Tara Altebrando: Our Lives in Dioramas

My supremely talented friend, writer Tara Altebrando, always comes up with clever, fun ways to launch her new books, and with My Life in Dioramas (Running Kids Press, April 2015) she’s outdone herself. She’s asked some fellow writers to create dioramas inspired by their own books, and I couldn’t have been more flattered (and more intimidated) when she invited me to join in the fun.

Here’s her post featuring my own humble contribution.

Lisa Pliscou and I first met at Books of Wonder at a reading where she read from Dude: Fun with Dude and Betty, a hilarious picture book that is a send-up of the Dick and Jane books and of surfer lingo. We realized we both went to Harvard so then we did the secret handshake (no, not really) and the rest is history. Speaking of history, Lisa has just penned a gorgeous nonfiction book called Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer. How cool is that, dude? Rad, right? She made a diorama inspired by her book for me and it’s so purity. I think you’ll agree. I asked her some questions about it.

Diorama inspired by Lisa Pliscou's book Young Jane Austen, as part of the launch of Tara Altebrando's new book My Life in Dioramas

Q. Do you consider yourself in general to be a diorama friend or foe? Any diorama trauma in your past?

Friend! I love the phrase “diorama trauma” so much, it took me a while to actually focus on your next question, but there are no colorful diorama skeletons to exhume. Although there was that ghastly 3-D volcano I had to make in 8th grade . . .

Q. Tell us about the scene you chose? Who is the dude on the wall and why is he giving young Jane the stink eye? 

This scene shows Jane Austen, at around 11 or 12, in the extra room she and her older sister were given for their exclusive use. It was a big deal having a ‘room of her own’ because Jane lived in a very large household, with many people crowded into it. She’s said to have begun, in a very real way, her literary career in here, writing very funny, astonishingly sophisticated little stories, plays, and more.

As I began making that rather large pile of teeny-tiny books, they were meant to be representations of all the books Jane — an early and voracious reader — had by that time read. Somewhere along the way, as I was cutting and taping and admiring my handiwork, I thought about Beth Kephart’s wonderful description of herself as a “child writer-dreamer,” and suddenly the pile of books instead became — in a neat metaphysical trick — a representation of the books that, perhaps, Jane dreamed of writing.

The dude on the wall? Why, that’s Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, looking proud and/or prejudiced. I couldn’t resist the conceit of a romantic teenage Jane putting stuff up on the wall.

Q. What was the biggest challenge you faced when making your diorama? Did you do your own coloring? Did you have any help? 

The biggest challenge was my immediate response to your invitation. As in “Uh oh . . . I’m not very crafty.”

As for coloring: to show Jane, I borrowed an illustration from my Young Jane Austen, but it being black and white, it did seem to need a boost. I was dismayed to learn that after years of having hundreds, if not thousands, of colored pencils in the house, my 15-year-old has finally moved on. So I borrowed some from my kind next-door neighbors, who have young kids. And had a ripping good time coloring. (Now I’m thinking about getting one of those coloring books for grownups.)

Did I have any help? No, I selfishly kept all the fun for myself.

Q. What’s next for you? What are you working on now?

A new edition of my first novel is being published next spring, and a picture book is slated for 2017. And I’m working on a couple of new projects — for children and for adults — which I’m stoked about. No plans for other dioramas. Unless you ask me.

My Life in Dioramas by Tara Altebrando

More about Tara Altebrando’s literary diorama-rama here.

The official trailer for My Life in Dioramas was made by a brilliant crew of young filmmakers, Teeny Tiny Filmworks. Click here to see it.

Want to get your hands on a copy of My Life in Dioramas? Click here.