[box]This week, I talk with Annie Tipton, author of the A Real Payne series. She made up her first story at the ripe old age of two when she asked her mom to write it down for her. Since then, she has read and written many words as a student, newspaper reporter, author, and editor. She loves snow (which is good because she lives in Ohio), wearing scarves, sushi, Scrabble, and spending time with friends and family.[/box]
AT: I’ve been a writer my whole life (almost literally!). My mom likes to tell a story about when I was two years old and I asked her to write down the words to a story that I made up. I remember writing scripts for plays that a friend and I acted out on the playground in early elementary school. Third grade was the first year I entered a story and was selected to represent my class at a conference for young authors. I always (well almost always) enjoyed writing school assignments and essays and I did lots of extracurricular writing—the school newspaper, a middle school writing contest called The Power of the Pen. Professionally, my first paying gig was some freelance work in high school when I wrote a few articles for a teen magazine put out by a Christian publisher. That was a pretty amazing experience to make a few bucks for doing something I absolutely loved!
I have a communications degree (with an emphasis in journalism), and my first jobs out of college were newspaper reporting. I wrote all kinds of stories—local politics and government, crime, business, healthcare—but my favorite articles focused on people and their stories. Now in my day job I work with words every day as an editor at Barbour Publishing.
I consider whatever writing talent I have as gift from God Himself. That’s not to say that I haven’t worked on honing the skill over the years, but He gives me the words. And my prayer is that readers will see Him on the page—even in some small way.
ADG: What made you decide to do a children’s book?
AT: One of the main reasons I wanted to write a children’s series is because I am simply a kid at heart! Some of the first chapter books I read as a kid left a lasting impression on me, so I know firsthand the power that memorable characters and stories can have.
ADG: Are there any other kids books in the style of Diary of a Real Payne that you found particular inspiration in?
AT: I have always identified with and loved Judy Blume’s books about Peter Hatcher and his crazy little brother named Fudge. Judy took the everydayness of life from the point of view of a young boy in a really funny, true-to-life way. I am the kind of person who finds humor in everyday situations as well, so EJ and many of the other characters in the Diary of a Real Payne series have the same view. If my stories can leave half the impression on kids that those books had on me, I will be thrilled.
Kids who like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series will find something here, too. Although the concept of this series is not exactly like Wimpy Kid, each chapter begins with pages from EJ’s diary, so the reader gets to be inside her head throughout the book. Those sections are really fun for me to write. EJ’s a smart girl with lots of interests, and she’s got opinions about stuff, too!
ADG: You’re writing for a tough age group. 8-12 year old girls read quite a bit, but not as many boys. Do you do anything in your books that will encourage them to pick up the book and read?
AT: I didn’t write these books with a particular kind of kid in mind. Even though the main character is a girl, I’ve always thought that EJ’s story is just plain old fun—and boys and girls could both identify with her. Since book 1 released in September, I’ve been so excited to get feedback that boys are loving the story just as much as girls! One character I really think helps bridge the gap for boys is EJ’s little brother, Isaac. He is my absolute favorite character to write, and he’s partly based on my younger brother. He is zany and funny and annoying and cute and 100 percent boy (and frustrating to his big sister)!
AT: I’m focused on this series for now, but who knows what’ll happen in the future! I’m really open to whatever opportunities come my way.
ADG: Can you tell us briefly what the book is about?
AT: EJ is a 10-year-old who lives in Spooner, Wisconsin—a town she considers the absolute most boring place in the universe, especially for someone like her who is destined to do big, important things someday. One way she lives out adventures now is to imagine she’s doing big things right now… and her imagination is so vivid that her daydreams sometimes keep her from knowing what’s actually going on in front of her. So she imagines she’s an astronaut on a space walk (by standing on top of the monkey bars at recess—to nearly disastrous results). Or overflows the washing machine when she imagines she’s the helicopter pilot for the President. Or convinces her little brother to let her “pretend” to cut his hair as she imagines she’s a world-famous hair stylist (you can guess how that one ends up). EJ’s mom and dad encourage her to be imaginative, but they also want their daughter to realize that God can use her wherever she is and however young she is—even in boring old Spooner. Throughout the course of the story, EJ gets the opportunity to do something big, but she has to make a decision if she will follow through with it. Because the person who will benefit from the “big, important thing” isn’t very nice to her. At all.
ADG: Where can my readers find out more about you (or your character EJ?)
EJ is on Facebook! That’s the best place to keep up-to-date on release information, contests, and a whole lot of fun! www.facebook.com/diaryofarealpayne