Dianne de Las Casas is an award-winning author, storyteller, and founder of Picture Book Month. Her performances, dubbed “revved-up storytelling” are full of energetic audience participation. The author of 24 books, Dianne is the International Reading Association LEADER 2014 Poet Laureate, and the 2014 recipient of the Ann Martin Book Mark award. Her children’s titles include The Cajun Cornbread Boy, There’s a Dragon in the Library,The Little “Read” Hen, The House That Santa Built, and Cinderellaphant. For more info, visit her website.
Have you ever broken a bone?
When I was a kid, I was very clumsy. I always thought I could keep up with my little brother, who was a monkey. One day, he climbed to the top of a tall rocket-shaped jungle gym. I thought I can do that! Unfortunately, I didn’t have his flexibility and dexterity. I did manage to reach the top, only to fall and break my shoulder. The only consolation was that we lived in Hawaii at the time and my mom loved to sew. She sewed me pretty slings in beautiful Hawaiian fabrics so that I didn’t have to wear the ugly army green sling the doctor gave me.
It was the first of many broken bones including my left wrist, my right ankle, and my right pinky finger. The broken bones never deterred me from a good adventure and I am like that to this day although I am a bit more cautious.
What have you tried in life and simply were not good at?
I am not very coordinated and I have exercise-induced so I never did very well in sports. I was always picked last on teams. I do love to freestyle dance and I’m pretty good at picking up dance moves at Zumba. So there is that.
What are you most neurotic about?
I have a passion for organizing and order. I love de-cluttering, organizing, and labeling everything. Friends and family often ask me to organize their spaces for them. I’m even thinking about starting an organization channel on YouTube!
Can you share an embarrassing story?
This is my most mortifying story ever. I was in 10th grade English when my stomach began to rumble. Something I ate did not agree with me. I had to let out some gas or I was going to implode. In retrospect, I should have asked for the hall pass and excused myself. But no… I squirmed in my chair, ever the good student. Suddenly, I felt gas escape but it was very quiet. I was soooo relieved!
Alas, it was one of those “silent but deadly” flatulations! Students began coughing and gagging. Even the teacher couldn’t take it. She asked someone to open the window. Yes, it was THAT bad! But at least no one knew it was me…
Then a second gas bubble escaped and this time, it was LOUD and still just as deadly. The class was too choked up to laugh but I nearly died of embarrassment. It was immortalized in my yearbook. One boy wrote, “It was great having you in class even though I needed a gas mask.”
What is the strongest bond you have with an inanimate object?
I have this clay dog I made when I was in the 5th grade. It is a two-inch sculpture of a dark gray toy poodle named Duchess, my favorite dog in the world. She died when I was 19 years old and I still have that little sculpture I made when I was 11. That was over 30 years ago! Duchess (the sculpture) sits on a shelf above me in my office.
What one word describes your bedroom?
If you were given a canvas and watercolors, what setting would you like to paint yourself into?
I would paint myself into a Caribbean beach setting. The beach is my favorite place in the world. In fact, I’ve already done it. My office is beach themed with ocean-colored walls, beach white cabinetry, and sand-colored desk tops and floors. I have shells, coral, and beach paintings that I’ve collected from around the world on display. I even have the jar of puka shells I collected on the beaches of Hawaii when I lived there as a child!
What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?
Do your homework. Research how to submit manuscripts. Join a writers group like SCBWI. Find a mentor. Learn the etiquette when attending a writing conference (don’t ask an established author for their editor’s or agent’s name or hound editors/agents to look at your manuscript). Write about subjects you are passionate about. Don’t just write to the trends. When you are an established writer, pay it forward and mentor someone else.
Why were you drawn to a career in writing instead of to a job that might offer more stability and security?
Writing offers me freedom and creativity. I love being able to create my own schedule. If I want to work during the wee hours, in the quiet of the night, I can. If I want to write in comfy clothes and flip flops, I can. If I want to chaperone my daughter’s class on a field trip in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, I can. I love the flexibility of establishing my work hours.
This doesn’t mean I can skirt around deadlines. When a book is due, a book is due and books don’t write themselves!
Who do you consider a literary genius?
In the field of children’s literature, I would have to say Roald Dahl. He is my favorite children’s book author of all time. I love how he played with language and had a great time with characters and plots. He wrote some of the most memorable, classic books of our time.
What obstacles have you had to deal with in your career?
It was difficult at first for my family to understand that I was working at home. They thought I could just do what I wanted, when I wanted. While I do have a lot more flexibility with my work schedule, I still have to do as Jane Yolen says, plant my “BIC – butt in chair!”
24 books later, and a pretty successful career as a writer, I think they finally get it.
What impact (good or bad) do you think the media has had on your work?
For sure, good reviews are great in an author’s portfolio but you can’t let reviews make or break you. I used get bent out of shape when reviewers panned my work. Now, I celebrate and shout out the good ones and ignore the not-so-good ones. I have readers and they support my work. That’s what matters to me… the readers. I don’t write for critics. I write for readers.
When did you know for certain that you wanted to pursue a career in writing? Have you ever questioned that decision?
I knew since 2nd grade that I wanted to be a children’s book writer. I even told my teachers! It was a lot of hard work to get to this place but I don’t regret it for a minute.
What life experiences have inspired your work?
I lived and traveled all over the world as a child. That influenced my career as a professional storyteller and I love collecting folktales from around the world. That, in turn, influenced my work as an author of picture books and professional development books for teachers and librarians.
How do you know when a book is finished?
Every artist needs to know when to “put down the paintbrush,” so to speak. It’s a feeling. I know when a book “feels right.” And you have to stop at some point or you will get stuck on a plane of infinite revisions.
Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing?
I love participating in PiBoWriMo (Picture Book Writing Month), Tara Lazar’s creation to motivate picture book writers. It’s in November and the idea is to write a picture book idea every day of the month. It forces me to come up new ideas. I may not use them all but it certainly pushes me to be more creative and attuned with my environment.
I keep a journal in which I write down ideas. Ideas are like sands in the fingertips. They can be fleeting. If you don’t catch them – write them down and memorialize them, they tend to disappear.
Finally, I remember my life’s mantra, a quote by Henry David Thoreau: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams; live the life you have imagined.”