Earlier this week, I reviewed a picture book that has the potential to be loved for generations. Today, I interview the author of Under the Dancing Tree, Chip Mattis.
What was the seed of this story? What got it started?
In 2010 my family moved my dad into a nursing home, and his house was left empty. So my wife, two kids, and I moved in. At the time, my daughter was 2 and my son was about 6 months.
The front yard had this beautiful willow tree right outside our bedroom. We could see it from every window on that side of the house. I was looking out at it one afternoon, and I saw my daughter hanging onto a branch and twirling without a care in the world.
It left this huge imprint in my mind. Most parents will understand when I say the memory is chiseled into my brain, not just written, but permanently etched there. I knew the beautiful moment in front of me wouldn’t last forever. I looked at the little girl in front of me, and I dreamed of the woman she’d become. I mourned and celebrated at the same time.
It was out of that moment the inspiration for the Dancing Tree came. The words poured out, and when it was done, I knew I had written something that would be special to me forever.
Did you help design the cover or have any input into its concept?
I’m pretty lucky to have found the publisher I did. I had a ton of creative input in the design of the artwork. I had originally planned to self-publish, so I had hired a freelance artist to do all the illustrations. I used images I found on the internet that inspired me with each of the illustrations I was after. A friend of mine helped me manage the project with the artist, and we worked through the concept for each illustration, including the cover art.
When I found a traditional publisher for the book, Elk Lake Publishing, my publisher’s team laid out the font, color, size, and position.
I assume you have a daughter. What was her reaction to the book?
I have two daughters now (and a son stuck in the middle). My first-born, now almost 11, was the original inspiration for the book, but it is no less true for my youngest. Both girls inspire these profound moments of joy at the gifts they are to me and hopes for their futures.
When I originally wrote the poem, my daughter was too young to really get what I was trying to say. Now that both my girls are older and there are illustrations to go along with their dad’s words, they both understand a little more about what I was trying to say.
Of course, my oldest knows the book was about her originally, so I think she takes a certain amount of pride in that, but my girls both enjoy the book a lot. They are proud that I made a book that another person thinks is worth buying.
Do you have other books in mind, or ready for publication?
I do have other books in mind! That was one of the great things about finding an agent and a publisher. They were both looking for a writer with more than one book up his sleeve. As it stands, I currently have another 6-10 books that are written and in some state of review with my agent. I hope to have another book published in the next 12-18 months.
Are picture books in rhyme your go-to when you write, or do you write in several genres?
It’s funny you ask that. As a debut author I’m still getting a sense of myself and my audience. As a reader I am voracious. I read books in many genres, so it’s really no surprise that I want to write in multiple genres.
However, right now I feel strongly that I should build my brand around children’s picture books. I’m not currently looking to become a full-time writer, so I don’t need children’s picture books to pay the bills. It’s not the most lucrative genre to write in. I write these stories because I can’t not write them. They come to me because I’m in the thick of parenting young kids. I’m constantly inspired by them. It also helps that I’m silly, nerdy, and look at the world a little upside down.
Do I have a middle-grade novel in me someday? I hope so. I’d love to try my hand at adolescent fiction and non-fiction Christian living as well. But for now, I’m content writing what I love, which is children’s picture books.
What do you hope readers take away from your book?
I hope that this is a book that changes parent-child relationships. I encounter too many parents who don’t stop to enjoy the few short years they have with their kids. Too many parents get wrapped up in their own lives and the interruptions kids inevitably are. But it’s those moments when we parents stop and get out of our own little zone that can be the most precious.
I want parents, particularly dads, to read this book and fall in love with their daughters all over again. I want daughters to feel deeply secure in their dads’ love for them. Daughters should know they will always have a partner, helper, and cheerleader in their dads.
Please add anything else that you feel is important to any interview about Under the Dancing Tree and about you as an author.
I love connecting with real people. So as you read Under the Dancing Tree feel free to reach out to me with your thoughts. What does the story mean to you? I’m always open to emails (firstname.lastname@example.org), tweets (@chipmattis), or Facebook. I might have written this story for my family, but I’m sharing it with you. So please feel free to share with me.
Next month, I will return attention to Sparkles from Silence, which by the way, will probably have a different title by the time it’s published. My agent and I are looking for a similar title but one that will focus in on Debbie as well as Krista. Since Debbie is the narrator, the title needs to have something associated with her.
I will be creating a little contest. Whoever comes up with the “best” title, according to me and Agent Molly, will receive a prize. So reread the excerpts, put your thinking caps on, and be prepared to send in your ideas for a title!