Mesa native Arianne Leavitt Costner is returning to the East Valley this month for a visit, but it’s not just to say hello to relatives and friends.
She’ll be returning to her childhood haunts as a first-time published author, touting her first published book for kids, “My Life as a Potato,” which Random House Kids is publishing March 24.
“I am having a little book tour of sorts around the Valley visiting some schools and presenting about being an author,” said Costner.
That tour will take her to Emerson Elementary School, Stapley and Highland junior high schools and Chandler Tradition Academy-Independence.
She still is planning on the tour unless schools are closed.
For adults – especially would-be authors – “Dusti Bowling, the Arizonan bestselling author of ‘Insignificant Events in The Life of A Cactus,’ will be interviewing me… We will also have a Q & A session for anyone with questions about the book, writing, the publishing industry, etc.”
Though Costner moved to Utah to earn her English degree at Brigham Young University and now lives in California with husband Kevin (not the actor) and their three children, her heart never left Mesa.
“I consider myself a Mesa girl through and through and have plans to move back to the Valley in about a year,” she said. “It’s the place of my family, extended family, and great childhood memories.”
“I was born and raised in Mesa. I attended Wilson Elementary, Hermosa Vista Elementary, Stapley Junior High and Mountain View High School. I get to go back and visit my junior high school for an author presentation, which I am really looking forward to,” added Costner, one of five children of Wayne and Charlys Leavitt.
Once a seventh-grade teacher, she became a stay-at-home mom who writes in her spare time.
“I miss being a teacher and am really excited for this opportunity to connect with students. My goal is to help them understand the process of taking an idea and forming it into a story. I hope I can get them excited about reading and writing because it really can bring so much joy into our lives,” Costner said.
Her book has already achieved some success after Amazon named it its “Best Book of the Month” for readers 9-12.
“My Life as a Potato” book tells the story of Ben, a new kid at a school in – where else? – Idaho.
As punishment for accidentally injuring the school’s mascot, he’s forced to fill in.
The mascot is a potato named “Steve the Spud.”
“The kids at this new school seem to think Ben’s cool – which he’s enjoying – and all that would be ruined if people knew it was him under the dorky potato costume. So, he goes to hilarious lengths to keep his Spud identity a secret, and along the way learns a bit about friendship and confidence and what it means to be ‘cool,’” Costner explained.
Though she has started several other books, she said, “this is the first project I felt passionate enough about to finish.”
She drew her inspiration from watching a mascot perform at a college volleyball game, and remembers telling her husband, “You know what would make a funny book? Something where the kid was a secret mascot.
“We decided the mascot would have to be super dorky” and then her husband noted a school (in Shelley, Idaho) actually has a potato for a mascot.
“I was hooked. I had to write the book. My seventh-grade students were strangely obsessed with potatoes, sneaking potato references into their writing assignments and such, and I knew they would get a kick out of it,” Costner said.
Illustrated by London artist James Lancett, who illustrated James Patterson’s Max Einstein series, the book was long in the making.
“Being a mother of three doesn’t leave much time for novel-writing, but I try to get in an hour or so after the kids go to bed,” Costner said.
“From concept to selling the book to Random House was about two years, which is pretty speedy compared to the average. Publishing moves like molasses!”
But after dozens of rejections, Random House gave her the good news.
“It felt like a dream, and was definitely something I never expected,” Costner recalled. “I had nearly given up.”
“But giving up on writing is no longer an option.”
“It’s difficult to balance being a mother and an author, but I’m passionate about bringing fun books to the shelves and I enjoy doing it. My goal is to push out a book a year for as long as I’m able.”