Today we welcome Eric Pinder to talk about his new book Counting Dinos!
Eric, tell us a little bit about your background before VCFA, and how you came to decide to enter our program.
Growing up in a house full of books, I always knew I wanted to be a writer someday. Well, either a writer or an astronaut. From high school onward I mostly wrote nonfiction, nature writing, and occasionally science fiction for grownups, but then a funny thing happened: Everyone in my circle of friends started having kids. Hearing them read Seuss and Boynton to their kids gave me an appreciation for how lyrical picture books can be, and inspired me to try writing some of my own.
What I like best about writing picture books is playing with the sounds of words. It’s sort of like using language as a musical instrument. Even when a picture book doesn’t rhyme, there still needs to be a rhythm to the sentences, and sometimes sound effects and onomatopoeia. Writing picture books is a bit like writing poetry, because they both get read aloud, performed by the reader.
When a writer-in-residence stint at a small New England college in the woods led to a teaching opportunity, that motivated me to get an MFA. A friend suggested the Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA, and it was the perfect program for me.
What year did you graduate from WCYA and what was your class name?
January 2011. Class name: The Bat-Poets. The name comes from Randall Jarrell’s book The Bat-Poet, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, which is about a bat who writes poems for forest animals and gets paid six crickets per poem. We joked that we should all add a “cricket clause” to our first book contracts.
Was there one lecture in particular that you can recall an a-ha moment that reinforced that you belonged in the program? Could you talk about your experience in lectures or during your semester work with advisors and how it may have shaped the writing life you are living now? What about VCFA affected your career and where you are now?
Every day was full of “a-ha!” moments. In fact, I learned so much on the very first day of my first residency at VCFA that I immediately wanted to rewrite parts of what was about to become my first picture book, Cat in the Clouds. The only problem was that the final galleys were already at the printer, so I sent a panicked email to my editor, who was amazingly patient and let me rewrite a couple lines at the eleventh hour, right before the printing presses rolled. That was day one. Four equally inspiring semesters followed.
Along with the big influence VCFA has had on my creative work, the residencies and lectures also helped with my academic career. I teach at a small arts college, and have been delighted to see a couple of former students go on to pursue their MFAs at VCFA. I can’t wait to see what they produce in the years ahead. I’ve saved a shelf for students’ future books.
Okay, now more about you! Please tell us about Counting Dinos. How did the story come about? What did your writing process look like for the book? Were there any surprises along the way?
One of my favorite books when I was age three or four was about dinosaurs. I can’t remember the title but can still vividly recall all the pictures, and keep hoping to find it again, stored away in some forgotten box at my parents’ house. I just hope Counting Dinos delights and amuses children today as much as that old book delighted me.
In addition to the counting theme I wanted the book to bring the landscape and setting of dinosaur times to life, so it was fun researching natural history details about dinosaur diets and gastroliths and ammonite shells.
What’s coming in the future for you and your writing life?
Polishing up more picture book manuscripts, including one about a little girl on Mars. I’m also finishing a funny memoir about the joys and struggles of teaching in the 21st century. One of my favorite classes to teach is nature writing, because it allows us to go on field trips in search of bears and inspiration.
Eric Pinder still wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. In the meantime, you can often find him riding his bike or hanging out with bears in New Hampshire. Eric’s books for children include If All the Animals Came Inside and How to Share with a Bear, and he also has written several books about mountains and weather for adults.
A lifelong interest in science and nature led Eric to work for seven years atop the snowy, windswept summit of Mount Washington, the “Home of the World’s Worst Weather.” His experiences there inspired his first book for children, Cat in the Clouds. After the leaving the mountain, he taught for many years at a small arts college in the woods: Chester College of New England.
Today, Eric teaches creative writing at the New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire, and often visits schools and libraries to share stories about the writing life, books and animals. He holds a BA from Hampshire College and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Despite the fact that bears appear in almost every book he’s ever written, his favorite animal is actually a giraffe. Or maybe a stegosaurus.