Dori's books include: ON A WINTRY MORNING, Ill by Stephen T. Johnson Viking October 2000 ONE LITTLE MOUSE, Ill by LeUyen Pham Viking May 2002 GOOD NIGHT, DEWBERRY BEAR, Ill Florence S. Davis Abingdon Press July 2003 MOMMA, WILL YOU? Ill by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher Viking... plus many more!
"I wrote for children in the 60's and enjoyed some success at that time. I had three picture books published, as well as 50 or more stories sold to children's magazines. But writing in the 60's was a lonely business. There was no internet, no SCBWI, no critique groups, no one to compare notes with. I felt I was working blind for the most part, and anything I learned or achieved was happenstance. "
What drove/inspired you to get started?
In 1997, my daughter, Stacy DeKeyser, became interested in writing for kids, and so I was drawn back into it, to discover a whole new children's writing world. The competition may be tougher now, but the access to and support of other writers make it a much more enjoyable business than it was 35 years ago.
Do you have any specialized training?
I never went to college, so in regards to advanced education, I have to admit 'no.' But I did grow up as the oldest girl in a family of seven children, which put me in the position of chief kid-watcher, nursery rhyme expert, and head story teller. I also learned to be a good joke teller, which is very much like telling a story, in that you need to learn pacing, voice, character, and twisted endings.
Has this been something you've always wanted to do?
This is 'one' of the things I've always wanted to do. Besides writing, I've always wanted to be an actress (can't act), a singer (can't sing), and to own a ranch (can't ride a horse.) So to be able to accomplish one out of four is at least something.
Have there been any obstacles along the way?
Always. They're called 'rejections.'
And that's the truth, isn't it? Other than rejections, I'm in a good position with few obstacles. I no longer have young kids at home who need my time. I no longer have an outside job to eat into my time. I don't need to leave the house to work. I don't need a business wardrobe. I don't have to invest a lot of money in my business. I can choose my own work hours. What could be more ideal?
Before you got the all important contract, how did your friends and family react to your goals? Were they supportive?
Supportive in the way that they'd support my next knitting project. Or in the way they'd tolerate an experimental new recipe for supper. It's a natural reaction. When a person announces they're going to write for children, it's looked upon as a 'nice hobby.' It sometimes takes an actual contract to prove that this is a do-able thing. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. If you have a strong sense of determination and are willing to do the work, the Doubting Thomases will serve as a challenge to reaffirm your resolve. And oh, boy! it sure is fun to show off that first contract!
Now that you have a book (s) in print, do you get different reactions from friends and family?
Of course. People are drawn to successful people, regardless of what they're successful at. Friends and family celebrate your successes whether it's a job promotion, a new baby, a successful meatloaf recipe, or selling a picture book.
How did you land that very first book deal?
I belonged to a good on-line critique group. On of the members, Linda Smith, had just acquired a new agent. When Linda read One Little Mouse, she asked if she could send it to her agent. I agreed, and the agent called me the same day. The story was sold in less than a month.
Did you have any misconceptions in the beginning about the whole book process?
No misconceptions, but a lot of ignorance. There was so much I didn't know about writing and the book process, but had to learn along the way. Before the first contract, you have to do your homework to know the markets. You have to do a lot of reading to know what your competition is. You have to develop a thick skin to be able to accept critiques and rejections, etc. etc. Then after the first sale, you get yet another whole education on the editorial, marketing, and book making process.
How would you describe your work? What's the most important thing you'd like others to get out of it?
Melanie Cecka, my editor, once described my work as 'Rockwellian.' I like that. I like the way Norman Rockwell's paintings tell a story of home, or family, or friendship, or ideals. I see those same things come out in my writing, with a strong emphasis on family life.
In a more Freudian way, when I was a young mom, I must have really enjoyed that moment in each day when the kids were finally tucked in their beds, giving me a few peaceful hours to myself, because four of my five published books end with the kid safely and soundly in bed for the night. Shhhh....
Do you have an agent? If yes, please explain how you acquired your agent and how you think having one has helped you. If you don't have an agent, would you consider getting one?
As mentioned above, an agent sold my first book, and also sold the next two. But as years went on, we weren't a good working match, and so we parted ways. While I'll always appreciate those first sales (because they did open publishers' doors to future sales) I've found I prefer working without one. I like to be in control of my manuscripts, and giving up that control was one of the hardest things about working with an agent.
Describe your relationship with your editor(s) (art director if applicable).
I feel I have a good working relationship with all my editors. It's important to keep in mind that the relationship of author/editor is a business relationship, rather than a Will-you-be-my-new-best-friend relationship. I respect what they do, and in return, they respect my job. I work at doing revisions in a timely manner, being courteous, and while I'll stand up for my rights, I do it in a business-like, non-demanding way. I don't want to come across as the Writer From Hell.
How do you most often communicate with your publisher--e-mail, phone, or snail mail?
I love, love, love e-mail!!! That's how we most often communicate. (It's nice to get a phone call once in awhile, too.)
What books do you have in the works now?
More picture books and EZ readers. I've come to realize those are my genres. I'll never be a novelist. Too much work.
Is there anything you'd do differently with your new projects?
Nope. Can't think of a thing, except to try to make each new manuscript better than those that went before it.
Do you do any author events? If so, please describe what they generally consist of.
With two new books out this fall, I have some author signings set up at local bookstores. I don't plan an involved program, as I've found that each group of kids is different. So most often I only plan to read the book(s) and then wing it. It helps to have a simple song/finger-play ready for the really young, won't-stay-in-one-place bunch, and I try to have a handout coloring page made up from an illustration in the book.
How important do you think author appearances are for you and your book(s)?
Even if you have a good turn out and sell maybe 30-40 books at a signing, when you consider the sales throughout the whole country, those 30-40 sales are only a spit in the bucket. Then again, if you can start a grass roots movement with those 30-40 books, then those sales are extremely important. I guess I don't worry about the sales too much. I'm just so danged thrilled to have an actual, real, honest-to-goodness book in that store that I do the signings more for the enjoyment I get out of it than for promotional purposes.
What's the best thing about publishing a book? What's the worst?
This October, we were privileged to hear Phyllis Root speak at our WI SCBWI retreat. In her presentation she said that picture books were a 'performing art, meant to be read out loud. That struck such a chord of truth for me. In my heart and spirit, I'm a performer. And because I can't act, dance, or sing, I write. The reader of my stories is the narrator, and the kids are the audience. The best thing is that I'm the creator of that performance. Wow. Mind boggling.
Is there a worst thing?
Any last words of encouragement for beginners?
Read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, and then read more!
And if you believe in yourself, don't give up.