Today I like to introduce you to Diane Robinson, the author of The Pen Pieyu Adventures series. According to her About page, Robinson started her love of reading when her grandmother gave her Black Beauty for her seventh birthday. It was the first book she ever read by herself. When she discovered the local small-town library, Robinson started to visit it twice a week until she had read every children’s book in it. After that, she pestered the library to get more books. Reading is still one of Robinson’s passions.
Her love of writing also started as a child. Robinson would write a story. Then she and her sister would act it out. Robinson was always the princess in distress, while her sister was supposed to be the hero prince. However, her sister was a confirmed cowboy and so she became Robinson’s hero prince in a cowboy outfit. “I’ve always been enchanted with the magic of the make-believe world. Anything is possible in that world.”
Robinson has a journalism diploma from the Schools of Montreal and an advanced diploma from the Institute of Children’s Literature in Connecticut. She is also an artist, teaching acrylic and watercolor art to children. She and her husband live in a small hilltop castle near St. Paul, Alberta.
ALLISON: Describe a typical day growing up in Alberta.
DIANE: Well that depends if it’s winter, fall, spring, or summer. Summer is the best season in Alberta: the days are extremely long and as a kid my playtime, on weekends and during summer holidays, was extended until 11:00 p.m. or until the sun goes down. The nights were warm, and I always liked to spend the nights outside in a tent, or just sleeping in a sleeping bag on the lawn. Summers were for playing and for being outdoors as much as possible. Summer activities with my family and friends included: boating, baseball, football, fishing, wiener roasts, camping, treasure hunts, outdoor plays, and star-gazing. As soon as the summer was turned on, it seemed like all of the kids in Alberta were released into the season of fun and adventures.
Winters can get cold, but as kids we didn’t care. My small town had an outdoor hockey rink, and I went there just about every day to figure-skate or play hockey. Lots of girls in Alberta played hockey, so we had two different kinds of skates: hockey skates and figure-skates. On warm winter days, my family went ice fishing or sledding. Of course, building snowmen and making ice sculptures was something we learned at a young age. In the winter, it gets dark at 4:30 p.m., so I had a lot more time to read books.
ALLISON: What’s your first writing memory?
DIANE: As a kid, I used to make up plays for the neighborhood kids to act out. So, I guess, I started writing and directing at about age eight. Sometimes, I re-wrote a classics such as Black Beauty to include more princesses, knights, and dragons (I thought most stories didn’t have enough fantasy in them). My writing and directing career was cut short for a while when a scene I’d written required my sister, the cowboy knight, to spread out her cape and fly off the edge of our house roof. Ummm, she broke her arm. I was banned (according to my mother) from ever making up any more crazy scenarios. When my sister stopped being mad at me, she agreed to take my plays deeper into the forest where we wouldn’t be discovered.
ALLISON: What’s the view like outside your window?
DIANE: Our house is surrounded by a forest. In this forest I have created many flower beds that wind along the stone pathways. On the pathways, there are four dogs napping in the sun. Amongst the flowers, I also see the fantasy-creature statues that dwell there. When I look a little beyond the flowers and pathways, I can see my horses grazing in the field. Beyond the field, there is more forest—that is where all the magic lives.
ALLISON: Why did you start reviewing books? What’s your worst blogging experience?
DIANE: I only review books occasionally on my blog site, and I started when a friend asked me if I wanted to participate in a blog tour. I thought I would try my hand at it, and since then I have reviewed several more books when a children’s book author has asked me to. I don’t want to review books full time because it is such a hard job, and I just don’t have the time to do it full time.
I haven’t had a bad blogging experience. But when I first started marketing my first chapter book, my marketing manager told me I would have to start blogging. I asked him what “blogging” was. He said he laughed quite a bit at that question.
ALLISON: A dragon is featured in your book. What do you like most about dragons? What’s your favorite magical creature besides a dragon?
DIANE: I love dragons because, to me, a fantasy story just doesn’t seem whole without a dragon. Dragon characters can be as diverse as human characters—some are mean, some are nice, some are funny. But above all, and most people don’t know this, all dragons love belly rubs. I also think a dragon makes a good sidekick for the main character.
Besides dragons, I really like faeries, gnomes, trolls, unicorns, and sprites. I love all things magical, and I especially love a nice and friendly magical creature.
ALLISON: Princess Petra wants to be a knight. Why a knight? What are your favorite princess books? Knight books?
DIANE: Petra wants to be a knight because she believes she can be. Her kingdom doesn’t have any knights as all the silly soldiers are too scared to become knights. Someone has to protect her kingdom, right? What’s a girl to do?
I am a fantasy book fanatic. I love all books and movies with princesses, knights, dragons, and the likes. My favorite series of all times is The Lord of the Rings. I have read the books twice and watched the movies several times. It’s that good.
ALLISON: You were honored with two major awards (Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Emerging Artists Award for Children’s Book Author, 2nd place in the Purple Dragonfly Book awards for Children’s Chapter Book) for Sir Princess Petra. What were you doing when you first heard the news? How did you react? What were the ceremonies like?
DIANE: Sir Princess Petra (book one), has just received another award in September, Honorable Mention, in the Reader’s Favorite International Book Awards. Receiving any award is a wonderful experience and an acknowledgement that, as the writer, I am doing something right.
When I got the call from the Lieutenant Governor’s office about the first award, I thought my friend was playing a trick on me because we were just talking about this award a few hours before. So, at first, I didn’t believe the award adjudicator who called me. When it did finally sink in that I had won, I whooped out a big “Yahoo!” into the phone.
The ceremony was held a couple of months later at Lieutenant Governor House in Edmonton, Alberta. The ceremony was an elegant, vise-regal affair with the Lieutenant Governor Guards in their regal uniforms. There were television station crews filming the event as the Lieutenant Governor handed each of us our medals, $10,000.00 prize, and a recognition scroll as he said a few words to each of us. There were eight of us who received medals in different disciplines. After the ceremony, waiters served champagne and hors d’oeuvres as attendees came around to the award winner’s tables to chat.
When I got home from this event, I was reading my emails and found out I had won another award in the Purple Dragonfly Book Awards. I let out another giant “Yahoo!”
ALLISON: You’ve just released your second Petra book. When you first wrote Sir Princess Petra, did you envision writing a series? How does writing a series compare to writing standalone books?
DIANE: When I first wrote, Sir Princess Petra, it was a story picture book of approximately 1500 words entitled, The Princess Knight. I had submitted this story picture book to 25 publishers through the years, and 23 were rejections. Two different publishers really liked the story, but each wanted things changed in the story, that to me, took away the essence of the story itself. I decided I did not want to change the story so I did not receive a contract. Not re-vamping the story for the publisher’s needs was a scary decision on my part, as I didn’t know if another contract would ever come my way. But, I kept submitting the original story to other publishers. A couple of years later, another publisher really liked the story, but wanted me to turn it into a chapter book. This I did and I received a contract from that traditional publisher. The book was not published by this publisher as they were having financial problems in 2010 and could not produce the book. A few months after that, a different publisher offered me a contract for the chapter book and the book was finally produced a year after that.
It was during the editing phase (with the publisher) of book one when I decided this should be a series. I wasn’t offered a series contract, so with the submission of book two to the same publisher, there was no guarantee of them accepting it. Thankfully, they did accept book two with some re-writes, but there is still no guarantee of them accepting book three.
Writing a series is somewhat harder than writing a stand-alone book. Each book in a series must be a stand-alone book that makes sense on its own, even if the reader has not read the previous books. Each book must also be consistent with characters, places, names, etc. as the previous books. In a series, some back story is usually necessary, but not too much that it takes away from the present story. There’s a fine line that a writer should not cross when it comes to including too much back story. It’s a head-scratching experience.
ALLISON: When you need a break from writing, what’s your favorite pastime?
DIANE: I really enjoy walking in the forest with my dogs. A lot of my writing inspiration comes about after these walks. I also enjoy horseback riding, gardening, and creating more flower beds and magical places in the yard. I have four dogs, three horses, and two mini-horses, and it’s always nice to play with the animals. I am an artist and I enjoy the creative outlet of producing art. I am also an avid reader.
ALLISON: What’s next?
DIANE: I am presently working on book three of The Pen Pieyu Adventures. I hope my imagination can sustain me through a forth book. I am also writing an easy-to-understand grammar book. I teach art lessons part-time and, recently, I have been hired as a writing instructor at the Creative Writing Institute for the “writing children’s books” course.
All this, along with my full-time job, should keep me busy.
The first chapter book in the The Pen Pieyu Adventures, Sir Princess Petra, won 2013 Honorable Mention in the Reader’s Choice International Book Awards and the 2012 Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Emerging Artist Award, as well as took second place in the children’s chapter book category in the Purple Dragonfly Book Awards. I’ll review the second, Sir Princess Petra’s Talent, here tomorrow. Save the date: October 8!
You can visit the Sir Princess Petra website at: Dragon’s Book
Find lesson plans at: For Teachers and Librarians
Read more about the characters at: For Kids