This month we welcome Debbie Loren Dunn to our Interview Series.
Debbie co-wrote INSTRUCTIONS NOT INCLUDED, HOW A TEAM OF WOMEN CODED THE FUTURE (Disney-Hyperion, 2019) by Tami Lewis Brown and Debbie Loren Dunn, illustrations by Chelsea Beck.
“INSTRUCTIONS NOT INCLUDED received a starred review from Booklist and is a Junior Library Guild selection. The picture book charts the pioneering work of computer programmers Betty Snyder, Kay McNulty, and Jean Jennings and their mammoth machine ENIAC, the world’s first electronic computer.” “Today computers are all around us, performing every conceivable task, thanks, in large part, to Betty, Jean, and Kay’s pioneering work.”
Watch for this writing duo’s new STEM book: PERKIN’S PERFECT PURPLE, coming fall 2020. brownanddunn.com
Where did you grow up, and how did that place (or those places) shape your work?
I was born in New York, went to grade school in Houston, undergrad in Austin at UT, made Austin home with my husband and two daughters, and for a few years lived in Oslo, Norway on an adventure working and enjoying Scandinavia with my family.
When I was in New York, my grandfather would take me every other Sunday to the Barnes and Noble; it wasn’t a chain store as it is now. At that time and that age, it felt very special to be able to pick out a book every other week with him and bring it home. The weekends that we didn’t frequent Barnes and Noble, we went to The Metropolitan Museum of Art and that was also influential. On the Met days, my grandmother would pack sandwich lunches, which we ate either at the fountain in front of the museum or in the basement if it was rainy. I feel my love for books and art came from these early experiences with him.
Did you always want to be an writer, or did that come later?
No, I always dreamed of being an artist even though I graduated with a computer science degree and worked in that industry for 20+ years. I eventually took an illustrating children’s book course at Laguna Gloria (now called The Contemporary Austin Art School) with our own Mark Mitchell; we had to write a story that we would then illustrate. Not so coincidentally, it was about this time that I realized that my love for painting and illustration did not necessarily translate into a talent for painting and illustration. I had better luck writing the story. I did meet fantastic folks in that class and joined SCBWI. I will always love the smell of a good art store, but even more I will always respect the talent it takes to illustrate a picture book—so thank you to Chelsea Beck and Francesca Sanna for illustrating our two picture books.
If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
They would see me play tennis or go to pilates. I hope they don’t see me shower but that happens, then I write either at home or I research at the UT PCL library. Late afternoon, I typically take a gander at my list of errands I was planning on doing, have a small panic attack, and rush to get things done. Evenings are spent with my husband and/or friends and face-timing with my two daughters.
How does your everyday life feed your work?
I read a lot! My love for science and human stories directs my reading and if I am fortunate enough, then ideas happen!
Tell us about some accomplishments that make you proud.
Anyone that knows me already knows the answer to this one! I am crazy proud of my two daughters and husband. While my daughter’s accomplishments are not my accomplishments, I did “grow them” as I like to say. Our older daughter is a doctor doing her residency in internal medicine and our younger daughter is in nursing school.
Personally, I am proud of the work I did in the area of databases and data mining when working in the computer industry and I am grateful now to be able to do philanthropic work for Vermont College of Fine Arts and The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation by participating on their boards. I am also proud to be an author, and I love collaborating with Tami Lewis Brown on books.
What surprises you about the creative life?
Every last bit of it surprises me. At the risk of sounding super cheesy, I am most perplexed by how a day of good writing can make me feel so energized.
When a reader discovers your work, what do you hope they find?
A story about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
What are some favorite memories from your time as our own SCBWI Austin Chapter Regional Advisor?
My favorite memories involve planning events for SCBWI; in 2003 and 2004 we had a conference and typically a few retreats each year along with our monthly meetings. I think it was the collaboration with folks in the chapter to recruit the right editors/agents/illustrators/art directors to one of our events, then see the event come to fruition, and see the chapter grow. It really was the camaraderie during these events that I loved.
Who are your favorite female mathematicians, in addition to those in your book?
Grace Hopper, famed computer pioneer, and Maryam Mirzakhani, who won the prestigious Fields Medal in 2014 for her work in mathematics.
Would you rather be able to go back in time or have the power to stop time whenever you felt like it?
Hmmm. I would have to say stop time because it is pretty darn good right now.