Six Questions with Amanda Henke
Amanda Henke loves to explore nature while dreaming up travel plans, dinner wishes, and book ideas. Her debut picture book, Not a Book About Bunnies, was released earlier this year by Starry Forest Books. On a related note, Amanda sees bunnies hop around often but has yet to spot an actual porcupine in the wild! A graduate of Hamline University’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, she lives in Minnesota with her family. Find her at amandahenke.com.
1. When did you first realize you wanted to write for young readers?
I have always loved children’s books. Even in high school and college I would get lost in the library aisles reading old fairytales. My son August was born in 2012 and we read endless picture books. They were so clever, funny and heartwarming, I had picture book envy and I wanted to try and write some myself. I applied to the MFAC Program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hamline and happily, I was accepted. The program was wonderful, and it invited/obligated me to write in earnest. I am proud to say I graduated in 2019 and have been writing ever since!
2. Do you ever struggle to come up with your next project? Or do you have lots of ideas and find it a challenge to narrow down your ideas?
I definitely have a lot of ideas, and it’s difficult to ignore them when they pop up. Especially when I’m stuck on something in a current project and just can’t bear to write another boring word! That’s when I love to ignore what I should be working on and daydream about bright, shiny new project ideas.
I learned some helpful advice for this common occurrence while I was at Hamline, during a lecture from the excellent Coe Booth. She stated that yes, there will always be a shiny new idea. It will be fun in the beginning, then it will become hard, and then another new idea will beckon. Instead of jumping to the new idea, take a moment to jot some notes on it and drop it into a special folder so you don’t forget it, stay with (and finish) the current (boring) project you’ve already put so much time and energy into. I keep a “Marinating” folder on my computer for all of my new ideas, and I peek in once in awhile to see if they are still sparkling, and if they are ready to be written yet.
3. Do you ever get stuck creatively? If so, how do you get unstuck?
All the time! I have little tricks up my sleeve for getting unstuck. I take a walk, even if it’s just for 10 minutes, I always find some clarity outdoors. I live in Minnesota, so if it’s below zero, I skip the walk and take a shower, sometimes that helps generate creativity. I might do something else with the book like dummy it up. Or cut out words and rearrange them randomly to see what if I can find any new and strange inspiration. I learned that trick in the book How to Write One Song by Jeff Tweedy. GREAT BOOK. I take 15 minutes to read other picture books I admire. I do something else entirely, but still creative, like cook or play piano or draw (terribly). I watch a funny standup bit or two on YouTube. Or sometimes I just walk away and give myself a break until tomorrow.
4. Where did you get the idea for Not a Book About Bunnies? What was your inspiration?
While I was studying at Hamline I was writing about a lot of sweet, typical picture book characters: bunnies, bears, butterflies...and I wanted to do something different. I thought, hey, I should write a book that’s not about bunnies. The title popped into my head, and I wrote the story over the course of the next four years. The main character was not always a porcupine, it was originally an oyster!
5. If you could tell readers one secret about this book, what would it be?
During the final stages of the book, my editor Allison H. Hill asked me to find a punchier word to replace a boring one. I thought for a while, two days at least, and couldn’t find the right one. I asked my fiercest editor and harshest critic—my son August—if he had any ideas. On the spot, he said, “How about Spike-tacular?” and it was perfect. And yeesh, a little too easy for him, I'd say! But Allison and I loved it. Happily, Porcupine forever gets to say, “Now I am Spike-tacular!”
6. What’s a particularly striking or memorable reaction someone has had to this book?
I have two reactions that stand out. I have had so much fun meeting people at book signings and storytimes. The best part is chatting with the kids, they are so sincere and hilarious.
One adorable girl told me that she’s writing a book titled Not A Book About Porcupines, and well, well, well, a rivalry was born! Her mom informed me that yes, she is indeed writing this sequel. I can’t wait to read it.
I asked another audience if they like bunnies and a little boy shouted out that he likes to shoot them with his BB gun. The reactions on the faces of all the other kids and parents were so good, and that definitely kicked the storytime off on an unexpected note! Never a dull moment, I love it.