Happy Tree Street Tuesday! Today, I am honored to share an interview with Amanda Cleary Eastep, author of the series.
Can you please share a little bit about your personal walk with Jesus? How have you experienced Him drawing you to Himself?
At this stage of my life, with more years behind me than ahead of me, I can easily look back and celebrate God’s faithfulness to me and my family–and those are the times I’m aware of, as I know God is constantly present, at work, and lavishing love on his children even when we can’t see everything he’s doing. I find that the more I truly surrender everything to him, from my deepest sin to my wildest dream, the freer I become and the more he calls me to do.
The Tree Street Kids is set in the 90s. Did you start with the storyline and find it lent to this setting, or did you start with the setting and work out the story from there?
I was aware that the publisher was interested in a 1990s setting. That excited me because I raised my kids in the ‘90s. I also knew parents of readers today would likely have grown up in that decade, so they’d enjoy the books as well. From there, I simply drew inspiration from my own kids and even my childhood–enter the tornado in book 1, Jack vs. the Tornado. You don’t grow up in the cornfields of Illinois without experiencing powerful and sometimes destructive storms. Of course a storm is the perfect metaphor for the swirling emotions Jack experiences when he has to move from his beloved farm to the suburbs of Chicago!
Which of the Tree Street Kids is your favorite and why? Are any of your characters autobiographical, or based on people you know?
This is like asking who your favorite child is! I truly do love each of them, and even four books in, I’m still getting to know them. Main character Jack, like all of us, is trying to figure out his place in this world. Because his character is written in first person, I suppose I feel “closest” to him. Most of the characters share traits with people I know. Jack, Midge, and Ruthie are inspired by my three, now grown, children. Other characters give nods to people I love who have gone to be with the Lord and others are based on people we’ve all known, like the neighborhood bully Buzz Rublatz. As I mentioned above, real-life scenarios and places have inspired some of the events in the stories. The hiking paths and woods in The Hunt for Fang (book 2) are those my daughters and I have hiked many times over the years.
When you were Ellison’s age, who were your favorite authors? Who are your favorite authors, now?
The “current” authors of my childhood, and two of my favorites, have written the classics in children’s literature–Judy Blume and Madeleine L’Engle. One of my prized books is my original copy of A Wrinkle in Time, signed “Tesser Well” by L’Engle. I still have my original boxed series of The Chronicles of Narnia too. Those books were spiritually formative for me. Today I enjoy a variety of authors. A. W. Tozer is a go-to author, with The Pursuit of God being one of my favorites of his works. I read everything from cozy mysteries to, of course, children’s books. One of my favorite children’s series (I’m three books in) is The Vanderbeekers series by Karina Yan Glaser. Kate DiCamillo writes beautiful stories too, and she has an incredible ability to describe a character in the space of one powerful sentence. I read for the joy of it but also for my education as a writer.
What is one message you would like readers to “walk away with?” (This can be based on one particular book, or the series as a whole). Were there any specific verses/messages the Lord put on your heart as you were writing?
I’ll answer the second question first. I choose a foundational verse (or verses) for each book as I’m conceptualizing. I work these verses into the story where it’s appropriate, but they serve more so as a foundation. With each of the Tree Street Kids stories, I want children to close the book with a sense of hope. If they know God, then I pray their faith is strengthened; if they don’t yet know him, I pray the stories plant that seed. I also just want them to laugh and even learn something that intrigues them (that’s why I include “fun facts” specific to each character throughout the books).
How has your work as an editor prepared you for writing your own books?
I edit primarily adult Christian nonfiction (and a small amount of children’s fiction). Throughout my career, I’ve worked first and foremost as a writer. Being an editor has made me a better writer, although that also presents this challenge: editing myself as I write. To help shut off my inner editor when I’m drafting, I hand write my books in my kids’ old school notebooks, the ones that never managed to get filled up with homework (hmm…). I kept them because–free paper! For instance, Jack vs. the Tornado was drafted in my son’s red notebook from fifth grade science. Lions to the Rescue! (book 3) and Mystery in Crooked Creek Woods (book 4) started in my elder daughter’s purple math notebook. I loved that my kids’ handwriting was on the covers of the different notebooks and that class notes and doodles were scribbled on a few of the pages. Talk about inspiring!
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