Welcome to the stage, author and co-author of 166 traditionally published children’s books, Debbie Dadey, a former teacher and librarian. She lives in a log cabin in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, with nature to inspire her writing. Her first book, co-authored with Marcia Thornton Jones, Vampires Don’t Wear Polka Dots turned into the series, The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids. Ready, Set, Goal! is the newest in Debbie’s Mermaid Tales, a multi-cultural series from Simon and Schuster. Each Mermaid Tales book has an enchanting story couples with non-fiction components where readers learn about ocean creatures and plants. To learn more about Debbie as an author, please visit her website www.debbiedadey.com; like her at www.Facebook.com/debbiedadey; and follow her on www.twitter.com/debbiedadey.
1. Debbie, thank you so much for doing this interview! Your publishing journey is fascinating. Let’s start at the start. You’ve mentioned previously on The Writing Bug that your writing journey began with a simple yet witty post card after a year of querying. Did you ever feel hopeless during that year? What encouraged you to keep writing and keep submitting queries?
Oh yes! There were many times (and still are) where I was ready to pull my hair out and give up. Writing is an incredibly difficult, disheartening, and depressing way to make a living and yet it can also be an exhilarating, uplifting, and a joyful experience. I was lucky enough to have a writing partner, Marcia Thornton Jones, when I started out. We encouraged each other through all the rejections. We also formed a critique group that was another great source of support. Although I’ve lived all over the country, I’ve almost always been lucky enough to find or form a critique group of fellow writers who been great sources of not only support, but inspiration. Sometimes the SCBWI helped me find a group.
2. Many aspiring authors and illustrators don’t try to harpoon a big fish like Scholastic in the beginning of their journey. What led to that decision in your mind, that Scholastic would be the best place for your early manuscript Vampires Don’t Wear Polka Dots rather than a children’s book literary agent?
Dumb luck had a lot to do with it! We didn’t know much about agents at the time, but we did know the kinds of books that Scholastic published. Marcia and I thought our story would be a good fit and lucky for us it was! So knowing the market is very important and that can only come by studying newly published books, publishers website or catalogs, and reading reviews.
3. Let’s talk numbers. Everyone loves numbers, especially when the numbers are BIG. You’ve got over 42 million copies sold and describe yourself as a professional writer who doesn’t have time for writer’s block. At what point did you realize you could write for a living? How did your family react as your writing career took off?
After Marcia and I sold our sixth Bailey Schools Kids book, lots of things were happening in my life. I remember standing in the doorway of my blue house with Marcia. We cried and hugged, knowing our writing career together was over because my husband, son, and I were moving to Texas for my husband’s job. Then Scholastic asked us to write four more books in our series and we knew we’d have to come up with a way to work long distance. When I found out I was pregnant a short while later, it was a scary decision to try writing full time. I’d like to say there were never any conflicts with my family when I needed to take a trip for my writing career, but I’d be lying. I’m not complaining. I know I’m blessed.
4. Do you think the publishing industry is fair? Does it only take a good, unique manuscript to get the foot in the door? From your personal experience and that of aspiring writers and illustrators you know, how important are relationships prior to getting a book deal or agent?
Marcia and I didn’t know anyone! Our unique book title did help us get a read and the fact that we were educators helped as well, since at the time writing about vampires was sketchy.
5. Let’s circle back to your family. You’ve got a smart scientist husband, grown kids out of school, and pets. Many authors struggle in their quest for a quiet place to write. How did you manage a “writing place” when your kids were young? How do you manage every day distractions now?
Distractions are a constant struggle for any writer. Carving out a personal space is very important I think. My first office chair was the spare bed and my first desk was a side table, but I could close the door and work. When I was working full-time, I worked in the evenings after everyone else fell asleep. Then mornings became most productive for me. I won’t say it’s always been easy, I’ve literally written books with a baby on my back! Now, I try to set goals for myself by listing what I want to accomplish. There’s something very empowering about crossing something off a list!
6. Many children visit your website and read your interviews. Let’s speak to them for a minute. What should children learn about writing books when they research you? Is there anything children can be doing now to become professional writers or illustrators later in life?
I love to read and as far back as I can remember I’ve always loved books. I probably didn’t treat them as well as I should have-I read under the covers, in the bathtub, and with the book in my lap at the supper table. But I’m sure all that reading helped me to become a better writer. Reading is the best classroom a writer can have.
7. As such a prolific writer, you’ve come across so many stories from other authors. There are good ones and bad ones. Despite the subjective nature of personal tastes, what makes a captivating story? What makes a horrible story?
The strange thing is that what makes a wonderful story for some could be quite boring for others. It’s quite rare to find a story that everyone loves. But I think the best stories are those where the underdog somehow finds a way to succeed, hopefully with friends helping along the way. A horrible story to me is one that gets so bogged down with the big picture that if forgets to zero in on the action (or moments that are important).
8. Many people reading your interviews are new to the publishing industry. You’ve built incredible connections with publishers, agents, editors, and illustrators. What characteristics would define a successful relationship between an author and any of the above? What warning signs should aspiring authors and illustrators look out for?
My first book came out almost 30 years ago. Be assured that almost all the editors I knew then have retired or moved on. Publishing is constantly evolving. It is a fluid industry, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When our Scholastic editor moved to Hyperion, she asked us to write a series for them. It’s very easy to get upset when the story you’ve poured your heart into is rejected, but getting mad at an editor will not get your story published!
9. In your interview with Jolene Haley, you describe the tight bond you have with your long time friend and frequent co-author, Marcia Thornton Jones. With such an early connection writing stories together, is it more difficult working on separate projects where you can’t or don’t bounce ideas off each other? With humans being naturally rough around the edges and having unique perspectives, how did you and Marcia conquer differences in decision making? What about differences in plot or story directions?
When Marcia and I began writing together, we didn’t know what we were doing! If one of us felt strongly, the other figured she must be right and we tried it. I know that I probably wouldn’t have continued writing without Marcia’s encouragement, so I’m eternally grateful for her hard work ethic.
10. We are increasingly becoming a connected, global society. With one Tweet, Instagram, Facebook post, Snapchat, or blog we can be engaging with people on the other side of the world. What is your view on the importance of having a mentor? Did you have any mentors in your writing career and are there any you would like to name here for recognition? Are you open to people asking you to be a mentor in the writing space?
Marcia and I struggled together all those years and in a way we were each other’s mentor. But we’ve always wanted a wise Yoda type mentor! By the time we came up for air, we’d sold so many books people were looking to us for advice and we were still learning. I am doing a free writing clinic at the end of this month, as well as two SCBWI conferences this spring. I’m hopeful that I’ll help someone on their writing journey.
11. Debbie, what can we expect from you over the next 1-2 years? What about 5-10 years down the road?
I’m excited to have three more books coming out in the Mermaid Tales series in the next two years. The Fairy Chase comes out in May of 2018, The Secret Code of the Sea Unicorn and The Winter Princess in 2019. My writing goal has always been to write books for reluctant readers, no matter what the age. But I must admit I’ve always loved writing chapter books for kids who are in between picture books and novels. I hope to continue writing them for a long, long time!
Debbie, you have such a fascinating journey as an author. Thank you for taking the time away to share your story with us and provide such successful insight.
To the reader, do you have a unique story to share in the publishing space? You could be interviewed next! Contact me here or on social media to find out how you can be an encouragement and guide to aspiring authors and illustrators.