Monday, August 9, 2010

Inquiry XVI: Stephen Swinburne

This busy Monday we are excited to welcome Children's Book Author, Stephen Swinburne.

Steve was born in London, England. When he was 8, he left England with his family and sailed on the Queen Elizabeth to New York City.

Steve holds a bachelor of arts degree in biology and English from Castleton State College, Vt. He has worked as ranger in a number of national parks.

He loves to travel and observe nature and wildlife. A safari in Africa, hiking in Scotland, monitoring sea turtles on a Georgia island, a winter trek through Yellowstone and watching shorebirds in New York have all led to book projects.

Steve is the author of Wiff and Dirty George, Ocean Soup, Whose Shoes, Armadilo Trail, and A Butterfly Grows, just to name a few! He lives in South Londonderry, Vermont, with his wife Heather and daughters Hayley and Devon.

EEM: Did you always want to be a writer?

SRS: No I wanted to be an adventurer, a marine biologist, and then in my teens, a rock star. I love being a writer but I still think a rock star would be pretty cool.

EEM: When you began writing, was it instant success and riches or did you find you had to work other jobs in order to continue your dream of being a writer?

SRS: It was NOT instant success. Even after my first book was published, it took many many years to achieve any name recognition. I have over 25 books published and I wish I had a nickel for every librarian who says, “I’ve never heard of you but it’s great to discover your books.”

EEM: What jobs have you held, current or in the past, to help sustain your writing career?

I’ve worn lots of different shoes in the many jobs I’ve had in my life. I found my first job when I was nine years old. I wore old sneakers as a newspaper delivery boy. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, I’d wake early to roll up the newspapers, stuff them in my bicycle basket, and then ride around the neighborhood at breakneck speed. I’d throw the papers at people’s houses, hoping not to break any windows.
I wore grimy sneakers as a dishwasher, new sneakers as a busboy, and black shoes as a waiter. I yanked on hard-tipped boots when I drove trucks and laced up high-top sneakers when I made pizzas. I climbed ladders and painted houses in tattered running shoes. I gardened in sandals. Playing drums in a rock band, I wore cool-looking, pointy-tipped black and red slip-ons. When I was a National Park Service ranger, I wore sturdy hiking boots. When I helped sail boats, I wore deck shoes. In the years that I labored in an office brown wing tips adorned my feet.
Now I write for a living, and I wear whatever I feel like wearing on my feet. Some days I sit at my desk in slippers, and some days I wear wool socks. My feet might have flip-flops on or moccasins or nothing at all. No matter what my feet are wearing, they are always happiest when they are under my desk while I’m writing books.

One of the jobs that helped pay the bills and gave me a chance to write was photographer. If you can handle a camera and take photos, so many opportunities open up to you.

EEM: Which job was the most challenging or strange to you?

SRS: Working in the corporate world was a real challenge. I once had a job as a manager of financial and employee communications at an electric utility company. I managed to keep that job for over 7 years and never once felt like I was an electric utility employee. My head was always in children’s books.

EEM: Did your day job(s) allow you to write regularly? Or did you have to get creative to get those word counts in? What other effects did it have on your writing?

SRS: Once I was a waiter at the London Business School of Economics. I’d write poems on the scraps of paper I was meant to write orders on. You can always find time to write, if you want to. Get up early. Stay up late. Miss an hour of TV. Carve out an hour to write. Do it every day. Read Annie Lamott’s Bird by Bird, a great book on writing.

EEM: Have you ever based a loved protagonist or an evil villain on one of your co-workers? Wished you had?

SRS: No and No.

EEM: What are you working on now and is the process any easier than your first work?? If so, in what capacity (people noticing it, the writing itself, the confidence?)

SRS: I am writing a sequel to my first mid grade novel, Wiff and Dirty George. The Z.E.B.R.A Incident (Boyd Mills Press, Spring 2010). As this was my first novel after writing over 20 nonfiction titles, I’d say I’m still a newbie at novel writing. I love the challenge of developing characters and setting them on a journey and bringing them back. One of my favorite novels is The Hobbit. What a beautiful arc to the story.

EEM: Would you change anything if you could begin your writing journey over again?

SRS: I'd Begin writing my novels sooner in my writing career. Please check out my websites:

EEM: Thank you, Steve! And everyone else, have a good week.

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