Welcome to the six hundred and twentieth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with children’s author and novelist Debbie Dadey. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Debbie. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Debbie: Hi, I live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania near Philadelphia. As a lifelong reader, teacher, and librarian I was one of those people who said “I could write something better than that!” Wow, what a learning experience that turned out to be. It’s definitely not as easy as I thought!
Morgen: 🙂 I kind of thought like that, and eight years later I only now feel that I know what I’m doing (although we all keep learning). You write children’s books, was there a reason to choose this genre?
Debbie: I was an elementary teacher and then a librarian. My favourite part of the day was reading books aloud. They are so fun to read and write!
Morgen: And I’m sure the children loved hearing them. If I’d gone into teaching (I’d thought about it) I would have taught primary / elementary. What have you had published to-date?
Debbie: I have been fortunate to publish 10 series, mostly with Scholastic. My first series was The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids, which I co-authored with Marcia Thornton Jones. The first title was Vampires Don’t Wear Polka Dots. Marcia and I have written several series together, but I’ve also written solo titles on my own, as well as series. My most recent series, Mermaid Tales, is with Simon and Schuster. The first two titles are Trouble at Trident Academy and Battle of the Best Friends. I have also co-authored two books with my son. My daughter and I have been working on a story together.
Morgen: It must be great fun to collaborate with some you’re close to. I have writing friends but never written anything with them… now there’s a thought. I mentioned primary school, what age group do you write for?
Debbie: I have written a couple of picture books and novels, but the bulk of my work has been for the chapter book level-usually second through fourth graders.
Morgen: Do you think it’s easier writing for children than adults?
Debbie: No, sometimes it’s harder because you must use fewer words to tell the story.
Morgen: Like flash fiction. Do you get a second opinion on your stories before they’re published – if so from adults, children or both?
Debbie: Yes, I belong to a critique group who gives me excellent feedback. I rewrite from that and then my agent gives me suggestions. I rewrite from that. And if I’m lucky, the editor will give me comments and I rewrite from that! I often ask my own children what they think and they are tough on me!
Morgen: My mother’s the same with me. Do you have any tips for anyone thinking about writing for children?
Debbie: You must love to write and you must love children’s stories enough that you would do it for free. Because, often that is the case!
Morgen: But it sounds as if you love writing. Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Debbie: My new series, Mermaid Tales, is available on eBooks and I wish all my books were. I think children are more comfortable with ebooks than we are as adults. I definitely prefer paper, but my husband loves technology and passed his own Kindle on to me. I must admit it is handy for trips. Instead of lugging five books, I can drop the Kindle into my purse. I was not involved in the process, as that is the publisher’s choice. However, I am actively involved in getting my out-of-print titles back in print as eBooks through a company called StarWalk Kids.
Morgen: It’s a good idea; eBooks are quickly outselling paper. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Debbie: I must admit that Eddie of The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids is a favourite. He is a good kid, but just can’t help getting into mischief. I was looking at a cover of Mrs. Jeepers Is Missing (there are 51 numbered and more Specials) and thought how perfect Angelina Jolie would be as the vampire teacher, Mrs. Jeepers!
Morgen: That I can imagine. Mischief is fun, and very appealing to children of any age. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Debbie: They are extremely important in any genre, but especially in children’s books. Unfortunately, most authors have little or no say in the covers if they are published by a traditional publisher.
Morgen: That’s very true, and I know some authors who have had to market books with covers they really don’t care for, which is really hard, but you have to hope that the publisher knows what it’s doing. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Debbie: I hope to be writing more Mermaid Tales books! I have really enjoyed the stories and crafting the glossary at the back of each book, which tells the true facts about the sea creatures that appear in each story. I am rewriting a novel for the umpteenth time.
Morgen: Oh dear. Novels do have a habit of needing that, or going through a few times at least. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Debbie: There are a few days when I don’t get to write. I’ve been travelling quite a bit to promote Mermaid Tales, but I do try to write every day, except Sunday. I don’t think professional writers can afford writer’s block. I’ve heard that there is no day in which you cannot write. You may not write well, but you can write! Then, of course, you can always go back and rewrite.
Morgen: You can. Variety certainly helps. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Debbie: I definitely plan and outline my stories. I try not to over plan to give myself room to let the story unfold further. I believe if you don’t plan, it’s a great opportunity to get lost. I believe if you over plan, then what’s the point of writing the story?
Morgen: Most of the authors I’ve spoken to have been ‘pantsers’, and it’s worked for them. It usually does for me but my last NaNoWriMo I wrote was supposed to be the beginning of a crime series but ended up being a collection of characters and scenes, which I suspect will be dispersed into more than the first book so I’m going to write a synopsis for each and see what happens, so half-pantsing half-plotting. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Debbie: On my website, http://debbiedadey.com, I do have a character chart on my writing page. I think these charts are very helpful because even if you don’t use everything you’ve listed (their birthday, what they have hanging on their bedroom walls, what scares them, etc.), it still helps you to know your character better. And you must know the characters to allow your readers to know them.
Morgen: You must indeed, and know more about them than you put into your novels, although I love it when characters reveal more about themselves as you write. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Debbie: I wish! It seems like each new writing adventure is an uncharted territory that requires first fear, then jumping off a cliff, and then a LOT of work, such as rewriting and editing.
Morgen: Do you have to do much research?
Debbie: Actually, I do. Many of my books have been about creatures. For instance, in Zombies Don’t Coach Soccer, I did research on zombies. Do you know that salt will cure a zombie? When writing Werewolves Don’t Run for President, I found many ways to become a werewolf. Did you know that if you drink muddy water from a wolf’s paw print at midnight under a full moon you will turn into a wolfman?
Morgen: I didn’t know either of those facts, although I have to say I don’t plan to drink muddy water any time soon. 🙂 What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Debbie: I definitely prefer third person, past tense.
Morgen: You mentioned writing a novel…
Debbie: I have written some novels, some published and some still being revised. I have a time travel piece with an editor now that I’m keeping my fingers crossed about.
Morgen: Ooh, do let me know how you get on. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Debbie: I think every writer does! You have to write a lot of crap to get to the good stuff!
Morgen: But then when you write the good stuff you can go back and whip the crap into shape. 🙂 Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Debbie: I’ve had way too many rejections. I think I would get depressed if I counted them all. My first reaction to a rejection is anger. What does that editor know? I keep that opinion to myself and give myself time to cool down. Then, I start looking objectively at the editor’s comments (if any are given) and usually find they have merit. I can use those suggestions to make a much stronger story.
Morgen: Like publishers, you have to hope that the editor knows what they’re doing, although often it’s just the right thing for the wrong person. Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Debbie: I haven’t in a long time. I wouldn’t recommend any that require a reading fee.
Morgen: I occasionally come across free ones (and mention them on Facebook / Twitter) but most do come with an entry fee. I’m involved in two competitions (poetry / short stories) for two of my writing groups and it’s surprising how much it costs to run one; judge fees, postage / stationery, advertising, prize money. We’ve lost money on both the 2012 ones so, understandably, the decision’s been taken to have a year off (the competition secretaries work so hard – it’s literally months of preparation) that they deserve that. I offered to run a flash fiction one instead of the poetry and we’re meeting about that in a couple of weeks so hopefully I’ll be able to announce it shortly. You mentioned having an agent, do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Debbie: My agent is Susan Cohen at Writer’s House. While not vital to success, it is definitely nice to have someone in your corner: rooting for you, giving your manuscripts the once over, and helping with the headache of contracts.
Morgen: A second opinion is always valuable, and having someone who knows more about the industry than an author does can be a great help, I’m sure. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Debbie: I have a logo, which I try to put on all my public relations materials, that has my mantra or motto: books for reluctant readers. It is also important to include your website and Facebook fanpage (not a personal page) on everything as well. For my new series, I came up with a marketing plan that spelled out what I would try to do to promote the new series. Asking to be interviewed on blogs (like this lovely one) was one of the things that didn’t even require me leaving the house. I did school visits and bookstore signings. For the release of the third book, A Whale of A Tale, I will do another plan. I am not a marketing expert, but I figure just trying to promote it as best I can is better than nothing at all!
Morgen: It’s great having the option to market locally and online. I’ve been blown away by the amount of authors who have wanted to be interviewed. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Debbie: I have so many favourites, like simply the joy of having the story unfold at my fingertips as well as seeing the reaction of children when I read my books out loud. My website has a video on my writing page that shows me screaming in horror at my least favourite aspect of writing – the rewriting stage. But, I feel anyone can be a writer while not everyone will take the time and effort to be a rewriter. That persistence and dedication is often what makes the difference between a story that is published and one that languishes in a drawer.
Morgen: Editing (rewriting) and research are my least favourite. I’d love to be able to afford just to pass first drafts over to my editor but she has two other jobs so it wouldn’t be fair. And of course the internet makes research so much easier. I know how lucky I am to come to writing in 2005 when the internet was already established. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Debbie: Read, read, read and write, write, write. Join a critique group and listen. Don’t argue, listen to what they say. If more than one person says it, you should probably take that advice.
Morgen: I run / belong to four writing groups and they are invaluable. Second opinions will always pick up on things that would never have occurred to us. I’ve just set up four online writing groups specifically to provide feedback. They’re only a couple of weeks old but they’re working really well (although I could do with more submissions!). If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Debbie: Jesus, my grandmother, and my father would be my honoured guests. They are the three people who are no longer walking the earth that mean the most to me. My father told me once, “If other people can write books, then so can you.” My grandmother, Lillie Bailey, kept a diary which inspired me to write. In fact, my first series, The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids, was named after her. And Jesus had blessed me with good health, family, and an imagination. I would love to serve a simple spinach and strawberry salad with good bread, lemonade, and warm apple pie because they are favourites and easy enough so I can enjoy time with my guests.
Morgen: I’d have my father too. Most authors I’ve ask would have famous guests, perhaps not thinking that family counts, but if someone’s missing from your life, it’s usually them that you want to see again. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Debbie: I have a quote that I keep on my desk and I’m sorry to say I don’t know where it came from. It is: Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, and totally worn out, and proclaiming, “Wow, what a ride!!”
Morgen: Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Debbie: I have a newsletter that shares what I’ve learned about the writing community-news about other authors, job openings, and opportunities for children to write.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Debbie: I love to play tennis. I volunteer at a local historic home, The Moland House, where I’m the event planner. I also volunteer at a children’s home, Christ’s Home, where I fold clothes and scrub floors. Both of those are great thinking opportunities.
Morgen: I used to love tennis. My first house overlooked a sports centre with tennis courts. I was there for six or seven years and probably played tennis as many times; a waste really. When something’s on your doorstep… Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Debbie: Publisher’s Weekly has a free children’s bookshelf publication that is emailed weekly (http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/email-subscriptions/index.html). It’s an easy way to keep up with the writing world. If you can afford it, I’d definitely recommend a subscription to Publisher’s Weekly. If you know a children’s librarian who subscribes to review journals, like Booklist or School Library Journal, ask them if you can review their copies.
Morgen: That’s a great idea. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Debbie: I do belong to LinkedIn, Jacketflap, Manic Readers, Goodreads, SCBWI, and Facebook. I am fairly new to all the venues and probably don’t participate as much as I should. I do pretty much update my website and Facebook fanpage daily. Kids can write me on the KidsTalk portion of my website and I answer them on the DebbieTalks portion.
Morgen: LinkedIn’s probably how we met. I found hundreds (literally) of interviewees there. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Debbie: Things are definitely changing and ebooks are a huge reason for that change. In whatever form fiction takes in the future, I think good content is still needed. For that, I believe there will always be a need for creative people to write interesting stories.
Morgen: ‘Interesting’ being the operative word, and there’s little doubt that people are reading more than ever thanks to the formats available to them. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Morgen: I have. 🙂 Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Debbie: SCBWI, or the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, is a great way for anyone interested in writing for children to get a start. It helped me immensely in the beginning and still does! The website is www.scbwi.org and they have conferences around the world.
Morgen: I’ve had authors mention, and recommend them. They do sound like a great organisation, like The Society of Authors here in the UK. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Debbie: Could we be related? I have English, Welsh, and American Indian blood in me. I am of the Newport Bailey’s who all descend through Palmer Bailey, who was born in 1578 in England (probably Great Compton).
Morgen: Sadly not, I use a pseudonym after my current (Bailey) and previous dog (Morgen). Morgen was originally called Tim (the name of an ex-boyfriend so I changed it and picked Morgen because I have German connections and a two-syllable name is easier to call out) and Bailey arrived into the rescue centre with an old tag (“Agatha”!) so he was named after one of my favourite drinks and the English photographer, David Bailey (my father was a photographer). It would have been nice if we had been. Thank you, Debbie.
I then invited Debbie to include an extract of her writing and this is from Trouble at Trident Academy, the first book in the Mermaid Tales series. In every book, the mergirls try to cheer up grumpy Mr. Fangtooth.
Echo thought about it. “If I found something human,” she admitted.
Shelly sighed. She didn’t understand her friend’s fascination with humans. Shelly thought killer whales were much more interesting.
Echo swallowed a handful of tiny octopus legs before licking her fingers. “Maybe we could try making funny faces at Mr. Fangtooth. That always makes my dad smile.”
Shelly smiled. “That’s a great idea. Let’s put our lunch trays away and make faces at him.”
Echo and Shelly stood at the service window to the Trident Academy kitchen. Shelly crossed her eyes and pushed her nose up to look like a dog fish. Echo pulled her dark hair into tall points puffed her cheeks out. Mr. Fangtooth frowned at them.
Echo blew out the air in her cheeks, making lots of little bubbles. “Why didn’t he smile?” she whispered. “That always works with my dad.”
“I have the feeling that Mr. Fangtooth hasn’t smiled in a very, very long time. I think we’re going to have to do something drastic,” Shelly said.
“Like what?” Echo said.
Shelly shrugged and looked around the cafeteria. She saw Kiki sitting with Pearl and a group of mergirls. Kiki smiled at Shelly. Shelly gave a little wave as she turned back to Mr. Fangtooth.
“Roar!” Mr. Fangtooth made a horrible face and bellowed at the mergirls.
Echo screamed and fell into Rocky Seal. Rocky’s plate of ribbon worms flew onto Echo’s hair.
“Get them off!” Echo squealed. She stopped when she heard a booming sound.
It was Mr. Fangtooth! His laughter rocked the cafeteria.
All the students looked up from their lunches to see what was happening. “See,” Shelly said, “I told you we could make Mr. Fangtooth laugh.”
Headmaster Barnacle’s voice came over the conch shell, “Shelly Siren and Echo Reef, please report to the headmaster’s office immediately.”
“Ooooh,” Rocky teased. “You’re in big trouble now.”
Shelly gulped. It was only her first day at Trident Academy. Now she was worried it would also be her last.
and a synopsis of her latest book…
It’s MerGirl Shelly Siren’s first day at a new school and she is nervous from the tip of her head to the end of her sparkling mermaid tail. How will she ever fit in at the prestigious Trident Academy? Everyone there is smart, pretty and so rich. She and her best friend Echo are in the same class, but so is Pearl, a spoiled know-it-all, who only wants to make trouble for Shelly; Rocky, a merboy who loves to tease everyone; and Kiki, a shy mergirl, new to Trident City. At first, Shelly and Echo have lots of fun: eating lunch together, trying to make grumpy Mr. Fangtooth smile, and joining after-school clubs. But when Shelly and Echo have an argument about their very first school assignment, Pearl comes between them and Shelly wonders if she and Echo will ever fix their undersea friendship.
Debbie Dadey is a former teacher and librarian. Her passion is writing books for reluctant grade school readers. With ten series and forty-seven million copies of her 151 books in print, titles like Slime Wars continue to enchant boys and girls alike. Debbie’s first series, which she co-authored with Marcia Jones, The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids, is one of Scholastic’s top three best-selling series. Her newest series, Mermaid Tales with Simon and Schuster, gives students a chance to enjoy a fun story while learning about the ocean and its inhabitants. The first two titles are Trouble at Trident Academy and Battle of the Best Friends. A Whale of a Tale will be out soon. Visit www.debbiedadey.com to find out more about Debbie and her books. www.Facebook.com/debbiedadey gives suggestions to help reluctant readers and writing tips.
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