian loves you and the whole atmosphere is fun and rewarding.
ME: How many school visits did you do in the last school year? What’s your favorite part of school visits?
STEVE: I average 50 to 80 schools a year all across the country from Connecticut to Texas, from Wisconsin to Georgia. The last two years I’ve been visiting schools in the Caribbean island of St. Croix. I can’t tell you how sweet it is to leave Vermont on a frigid day in February and go talk to
St. Croix students for two weeks in that tropical paradise.
My favorite part of a school visit is turning kids onto the fun and adventure of research and writing and photography. Kids love animals and I love showing them photos of bears, wolves, manatees and other animals I’ve researched. My talks are very curriculum based and teachers appreciate that I focus my presentations on my process as a writer.
ME: What book was the most fun to write?
STEVE: I really enjoyed researching and writing Ocean Soup-Tide Pool Poems because I love reciting these poems. See my website for the book at www.oceansoupbook.com And I’m having a blast writing the second Wiff and Dirty George (up to chapter 15!) It’s so fun to create this “wacky, trippy, phantasmagoric, Monty Python-esque farce!” as reviewers called it.
ME: I have a few more questions for our aspiring writers… Even though you are “living the dream” do you ever doubt yourself?
STEVE: Yes, I do doubt myself at times. I think every writer goes through some self-doubt. It’s easy to be stalled by the critic on your shoulder telling you what you just wrote isn’t good enough, isn’t strong enough. You have to push through that negative space and come out on the other side. I was rejected five and half years in a row, and I have friends who spent over ten years trying to sell something to a publisher. I learned what one publisher doesn’t like, another publisher loves. As Winston Churchill said, Never Give Up, Never Give Up, Never Give Up.
ME: You know I’m totally jealous of your research trips. Has one trip or adventure that you’ve taken in the name of research stood out over the others?
STEVE: Grey wolf research in Yellowstone National Park and swimming with manatees in Florida were highlights for me. But I am really looking forward to studying sea turtles with sea turtle scientists next spring in the Caribbean.
ME: Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring authors?
STEVE: Write something everyday or every week or every month. Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t writing everyday. Read everyday. Keep a journal. I’ve kept a diary or journal my whole life. Fall in love with words. Write with strong verbs and interesting details. Write powerful leads. Tell a story with a beginning, middle and end. As Annie Lamott says in one of the best books on writing out there, BIRD BY BIRD, “Write a sh##ty first draft.” Take pictures. Editors like writers that can take photos. Don’t give up your day job. Marry someone with a good job and health care. Break the rules.
ME: Thank you for stopping in and visiting today, Steve. We all appreciate it when a seasoned writer takes the time out of their busy schedule to help some of us newbie’s.
*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*You can find Steve on his website, on his Wiff and Dirty George blog, on his Ocean Soup site, on facebook, and on Twitter. In honor of Steve’s visit I’ll be giving away a signed hardback copy of OCEAN SOUP, a signed hardback copy of WIFF AND DIRTY GEORGE, and a signed paperback copy of A BUTTERFLY GROWS. To earn an entry you must be a follower. To earn an extra entry go to Steve’s website, look at all of his books and tell me which one you wish you would have written and leave it in the comments section. (For me it is SAVING MANATEES.) For a third entry leave me a link of where you posted about Steve’s interview and my book give away on your blog. I’ll assign each entry a number and use Random.org to determine the three winners on November 30th .
*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*I’ll be taking a blog break. My Dad and Step-Mum are coming from England next week and then we are going to visit family for Thanksgiving (and hopefully hitting a Razorback game). I’ll miss you guys and hope that you don’t forget me…
This is a wonderful time of year to remember all the things we are thankful for. I am so thankful for the special friendships I’ve made through the blogging world. I wish you all lived in Iowa so we could get together for dinner once and a while…. Have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!
Hugs to all! (and Good Luck on winning one of Steve's books...)