This month we welcome Austin SCBWI member Lynn Rowe Reed to our interview series.
Lynn never seems to slow down! She has more than twenty-one publishing credits to her name, including author, illustrator and author-illustrator. An American Ninja Warrior of the kidlit world, Lynn is also an Army Veteran, a breast cancer survivor, a mother and a champion snow plower. Thanks for joining us, Lynn!
Where did you grow up, and how did that place (or those places) shape your work?
I grew up in a town of 5,000 or so just north of Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the far northeast corner of the state. There were only a couple of things to do there and one of those was going to the library. Back in those days—let’s just call the era “a very long time ago, before the magical age of computers and technology”—the library I knew existed as a nearly reverent place of hushed tones, grandiosity and escape. I was always drawn to the magic, the quiet, even the “smell” of the building and all that it represented. Going to the library was a bit like going to church—but a lot more fun since there was so much to discover there!
Did you always want to be a writer, or did that come later?
I always loved writing. As a kid, I was absolutely (and weirdly) thrilled when the teacher gave us writing assignments. Other kids would groan; I would smile with the anticipation of the process! My first writing gig was in the United States Army which I joined at age 18. It was the only way I knew to escape small town life in Indiana! I was an “information specialist” or what civilians would call a “journalist" for an Army newspaper.
After that, I didn’t think much about being a writer until I was in college and on the verge of becoming an illustrator. Then I realized that I could combine both those skills and become a picture book author/illustrator. That resulted in my first picture book, Rattlesnake Stew, published in 1990 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux
If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
Nothing particularly exciting! My day starts with lots of coffee and a daily, obsessive list of things to do. I can’t live without these ridiculous lists, and I’m a bit of a workaholic so if I want to take the day off (a rare occurrence), I actually write on my list: DON’T WORK, or CHILL, or SERIOUSLY—DON”T WORK!
Then I do yoga, followed by a walk. I live in Lago Vista where there are some giant hills for walks that are great for butt-toning (at least that’s what I tell myself).
It’s usually mid-morning before I get to work, but once I do, I work until dinner, then often go back to work and keep it up until nearly bedtime. I have a fabulous little studio in my back yard built exclusively for my work. My studio is surrounded by nature and is visited daily by deer. I keep a lot of grapes, strawberries and bananas around for my friends.
That said, my brain is being super challenged right now because I’m about to launch my own publishing company called Plaid People Press. So I’m working on four books at the same time, as well as learning all the tricks of becoming an independent publisher. Much of that entails learning production skills for producing the physical books, and extends to learning the marketing skills required to sell the finished product. Trust me, my brain is—seriously—about to explode.
How does your everyday life feed your work?
I can’t really say that it does much any more. I don’t do a lot outside of my work except play a fair amount of golf. I’m a bit of a boring person! My kids—who once used to spark book ideas—have been grown and gone for many years and I’m still awaiting the grandkids who will, inevitably, provide material for future work.
Tell us about some accomplishments that make you proud.
I have a tendency to lose sight of how difficult it is to get published, so it’s easy to take it for granted that I’ve accomplished this remarkable feat twenty-one times now! I think my stubborn perseverance and work ethic are the things I’m most proud of. We all know how daunting the task of publishing is, and those of us who refuse to quit are definitely tough.
I’ve also managed to survive many personal challenges, including a battle with breast cancer eleven years ago for which I was treated aggressively with lots of chemo, radiation and more. I guess I’m one tough broad, and I’m proud of that.
Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention the thirty-eight and forty year old sons of whom I’m immensely proud!
What surprises you about the creative life?
I have to admit that the “actual” creative life doesn’t entirely measure up to the romanticized notion. That’s true, I’m sure, of any profession that one envisions to be full of glory and admiration without the recognition of tremendous sacrifice and hard work! You know, like, being a professional athlete or rock star…
When a reader discovers your work, what do you hope they find?
I hope that my readers will feel just an ounce of the magical, intangible feeling that I always found as a kid when I opened a special book for the first time. Something that touches the soul ever so slightly—or at least makes a young reader laugh or pause to revel in the moment. And, of course, I would love it if my reader would savor one or more of the illustrations I have worked so hard on!
Quick Fire Questions:
I’m pretty sure that was a trick question. You didn’t really think I’d know what an ocelot is, did you? After consulting my laptop dictionary, I must conclude having the long neck of an elegant giraffe is far more fascinating than being some medium-sized wild cat that has a tawny yellow coat marked with black blotches and spots, and ranges from southern Texas through South America.
Contestant on MasterChef or American Ninja Warrior?
That’s simple. American Ninja Warrior! I romanticize about being a tough, muscle-packed, powerful physical specimen—but without having to train relentlessly to be one!
Antarctica or the Mojave Desert?
Well, I did recently move to Austin from the Antarctica-like weather in Indiana. No more potential igloo-building for me!