Annie Tipton is a lifelong storyteller and told her first story at the ripe old age of two when she asked her mom to write it down for her. (Hey, she was just two — she didn’t know how to make letters yet!) Since then she has read and written countless words as a student, newspaper reporter, author, and editor. Annie loves snow (which is a good thing because she lives in Ohio), wearing scarves, sushi, Scrabble, and spending time with friends and family.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Diary of a Real Payne: Church Camp Chaos. When did you start writing and what got you into children’s books?
I’ve been a writer my whole life (almost literally!). My mom likes to tell a story about when I was two years old and I asked her to write down the words to a story that I made up. I always (well almost always) enjoyed writing school assignments and essays and I did lots of extracurricular writing — the school newspaper, a middle school writing contest called The Power of the Pen. Professionally, my first paying gig was some freelance work in high school when I wrote a few articles for a teen magazine. That was a pretty amazing experience to make a few bucks for doing something I absolutely loved! I have a communications degree (with an emphasis in journalism), and my first jobs out of college were newspaper reporting. I wrote all kinds of stories—local politics and government, crime, business, healthcare — but my favorite articles focused on people and their stories. Now in my day job I work with words every day as an editor at Barbour Publishing.
One of the main reasons I wanted to write a children’s series is because I am simply a kid at heart! Some of the first chapter books I read as a kid left a lasting impression on me, so I know firsthand the power that memorable characters and stories can have. I work for the publisher of the Diary of a Real Payne series, I loved the concept, and I asked to be given the chance to write it. And thankfully, the people who make those decisions said yes!
Did you have a mentor who encouraged you?
I’ve had several writing mentors in my life, but the very first one was my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Plant. The third graders in my school were all required to write and self-publish books as part of a Young Authors program. Mrs. Plant chose me as one of the “young authors” from her class to attend a day-long conference at a local college, where 3rd-8th grade writers got to workshop together and hear a keynote address from an actual author. When Mrs. Plant chose me and my book (a story about a girl who was a gymnast, if I remember correctly), it was the first time I realized someone believed in my ability (other than my parents, who were supposed to believe in me, right?).
Did you have any struggles or difficulties when you started writing?
Starting each book is always a unique challenge. Sometimes I really enjoy the brainstorming and plotting, and then the actual writing feels like the most impossible feat ever. Other times coming up with the concept for a scene is the hardest part, and the story seems to flow freely from my brain through my fingertips. Every writing session is different — which is exciting and frustrating all at the same time.
What do you hope readers will get from your book?
First, I hope readers will have FUN! EJ Payne’s life is pretty average, but she has a fantastic point-of-view that comes through in both her diary entries and her imaginative adventures. I’ve had lots of readers tell me that they laugh out loud while they read, and I love to hear about families reading Diary of a Real Payne together, as well. EJ learns about others and about herself in the series, and while the stories definitely aren’t “preachy,” readers will learn about the Payne family’s beliefs and faith life and why that is important to them.
How do you keep your narrative exciting?
One thing that really helps keep the story moving is that almost every chapter includes a scene that is taking place entirely in EJ’s imagination. So the sky is the limit about when, where, and what happens. Oftentimes EJ will find herself in a strange, precarious, or awkward situation when she does snap out of her daydreams, which adds to the hilarity of the storyline as well. She’s definitely a girl with her feet on the ground and her head in the clouds! EJ’s little brother, Isaac, is almost always around to offer some comic relief, too.
How was your experience working with an illustrator?
I have been so blessed to be paired with an illustrator who really understands the concept of the series. As I described EJ and her bigger-than-life daydreams, Luke Flowers (Luke Flowers Creative), really hit the illustrations dead-on to help get my idea across. I remember seeing the cover concept for Church Camp Chaos and immediately falling in love. He had the concept, perspective, and visual interest down pat! EJ’s daydream of soaring through the air as a superhero (in reality, sailing on a zip line) came to life.
Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?
I have a daily word count goal that I try to stick to as much as possible. The writing process has shown me that I’m not as self-disciplined as I thought I was. Even though I really enjoy writing, there are always a dozen other tasks or events vying for my attention. But it’s been a good challenge for myself. I haven’t missed a deadline yet!
Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about your work?
EJ Payne is on Facebook! That’s the best place to keep up-to-date on release information, contests, and a whole lot of fun! Here