Frequently Asked Questions
I’m writing a book report. Can you help me with it?
Nope, sorry. If I did that, you wouldn’t need to read my book, and I would much prefer that you read it. If you like, you can then tell me what you think about it, which might help you decide what to write in your report.
When and where were you born?
I was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1969.
When did you start writing?
I published a poem in the school newspaper when I was eight. I’m pretty sure I’d been writing things from the moment I learned to read, but that was the first thing I wrote that was good enough to share.
How did you publish your first book?
It’s a funny thing, actually. I had gone to a science fiction convention for the first time since my older daughter was about one year old and met up with all these old friends who were now also parents. We lamented together on how there’s so little science fiction written for children, and especially short fiction. I started becoming convinced that I was going to have to start up a magazine to fill this need. About a week later, I mentioned this to another friend, who said, “Oh, have you heard of the Young Explorers’ Adventure Guide? It’s a yearly anthology of science fiction short stories for kids.” So I looked it up, and it was delightful, and I felt this tremendous sense of relief that I wasn’t going to have to start the magazine.
I also looked up the publisher, Dreaming Robot Press, and it turned out that they were starting to branch out in to publishing novels and were looking for new authors. I had just started sending out my query letter to agents and publishers, and I thought, why not? I like what these people are doing. Maybe they’ll like what I’m doing. And they did!
What kind of a family do you have?
My mother is Hispanic, and my father is German, Danish, Swedish, Dutch, etc. They both grew up in Albuquerque and met in art class in college. I have one brother, three years younger than me, and one sister, thirteen years younger than me. I am married to an amazing man, Alex Aminoff, who is half-Swedish and half-Ukrainian, and who I met in college during a game of Diplomacy (he was Turkey, I was Greece). We have two daughters, Annie and Nora.
Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere. Anywhere. They come from my dreams and from my daughters and from people I see on the bus. From books I’ve read and newspaper articles and second hand stores and city sidewalks that turn eerie in the night. From cafes and bakeries and clam shacks in Ipswich. They fall out of the sky like rain on my head, and when I’m deep in writing a novel, I have to fend them off with a mental umbrella.
What are you writing now?
I’m focusing on one novel set in Albuquerque right now, but I’m also working and thinking about several other novels, including sequels to A WITCH’S KITCHEN, as well as short stories, poems, and essays.
Why do you use a pen name?
My middle name is Dianna, and my mother’s maiden name is Sanchez. So Dianna Sanchez is as much my name as Jenise Aminoff. Using it feels very natural to me and acknowledges a part of me that most people don’t see.
When I was a kid, I read just about everything in the children’s section of my public library. But none of those books had Hispanic names on the covers. This didn’t bother me too much. After all, my name wasn’t Hispanic even though I was. But I always wondered: is this person what the spine says? Is it really a man or is it a woman? Is this person Hispanic or Black or Hawaiian or Inuit, and I have no idea? More importantly, do I have to hide who I am to write books?
Now that I have daughters, this is a much more important issue to me. I think kids, and all people in general, need to see Hispanic and Indian and Chinese and Native American names on books, so that people will find authors they identify with, and so that they see that all people have amazing stories to tell.
What advice do you have for young writers?
Write down all your ideas. Don’t worry about whether they’re good or not. Just get them down before they evaporate like dew in the morning sun. I keep a notebook on my bedside table so that, if I wake up with a good idea, I can write it down first thing. Also, read a lot, but don’t read all the same stuff. If you like mystery, don’t just read mystery, and if you like fantasy, don’t just read fantasy. Read biographies and histories and books about science. They’ll give you good ideas for what to write next.
Finally, don’t sweat it. You don’t have to be Christopher Paolini and publish in your teens. You don’t have to be J.K. Rowling and write bestsellers. You just need to love what you’re doing and keep at it. I published my first novel at 46, and I still think I have a lot to learn about writing novels.
Who inspired your writing?
I’ve had some amazing teachers – Joe Haldeman, Gail Mazur, Jeanne Cavelos, Holly Thompson, to name a few – and I’m inspired by the books I read. But I’m most inspired by my daughters.
What do you do in your spare time?
Lots of things! I love cooking and gardening. I play lots of games, mostly board games but also some video games. I love doing things with other people: talking or singing or gardening or helping out. I read a lot, and I like watching movies and some TV. Right now, I’m watching a lot of anime. I love wandering, getting on the subway and going someplace I’ve never been, just to see what’s there.
What is your favorite food?
I love almost all food. I love chocolate, raspberries, rhubarb, eggplant, fried clams, HOT chile, fresh tortillas, anything with anise in it… Hmm. It might be easier to say what I don’t like. I don’t like overcooked peppers, undercooked onions, or okra in any form. While I love it, I’m allergic to quinoa.
What is your favorite animal?
I love lots of animals: cats and dogs, hawks and bluejays, tortoises and toads, octopuses and waterbears. If I had to pick one particular animal, though, it would be Snowflake, a West Highland Terrier I had when I was very young, who was my best friend and understood every word I said.
Do you ever have an idea and then lose it?
Yes! Daily! But that’s okay. There are always more.
What makes a good book?
I like books that make me think, that show me different possibilities and challenge the way I see the world and myself.
How do you develop a style?
Write. Your style will develop itself.
Who is your favorite author?
I have as many favorite authors as favorite foods, but here are a few I like to read again and again in no particular order: Peter S. Beagle, Ursula K. LeGuin, Ray Bradbury, Seanan McGuire, Steven Brust, Catherine Valente, Ted Chiang, Kelly Link, Gene Wolfe, Nalo Hopkinson, China Mieville, Ann Leckie, Roald Dahl, Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett, Diane Duane, Neil Gaiman, Madeleine L’Engle, J.R.R. Tolkien, Kage Baker… and so many more.
What would you do if you couldn’t write?
I would open a little bookstore with a nice café, and I’d bake fresh pastries and breads for it every day. Or I’d have a bed and breakfast. Or I’d grow gourmet mushrooms. Or teach people how to grow vegetables in their backyards. Or create robotics kits for kids. Or take up 3D printing. Or hone my artistic skills and become an illustrator. Or develop math apps for phones. Or create board games. Or take up astronomy again.
Do you have any pets?
I grew up with dogs and always had at least one. Also, my abuelos had a farm (Abuela still lives there), and I got to hang out with cows, sheep, pigs, and ducks. After I married, we had a lovely calico cat named Greymalkin Esmeralda the Toebiter. Alas, both my daughters seem to be allergic to anything with fur – so far, cats, dogs, horses, rabbits, and llamas. So we are currently without a pet, though I am considering a bearded dragon.
Would you be my pen pal?
I’m flattered, thank you! Unfortunately, I can’t be your pen pal. I need to spend my writing time making books and stories. But you are welcome to contact me on Facebook and Twitter, and if I have a moment, I’ll try to write you back.
But the question I want to ask isn’t here!
You can try reading some of my interviews:
- Sarena Ulibarri’s blog, September 27, 2016
- Huffington Post, September 26, 2016
- Guest post on Fantasy Book Critic, September 14, 2016
- Odyssey Workshop Blog, September 11, 2016