Tami Lewis Brown

Tami Lewis Brown grew up- and up- and up on a horse farm in Kentucky, until, by sixth grade, she was the tallest girl in her entire school. Then she stopped growing for good, so now she’s an ordinary-sized grownup. Everyone in Tami’s family was a pilot and soon she learned to fly planes, too. Tami’s love of flight led her to write her first picture book biography, SOAR, ELINOR! She’s gone on to write lots more picture books and a middle grade novel.

Tami studied American History and Economics at Smith College in Massachusetts. Then she married her high school sweetheart, David and they attended law school together. Later they had two children, Julia and Will. They live in one of the oldest houses in Washington, DC, and in a house on the banks of Lake Champlain with a pack of crazy rescue spaniels.

After fifteen years as a trial lawyer Tami decided it was time to try something new. That’s when she went to Vermont College of Fine Arts to study writing for children and met Debbie Dunn! The rest is history!!!

You can learn more about Tami at www.tamilewisbrown.com

Debbie Loren Dunn

Debbie Loren Dunn sprouted in New York and spent weekends with her grandfather scouring the books at Barnes and Noble on Fifth Avenue. Eventually, her family moved to Houston, Texas where she spent time attempting tricks on her skateboard and sketching detailed architecture.

She moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas where she met her husband (David) and majored in Computer Science. They had their first daughter (Sydney), moved to Oslo Norway for a few years, came back to Austin and had their second daughter (Abbie).

After working at Hewlett Packard for 20 years, Debbie received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Debbie and her husband live in Austin and love it when Sydney and her husband (Brandon) and Abbie come back for visits and holidays.

Q and A

Tami and Debbie interview each other!

DLD: I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I was a very diligent student. Well, please don’t ask my dad about my physics classes. How about you?

TLB: I was curious about everything when I was a kid so most of the time I loved school. Unfortunately my best subject was daydreaming. I imagined all sorts of things, all day long. One of the best things about being a writer is I get paid to daydream. Good thing I had lots of practice when I was a kid!

TLB: During summers when I was a kid my mom shooed us outside in the morning and told us not to come back until dinnertime. My sister and I got into lots of adventures on our own. Our neighborhood had a “haunted house”, really an abandoned farmhouse. and I got the reputation for being brave by exploring it on my own. That was more foolish than brave because the floors were rotten and full of holes. I could have ended up being the ghost! Debbie, what was a brave moment for you?

DLD: That’s funny Tami, we have something in common. I also had a “haunted house” that I liked to go into when we lived in New Jersey. There was a tree in the backyard that dropped huge pinecones and I would run through the house to the backyard and scoop up as many as I could and put them in my red, white and blue patent leather satchel. When the other kids saw the haul of pinecones that I had, they thought I was fearless and brave because they wouldn’t step foot in the house. I too, was more foolish than brave—I had no business going into that house.
I think it is interesting that both of us answered a question about bravery by reminiscing about haunted houses!

Additionally, I had a huge fear of dogs especially when I rode my bike. Whenever I mustered the courage to pet a dog it made me feel brave. I am no longer scared of dogs. I love them now.

DLD: Nope, not one single instrument and I did not have a singing voice either. In mandatory choir, I lip-synced the words and pretended to be singing.

TLB: That’s funny!

My father was a gifted musician who could play almost any instrument so I really wanted to learn to play the piano. I took years of lessons but my dad’s musical gene passed me by. My teacher never even invited me to be in the recital!

I guess not being musical is another thing we have in common!

TLB: I grew up on a horse farm in Kentucky where my family raised Morgan horses. Sometimes my dad bought horses with bad habits like bucking or running away. My sister and I rode them every day, spending lots of time talking to them and gaining their trust. And we had a great time competing in horse shows. But it was sad, too. As soon as those bad horses “learned their manners” we sold them and bought a new naughty horse or two to tame.

DLD: That’s amazing that you were around horses; that seems like a dream place to live.
I loved math problems and sketching complicated architecture. I would represent my school at math competitions. I liked to say that I was a mathlete.

Tami: That’s totally foreign to me! I was so so so not a mathlete! But my sister was great at math. She’s an architect now!

DLD: I am not super athletic, but I love playing tennis. I think I would like to be a great tennis player–maybe one of the top 100 players in the world. That would be amazing. What about you, Tami?

TLB: Before I was a writer I was a lawyer- I don’t want to do that again! But after college I dreamed of opening an ice cream shop. I’d love to invent my own ice cream flavors and try all the samples! My first new flavor would be Caramel Peach. Doesn’t it sound delicious?

DLD: First, I love writing books with you! For biographies, I could spend years researching and getting to know the person or people I want to write about. Their lives are never as simple as so-and-so did this-and-then-this happened. They seem to always have challenges or overcome obstacles to get to their accomplishments. I tend to stay with the research for a long time and enjoy uncovering the details of their journey–what made them keep going when things became tough for them. When I finally write the book, there is never enough space to share all that the research has been discovered. The challenge of writing a picture book biography is understanding why someone is the way that they are. I love learning about real people. You?

TLB: Nobody can believe how long it takes me to write a book! First drafts can be pretty fast- three or four months. But I revised the text for SOAR, ELINOR! for two years, polishing, researching, learning new facts, taking out others, and polishing again. INSTRUCTIONS NOT INCLUDED and PERKIN’S PERFECT PURPLE were about the same. I’m a slow writer but that’s okay. I’m learning which each new draft and I end up with a story I really want to tell.

DLD and TLB: Writing a book together is so much more fun than writing alone! We share ideas and combine inspiration and it’s never lonely or boring.

We live in different cities, across the country so we aren’t together often but we talk on the phone, Skype and Zoom all the time. We’re usually together when we begin work on a new book, storyboarding and tossing out ideas. When we get home we share the first drafts of the manuscript online, then we revise, revise, revise. That can take YEARS!

Do we ever disagree? Not really. We want to make the best story we can so we rarely disagree. More like share solutions and discover the best one. Of course it helps that we’re also good friends!

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TLB: I love love love love love fountain pens (does a pen count as a stationary item?) I write with a yellow fountain pen filled with purple ink. It makes me feel quirky.

DLD: All of them, I especially love the smell of a stationary store. Going to purchase new school supplies was my favorite time of the year.

TLB: How can I choose between my two FAVORITE foods? In a pinch I choose PB&J- as long as the bread is soft and there’s cherry jelly.

DLD: That’s easy…hand’s down mac & cheese with ketchup mixed in.

TLB: I really love vegetables. Especially spinach. When I was in elementary school I ate everyone else’s spinach at lunch one day. This was not a wise digestive decision.

DLD: I dislike soggy green beans, like those in the cafeteria at school. I love crunchy green beans. I didn’t know they could be crunchy and have almonds on them until I was an adult.

TLB: I love revision almost as much as I love PB&J sandwiches. I could revise a manuscript FOREVER. My editor has to pry the final draft out of my hands.

DLD: Well, I love the research and the initial draft. Revision, not so much.

TLB: I don’t like waking up early but that’s when I do my best writing. When I’m on deadline I get up at 4 am to write. There’s something about writing in a silent house in the dark as the sun begins to rise that gets my creative juices flowing.

DLD: Early bird, early bird, early bird. Chirp, chirp, chirp.

TLB: Sky blue
DLD: Periwinkle

TLB: Effervescent. I love anything that sparkles!
DLD: Tintinnabulation. This goes back to 5th grade spelling bee.

TLB: Crisp fall sunshine
DLD: Pouring down rain (a “gully washer!”).

TLB: Go Dog Go And I do like her hat!!
DLD: The Man Who Didn’t Wash His Dishes by Phyllis Krasilovksy and Barbara Cooney released in 1977! I just loved this character.

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Tami and Debbie wrote INSTRUCTIONS NOT INCLUDED and PERKIN’S PERFECT PURPLE together. 

Now they’re hard at work on their next STEM picture book. Look out for many more!