I grew up in Austin, TX. Born and raised! Austin has changed a bit over the years, but it has always been weird and friendly. So I like to think that sensibility informed the person I became. My parents divorced when I was younger and that meant I’ve lived pretty much all over the city at one point or another in my life. That meant starting new schools a few times and that was always scary. I think being new and feeling a little bit of that loneliness informs my books as well. My more serious books usually include a theme of kindness or finding our similarities. My funnier books are all about making people laugh, which was another tool I used to make friends.
Did you always want to be an author, or did that come later?
It’s funny. I didn’t start actively taking writing classes until 2014, but I think I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I used to write knockoff ENCYCLOPEDIA BROWN mysteries when I was a kid. And recently, my father has been going through old boxes and finding all sorts of stories and books I wrote when I was still in elementary school. And they weren’t assignments! This was me just nerding out and making picture books on my own. So I guess, yes, I’ve always wanted to be an author.
If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
A very exhausted old man that needs to sleep more and eat healthier! I’m an elementary teacher teaching during a pandemic. I’m a father to a very active 10 month son who has no fear of exploration or deadly things, i.e. trying to crawl off of beds and always finding the one outlet that we may or may not have forgotten to cover. I am a teaching assistant at The Writing Barn in Austin, TX and still working on my craft. And I have two books, THE COLOR COLLECTOR and MY TOWN, MI PUEBLO, which I am trying to promote through social media. Basically all great things, minus the pandemic of course, shoved into a year!
How does your everyday life feed your work?
I used to get all of my ideas from my students. Picture books and novels play a huge role in my classroom curriculum. So when we share those, new ideas emerge. I also love teaching writing and believe that modeling is one of the most effective ways to instruct. So when they do a writing assignment, I do it with them also. I find this helps cultivate even more ideas. And the absolute best thing about being a teacher and an author is that I get to try out all of my stories on my students. I get to see what works and what needs to be changed. But lately, I’ve been getting a ton of new ideas because I am a father now. I have all these new ideas for board books because that is all we’ve been eating, I mean reading. Ok, maybe reading and chewing is a more accurate description. But while he’s munching away, I’m analyzing the nuances of the board book. It’s all really interesting and I hope to finish some ideas soon!
Tell us about some accomplishments that make you proud.
I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot this year. Usually we’re conditioned to not brag about ourselves and to be as humble as possible. But I think this year, especially this year, we should all think about our accomplishments and recognize how amazing and resilient we all are! This has been one of the hardest years of our lives, so acknowledge how awesome you are for everything you’ve accomplished, big or small. For me, the accomplishments I’m most proud of are being a good husband and father. I’m proud of adapting to a completely new teaching style after 21 years of teaching, and still being able to connect with my students. I’m incredibly proud of selling three books, THE STARING CONTEST, THE COLOR COLLECTOR, and MY TOWN, MI PUEBLO. I’m proud of winning the Excellence in Education Award from HEB, the best grocery store in the world! I’m proud of winning the Walter Grant from We Need Diverse Books. And finally, I’m proud of receiving the Creator of Diverse Worlds Scholarship from SCBWI.
What surprises you about the creative life?
The thing that surprises me the most about the creative life, is the struggle to stay creative. We work so hard to sell our books, and when we do, there is this massive elation. But then that feeling inevitably turns to worry. “Will my book be successful?” “How should I promote my book?” “Will I ever sell another one?” So I’m trying to stay in the moment. To sit with the accomplishment and know that the stories will eventually come and when they do, I want to be ready to write them and enjoy them.
When a reader discovers your work, what do you hope they find?
I hope they find a book that either makes them laugh or feel loved. I want to put positivity out into the world, and I hope that after reading my books the reader will want to do the same.
Did you collect anything as a kid? Do you have any current collections of your own?
Does hoarding count as collecting? When I was kid I would collect all sorts of things. I was a big rock collector when I was a kid, and I still have a lot of them. I even have some fossilized dinosaur poop that I use to gross out my students. I also loved collecting Micro-Machines, the tiny toy cars. I still have those as well. Currently, my wife will claim that I like to collect papers and journals. My classroom and office are piled high with them. But I would say now, I like to collect art. My wife and I like to travel a lot and we always look for a piece of art from our adventures to help us remember the place.
Speaking of staring and visual art: M.C. Escher, Ai Weiwei, or James Turrell?
M.C. Escher all the way! I can’t deny the genius of Ai Weiwei and James Turrell, but I used to rock Escher shirts all the time in elementary and middle school. Does anyone remember those shirts? They were popular right before the hypercolor shirts took over. I could stare at an Escher book for hours analyzing all the mysterious paths he created.
If you could take your students on a field trip any place, where would it be?
This is an impossible question to answer! The easy answer is that I need Ms. Frizzle’s Magic School Bus so I can use it to take them everywhere. We read TALES OF A FOURTH GRADE NOTHING, by Judy Blume, this year, so obviously we would need to go to New York and visit Central Park. We are learning about Black History right now, which means we’d need to visit Selma, and I would love to walk Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham with them. There are a million more places to visit so I can’t choose just one!