Kim Dwinell shares why she writes and educates about sustainability and marine conservation

Kim Dwinell is the author of The Science of Surfing: A Surfside Girls Guide to the Ocean, published by  Top Shelf Productions (an imprint of IDW Publishing) hitting shelves everywhere this November. The book follows Sam and Jade, for a great investigation into everything that makes the ocean so cool. The Science of Surfing: A Surfside Girls Guide to the Ocean explores marine biology, sustainability and oceanography tidbits. YEM was able to speak with Kim about her personal relationship with the ocean and marine life, her favorite parts of writing, and what she has learned about herself through writing.

Young Entertainment Mag: When did you realize you wanted to become an author?

Kim Dwinell: When I worked in animation, I worked on other peoples’ stories. At the time that was fine- I was happy to be part of a team that was bringing a story to life. It wasn’t until I started teaching at a university and mentoring students with their films and stories that I realized that I had stories in me as well. 

YEM: What is your book The Science of Surfing: A Surfside Girls Guide to the Ocean about?

Kim: My first two Surfside Girls books are fictional mysteries, and they are set in the fictitious Southern California town of Surfside. The Science of Surfing is meant to be a companion book to the first two – a look at the physics and biology of the ocean in SoCal, as well as a chapter on how to surf, with important information like which wetsuit to wear when, and rules of the road out in the lineup – all told by twelve-year-old Sam and Jade. I tried to imagine what science would immediately interest and affect them as surfers, like tides and moons and swell direction, and then translated the research into their voices. I also included chapters on Strange Ocean Phenomena (what is the biggest wave ever surfed? And why does the ocean glow sometimes?) and also How to Be a Good Steward, which is very important to me.

YEM: Your books focus a lot on sustainability and marine conservation. What makes you so passionate about that and why is it important for you to educate the youth on it?

Kim: I think anyone who is out in nature a lot becomes an advocate for it. It’s amazing to be out in the ocean catching waves and smelling the salt air – last week I surfed with my son and there was a sea turtle who kept popping his head up in the lineup. Everyone was just really stoked to see him. If I were to get out of the ocean after that and see nothing but trash and plastic bags on the beach it would break my heart. When you care about something, you want to protect it. I don’t think it’s really any more complicated than that.

YEM: What is your favorite part of writing for the characters of Sam & Jade who are best friends?

Kim: Sam and Jade are really myself and my best friend, Melissa. I draw heavily on memories of the summer we took the bus to the beach almost every day with surfboards and taught ourselves to surf. There is something magical about those middle school years. The whole world is out in front of you, and you’re just getting the first glimpses of your independence and your place in the world. That’s so exciting, but it’s also a bit scary! Friendships become so important, and all of your emotions are loud and overwhelming. I really enjoy tapping into all of that – the friendship, the emotion, the possibilities. 

YEM: What sort of impact do you hope your writing leaves on its readers?

Kim: I want to inspire young people, and girls in particular, to get outside and be brave and inspired and awesome. Mystery and adventure awaits! I hope my readers find in Surfside a safe, cozy town that they’d want to live in, and find in Sam and Jade’s friendship the kind of friendship they wish to have.

YEM: What advice do you have for those who also want to become authors?

Kim: Their voices matter! The great thing about comics is that if you want to write and draw comics, all you have to do is start writing and drawing comics. And starting is important! I would say, get a sketchbook or a notebook and doodle, take notes, make panels, draw characters. Eventually this evolves into storymaking. There is no right or wrong way. The only wrong way is to not start!

YEM: What does your writing process look like?

Kim: When I get an idea for a book, it usually comes visually first. I might make a sketch and jot down some notes. All of a sudden then I’m seeing film – scenes will start playing in my head, and I write those down too. For instance, I’m writing the third mystery now, and I was seeing Sam and Jade in 1800s prairie dresses. I had to figure out what that was about, and it led me into this next mystery. When I have enough scenes, I figure out how they fit together by making a tight outline or synopsis. From there I write a script with all of the dialogue. Next is thumbnails, which is the hard part, figuring out what the panels look like and where the page turns are. Then sketches and watercolor! My editor checks in at all of these stages and makes sure I’m keeping on track. 

YEM: What are some of your favorite books?

Kim: I love Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time series and Many Waters. I love Nancy Drew. I listen to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books when I’m painting a book – I love how she write characters and weaves a mystery.

YEM: What is your personal relationship with the ocean and marine life like?

Kim: I am out in the ocean just about every other day, if not more. I have a stand-up paddleboard I take out in the bay for exercise. Often I see marine life – a seal will follow me, or I see flatworms swimming to the surface, or a turtle, or the moon jelly bloom in the summer. Sometimes I follow the breakwater out into the big ocean, and below me the whole way is kelp and bright orange Garibaldi and Ochre Sea Stars. I’ve been trying to surf once a week, but my favorite surf beach is a bit of a drive and that doesn’t always happen. I have a boat, too, and we’ll head out in the open ocean when I need to get away. I have always turned to the ocean and don’t feel quite right if my gills aren’t getting wet. There is so much magic in nature, and the ocean is my favorite place to see it. There is something that makes me feel more alive and more human when I am seeing the weather change and the wind shift. I feel much more connected and grounded.

YEM: What is your favorite part of writing books like The Science of Surfing: A Surfside Girls Guide to the Ocean?

Kim: It is truly a privilege to be able to share the love and experience I have with the ocean with others. I stuff a lot of sunshine and love into my books, and it’s my hope that my readers can feel that and be inspired to find their own joy in the ocean. When I was younger, I was a beach lifeguard in Laguna Beach. I taught Junior Lifeguards for a couple of summers and felt that same privilege to share my knowledge with the young people. Being able to enjoy the ocean is a lifelong gift.

YEM: Have you learned anything about yourself through this process of writing?

Kim: Writing has taught me to trust my gut much more. I’ve become more confident about my voice, and I can now see what topics really make me excited and how I can craft a story to share that enthusiasm. I also learned that I’m a really lousy housekeeper when I’m on a book!

YEM: Do you hope to educate your readers about other topics in the future?

Kim: Absolutely! There are so many things I’m interested in. Doing research for Surfside has uncovered so many ridiculously amazing stories in early California history. Did you know we had an Argentinian pirate ravaging our coast? He needs a book! Some really amazing, diverse women, too in this state who need stories told. I’m also fascinated with bats, why crows gather to roost at night, and growing food.

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