JOB TITLE: Children’s author
FAVORITE TRINITY MEMORY: Cinestudio was, and will forever be, my favorite place to see movies. The rich and comfortable space expanded my appreciation for cinema old and new. My future husband and I spent many of our Trinity evenings filling those seats. Our senior year, we shared that love of movies in our review column “From the Back Row” in The Trinity Tripod — some of my first published work!
How did you get started writing children’s books? I didn’t have any specific career goal while I was at Trinity — I just wanted to do “something creative.” At the end of senior year, an alum interviewed students on campus for an entry-level position at his children’s publishing company, Soundprints. I got the job, worked there for a few years, then moved to another publisher, Children’s Press, for a few more. When I had kids (almost 20 years ago), I decided to freelance write and edit. Most of the books I’ve written have been on assignment, so I’ve built a list with more than 300 books, mostly nonfiction. I’ve also made time to work on my own creative ideas with early readers, picture books, middle-grade, and young adult novels.
What type of writing do you enjoy most? When I want to be succinct and give myself a challenge, I’ll write an early reader. Biographies require a lot of push-up-your-sleeves research. Lately, I’ve been enjoying interweaving the characters and plot for my young adult novel.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your work? All of the same elements and rules of literary and informative writing for adults apply to children, too. But I believe children’s authors have the added responsibility to tell an authentic story to someone who doesn’t yet have the background knowledge or experience of adults. It’s an honor to be able to introduce new concepts or emotions, whether in fiction or nonfiction, to readers in a way that will hopefully resonate with them.
What advice would you give to today’s English and creative writing students who want to go on to write a book? Enjoy the process and don’t be so fixated on the final product. Writing isn’t about efficiency, churning out pages, or getting a job done. It’s about digging deep, exploring, experimenting, and fearlessly going outside of your comfort zone. That’s when the best material rises to the surface. That said, you’ll probably need a paying job to give you that freedom to write! Look for employment in publishing, or an industry that inspires your process, or in another type of writing. If it’s possible, surround yourself with creative people. Writing is a discipline. It takes time and practice to grow. So carve out time for it, especially when life seems to get in the way.
How did your experiences at Trinity prepare you for what you do today? Trinity taught me to be a critical reader and researcher. In every English and art history class, we were asked to look at an aesthetic work, interpret its meaning, and find the evidence to support it. I am so grateful that the Web has put information at my fingertips, but I will always cherish searching through Trinity’s library stacks, spreading out on a table, and taking notes by hand. I use those critical reading and researching skills every day.
Was there a professor who was particularly influential? So many of my professors have come to mind lately because I am teaching now as well. Barbara Benedict was mischievous and brilliant with such contagious energy. Sheila Fisher taught me to love the sound of Middle English (who knew?), and Bob Abel, who led my writing workshops, had a gentle, creative soul.
What was the most memorable course you took at Trinity? I spent a semester junior year at the Rome campus, and that city (and its cappuccino) is still coursing through my bloodstream. Instead of sitting at desks, the professors took us on walking tours through monuments, ruins, and museums. We played Frisbee on the Circus Maximus, ate gelato in front of the Pantheon, and waited for the bus by the Temple of Hercules Victor. It still feels like a dream.
To learn more about Rau and her books, visit www.danameachenrau.com.
PHOTO: CHARLIE RAU