We are pleased to welcome author, writing instructor, editor, and animal advocate Evan Griffith to our interview series. Evan’s debut picture book, SECRETS OF THE SEA: THE STORY OF JEANNE POWER, REVOLUTIONARY MARINE SCIENTIST (Clarion Books, March 2021) is illustrated by Joanie Stone. It’s the story of a creative, persevering dressmaker turned marine biologist, who, in 1832, pioneered building glass tanks underwater to study sea animals, leading to the creation of modern-day aquariums. Evan’s next book also centers around sea life and has been acquired by HarperCollins/Quill Tree for publication next year.
Where did you grow up, and how did that place (or those places) shape your work?
I grew up in central Florida, on the East Coast, a short drive from the beach. I’ve always been fascinated, mesmerized, and slightly terrified of the ocean. I was drawn to write SECRETS OF THE SEA, a picture book biography of marine scientist Jeanne Villepreux-Power, because I relate to her deep sense of curiosity about the sea and its inhabitants. Central Florida also serves as the setting for my first middle grade novel, which is scheduled for release in summer of 2022, and features manatees!
Did you always want to be an author, or did that come later?
Always. Some of my earliest childhood memories involve writing and storytelling. I started by writing stories inspired by the video games I played as a young kid—I guess you could call it fanfiction. Most of my dream careers as a kid involved some form of writing—I wanted to be a playwright, then a screenwriter, then a songwriter. I studied creative writing in my undergraduate program at The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and later attended the Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
Copious amounts of tea drinking, some not-great guitar playing, and (hopefully) a decent amount of writing. But really, you should follow my cat, Kylie, around for 24 hours instead. She’s much more entertaining!
How does your everyday life feed your work?
My professional background is as a book editor, and I believe my editorial work has honed my ability to critically evaluate and revise my own work. I also work for the Writing Barn here in Austin, TX, and connecting with brilliant authors, editors, and agents through the Barn’s writing programming motivates me to put my best work forward. Also, my aforementioned cat is a constant source of inspiration and/or distraction.
Tell us about some accomplishments that make you proud.
Right now, I’m just so grateful to have the opportunity to bring some stories into the world. SECRETS OF THE SEA and my forthcoming middle-grade novel both mean a great deal to me, and I’m very excited to share them with readers.
What surprises you about the creative life?
How messy it is! It’s so tempting to think there’s some kind of perfect way to approach the writing habit, or plotting, or revision. When the process feels convoluted, my brain longs for an epiphany that will make it all easier, structured, straightforward. I have to remind myself again and again to embrace the mess and all of the imperfection.
When a reader discovers your work, what do you hope they find?
I hope readers walk away from my stories with a renewed interest in the natural world and all of the beautiful species we share this planet with; a sense that all emotions—including tough emotions like fear or sadness—are valid and worth experiencing; a little more assuredness and grace in approaching the daily uncertainty of life. These are deeply felt values that I try to weave into my work.
Most interesting or favorite book you edited in NYC?
One of the first books I edited in NYC, at Workman Publishing, is called ADVENTURE CATS by Laura Moss. It’s a nonfiction guide to taking your cat on outdoor adventures, and busts the trope that all cats just want to sleep indoors all the time. The book is full of gorgeous photography, and Laura is a terrific writer and passionate animal advocate.
Spring in North Carolina or autumn in Vermont?
Oh, they’re both beautiful! But I’m going to have to go with autumn in Vermont, only because autumn is my favorite season. I love watching the trees change colors, feeling the temperature drop, that smoky smell filling the air. Autumn always feels full of nostalgia and wistfulness.
If you were a sea creature, what would you be?
I love this question! I like to think I would be something sleek and cool, like an octopus. But in reality, I’d probably be a little lobster or crab, scuttling around, hoping everything turns out okay.