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Advice For Young Writers, Wonder Woman and PUNK SKUNKS: Three Questions with Trisha Speed Shaskan

Trisha Speed Shaskan has written over thirty books for children, including her latest picture book, Punk Skunks. Trisha has an MFA in creative writing. She’s been a bookseller, educator, and youth worker. Trisha lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband Stephen, and their cat Eartha, and dog, Bea. 

Punk Skunks is written by Trisha Speed Shaskan, illustrated by her husband Stephen Shaskan, and was published on February 9, 2016 by HarperCollins Children’s Books.

You can find out more about Trisha on her websiteon Twitter and Facebook.

SYNOPSIS: Kit and Buzz are BSFs—best skunks forever. They play everything together, including music, until one day they clash.

Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?

When I was a child, Wonder Woman (from the live action TV show of the same name) was my hero. She had brown hair like me. And she was a woman who could do anything. And I do mean anything! Fight. Sling a lasso. Fly an invisible plane. She was strong, athletic, and fierce. For my sixth birthday, my parents gave me Wonder Woman Underoos™. But they also gave me Wonder Woman bracelets and a crown my father had crafted out of sheet metal at the shop where he worked in the heating and ventilating business.

He didn’t usually make bracelets, but I wasn’t surprised he created them. Whenever he wanted to do anything, he figured it out, worked at it, and went for it. As a young man, he earned a technical college degree, apprenticed as a sheet metal worker, and worked for a heating and ventilating business until he was ready to launch his own business. What started as a storefront in downtown Winona, Minnesota, later became a bigger business, with more than one building.

We always called our family business “The shop.” My father’s you-can-do-anything-you-set-your-mind-to attitude always inspired me. As a teen, I holed up in my room reading Edgar Allan Poe’s stories and poems, which I wanted to emulate. My parents gave me a typewriter. I typed up a book of poems (which weren’t even close to Poe’s!) In college, I continued to write stories.

When I told my father I wanted to be an author, he and my mother gave me an IBM word processor that I used until I could buy a better computer with the money I had earned from writing books.

Today, my Wonder Woman bracelets sit on top my desk in my office to remind me of Wonder Woman, one of my first heroes and my father, an even greater hero for showing me and telling me I could do anything I set out to do—but also for believing in me.

Q. What advice do you have for young writers?

Explore! Drum! Skate! You never know where your interests will lead you!

I grew up in Winona, Minnesota, a Mississippi River valley town. My parents exposed me to everything from piano lessons, to tap dance, to flag football. Some of those activities stuck. Others didn’t. Some activities I chose myself. Outside, I explored the neighborhood where I imagined a field of weeds was a flower garden and the space beneath the slide was a fort. I biked around the neighborhood seeking adventure under the trees, near the grocery store, and down by the creek. Later on, I skateboarded to those same places, where all along I had been telling myself stories.

Inside, I wrote stories, poems, and songs. One of the first poems I remember writing described snow. Later poems described my feelings—obviously the teen years! At school, I enjoyed math, reading, singing songs, and playing sports. I joined band where I eventually played the drums. Friends were important to me. My family was important to me. I enjoyed learning about the world that surrounded me. Today, I like to do many of the same things—not all of them. But here’s the important part: I also like to write about the things I enjoyed doing. My interests find their way into my stories. In the latest picture book I wrote Punk Skunks, Kit, a main character skateboards and plays the drums. Seem familiar? Today, I still enjoy drumming. Kit enjoys playing everything with her best friend Buzz. Today, my husband Stephen and I are best friends. Together, we play music, create books, travel, watch films, and take our dog Bea for walks. As I wrote earlier:

Explore! Drum! Skate! You never know where your interests will lead you!

Q. What are you excited about right now?

Through out my elementary, middle, and high school years, my parents and teachers nurtured my interest in music and creative writing. My family owned a bunch of records. My mother listened to Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and plenty of rock-n-roll. In fifth grade, I joined Band. Within a couple months, I traded in my soggy saxophone reed for drumsticks. That year, my mother drove me to Minneapolis to see Prince’s Purple Rain tour. At the start of the show, the room darkened. The drums beat. Glowing drumsticks appeared. The spotlight shone on Sheila E.! She broke into “The Glamorous Life.” And I knew I had chosen the correct instrument!

In sixth grade, when my family vacationed in New York City, my teacher asked me to journal about the trip in lieu of doing homework. I paid close attention to everything from the graffiti on the sides of the subway trains to the shapes of the skyscrapers. The same teacher asked me to write a story to read aloud at my sixth grade graduation. I wrote a fable about a boy and a sunflower. For seventh grade science class, I wrote a fictional story set in the layers of the earth. I recorded the story on a cassette tape. My family members voiced the characters. Our dog Morris added a “bark.” My sister Nicole played piano.

Fast forward to right now—as if you own a time traveling cassette tape and a boom box! This month, my husband Stephen and I are visiting elementary schools where we’ll discuss our latest collaboration/picture book Punk Skunks, which is about friendship, conflict/resolution, and of course music! I’m excited to share music and stories because the students are the same age I was when my interest in both topics was born! At schools, I’m discussing the process of writing stories, but I’m also playing the drums. Stephen is playing electric guitar. We’re playing and singing the songs we recorded for the book. You can download the songs from a link on the book jacket. One song is “We’re Buzz and Kit,” which is an introduction to the main characters. The other song is “BSF (Best Skunks Forever).”

For more insights from book creators, see my Inkygirl Interview Archives and Advice For Young Writers And Illustrators From Book Creators.