Writers at Work — “What We Do for Love:” Part 1

Hi everyone,

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?

Debbie Dadey
http://www.debbiedadey.com
http://www.Facebook.com/debbiedadey

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Still seeking research stories

Hi everyone,

Sandy Asher and I are still gathering anecdotes from published writers and artists about the lengths they’ve gone to in their search for authenticity in their work. We’ll include as many as we can in the 4th installment of “The Search for Authenticity,” an upcoming series of WRITERS AT WORK. To accommodate our own workloads we’ve tentatively set April as the month to post the four segments on successive Tuesdays (7, 14, 21, 28), beginning with Debbie Dadey and followed by me, then Sandy, and finally the conclusion with stories shared by our readers.

Please send your thoughts directly to me so we don’t spoil the surprise before the post goes up on Tuesday, April 28. You can use my e-mail: davidlharrison1@att.net. We’ve heard from Bill Anderson, Jane Yolen, Veda Boyd Jones, and others but still have plenty of room for more.

These don’t need to be long, just enough to set up the situation and explain how you researched to prepare for what you were going to write. Most of the entrees will probably range from a few words to 200 or so. Thank you in advance.

How do you prepare for a book?

Hi everyone,
Sandy Asher and I are planning a new episode in the series of nuts and bolts writers’ chats we call WRITERS AT WORK. This time we want to talk about research, or, more specifically, the things writers do to prepare for their work. Granted, some writing takes less preparation than others but most of us at one time or another have gone to considerable trouble to gain the experience we feel we need in order to convey a sense of time and place to our readers.
Sandy Asher

Sandy, who always has her antennae up, spotted a charming paragraph in a recent interview with Debbie Dadey. Here’s her response to a question about how she has prepared for some of her wildly successful stories among her 160 published books.http://www.debbiedadey.com debbie dadey

“For Mrs. Jeepers in Outer Space I went to Space Camp and for Wolfmen Don’t Hula Dance I went to Hawaii. For Hercules Doesn’t Pull Teeth I went to the dentist and for Mummies Don’t Coach Softball I got to go to Egypt. 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 said, “It felt like I was really on that train.” I also slid into a shark tank for Danger in the Deep Blue Sea. 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!!”

It is our pleasure to tell you that Debbie is joining us in the new episode, tentatively named, “In Pursuit of Authenticity.” She has already filed her essay so now it’s up to Sandy and me to get ourselves in gear to do our sections. I’ll take one, Sandy will take one, and we hope to use the fourth installment to relate stories from you.

So this is an invitation to all you published children’s authors to tell us about the lengths you’ve gone to for the sake of making your own work more authentic.

Please send your anecdotes to me personally via e-mail so we don’t spoil your stories before it’s time to include them in WRITERS AT WORK. My e-mail address is DavidLHarrison1@att.net. Thanks!