After working in libraries for about 35 years, Jeanette “took her pension” to spend time reading, birdwatching, taking photographs, and writing. Writing a book about hummingbirds opened up the world of birding for her and she now spends some time almost every day looking at birds and trying to photograph them. She also writes BirdBrainz (as the mood strikes her), a blog about birds, birding, and books. Jeanette is also crazy about her schipperke dogs, Indigo and Daisy.
Jeanette is proud that her book, Hummingbirds: Facts and Folklore from the Americas, allowed her to use her anthropology degree for something other than a wall decoration. She is also the author of several books for librarians and educators, including Bringing Mysteries Alive for Children and Young Adults and El día de los niños/El día de los libros: Building a Culture of Literacy in Your Community through Día. She is currently working on a couple of picture books with her husband, James Larson, and sifting through ideas for another non-fiction book, as soon as she finishes the textbook she is writing on how to be a children’s librarian. For more info, visit her website and blog.
What do you waste time doing?
I’m a champion time waster! I can spend hours searching for fun facts on the Internet for friends or checking Facebook. I also waste a lot of time on Ebay, listing stuff and looking at things to buy. One of my biggest time wasters is playing Words with Friends and doing crossword puzzles.
Whose ideas totally conflict with yours?
I generally find some bits and pieces of common ground with almost anyone. I grew up in highly mobile military family where I met people from all walks of life with values and ideas quite different from my own. I realized a long time ago that everyone doesn’t have to agree with “the world according to Jeanette” (hmmm… maybe I’ll use that as a book title). I totally can’t agree with people who are religiously didactic. I also frequently conflict with people who believe their ideas are 100% right and disagree with everything and anything others say.
What’s the biggest inconvenience about where you live?
I recently moved from the Austin area to a small town on the Texas coast. The biggest inconvenience is lack of vegetarian restaurants. There are also only two places to buy groceries so choices are limited. But the biggest inconvenience is the lack of a Starbucks! I have to drive 20 miles for a good cup of tea. (I can buy the Tazo teabags but I truly love drinking from the Starbucks cups. The baristas take pity on me and give me extra cups for home use.)
I also really miss the great writing community in Austin. Facebook and email help but the distance to get together with other writers is really great in the Rio Grande Valley and the Coastal Bend. I miss being able to get together with my fellow Texas Sweethearts. I’m a little afraid they will kick me out of the group because I’ve moved away from them.
What book (either because of its length or subject) intimidates you?
I can’t really say any book intimidates me. A really great book is never long enough! There are books that don’t hold my attention even though I thought I wanted to know more about the subject. I have a pile of books that I started but have never finished. Life is too short to read books I am not enjoying. I used to feel compelled to finish even when I was hating the story and the characters. It took me a long time to accept that it was not a personality flaw if I didn’t finish every book I started.
What was your favorite meal when you were growing up?
I always loved turkey and the vegetables and bread that go with the special times when we had turkey. Now I still enjoy all that but substitute Tofurkey for the bird. Oh, and chocolate cream pie!
What do you think will be the next popular catch phrase?
Suck it up!
What do you do every day, without fail?
I can’t say that there is anything other than the mundane necessities of hygiene and checking email that I do every day without fail. It is important for me to try to walk my dogs every day and do a little bird watching if I can. Oh, I absolutely read every day. Have to read the paper and I always am reading a book or two.
What is something you wish you did every day, without fail?
Exercise more and write.
If you could dis-invent one thing, what would it be?
Cherry Garcia ice cream. It’s diabolical.
What makes you want to throw up?
People being cruel to animals. Of course, it also makes me want to smack them. Oh, also people complaining about how expensive books are at the same time that they spend $50 on a video game for their kids. Really. Makes me gag.
What makes you laugh until tears roll down your cheeks?
There are some books, like Alamo House by Sarah Bird, that make me laugh so hard I cry. Sometimes watching the things animals do is just hilarious. Thank goodness for all those people with smartphones posting video to YouTube so we can all see a squirrel navigate a maze to get to a bird feeder or a dog dancing in a dress!
Do you ever feel that you have to censor your creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone?
No. I subscribe to the idea that everything I do should offend someone somewhere. I don’t intentionally want to offend anyone but I also can’t be plain and safe to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.
What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?
Wait until you know that you just have to write. As a children’s librarian everyone assumed I wanted to write a book. I always said I didn’t until the day came when there was a story I just had to tell. Keep notes on your ideas; they are too easy to forget. Get involved in SCBWI or another writing group. You learn a lot from your colleagues. Read. A lot.
Who do you consider a literary genius?
Sarah Bird. Her books are literary in the sense that they are extremely well written but they are also fun to read. Even in a serious story like Above the East China Sea she manages to include humor. Jack Gantos is also a literary genius. He is a renaissance writer, I think, because he writes so well in so many different styles.
What obstacles have you had to deal with in your career?
I’m essentially lazy and a procrastinator. I have to really push myself to get going, although once I start I (usually) meet deadlines and complete the job.
What are the biggest challenges you have had in the realm of your art?
I get bored easily. I love planning and starting projects but have to really work to keep myself involved and engaged if the project goes on for too long.
How did you pick your writing genre?
I guess it has come out of being a librarian. I love research and I love reading narrative non-fiction. A friend talks about curiosity and how that impacted her writing. I’m curious about everything and have a dozen ideas a day for books.
How do you know when a book is finished?
That’s a big problem. I love researching so do way too much. I think you have to just decide it is done and send it off to the publisher who will let you know if it is finished or not.
What impact (good or bad) do you think the media has had on your work?
For better or worse, the Internet has made it easier to share information. That has made it easier to do research and reach out to experts and other people who can help with projects.
What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have compared to people who are not creative?
I actually think we are all creative in different ways but some people don’t follow through. I think it is the perseverance to follow through on your ideas that helps creative people succeed. Ideas are easy but really creative people experiment with those ideas and take risks.