Happy Book Birthday to Stacia Deutsch’
The Story of Jim Henson:
A Biography Book for New Readers
(The Story Of: A Biography Series for New Readers) / Rockridge Press/ Jan. 12, 2021.
Stacia Deutsch is the NYT Bestselling author of 300+ #Kidlit books—from junior movie tie-ins, Boxcar Children mysteries, LEGO novels, and most recently biographies. Now THAT calls for a celebration—and a few questions:
Q 1. You had FOUR children’s books release in 2020 (including THE STORY OF AMELIA EARHART) and now THE STORY OF JIM HENSON to start 2021—CONGRATULATIONS! What challenges have you had launching your books—or writing them–during this pandemic? Also—when do you sleep? ; )
Stacia Deutsch: Like everyone else, I am in a Covid malaise. I remember back in February, when my college-aged children both returned home, we expected we’d all still be heading back East for my son’s NYU graduation. I was one of those people that decided to use those first locked-down weeks wisely: write more, learn guitar, bake…but then the days of Covid piled up. I set down the guitar and let my big new book ideas fall aside. I had baked good delivered. The best part about the career I have created for myself is that publishers reach out to me with books they need. The LEGO stories I wrote this year, and the two biographies, didn’t depend on me to initiate them. The editors gave me the push and inspiration I needed to turn off the news and quiet my worries. I never imagined a writing career where I would spend so much time in worlds that are provided to me, but I love what I do and can’t imagine it any other way. I think many of us are feeling a creative lull right now, writing is hard enough without a pandemic. It’s about getting up, sitting down, and dredging it out. And yes, I do sleep – more than I should lately. I make up for the time by typing really, really fast.
Q 2. I can just see THE STORY OF JIM HENSON prompting many discussions with young readers about being creative and trying new things. How would young Stacia have related to these themes?
Stacia Deutsch: I loved writing this book. I actually believe that a mind like Jim’s has to be a very special place – there’s a little madness there. So many ideas, dreams, and visions filled his head all the time. I can relate to that…I have a lot of ideas. What I don’t know, and envy, is how he moved those ideas to reality. Some of it is luck, he was in the right place at the right time. Some is determination. And a lot of it is pure talent.
Young Stacia didn’t think she had any of those things. I certainly didn’t believe I was lucky. My determination came in spurts, but without clear focus as to what I wanted to “do with my time.” And talent…I came to writing after another career, so I didn’t know I had it in me until later than a lot of other writers I know.
…the willingness to try something new.
The thing that Jim Henson and I have in common is the willingness to try something new. When I decided I wanted to write a book, I didn’t take any classes. Rather I read books I liked – differently. I counted words on the page and looked at punctuation. I studied how chapters ended and new chapters began. Only after I’d sold my first book (Blast to the Past) did I take writing classes. Jim was like that too. In high school, he decided to try puppetry and read a book on it. Then later, studied the technique. It’s kind of like diving into the deep water and hoping you’ll learn to swim. Probably smarter to take the lessons first, but there’s a lot of value to figuring things out as you go along. I’m still learning. I’m still growing. And I bet, if Jim Henson was alive today, he’d say that about himself too.
Q 3. Which Sesame Street / Muppet character is most like you?
- Big Bird
- Cookie Monster
- Kermit the Frog
- Miss Piggy
- Oscar the Grouch
Stacia Deutsch: I like to think I am Kermit the Frog. He’s bold, clever, adaptable. He’s the leader and the problem solver. He’s also the romantic lead, right? But the truth is, I have a lot of Oscar in me. I sometimes have to stop myself from counting all the reasons something won’t work before getting my head around the idea that it might. I find that I often start sentences with “No, but…” instead of “Yes, and…” Plus, I definitely like to close my lid and retreat into my can all alone.
“None of us is just one character…”
I guess none of us is just one character and that’s what Jim Henson understood. I wish I had a little more of Big Bird’s wonder. I want to find the humor in everything like Ernie. I’d love to be fashionable and confident like Piggy. And I’d really like to eat all the cookies I want without worrying about calories, like Cookie Monster.
None of us is just one thing, and I think about that a lot as I write. The jock isn’t just athletic. The brain is more than a nerd. As I answer this, I am realizing Jim Henson gave us, as writers, an amazing example of how to broaden our characters as we work. And not just that, to broaden ourselves as we try a little harder to embrace our inner Kermit-Cookie-Oscar-ness. I’m going to try for a little more Big Bird in 2021.
Q 4. What was one of the most surprising facts or discoveries you made in writing THE STORY OF JIM HENSON? Or THE STORY OF AMELIA EARHART?
Stacia Deutsch: I actually have been thinking a lot about one of the things that Jim Henson did that seems super applicable to today. He saw the TV box as a space with infinite possibilities. Where puppeteers before him used puppet theaters and kept to a traditional show, Henson saw the whole TV as his space. His Muppets could come in from the top, run from the back, or pop in sideways.
As we are all stuck in the Zoom box right now, I have watched a lot of Zoom theater. It’s mostly people sitting and talking to the screens. Zoom conferences and teaching is also just staring at faces chatting. I wish we’d all think more like Jim. The zoom box doesn’t have to have limits. There have been some creative things done, like handing things “magically” across frames, or the work of ratemyskype to get us all to think about our space and lighting. Still our boxes should never be limiting. With that said, I don’t know what I want to do with this revelation. But, I’d like to think that stories aren’t stuck in a box either. There are so many interesting things we can do within traditional frames, be them TV, computer, or book jacket. The possibilities are endless and I’d love to explore breaking these boundaries more. I’m inspired by Jim Henson and his imagination all the time.
Q 5. Which part of the writing process is your favorite? Your least favorite?
Stacia Deutsch: My least favorite part of writing is starting. No joke. That blinking cursor on a white page is enough to make me scream and run away. I tend to write first sentences over and over again, before giving up and just dumping my brain onto paper. I love the personal editing process after that, but always wish it could be perfect the first time.
The other part I don’t like much is getting notes. Okay, so that’s not entirely true. After I have someone read my work, I look at all their red ink and big questions and I want to curl up in bed for a month. But then, as I settle down, I remind myself that nothing is perfect the first time, and I dig in. It’s funny, because often, when I finish making changes, I don’t even recognize the original draft in my work. I think, “Did I write that?” or “That’s clever. How did I think of that?” It’s almost like someone else took over my brain and hands.
My favorite, best and most wonderful part of the writing experience is getting emails and letters from kids. I like it when they ask me how I thought of something and I have to admit I don’t know. I love it when they compare me to other writers. I was once told I was the third best writer in the whole world. And I enjoy answering their questions about my dogs. It’s an amazing feeling to put something you created out there in the universe and let momentum take it over.
Q 6. What would you tell your earlier not-yet-published self, the one who thinks she might want to write books someday? Any tips you might share?
Stacia Deutsch: The best advice I can give is get a thick skin and send your writing into the world. I can’t even estimate the number of people I meet who are “writing a book” but never submitted it anywhere. Writing is a hard task and submitting it is even harder. It means putting yourself out there for disappointment, sometimes getting ghosted, waiting for months on end, and giving yourself praise when others don’t. I have 4 full novels, plus other works that have made the rounds and been rejected for one reason or another. Sometimes, I revise and resend. Sometimes, I pretend to myself that I am going to revise and don’t. Sometimes, I just move on. I hate that I have so many books that I believe in that aren’t reaching readers. It’s painful. But it’s also part of the process.
Sometimes, I just move on.
Your first book isn’t your only book, so dig deep and start again. Very few people write a draft book and end up with their own themed amusement park. The rest of us slog away, day by day, or as we hear repeatedly “Bird by Bird.” I tell my children when I am dead and gone, I will leave them 4 unpublished novels (so far) and a hard drive full of other stuff. It’s my hope they’ll keep submitting because somewhere out there is an editor, desperately looking for an exciting mermaid-human girl-parent trap story that hasn’t heard of me…yet.
Oh, one last thought, my husband and I watched the Netflix Dolly Parton Documentary. Did you know she has more than 1000 unpublished songs?! That was so inspiring. I only have 4 complete unpublished novels. I clearly have a lot more work to do. And a lot more submitting in my future…
OOOOH–we can’t wait!
To learn more about Stacia Deutsch and her books, check out her web site: staciadeutsch.com and follow her on
Up next on the blog: Happy Book Birthday to PETER EASTER FROG!