Guest Post: Tara Altebrando on My Life in Dioramas

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By Tara Altebrando

I remember the day I finished my first middle-grade novel, The Battle of Darcy Lane (Running Press, 2014), pretty vividly. I sat there for a minute, stared out the window of my office, and thought: “Now I need a new middle-grade idea.”

So I started to root around my brain for inspiration by asking myself the question, “What do I like?”

I’d recently become a little bit obsessed with terrariums, but (understatement alert) I didn’t think that terrariums would really appeal to young readers.

Then I remembered a shoebox diorama I made when I was ten years old. It was an Olympic year and I made a tobogganing scene. (I must have been assigned tobogganing because I’m pretty sure I would have chosen figure skating if it had been up to me, but no matter.)

I remember exactly how that diorama looked when it was done; how proud of it I was, how mesmerizing I found it; I remember an afternoon I spent working on it at my friend Tracy’s house; I remember the materials I used.

I remembered, that day in my office, that I freaking love dioramas.

A minute later the title My Life in Dioramas (Running Press, 2015) popped into my head…so I wrote it down and then started to cast about for the story.

The House That Inspired the Novel

My husband and I had recently bought a vacation house—an old farmhouse in upstate New York and I had become entirely smitten with the place. It made me happy just to be there–watching the stream in the backyard run, listening to the neighbor’s cows moo, staring at knots in the high wood-beam ceilings, listening to wind chimes on the back porch.

As silly as it may sound, I ached for the house when I wasn’t there.

So into my brain walked Kate Marino. Twelve years old and living in a big red farmhouse that she adores. It is her Xanadu (so of course that movie makes an appearance in the book because I love it more than even terrariums!) and then her parents announce that they have to sell it.

I decided that Kate would set out to sabotage the sale and that she would start making dioramas of the house. First just one, for a school project. Then a second, because her first one was late and she doesn’t want her grade to suffer. But then she just keeps going and going…capturing scenes from her childhood.

Basically, she catches diorama fever. Which is currently on the loose in my own home, big time. My daughter is in second grade and studying landmarks: Boom. She’s suddenly making a Coney Island diorama.

Coney Island diorama

A group of wonderful girl filmmakers, Teeny Tiny Filmworks, went crazy with the diorama-making for my book trailer and I’m surrounded by those dioramas now. I’m collecting materials for a diorama I plan to make of me doing a signing in my local bookshop…so that I can bring it to my signing in the bookshop.

This fever, it’s contagious! In fact, in coming weeks I’ll be sharing dioramas that author pals of mine have made for me of scenes from their books. So stay tuned for that. In the meantime, don’t throw out any shoe boxes. You never know when you’ll need one!

2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Tara Altebrando on My Life in Dioramas

  1. Just love Tara's daughter's Coney Island diorama, so clever and detailed. It's also neat to see a picture of Big Red. Lovely book.

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