How They Got Here: 2009 Debut Author Erin Dionne

This is the first in a year-long series of blog interviews I’ll be hosting with my fellow 2009 Debut Authors, called "How They Got Here." 

It should be an especially helpful series for teens who write, teachers, and anyone who wants to write for kids.  2009 debut authors will be dropping by to talk about how their writing in school shaped the authors they are today, what teachers can do to make a difference, how they revise, and how they found their agents and editors.  (You’ll even be able to read some successful query letters!)  If you know a teacher or two who might be interested, please share the link!

Today…Erin Dionne, author of MODELS DON’T EAT CHOCOLATE COOKIES!

Thirteen-year-old Celeste Harris is no string bean, but comfy sweatpants and a daily chocolate cookie suit her just fine. Her under-the-radar lifestyle could have continued too, if her aunt hadn’t entered her in the HuskyPeach Modeling Challenge. To get out of it, she’s forced to launch Operation Skinny Celeste—because, after all, a thin girl can’t be a fat model! What Celeste never imagined was that losing weight would help her gain a backbone . . . or that all she needed to shine was a spotlight.

Welcome, Erin!  Please tell us about the first thing you ever wrote that made you think maybe you were a writer.

Hmm….I guess it was the short story I wrote in fourth grade about a girl who hid while watching the colonists plan the Boston Tea Party. I loved the feeling of concocting my own version of the story. I still have it.

What books did you love when you were a kid?

Too many to list. Off the top of my head: The Little House on the Prairie series, the Great Brain books, Charlotte’s Web, The Westing Game, Hotel For Dogs; Jennifer, Hecate, William McKinley & Me, Elizabeth…

Is there a particular teacher or librarian who was a mentor for you in your reading and writing life?

Yes! Mrs. deBaerstrand, my 4th grade teacher encouraged my outrageous reading comprehension skills by giving me books to take home and devour, and she would quiz me on the contents when I finished them–often the next day!

In high school, Mrs. Baron encouraged my writing. I never had her as a teacher, but she was the faculty adviser to the school’s literary magazine, which I edited. She encouraged me to write as much as I could.

Moving on to the here and now, most writers admit that making time to write can sometimes be a challenge. When and where do you write? Do you have any special rituals? Music?

Most of the time I write on my laptop, either at the dining room table or in my local library. Since I have a new baby, I write whenever I get the time!

I always listen to music when I’m working–typically mellow, background stuff like Paul Simon, Jack Johnson, or Sting. But I’ll sneak a Red Hot Chili Peppers song or Linkin Park on my playlist to wake me up every so often!

Do you have a favorite strategy for revision?

I have an elaborate kabuki ritual around revision. I wish I were a one-or-two revision writer, but I’m not. In order for my work to be good, I have to go through a lot of steps:

I print the manuscript, make handwritten notes on it and tag the pages with post-it notes. Then I input the changes into the computer, making additional tweaks as I go. I print the manuscript again, make the edits–I did this 7 times when working on MODELS. Then I put each scene on a color-coded index card to evaluate the book as a whole. And I go back to the manuscript two more times.

What’s your best advice for young writers?

Read a lot. Write a lot. Love it!

What’s special about your debut novel?

What’s special to me is that it shows how hard work can really pay off! What’s special to readers…well, I hope readers find something special that they relate to.

What were the best and worst parts of writing it?

The best parts were when the words came in a rush, and when writing some of the scenes I cracked myself up. There weren’t any "worst parts." Going to the keyboard was tougher some days than others, but overall I loved every minute of it.

How did you find your agent and/or editor?

I found my agent through a recommendation from another author, but she wasn’t ready to take on children’s book writers at the time. About a year later, she was adding children’s book writers to her client list, and MODELS was ready to go out. Voila!

Ready to dig into this tasty novel?  You can pick up MODELS DON’T EAT CHOCOLATE COOKIES at your local independent bookseller, order it through one of my favorite indies, Flying Pig Bookstore (they ship!), or find an indie near you by checking out IndieBound!

Up next in the "How They Got Here" Debut 2009 series…Saundra Mitchell, author of SHADOWED SUMMER, will be stopping by on Monday, February 16th.