Books: Imaginary girl dressed for success in 'How to Quinoa'

Published July 30, 2014 9:20 am
Utah native tells how a Pinterest project about a fashion-forward toddler went viral & became a book.
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Have you heard of Quinoa?

Not the grain. The toddler. Specifically, the precocious, fashion-forward toddler who's the star of "How to Quinoa: Life Lessons from My Imaginary Well-Dressed Daughter," recently published by Running Press.

Quinoa's creator, the very funny writer Tiffany Beveridge — a Utah native — talks with the Salt Lake Tribune about the inside Pinterest joke that went viral and landed her a book deal.

For those of us who are tragically in the dark, will you explain who Quinoa is?

Quinoa is my imaginary well-dressed toddler daughter, born in the recesses of my brain and existing almost entirely on Pinterest, until last month when she came to life in book form. Her look is always changing, but her personality is constant. I like to think of her as a lovable tyrant.

How did Quinoa come to be?

As the mother of two hopelessly lovable but averagely dressed sons, there was a part of me that had always thought it would be fun to have a daughter to dress. While on Pinterest, I would see incredible clothing for little girls, but felt I had no claim to it. That is, until I created a pin board and titled it "My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler Daughter" and started pinning the clothes there. I began finding more and more elaborate clothing and photography, which seemed to be begging for some commentary, so I started adding funny captions about this imaginary child and her fabulous life. Around the same time, I noticed an explosion of quinoa recipes on Pinterest. I found it amusing that a grain had become so trendy. A grain! I figured it was only a matter of time until someone named their kid Quinoa. And then I realized that person would be me. Once she had a name, the story lines just started coming together.

How did your imaginary well-dressed daughter make the leap from Pinterest to full-length book?

Quinoa had existed on Pinterest for over a year without much notoriety at all, but in June 2013 a very popular blogger retweeted a tweet about my Pinterest board. That was the fuse that seemed to lead to the viral blow-up. Suddenly, articles and tweets were popping up all over the world about it. Within a couple of weeks, I was being contacted by literary agents and editors. By September 2013, I had a book deal with Running Press. By January 2014, I had submitted the manuscript. By June 2014, the book was on the shelves. It was a whirlwind, but an absolute dream come true.

Describe the experience of having something go viral.

I feel like we've gotten so used to hearing the term "viral" and understanding what that implies, but it is such a different thing to be standing in the eye of that storm. It's very surreal. It sort of blew the lid off of what I had heretofore experienced as normal, as well as what suddenly seemed possible. Daily life became very unpredictable. And yet, in many ways, it stayed exactly the same. I was still copywriting for my clients, folding the laundry and making dinner at night, but also granting interviews to CNN. The Internet is the great equalizer in many ways. You don't have to have a million dollars or a million followers to be recognized for something unique. The Internet, as a collective, does a surprisingly good job of finding novelty. I find that amazing and encouraging.

Talk a little about the process of creating "How to Quinoa."

I recognized that the opportunity to write this book was rare, that I was able to bypass some of the hardest, most frustrating parts of getting published like sending out query letters to agents and editors, so I promised myself that I would match this opportunity with the hardest work of my life. And it definitely was hard work. In three months' time, I had to write 10 chapters of the book, source nearly 100 photos from some of the top children's fashion photographers in the world, gain permissions from the models and guardians, and write captions for the photos. My career as a copywriter came in handy. I broke the project down into smaller parts, set deadlines and just worked like crazy.

The book reads like you were having a lot of fun while writing it. Were you?

I had a lot of fun writing it, but there were several moments when I had been at it for so long, staring at it so closely, that I'd have to take a step back and ask, "Is this funny or am I getting delirious?" My husband and sons were a good test audience. They are all much funnier than I am, so I knew if I could make them laugh, it was probably pretty good.

You skewer everything from hipsters to current fashions to 21st-century parenting. Have you always been interested in popular culture? How do you track trends?

I think that being a good writer is so much about observation, paying attention to what's going on and making connections. My brain loves that kind of work, and pop culture is a great playground for observation. My husband and I and our friends are constantly sending each other articles, videos, books and talks that we find interesting, and every Sunday night at dinner each person in our family shares something interesting from the past week with each other. Information is so easy to share and I've definitely adopted a crowdsourcing mentality over the years. I love getting information from a lot of different sources and from a lot of different people. It almost feels like the trends point themselves out that way.

Some people might see you as an overnight success. Tell us about your background as a writer. Which writers do you admire and why?

In many ways, success did come overnight, but there were so many years of writing practice that led up to it. Writing has always been the space in which I feel the most comfortable, and it's what I've been doing for a living for about eight years. When I lived in Utah, I hosted and facilitated a writing group at my house. I used Natalie Goldberg's book "Writing Down the Bones" as our guide, and we'd write and read and share together. I also blogged regularly for many years, which was a great way to stay in practice and develop a voice. I look at all of that now as the training that led up to this opportunity.

I also read a lot, and usually find myself buying big-hearted novels by great women. I have loved Barbara Kingsolver ever since I read her debut novel "The Bean Trees" in high school. More recently, I discovered Miriam Toews and have devoured everything she has written. She absolutely blows me away.

And speaking of background, tell us about your Utah roots.

I was born and raised in Sandy, Utah. I graduated from the University of Utah and started my writing career as a copywriter for Mrs. Fields (and still write for them freelance). After my husband completed his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Utah in 2008, we moved to the East Coast for his job as a faculty member at the University of Delaware.

What advice would you give would-be writers?

A few months before my Pinterest board went viral, I was teaching a little writing workshop in my son's fourth-grade class. After introducing them to the writing methods in Natalie Goldberg's book, I explained that when we're writing, we can't always tell our best ideas from our worst ideas, so it's a good idea just to write them all down, give them all equal opportunity at a chance on the page. At that time, my Pinterest board was a total afterthought, a silly creative inside joke. I had no clue that it was my best idea. So, my advice is the same: Write it all down, give it all a chance. You never know which ideas will take off.

What advice would Quinoa give to our readers?

Quinoa has so much advice to give in her book on a variety of topics, but let's stick with fashion: "Quinoa says in order to get out of your fashion comfort zone, you must bid farewell to comfort. High-fashion, uncomfortable clothing will keep you agitated, alert and fierce all day long!" Or else: "Matching your belt to your shoes is not an accomplishment." —

How to Quinoa

Author and Utah native Tiffany Beveridge will sign copies of her book "How to Quinoa: Life Lessons from My Imaginary Well-Dressed Daughter."

Wednesday, July 30, 7 p.m. • The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City; 801-484-9100

Friday, Aug. 1, 7 p.m. • Barnes & Noble, 330 E. 1300 South, Orem; 801-229-1611



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