Nancy Loewen has published nearly 120 books for kids. She’s received awards from the American Library Association, the Association of Educational Publishers, New York Public Library, Bank Street Children’s Book Committee, and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Two of her books have been finalists for Minnesota Book Awards: THE LAST Day OF KINDERGARTEN (2012) and FOUR TO THE POLE (2002; co-written with polar explorer Ann Bancroft). A recent picture book, BABY WANTS MAMA, was named an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Best Book. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University, St. Paul. Nancy was born in Mountain Lake, a small town in southern Minnesota. She currently lives in the Twin Cities. Besides reading, her favorite things to do are walking her dog and collecting weird thing from thrift stores. For more info, visit her website.
What is the weirdest thing about your relatives?
I come from a long line of farmers on both sides of my family. That doesn’t sound so weird—until you stop to consider that throughout my entire genealogy, no one has been anything but a farmer. And yet I struggle to keep my houseplants alive.
What one thing have you kept over the years for no good reason?
In college I was on the staff of the literary magazine, called Muse. When I graduated I forgot to turn in my key. It’s been on my main key ring ever since. I like being able to say, “I have a key to the Muse office.”
If you were the boss at your job, what incentive or perk would you offer your employees?
At a certain time every day, all employees could rest their heads on their desks, just like in elementary school, and listen to a great audio book over the intercom. It would be a combination of naptime and book club! Everyone would get to rest their eyes and they would all have something in common to talk about.
What unhealthy habit will you never give up?
I don’t think I could get through the day without eating something sweet. Most days, it’s many somethings sweet.
What one thing is unfortunately true?
Most of the time, most people don’t consider the big picture. They don’t ask as many questions as they should.
What concept or product has surprisingly never been invented?
A dog food dispenser that shoots out one piece of kibble at a time, at random intervals. I’m the owner of a beagle who is always on the lookout for food. A device like this would occupy her for hours!
What is the most interesting piece of trivia you can think of?
In our bodies, bacteria cells outnumber human cells ten to one. Hurrray for symbiosis!
What expression or cliché do you find yourself saying a lot?
“The big picture” (I just said this a few questions ago, didn’t I?) and “Here’s the deal.”
What aspect of the “good old days” do you wish could make a comeback today?
It used to be easier to get to know our children’s friends and their friends’ parents. My kids became teenagers right when everyone was getting smart phones. Parents stopped coming to the door. They’d just text their kid when they were parked outside the house.
If every activity in life were an Olympic sport, what would you win the gold in?
Running around the house, trying to find my reading glasses. No matter how many pairs I own, they are never around when I need them.
If you were able to change your first name, what would you pick?
One of my farming forebears was named Trincke. I love that name. Another woman’s name that appears often in my family tree is Helena. That’s my daughter’s name. (Side note: I recently wrote a title for Picture Window Books about Helen of Troy. Of course I could never just type “Helen.” I added the “a” every. single. time.)
What do you never leave home without?
Kleenex. My dad has an expression in Low German and I wish I could remember it, but it goes something like, “then runs my nose away again.” That’s me.
What obstacles have you had to deal with in your career?
I’ve had a lot of family responsibilities and usually I’ve had to fit my work in around other tasks, instead of making it a priority. I’m still working on taking myself seriously as a writer. Now that my kids are almost grown, that part is getting easier.
How did you pick your writing genre?
My first writing-related job out of college was with a children’s book publisher. But it wasn’t until I had my own kids that I developed a deeper understanding of children’s books. And I’m still learning. It’s the old saying, “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”
What life experiences have inspired your work?
Two of my published books were directly inspired by my own kids: Baby Wants Mama (my son, Louis) and The Last Day of Kindergarten (my daughter, Helena). And I have other stories in various stages that were inspired by them as well. Mostly I take inspiration from little moments, not big ones–snippets of conversation, obscure news items, funny typos, and so on.
How do you know when a book is finished?
When I can read it through from start to finish without noticing anything that I want to change. It’s kind of like running a comb through your hair and not getting stuck on any tangles.
What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have compared to people who are not creative?
I think creative people are better able to see individual elements that make up the world. It’s like a puzzle, and they can pick and choose, move things around. People who aren’t creative see the world as being more cohesive and static.
What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?
Not every piece is going to soar. Do your best and keep moving forward.
Also, you are bound to face many frustrations about things you have no control over: illustrations, editorial input, schedules, reviews, marketing, etc. The act of writing is very different from the act of publishing. Separate them in your mind, if you can. They are like quarreling kids—best to keep them apart.
Why were you drawn to a career in writing instead of to a job that might offer more stability and security?
Because there is something magical about writing. The best moments are when I’m not aware I’m writing at all, and then I look down and read my own words and have no memory of having written them. It’s like the words have been dropped onto the page by someone else. It’s not always like that, of course, but those are the most satisfying moments that keep me coming back for more.
I also believe that writing for kids—just like teaching them or caring for them—is important work. In ways large and small, we are influencing who these children will become.
A couple of years ago, I helped my parents move off the farm to a house in town. Most everything I’d owned as a child was there for the taking, including my books. Even though I hadn’t laid eyes on those books for more than 40 years, they were so familiar. I’d turn page after page and say, “I remember that! I remember that!” The books we read as kids, especially the ones we read over and over, become a part of us. We might not be aware of it, but those books are in our minds to stay.