Children's Book Author
Alison Inches is a successful children's book author, biographer, and editor. In our interview, she explained how humility has been the key to her career, enabling her to overcome a hostile working environment, hear God's ideas, and trust Him each step of the way.
When Bible Characters that you wanted to become a children's book writer?
I knew in the 5th grade. I loved putting ideas that came to me on paper. I still keep a journal.
How did you make this dream a reality?
I think when I began to be bold and willing to take steps that were bigger than me. This was at the same time when I was starting to turn to the Bible and to God on a consistent basis. I remember reading Isaiah: "Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness" (41:10).
I had already left the business world because writing competitive advertising studies did not allow me to be creative. I had joined a newspaper to get a glimpse of the journalism world, which rekindled my desire to write. Then I applied to the Radcliffe Publishing Program, which was a turning point in my career. The competition was fierce, but I knew in my heart that this was what I wanted to do, and I got in. I'm certain God opened the door for me.
What happened after Radcliffe?
I went to career fairs in New York City and wound up getting a job as an editorial assistant. The bolder I got, and the more I trusted God's leading, the more doors opened for me. I went from Editorial Assistant to Editorial Director in six years. It didn't have to do with me being an intellectual or being better than anyone else. It had to do with pure motives and a willingness to do whatever was set before me.
I remember a publisher turning an entire meeting
of "suits" over to me without any prior
warning. A Bible passage came to me: "Let
the words of my mouth and the meditations of my
heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength
and my redeemer" (Ps. 49:3). All the ideas
that came to me were exactly what I needed. When
I was put in the hot seat, I could turn to God
and trust Him to tell me what to do. This happened
over and over again.
Did you face challenges along the way?
Most definitely! I had so many people try to take me down on my way up. Two women, in particular, tried to get me fired and turn my boss against me.
How did you handle this kind of antagonism?
I prayed every day, even over my lunch breaks. Given our equal status in the company, the first woman and I shouldn't have been at odds, but from day one, we started off on the wrong foot. This woman could "walk the walk" and "talk the talk." She seemed to cast a spell over the entire department and got many to turn against me. My boss loved her because she was so cool. But for me, this gal was a classic bully. She made my life miserable, and at times I felt so victimized. My boss loved my work, and each time I handed something in, I thought, "Now I'll be back my boss's good graces." But the clouds would lower again as this woman continued to criticize me behind my back. At times, I thought for sure I would get fired.
Did any particular Bible passages help you through this cruel treatment?
Every day I ran seven miles before work and prayed the Lord's Prayer. I always found it a good place to ground myself. It helped me get past my anger. I would get so mad at this person because she was so mean and so intimidating. "Thy will be done" and "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" (Matt. 6:10, 12) were particularly helpful thoughts. I didn't know how God would work things out, but I trusted that He was more powerful than anything that would try to disable me. God's all-embracing love could never be depleted.
Eventually others began to see through this girl's veneer -- everyone except my boss. One day a colleague, knowing what I was dealing with, asked me, "How can you take this?" I replied, "It doesn't matter. Her motives are so impure; I guarantee she'll dig her own grave." And that's exactly what she did. I don't know what made my boss see the light, but when she did, she fired this woman immediately. She had to leave that afternoon. Ironically, the person my boss hired to replace her was even worse. She accused me of things I hadn't done and tried to set me up for a fall. She actually came into my office and told me how she planned to frame me and what she had already done to put her scheme into motion. She had thoroughly convinced herself that her story was true. But I knew it wasn't true, and I had learned not to be intimidated. I spoke firmly to her, but this only made her start swearing at me. I quietly left my office and took my case to the president's office. The woman ranted and raved as she followed me to the top of the stairs. I shut the door and explained the situation to the president. Things quickly came to light, and my boss fired this woman when she returned the next morning. All the respect my boss previously had for me was restored. My purity was seen. I'm always looking for that flawless purity. I really treasure it. I've learned that it's extremely powerful and that no human element or ego can touch it. This experience taught me that we can never run from evil. We have to handle it like Moses did when he picked up his rod that had turned into a serpent (Ex. 4:1-5) -- no matter how scary evil appears to be.
That's a nice restoration of harmony. I bet you grew tremendously.
I did. It's interesting: My first office was in the basement, and as I grew spiritually and professionally, my offices moved up floor by floor. I ended up in a top floor office with a mile long executive desk. I felt like I was on the top of the world. My demonstration was complete. God had lifted me right up. They wanted me to stay, but I had gotten everything I needed to move on to my next step, which was to become a full time author. The higher I got in the job, the more competitive it got. But by letting my light shine, I was victorious. I held God's hand, and He held on to me: "I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Ps. 16:8).
What quality would you say enabled you to survive and allow your career to grow?
The absolute key to my entire career has been and is humility. The more humility I express, the higher I go.
How would you define humility?
Humility is that Christ quality that we see throughout the Bible. Humility is that total selfless sense which is so fully conscious of God, good, that there is absolutely not one bit of ego or pride. Jesus' strength was in his humility. No matter what anyone threw at him, he never swayed from seeing the perfection of God and man.
How has humility helped you?
Before I write, I take an inventory of the qualities of God that I express, such as intelligence, creativity, etc. When I feel a sense of peace, joy, and humility permeate my consciousness, then the ideas begin to dance, the office becomes a light place, and I have no fear. The words just flow. This is the only way I can write. If I let any sense of "Alison" come into my work, I fall into a ditch immediately. I remember wanting to be on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" so badly for "The Candy Bar Cookbook," which my husband and I worked on together. It kept me from seeing other possibilities. As soon as I totally let that go, I got onto a lot of other shows for the cookbook.
Letting go takes a lot of trust, and it seems like you've trusted God throughout your career. How did you start your own business as a writer?
Talk about trust! After the whole situation with my colleagues was resolved in NYC, I moved to California and took a job at Lucasfilm. I had been hired to oversee the editorial direction of the books based on the new trilogy. I found out I wasn't that into the "Star Wars" characters as I was into the Muppets when I worked with them. Besides, what I really wanted was to be a full-time author, but I had been too afraid to quit my day job.
I remember getting on my mountain bike and saying, "Don't try to figure out what to do next. Just think about the allness and goodness of God." Then and there, I dropped all the arguments and decided to wait for God's direction. Shortly thereafter, a conversation I had with an individual at Lucasfilm made me realize that I needed to tell my boss how I was feeling. My boss was thankful that I had told her sooner rather than later. She still had time to hire someone before the trilogy got too far underway. I thought I was going to feel a sense of freedom after I left, but I instead I felt scared. How was I going to pay my bills? My first assignment as a full-time author came to me a few days later.
How did you get your first book assignment?
Golden Books offered me a work-for-hire job that they needed the following Monday. I wrote the book and sent it in. They said that it wasn't what they wanted and gave me 24 hours to rewrite it before giving the job to someone else.
It felt like so much was on the line. I wondered if I was really supposed to be an author. I turned to God as never before. As I wrote, whenever I got nervous or scared, I would lean back in my chair and say, "Father, what do I do now?" Then I would listen with all my heart. Whatever words came to me, I would write down. Then I would lean back again and ask, "Father, what do I do now?" I finished at 10:00 p.m. and sent it in. They called back the next day and said it was perfect. They wouldn't change a thing! It was such a wonderful sense of validation for me that I was doing the right thing. From then on, each idea that came to me had fruition, and my business grew. Again, humility was the key.
You mentioned earlier that the growth in your career coincided with your decision to trust in God and study the Bible. How did that come about?
I had grown up in a family where I was exposed to religion, but eventually it became something I wanted to find and make my own. When I was 18, I decided to look at each situation and see how the Bible could help me. The Bible has continued to be a great source of inspiration for me. Often I open it and let my eyes fall on a passage to hear what God has to tell me. When I listen to God with all my heart, I let go of any human sense of planning. I know that I am not driving my life; God is. Even when I would make what I thought was a sound decision but God didn't think so, He would put something in my path that would keep me from the wrong path.
Are there any particular instances that you can share about God redirecting your path?
Sure. I was working in NYC, but my boyfriend was in Colorado. I was ready to move out to be with him. God put the Muppets in my path, and I couldn't refuse. They were looking for a senior editor and had been given my name. When I told them it was appealing, but that I was planning on moving, they refused to take "no" for an answer. It was the oddest thing. I agreed to take the job for three months. Right after I started, their amazing Editorial Director left. The publisher came in and told me that that I was Editorial Director. She also said that I had to come up with a business plan and ideas that would bring us back to profitability by the following year. I worked there over Christmas and came up with seven ideas. One of them was "Go to Bed, Fred!" which I wrote that week. I asked the art director to help me do mock-ups to go with the ideas. When my boss came back, she wasn't very excited about the ideas. I think she thought she was going to lose her job. We planned to pitch the ideas to several publishers. (We were a motion picture company and needed a publishing partner to publish our book titles.) She picked the hardest publisher first. Peter Workman of Workman Publishing is notorious in the business for rejecting ideas. He, his art director, and editor sat there with poker faces as we talked. After the pitch, he bought every single project except one. My boss and I were stunned. Working with the Muppets, which I did for a few years, gave me the muscle, strength, and confidence to start my own business. I didn't know I needed it, but God did.
What happened with the boyfriend?
It was very apparent that I wasn't supposed to be in Colorado. Eventually he moved to the East Coast. Then we broke up. We got back together when I moved to California. Then, much to my dismay at the time, we realized it wasn't right to get married. As soon as I let go of that experience, I met my husband, with whom I am very happy.
It sounds like your success comes from humbly listening to God.
I make it a point to listen to what God says and try to allow God to speak through me. I can't think of anything I've done by myself.
About Alison Inches
Alison Inches edited children's books at Simon & Schuster and Penguin Putnam Publishers. She went on to become senior writer and editorial director of publishing for The Jim Henson Company. An author since 1994, she has written over 60 books for children, including a bestseller, Go to Bed, Fred!, for Workman Publishing and a New York Times Bestseller, Dora Loves Boots, for Simon & Schuster. She is also the author of three adult trade books: In the Kitchen With Miss Piggy (Time-Life), The Candy Bar Cookbook: Baking with America's Favorite Candy (Longstreet Press), and a biography about Jim Henson, Designs and Doodles: A Muppet Sketchbook (Harry Abrams Publishers). She currently writes children's books for Viking, Simon & Schuster, Random House, and Harcourt. She also teaches workshops on how to write and publish children's books. Alison lives with her husband, Ric, and their son, Hunter, in San Jose, California.