Friday, August 15, 2008

DORI CHACONAS ON PUBLISHING, PERSEVERANCE, AND CATCHING CHICKENS

#1. Most writers struggle to get published. You were a successful writer and then you gave it up for awhile. Why did you do that? Were you bored with writing? How do your books today differ from those first books?

Shari, what fun! Thanks for asking me to do this.

I gave up writing for more than 30 years. Writing in the 1960s was a lonely business for the writer. There was no SCBWI and no way of connecting with other writers unless you had a way to search them out. Even when selling a book, the connection between writer and the editor/publisher was minimal, and done through the US mail. You received a contract, signed and returned it, and then didn't hear any more until the author's copies arrived on your doorstep. I probably would have stayed with it if I hadn't been tempted by and drawn into another creative venture - designing yarn stitchery kits.I’ve always had a need to do something creative, but that need could be satisfied by just about anything – writing, needlework, baking, gardening, or trying to catch a chicken with a bit of string and some potato peels. It didn't seem to make a difference what form the creativity took as long as it was fulfilling to me. So I designed stitchery kits for major yarn companies and national magazines for ten years and was successful at it, both monetarily and creatively. After 30 years, I find that my writing style and preference for subject matter has pretty much remained the same. We write from who we are, and that basically doesn't change a lot over the years.

#2. I love your stories. They are so kind and gentle, and beautifully written, whether they are in rhyme or prose. Is that deliberate, or just who you are?

What a lovely compliment! Thank you.A little of each, I guess. We start out writing about things that touch us in some way, and then because we're constantly learning - studying books that are already published, being critiqued by other writers, getting input from editors, etc - we apply those learned things to our base writing, hopefully with good results.

#3. You started out writing for children’s magazines and then switched to writing books. Do you recommend that for beginners and why?

In the '60s writing for magazines was a good way to break into the business. But back then there were many, many more magazines for children than there are today, and the pay was pretty much the same as it is today. $50 in the 1960s was a lot of money. $50 today won't even pay for a couple bags of groceries.On of the biggest children's magazines back then was Jack and Jill. They didn't advertise the amount they paid for a story, but I figured that because they were tops, they'd pay the highest prices. So I was excited when they wrote to say they'd accepted my two-part story to be run in subsequent issues, and my check was on the way! When I received the check it was for $25. What? Bummer!When I returned to writing about 11 years ago, I decided to skip the magazines and try for the book publishers. As for what I'd recommend to new writers - write what's in your heart, do your homework and look for whatever type of publisher fits your story - magazine or book. It's great to see your name in print for the first time!

#4. Is publishing today very different from when you were first published?

It's a totally different world. You can connect with other writers through SCBWI functions, and stay connected through email. You can share ideas, brainstorm story problems, and support each other through critique groups. (I've found that children's writers are the kindest and most generous of people when it comes to sharing their knowledge of the craft.) You have the opportunity to meet editors and agents through conferences, and when you have a chance to work with an editor, the connection is usually strong and satisfying. Editors today really want you 'in the loop' during the process of creating a children's book, so it's a great time to be a writer. Although I have to add the competition is much tougher today. Drat!

#5. How long did it take for you to get your first book published?

My first book published, in 2000, was On A Wintry Morning, but it wasn't my first book sold. The first manuscript to sell was One Little Mouse (both books to Viking.)

I had been back into writing for about three years, and after working through several trial critique groups, found myself in a really good one with new, talented writers. One of the writers, Linda Smith, had just acquired an agent and after reading One Little Mouse, asked if she could show it to her agent. What! You have to ask! Of course you can! He sold the story in less than a week. He sold On a Wintry Morning shortly after that, both stories to Melanie Cecka who was with Viking at the time.

#6. What do you believe makes a good picture book?

I’m still trying to figure that out. Fresh voice. Kid-friendly subject matter. Playful language. Good illustration possibilities. Emotional impact. Low word count. Humor.

I wish there was a specific formula for writing a selling picture book. It would make things so much easier, wouldn’t it? I can only recommend that you read, read, read what’s out there and study what different writers do to make a successful book .

#7. I know you write more than Picture Books. What is the main difference between a Picture Book and an E Z Reader?

A picture book is meant to be read out loud to a child, so you can throw in some difficult words, write in complex sentences, etc. An EZ reader is meant to be read by a child learning to read. Sentences are short and words are easy to sound out. But both have to present a solid and satisfying story.

#8. What do you want children to get from your books?


I love the thought of entertaining children with stories, and hope they come away from whatever book they read with the desire to read more. I got so much pleasure out of reading when I was a kid. I’d like to encourage kids today to find pleasure in books, too. So telling an amusing story is pretty tops on my list. (Plus, it pleases me if someone thinks I’m funny because most of my family doesn’t.)

I think my books usually have a ‘lesson’ tucked into them somewhere, but those lessons were never planned by me. They weren’t intentional, nor were they the reason I wrote the story. I write to entertain. Anything else that slips into the story is an unconscious thing that must come from my own background and upbringing.

#9. What do you do to promote your books? Do you do School Visits or Book Signings? Do you like the promotion aspects of writing?

Lazy! Lazy! Lazy! That’s me!

The only thing I do is send out postcards announcing the book, which I order through ModernPostcard.com. I send out about 500 cards to family and friends, and other interested parties whose names and addresses I’ve collected over the years (whether they want a postcard or not.)

That, and my website
www.dorichaconas.com, is the extent of my promotional efforts.

Which answers the last part of your question – no, I don’t particularly like the promotion (public) aspects of writing. Who the heck would want to hear me talk about my books, huh?

#10. Where do you get the inspiration for your books?


Like most writers, I never really know where an idea is going to come from, so simply have to be aware of what’s going on around me and what’s going around in my head. Sometimes it’s an opening line, or a title, or a line of dialog. Anything at all can light the spark of a story.

With the Cork and Fuzz books, I wanted to write a humorous EZ reader about two characters, so chose a muskrat and a possum. I’ve always liked the Desi and Lucy, Abbot and Costello, Martin and Lewis type of humor, with one straight man playing off the wackiness of the other guy. So those comedy teams were my models for the Cork and Fuzz stories. The formula: take two characters who are very different in nature. Put them in a situation and see how they respond to the situation and to each other. The book grew into a series, with the fifth book, Cork and Fuzz: Finders Keepers, coming out in the spring. YAY!

But I still don’t know where ideas come from. If I did I wouldn’t get these enormous writers’ blocks.

#11. Where do you write? Describe your writing space.

Oh, good! Finally an easy question!

Since we no longer have kids at home, we converted one of the bedrooms into an office. It’s a large, bright room with a triple window topped with a half-circle window. Each side of the ceiling slopes up to meet at a point in the middle of the room. I have a large computer desk with a hutch top, a small matching filing cabinet, a bookcase, and a day bed (for when company comes and we need the space as a bedroom.) I have a large closet which holds two more bookcases. And lots and lots of books!

#12. I am refreshed by nature. What refuels your muse?


Kindred spirit here! Definitely by nature!

#13. Your latest book is “Baby’s Song” from Abingdon Press. It sounds like the perfect gift for a new mother. What inspired you to write it?

I love babies! And I love the thought of babies discovering all the new things in their new worlds. Imagine beginning a life in which even a leaf or a stone is something totally new and fascinating to you. And the whole world is out there waiting to be discovered. Wow, what an adventure!

#14. What are you working on now?

I’m just about finished tweaking the sixth Cork and Fuzz book which I’ll send to my editor at Viking in a couple weeks. The book has to sit for a while before I give it the final reading, then I’ll send it and hope she doesn’t hate it! My fingers have calluses from all the times I’ve kept them crossed. Some things never change, do they?

#15. What would readers be surprised to know about you?

I’m very young and extremely beautiful.
I have an amazing figure and dress with impeccable taste.
I have to wear a large hat and sunglasses when I go out because too many people will stop me for a photo or autograph without them.
The photo on my website it that of my mother.

(So what kind of answer did you expect from a writer of fiction, huh?)


Dori, thank you so much for giving me this interview.





4 comments:

Marvin D. Wilson said...

Wonderful interview! Not a children's book writer myself, I still find it interesting to get "inside the head" of writers in other genres. I would say you are a good fit! Definitely keep writing and publishing our kids NEED people like you.

Marvin D Wilson
Blogs at: http://inspiritandtruths.blogspot.com/
Eye Twitter 2 - http://twitter.com/Paize_Fiddler

Joyce Anthony said...

Very informative and entertaining interview!!! It takes great skill to write for children--I'll stick to reading them the books wonderful authors like you write!!!

Mayra Calvani said...

Fascinating interview, Shari and Dori! Thanks for sharing.

Dori, I love the cover art of your books... they look like really lovable books for little kids (I checked your website).

Best of luck to you both on your writing endevours!

Best,
Mayra Calvani

Dori said...

Thank you, Marvin, Joyce, and Mayra! It was a fun interview to do, thanks to Shari.

God bless~

Dori