Kristy Dempsey: Author, Librarian, Surfer Chick

 When I heard the title of Kristy’s newly released picture book — Surfer Chick — I couldn’t wait to interview her for Nerdy Chicks Rule!  What’s not to like about a book featuring a cute chick, especially one brave enough to hit the waves? And there’s a lot to like about this book’s author, as well. I had a great time having lunch with Kristy a few years ago when I lived in Greenville SC, which serves as Kristy’s home base in the United States when she is not living in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  In Brazil, Kristy writes, enjoys time with her family, and serves as librarian for Escola Americana de Belo Horizonte, where she can surround herself with books. If you catch her at just the right time and place, you might find her experimenting with a surfboard, too. Thanks for joining us today Kristy!

I’ve started asking this question of everyone, and you may be able to give a great answer since you currently work with so many children, but if you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be? 

Well, let me preface my answer by saying that no amount of money would make me go back to middle school or high school. I treasure the lasting friendships that came out of those years, but I neither knew myself well enough nor had the confidence to be the person I really should have been. I touched on the true aspects of myself with vocal performance and writing, but I was too busy trying to muster the energy to be social to discover my own strengths. I don’t have any true regrets, but if I could give myself one piece of advice it would be to take some quiet time every day to contemplate my own heart and the natural world around me. I think it would have freed me and fueled my writing.

That is awesome advice. Now that you do take time to contemplate, do you have a favorite way to flaunt your brain power?

I am addicted to matching the right book to the right person. I work as a librarian at a Preschool-12th grade school and I love being able to put the right book – you know the one that will addict them to reading– in the hands of my students. It is both brain power and relational power at work.

I love that! I wish every librarian felt that way! Are there any social norms that you are fond of flouting?

I hardly ever flout or flaunt. And if I did, it wouldn’t likely be in public.

Hahaha. I think I hear a HEAR HEAR from the masses of introverted writers out there! You wrote Surfer Chick in rhyme that Kirkus praises for having a “raplike beat.” Can you tell us how rhyme and rhythm help this story?

In the case of SURFER CHICK, I think the rhyme keeps the story moving and keeps the reader focused on the action. Rhyme is a tricky animal, because it can often seem trite and unnecessary. I will admit that was one of the dangers I felt in writing this book in rhyme. But in the end, the surfer language and the chicken humor both fit in with the rhyme and worked to put the focus on the story. Believe me when I say, that doesn’t always happen. (And just to prove it, Surfer Chick was revised 16 times!)

I always tell aspiring authors that three or four revisions isn’t many! For you, what is the best thing about being an author?

Hmm . . . making the story end the way I want it to? I do feel that life is a story for which we can’t always choose the details, the conflicts or the resolutions. Oh, how I wish we could. So, in a way, I think I write to answer my own questions about life and to figure out how I would write my own story if I could, even with all the pain and doubt that accompany it. My favorite line in SURFER CHICK is, “Chick scoped out the water/to find the best wave./It swelled up behind her . . . /Chick chose to be brave.” I love so much that Chick chooses to be brave. Being brave when we’re facing a crisis is not a reaction. It’s a choice. Taking a deep breath sometimes helps.

I also love that Surfer Chick models bravery so well. Can you share a favorite song, quote, or movie that speaks to your inner nerdiness?

I have no idea if this will speak to anyone else’s nerdiness but mine, but I love the lyrics to the song “The Show” by the artist Lenka, part of which read:

I’m just a little bit caught in the middle

Life is a maze and love is a riddle

I don’t know where to go I can’t do it alone I’ve tried

And I don’t know why

I’m just a little girl lost in the moment

I’m so scared but I don’t show it

I can’t figure it out

It’s bringing me down I know

I’ve got to let it go

And just enjoy the show

Thanks for sharing these lyrics! What’s something you like to do that might be considered a little bit nerdy, but is actually really fun?

I do the ordering of books (both textbooks and literature) for my school, which means I type a lot of ISBN numbers. This is so much more fun than it sounds, especially when you start to recognize which ISBNs belong to which publishers! And in the end it all results in new books for students, which is REALLY fun.

Why does this not sound fun to me? Maybe I’m not as nerdy as I think I am! 🙂 Do you have a favorite hobby? Details please!

I dabble in so many things. I enjoy making greeting cards using scrapbook paper. I like to draw feathers in pencil. I like to paint eggs (colorful bird eggs) in watercolor on paper. I like to hand paint glass and then cut it into tiles to be used in mosaics. I like to read. I like to exercise. (Cue Julie Andrews singing, “These are a few of my favorite things . . .)

It’s great that you have so many interests. I’m not surprised! And I’m wishing I had an image of your bird eggs to scan in right now. Maybe we can add some later. Please? Thanks again for joining us Kristy. For those of you who would like to know what Kristy is up to, you can find her on Twitter at @kristydempsey or @realsurferchick. Now take a moment to watch the adorable Surfer Chick trailer!


Quoteable Nerdy Chick: Wilma Mankiller

Wilma Mankiller (b. 1945) made history when she became the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1985.   She strove to improve health care, the education system and the government of her people. She served for a decade before deciding not to seek re-election because of poor health. Mankiller still advocates for  Native American rights and women’s rights.

Wilma Mankiller Quotes

  • The secret of our success is that we never, never give up.
  • A lot of young girls have looked to their career paths and have said they’d like to be chief. There’s been a change in the limits people see.
  • Everybody is sitting around saying, ‘Well, jeez, we need somebody to solve this problem of bias.’ That somebody is us. We all have to try to figure out a better way to get along.
  • I don’t think anybody anywhere can talk about the future of their people or of an organization without talking about education. Whoever controls the education of our children controls our future.
  • I’ve run into more discrimination as a woman than as an Indian.
  • Prior to my election, young Cherokee girls would never have thought that they might grow up and become chief.
  • One of the things my parents taught me, and I’ll always be grateful as a gift, is to not ever let anybody else define me; that for me to define myself . . . and I think that helped me a lot in assuming a leadership position.

Wilma Mankiller must have had some wonderful parents. I try to teach my children the same thing that she mentioned in that last quote.



The SC Book Festival

It was a kick to see my book along with Nerdy Chick Ame Dyckman’s at the display for the USC Center for Children’s Books and Literacy!

I just got back from the SC Book Festival and I loved being there.  I’ve been attending for many years, but it was a blast to come back as a featured author. The SC Book Festival features authors across many many genres, and I often attend sessions where the presenters write in genres completely different from mine, because that is sometimes where I learn the most.

After teaching a workshop on Friday to a great group of aspiring authors, I had the opportunity to meet and attend presentations with lots of other authors. I thought a one-or-two sentence round-up of what I learned from these successful writers might be entertaining and enlightening.

Ron Rash: When he did a reading, I couldn’t help noticing that he tended to end most sentences with a heavy word, so his prose has a definite rhythm. I wonder if this is intentional, or just something that came naturally to him after years of working as a poet.

Miranda Parker: Shared her road to publication, which included taking an online course from the  Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, where she was the only female, the only African American, and the only christian in the group. She also told about how her writer’s group collected chapters of her novel and sent them to a publisher without telling her. Their act resulted in a three book deal for Miranda!

Zane: Bestselling author and high-powered publisher Zane entertained us with a great story about hiding her identity from her parents for five years because of the sensuous nature of her books. Her books made her a millionaire long before she quit her day job! When asked what she likes to read most she surprised me by saying, “self-help books.”

Richard Paul Evans:  Super smart and business savvy, Richard was nice enough to share some tips on building an audience with a few of us, one of them being to add a mailing list to our websites. His books are wildly successful, having sold over 15 million copies, so I will be taking that advice!

Amy Carol Reeves: Amy and I were on a panel together! She described how she used her PhD  in nineteenth century literature to craft a book on Jack the Ripper. She also discussed the advantages of  having an agent who is involved in the revision process.

I met many other great people including book sellers, book lovers, and industry professionals.  One thing I took away from the conference, that I hope the aspiring writers did too, was that most of these successful authors mentioned using craft-based books, and taking classes before getting their manuscripts ready for publication. Book festivals like the SC Book Festival are usually free, and a great way to learn from other authors!

This is right before our panel discussion started!


The Quotable Nerdy Chick: Georgia O’Keefe

Photo by Alfred Stieglitz

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) was the first American woman to really distinguish herself as a modern artist, paving the way for other women. My mother, who is a watercolorist, introduced me to O’Keefe’s work when I was a child. She particularly liked O’Keefe’s large paintings of flowers. I love them too. O’Keeffe, who married photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz, had an interesting and unusual life and a long career. You can read more about her and see her work at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum site HERE.  She truly used painting as a form of expression, and that is reflected in her quotes below.

Georgia O’Keeffe Quotes 

  • I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.
  • I often painted fragments of things because it seemed to make my statement as well as or better than the whole could.
  • Marks on paper are free – free speech – press – pictures all go together I suppose.
  • Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time.
  • I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty.
  • I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.
  • One cannot be an American by going about saying that one is an American. It is necessary to feel America, like America, love America and then work.
From what I’ve read about O’Keefe, it is hard to imagine her being terrified, like she mentions in the first quote. But if she was, she certainly a role model for not letting our fears get in the ways of our successes. 

Nerdy Chick and Picture Dude: Ame Dyckman and Dan Yaccarino

If you don’t follow Ame Dyckman on Twitter, you should. Her tweets are a breath of fresh air in a barrage of informational tweets. I started following her because we are both part of a group of 2012 debut authors called The Apocalypsies. When her picture book Boy+Bot, was released, I knew I wanted to interview her for the blog. The first thing she did when I asked her for an interview was to ask me a question in return. She wondered if it would be okay if she shared her interview with the illustrator of Boy+Bot, Dan Yaccarino.

Hmm. A man on NCR? Well, why not? I can hardly claim to embrace flouting social norms if I don’t allow my interviewees to flout Nerdy Chick Norms. Plus, this is Dan Yaccarino, creator of Oswald, one of my son’s favorite cartoons, and creator of many other outstanding characters too! Boy +Bot is receiving rave reviews. Clearly, Ame and Dan are a super team. I’m thrilled to welcome them both to the blog today!

 If you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?

AME:  I’d tell my younger self that when I (we?) say, “I want to make books!” and Those People say, “It’s never going to happen,” do not listen!  (Also, do not get that perm in 7th grade.)

DAN:  Buy stock in Apple.

AME:  That’s a good one, too, Dan.  But if I could only choose one more after Follow Your Book Dream, it would still be Do Not Get That Perm.  (I looked like a poodle for months!)

Interesting. Dan is the first interviewee to give financial advice! Ame, I was told I’d never make it at one point too. It’s fun to say  Ha!, isn’t it?  What social norms are you fond of flouting?

AME:  Besides the ever-changing hair color (currently blue), I often wear a costume just to make running errands more interesting.

PIRATE AME:        ARR! A pound of yer finest sliced turkey, or you’ll be feelin’ me hook!

DELI CLERK:           Smoked or oven-roasted?

AME:                          Oh.  Oven-roasted, please.  I mean, ARR!

DAN:  Apparently I’m flagrantly flaunting at this very moment by being a man appearing on this blog!

AME:  (giggling) Manly flaunting!

You both get an A+ in flouting!  From the perspectives of both author and illustrator, what is the best thing about having a robot as a main character?

DAN:  There are entirely too many reasons to list here.

AME:  But I’ll list three of the biggies:

1.  At signings and school visits, you get to talk like a robot, and it makes kids laugh.

2.  At signings and school visits, kids draw robot pictures for you, and that’s awesome.

3.  If hostile robots take over the planet, they’ll spare Dan and me.

Hmm. Good point with number 3, Ame. Wonder if I should work a robot into my work in progress. How is brain power an asset to your careers (as a writer, and as an illustrator)?

DAN:  Huh?

AME:  Dan!  You left the cap off the Sharpie again!

I’m not buying that! I know you’re both super smart.  So tell me, what is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being nerdy?

DAN:  I’ve collected lots of robots and let me tell you, it isn’t cool. The only people who think it’s cool are quite nerdy, too. Possibly nerdier than me, if that’s possible.

AME:  I think it’s cool!  I… oh.  Me?  In high school, I got invited to join the Academic Decathlon team.  (Glad I did.  That’s where I met Husband Guy!)

What’s cool about being nerdy?

DAN:  You can do whatever you want and not care what anyone else thinks. I’ve pretty much spent my life being a nerd and after a while, I stopped caring if I got anyone’s approval and I still don’t care, which actually may make me kind of cool, but probably not.

AME:  Nerds love to learn stuff.  Learning stuff is cool.  Ergo, nerds are cool.  (So is saying, “ergo.”)  To quote Schoolhouse Rock, “It’s great to learn, ’cause knowledge is power!”  To quote the PSAs at the end of G.I. Joe, “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle!”  To quote Mister Owl from the Tootsie Roll commercial, “Let’s find out!”  Plus, there’s the secret nerd handshake.  That’s cool, too.

I agree with both of you 100%. I especially love what Dan said about not caring what anyone else things. It is definitely freeing. Yes, I think you get cool points for that! Can you share a favorite song, quote, or movie that speaks to your inner nerdiness?

DAN:  I saw Revenge of the Nerds about 100 times.

AME:  I’m 99.44% pure pop culture/lit culture nerdiness!  Three examples:

  1. Every time I see a Toyota Highlander, I shout, “There can be only one!”
  2. I named my dragon fruit plant “Smaug.”
  3. I’m working on a paper comparing the five factions in Divergent to the five main characters in Fraggle Rock.

Cool points revoked! Cool points revoked! I’m kidding of course. You guys are super cool. What’s something you like to do that might be considered a little bit nerdy, but is actually really fun?

DAN:  All nerdy activities are fun.

AME:  Word, Dan.  Personally, I’m a museum nut.  Display anything with little information cards next to it, and I’m so there.  (I’ve even been to the National Mustard Museum!)

I agree with both of you here too. Do you have a favorite hobby? Details please!

DAN:  Sadly I have no hobbies, unless you consider writing and illustrating a hobby, but it’s what I do for a living. I would write and illustrate even if I was an accountant. Maybe you need to ask me what my job is because I think I’ve been spending all my time on my hobby.

AME:  I collect books and original children’s illustrations.  (Yes, I have a few Yaccarinos!)  And lately, my family and I are all about collecting random stuff, too.  The random-er, the better!  Just this past weekend, we acquired a theremin, a fencing rapier, and a statue of a warthog we’re naming “Bob II.”  (“II” because we have a replica shrunken head we already named Bob.”  At least, I think it’s a replica…)  Next week, I’m making little information cards!

I think the world of children’s books and cartoons is thankful that your hobby is your job, Dan. Ame, sounds like a cool collection. I had to look up what a theremin is. Do the rest of you nerdy chicks know?

Thank you Ame and Dan for joining us today. It is so wonderful to see Boy+ Bot taking off!  To learn more about Ame, visit her website (designed by Nerdy Chick Donna Farrell)! And you can find Dan’s gorgeous website here.

Check out the trailer below to get a glimpse of what Boy +Bot is all about! Links to Ame, Dan, and Boy +Bot online follow the trailer. Enjoy! 



BOY + BOT: (in progress)

The Quoteable Nerdy Chick: Gertrude Stein

1934 Portrait of Gertrude Stein by       Carl Van Vechten

I think Gertrude Stein was one of those people who can aptly be described as a “force of nature.”  Born in 1874, Gertrude Steinspent most of her adult life in France. She was a patron of the arts who entertained and supported painters like Matisse and Picasso, and writers like Ernest Hemmingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Stein was a writer herself, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, was perhaps her most famous work.

Stein and her brother Leo moved to Paris in 1903 and began collecting art. At the Metropolitan Museum of art, there is currently a fascinating exhibit of the work Gertrude, Leo, and their other brother Michael collected. I saw that collection on my trip to NY, and you can see it now by clicking HERE.

Stein led an intriguing life, full of art, literature, and intellectual pursuits. She wrote operas and novels. She posed for Picasso. There is much much more to learn about her than I can include here, but you can find out more about her at

I love love love these quotes. Take a look.

Gertrude Stein Quotes

  • Writing and reading is to me synonymous with existing.
  • A masterpiece… may be unwelcome but it is never dull.
  • If you can’t say anything nice about anyone else, come sit next to me.
  • Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.
  • Let me listen to me and not to them.
  • I do want to get rich but I never want to do what there is to get rich.
  • For a very long time everybody refuses and then almost without a pause almost everybody accepts.
  •  You have to know what you want to get it.
  • Why should a sequence of words be anything but a pleasure?
  • One must dare to be happy.



Can I hear an “Amen”? I have never done this before, but I just had responses welling up inside me for all of these quotes. So out of respect for those who like purity, I am letting the quotes above stand alone. Purists, you can stop reading now. But if you are curious about my responses to these quotes, well, here they are.


“Writing and reading is to me synonymous with existing. ”Well, all writers feel this way. Thanks for representing, Gertrude!

“Why should a sequence of words be anything but a pleasure?”  This is why I love YA and MG. I can’t bear for a book to make me unhappy.

A masterpiece… may be unwelcome but it is never dull.  She absolutely nailed it! Some of our greatest works of art and literatures spawned tremendous controversy. Catcher in the Rye, anyone?

“If you can’t say anything nice about anyone else, come sit next to me.”  Really?  Gertrude Stein said that? I thought I saw it stitched on a sofa pillow at Cracker Barrel.

“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” Whoa! Is this poignant or what? And she said this before Twitter, FB, Blogs, and cell phones.

“Let me listen to me and not to them.” I couldn’t say it better myself.

“I do want to get rich but I never want to do what there is to get rich.” I know, right? It is such a problem.

“For a very long time everybody refuses and then almost without a pause almost everybody accepts.”  Human nature at its best. Or worst. Depends on what we’re accepting.

“You have to know what you want to get it.” Amen. Just Amen.

“One must dare to be happy. ” This is true, but why is it so hard? We have to dare to give up our worries, our obsessions, our guilt, our selfishness… and if we can swing that, we might just make it to happiness!

See why I love these quotes? Stein’s speech is simple and direct, and what she said 100 years ago is applicable today.

My-oh-my-eye: my NY visit

A little over a week ago my husband and I climbed into a sleeper car in Yemassee SC and began our working vacation with a sixteen hour ride to NYC. The last time I rode in a sleeper I was a college student in Europe and my car was like a little dorm room.  This car was about half of that size, but at least I got to ride for sixteen hours sitting next to a toilet. The trip wasn’t too bad, despite my managing to somehow kick myself in the eye with my own boot.

The first thing we did in NYC was go see the play Warhorse, based on the book by the same title, which is published by my publisher, Scholastic. The book is told from the point of view of the horse, but the play is not. It is a very beautiful play with a poignant theme about the costs of war. Life sized horse puppets are used and they were amazing! I enjoyed the show despite my throbbing eye.

After a quick dinner we went to another literary play called Seminar. The play is about a writing instructor and the four students he is working with.  As a children’s writer, I don’t come up against some of the issues faced by the young writers on stage, but many of the play’s lines rang true — in perfect pitch. Somehow, we ended up on the second row, which was extremely close to the stage. I think I could have stretched out my leg and propped my foot up on it. It was exciting, especially because Jeff Goldblum was the star, and yes, I did stay afterward to meet him! He was nice enough not to mention my bloodshot eye.

The next morning, I was thrilled to discover that the Met was hosting an exhibit called The Steins Collect, which features artworks collected by Gertrude Stein and her brothers in the early 1900s. I studied the writing of Gertrude Stein while working on my Masters degree, so I found the exhibit fascinating.

After purchasing redness-reducing eye drops, I headed off to the Scholastic offices to have lunch with editor extraordinaire Aimee Friedman and super publicist Amanda Vega, hoping my eye was not still the shade of Clifford the Big Red dog. We had a great conversation about books, including Maggie Steifvater’s Scorpio Races, which we all agreed was beautifully written. And we talked about The Boy Project too, which we all agree is perfect for middle school girls.

The next literary event on the agenda was that evening. We went to see The Best Man, a play by master writer Gore Vidal. It was super fun to watch the star-studded cast, and yes, we stayed afterward like typical tourists to meet James Earl Jones, Candice Bergman, John Larroquette, and Eric McCormick.  Erick McCormick laughed at my joke, which was thrilling, but not as thrilling as looking in the mirror back at the hotel room and realizing the redness in my eye was beginning to fade.

Eric McCormick laughing at my joke. (He was great in the play and super nice signing playbills.)

The next day took us to Hyde Park where we rode by the one-time home of Eleanor Roosevelt. We dined that night at the Culinary Institute of America – you should go there if you ever get the chance. Thanks to my husband, a future chef now knows what a draft beer is. I know. Classy.

I spent the following day at the home of editor Patti Gauch with a group of writers I met during a Highlights Founders Workshop last year. Wonderful Patti invited us up for a reunion, and we were able to share a chapter of our works in progress and troubleshoot. I learned that I need to make my conclusion more active. Patti gave me several ideas about how to do that. Armed with this information, I am prepared to start rewriting!

My workshop group with Patti Gauch. When the waiter looked at the picture he took and smiled, I thought it meant it was a good picture. I am the pink dot at the back right.

Although I’m not posting until later, I’m writing this during my train ride home, thankful to have this time to reflect on a great trip, and to be looking at my computer through two good, normal-colored eyes.

The Quotable Nerdy Chick: Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross in 1820) was an American woman who escaped from slavery and became an abolitionist. Around 1844 she married John Tubman, who was free. In 1849 she heard that she was going to be sold, so she fled to Philadelphia. She had to leave her husband and parents behind. After making her way to freedom, Tubman led more than 300 slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad over the next ten years. There is a lot more information about Harriet Tubman HERE and it is fascinating. You should check it out!

Harriet Tubman Quotes

  • Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.
  • I had reasoned this out in my mind, there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.
  • I had crossed the line. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land.
  • I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything. The sun came up like gold through the trees, and I felt like I was in heaven.
  • I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say; I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.

Sometimes, I think I have courage.  But when I read about someone like Harriet Tubman, I feel like I’ve never known it.