As promised, today we begin a new topic, our 14th, on Writers at Work. This time we’re taking a look at how writers and artists learn about their subject. You’re going to hear some interesting back stories and we’re delighted to kick off with well known author Debbie Dadey. Debbie, many thanks for joining us.
WRITERS AT WORK
Topic 14: What We Do for Love: Children’s Authors and Illustrators Risk All to Get it Right
Response 1 — Debbie Dadey
April 7, 2015
I’ve always heard, write what you know. Perhaps it should be write what you DO. I’ve always wanted to experience what I write about if it is at all possible. So, unless it’s dangerous I do it. Ooops, wait a minute that isn’t true, because some people would say sliding into a shark tank or sky diving is dangerous and I’ve done both to help me write stories.
I guess this ‘doing’ thing all began when I was writing a Bailey School Adventure book with my friend Marcia Thornton Jones. When we first started writing the series, we actually sat side by side and worked out the story together. We were stuck on a scene when the kids were in a classroom. We wanted Eddie to do something a bit wild, but what? So we were ‘doers’. We went into a third grade classroom and sat down at a desk. Scraps of paper were spilling out, which we included in our story, but that wasn’t wild. It wasn’t the pencil stubs, but the scissors poking their blunt points out of the mess that gave us the idea. Eddie was sitting behind Liza and her long blond hair was swinging. Can you guess what Eddie was going to do? (Or try to do?)
So when we were writing the story, Hercules Doesn’t Pull Teeth, it made perfect sense for us to go to the dentist to do research. Sure, I’ve been to the dentist more times that I can remember, but I’d never really paid attention. So, going to the dentist and taking a few notes really helped bring the dentist’s office to life. The same was true for bringing karate practice alive in the book, Angels Don’t Know Karate. What better way to write about karate than to actually do it? It was a bit embarrassing though since my son was a higher belt and I had to bow to him. (He loved it!)
I think the key to being a ‘doer’ is to put a limited number of details into the natural flow of the story. I didn’t want Mrs. Jeepers in Outer Space to become a non-fiction book about space camp, but I did want kids to feel like they were really there. So I hustled myself off to Huntsville, Alabama to experience what it was really like. Spinning around to the point of nausea on the multi-axis trainer was worth it because I could write about it with a bit of authority.
For Whistler’s Hollow, I drove eight hours so I could sit on a coal train. I took notes so I could write one paragraph about what it felt like. It must have worked because when that book came out, the publisher of Bloomsbury USA told me, “It felt like I was really on that train.”
I also slid into a shark tank for Danger in the Deep Blue Sea, book number four in my Mermaid Tales series with Simon and Schuster. But probably the craziest thing I have done for writing was to fall out of a plane! I wrote a story, that I’ve never sold, where a grandmother wanted to go sky-diving. So, I figured to be able to write about it I should experience it. Big mistake!! You can see me scream on my website, http://www.debbiedadey.com.
Some folks might think being a ‘doer’ is an unnecessary extra step and perhaps it is. Probably researching or watching videos will suffice in most instances. And I’m sure going to see a real live reindeer for Reindeers Don’t Wear Striped Underwear, getting a scooter of my own for Pirates Do Ride Scooters, and creating a mess making cookies for Slime Wars wasn’t totally necessary. But for me, it’s hard to pass up the chance to be a kid again. And if it can help me write better, then I’m all for it.
Currently, I am writing a story about a mermaid who is injured and can’t swim. I wanted to write it because I think kids deserve to see their mirror image on the covers of books. I don’t see many books with handicapped children on the front. I hope Mermaid Tales #14 will feature a mermaid on the cover in a ‘wheel-chair’ of sorts. So what do I need to do? I need to experience it. Anyone have a wheelchair handy?