Connie: Itís a pleasure to welcome you to Once Upon A Romance, Dotti. I hope you relax and enjoy your time with Robyn and I while we try and learn more about you and your writing. Would you start us out by talking a bit about yourself and your writing?
Dotti: Thanks, Connie and Robyn. Iím a childrenís author whoís been writing for publication since 1995. I started with magazine stories, then got brave enough to try writing a middle-grade novel for kids 8-12 years old. That novel, The Lost Girl, was my first published book. It came out in September 2002. I currently have nineteen books in print with eight more forthcoming.
Robyn: Dotti, looking over your impressive resume, I wondered if you began as a storyteller and thatís how you developed into an author? Or were you an author first who found out she could spin a great oral yarn?
Dotti: I was a storyteller first with the Houston Storytellers Guild. I told stories at libraries, schools, festivals, and even at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. Twice I came in second at the Houston Annual Liarsí Contest (that makes me a second rate liar). Since many of the stories I told where my own, I decided to see if I could get any of them published. Thatís how I got my start as an author.
Robyn: A great start to your career. Do you find storytelling to be vastly different from writing stories?
Dotti: Yes, itís different. With storytelling I can change the volume and tone of my voice, move about, and use facial expression to convey character. Of course with writing, I have to find the perfect words to do that for me.
Connie: As Robyn said, your resume covers a wide range of talents and accomplishments regarding your craft; obviously youíve been writing and telling stories for quite some time. You also speak and entertain at schools and libraries. Throughout these experiences youíve grown and learned. What have you learned about yourself during this time? What has surprised you about yourself?
Dotti: Iíve learned that Iím a far more patient person that I originally thought. With public speaking you run into so many different scenarios. Some schools treat me like a celebrity, which makes me a tad uncomfortable. Then there have been a few that acted as though they were doing me a favor by having me in. They prepared nothing ahead of time, and talked to me like I was one of the students whoíd strayed in from class. You can imagine how frustrating that is. Iíll take the celebrity treatment any day. But for the most part, the kids are always wonderful and great listeners. I have no problems once Iím presenting.
Iím not sure what has surprised me about myself. There are some days Iím surprised that I can keep going at such a fast pace.
Connie: Experience is a great teacher, and so are kids. What have you learned from the kids, Dotti? How have they helped or enhanced your thought or writing process with each subsequent book?
Dotti: One thing Iíve learned is that kids are smart readers. They canít be fooled. If the writerís heart is not in the written word, theyíll stop reading. Iím one of the few authors who does think of my readers more than my "vision" for the story. I want to write the books they want to read.
Connie: From either your mail or speaking engagements, is there a particular question or comment from a reader that sticks in your mind/that youíve never forgotten?
Dotti: There have been lots of wonderful fan mail over the years. The most frequently asked question is whether or not there will be more Fortune Tellers Club books. There are only eight in the series. The unfortunate answer is no. I hate disappointing fans, but it was time to move on.
Robyn: Since you write more than one type of book, do you ever have multiple projects going at once? If so, how do you re-immerse yourself into the characters or stories without bringing over the tone of other projects as you shuffle them?
Dotti: Iím a very linear thinker. Itís tough for me to work on more than one project at a time. Particularly novels. I will stop progress on a novel to get a picture book draft down, but I never jump from one lengthy piece to another. My brain might literally explode.
Connie: Speaking of projects, could we get a sneak peek? Will there a sequel or series revolving around Fiona from Hidden? Whatís brewing in your imagination?
Dotti: No, there wonít be a sequel to Hidden. I do have several plots floating in the back of my mind as I work on my current project, a six-book chapter book series for an educational publisher. All six books are due next April, but theyíre only about 7,000 words each. Iím working on book five at the moment. And my agent is shopping a novel and a picture book of mine as I type this.
Robyn: We wish you luck!
Dotti, so many books are now available for young adults. What do you try to add to your books that make them a unique in the young adult market?
Dotti: Itís tough to be unique in the YA genre. Thereís not much that hasnít already been done. I just try to come up with concepts that are different.
Connie: Writing isnít easy. Itís a culmination of doing what you love, imagination, experience, and much more. How do you tap into the inner child and/or "tween/teen" to tell a story that entertains your target audience? Whatís your mindset or process during writing?
Dotti: I pull from memories. Thatís the best thing about writing for kids, everyone has experience. We were all children once. Kids today have the same problems and emotional issues as generations past. You just have to modernize those problems.
Robyn: You make it seem so easyÖWhen I look at your childrenís books and the illustrations (Grandpa for Sale, The Fat Stock Stampede at the Houston Livestock Show) are so marvelous and perfect with the story, I wonder how much input you get as the author in either choosing the illustrator or helping determine what is drawn.
Dotti: Normally an author has little input when it comes to illustrations. However, Pelican Publishing did ask me if I had an illustrator in mind for the picture books Iíve published with them. I suggested Chuck Galey for The Cotton Candy Catastrophe at the Texas State Fair, and Joe Kulka for Granny Gert and the Bunion Brothers. I didnít have a lot of say once the illustrators took over, but those artists are far more creative than I am, and I wouldnít want my opinions to stifle their visions for the story. Illustrators do more than just draw the text. They add their own elements to the story, making it a much more fun read.
Robyn: Have there been times where an illustration just didnít fit your vision for your story? If so, what did you do?
Dotti: Sure. Thatís happened in a few of my books, but I was so happy with the results, I didnít dwell on it.
Connie: Itís apparent you really take pleasure in writing for the younger reader and enjoy weaving tales for children of all ages (Man in the Moon, Granny Gert and the Bunion Brothers) , but after giving it a bit of thought, are there any characters or is there a particular story that was particularly fun to create?
Dotti: Iím especially partial to Janine in Man in the Moon because sheís actually me at twelve-years-old. She talks like I did, thinks like I did, and even lives on the farm I lived on as a child. I spent a good deal of my childhood feeling confined, and through Janine, I was able to give my childhood self a little freedom.
Connie: Dotti, for all of the involved caring parents, who have yet to gift their child with one of your books, what would you tell them about yourself and about your writing as far as content and message you present to their child?
Dotti: I write strictly to entertain. I want the kids that are reading my books to feel intrigue, to laugh, to identify with the characters. All my books have an underlying theme, but I want kids to really enjoy the story itself. Picture books create wonderful bonding times for parents and children. Thatís why Iím always so happy to hear parents tell me that their child has requested one of my books to be read over and over.
Robyn: Creating that bond and encouraging a love for reading is so important.
Learning more about you now; Iíve heard you arenít exactly Julia Child in the kitchen. What is the worst cooking disaster youíve ever had?
Dotti: I. Hate. To. Cook! Iíd rather be beat with a frying pan than to cook with one. But itís one of those necessary evils. I try to get out of it as often as I can, but when you have a family, you have to rattle the pans occasionally. My worst cooking disaster was a few years ago when I decided to make a meatloaf for dinner. After mixing most of the ingredients, I realized I was out of Saltines. But there was a package of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish in the pantry Ė the original Goldfish in the blue package. I thought, Hey, these taste a lot like crackers. So I crumbled up a bunch in the meatloaf mixture. It smelled like meatloaf while it was cooking. It looked like meatloaf when I took it out of the oven. It sliced like meatloaf when I served it. BLECH! Never substitute Goldfish for Saltines when preparing a meatloaf! (Maybe I should embroider that on a sample to hang in my kitchen.)
Robyn: In your spare time, of course. Since you donít enjoy cooking all that much, where is your favorite place to eat? Or what type of food is your favorite to eat?
Dotti: Iím from Texas so thereís really only one answer to that questionÖMexican food! Seriously, my husband and I eat at the Mexican food restaurant twice a week. Sometimes more. Itís a Texas thang. I also enjoy those huge chopped beef baked potatoes at the barbeque joint. Those literally melt in your mouth.
Connie: Ok, Dotti, no love of cooking. Does that leave room for crafts or hobbies? Gardening, scrap booking, painting, crocheting...that sort of thing?
Dotti: In my old life I did cross-stitch and embroidery. I used to make all my Christmas presents. But these days I just read and write. And thatís sort of sad because crafting is so relaxing. I should try and find time to get back to it.
Robyn: Time seems to be in short supply these days.
If you were to tell your own fortune, what would you want your future to hold?
Dotti: A breakout novel that gets its own display in the bookstoreÖnationwide. My books do really well, but Iím yet to get the attention of some of the big guys. Thatís my dream anyway.
Connie: As a little girl, during summer break, where could you be found, what would you be doing?
Dotti: I was a daydreamer. I spent a lot of time alone, dreaming about the future. But I also had friends Iíd hang out with. And yes, I played Barbie and kickball and all the same things that kids do today.
Connie: As pre-teens and teens most of us had girlhood crushes on stars. Who did you have a crush on?
Dotti: My first love at age ten was Paul McCartney. Then it was Davy Jones of the Monkees. I had 101 pictures of Davy Jones on my bedroom walls when I was fourteen. YesÖIím that old! And those girlhood crushes have never stopped. I still have crushes on current TV stars and musicians.
Robyn: Since youíre from Houston where the Rodeo is such a part of life, what is your favorite event at the rodeo?? Do you prefer the traditional Ďrodeoí events like bull riding and barrel racing or do you like the addition of the concerts by some of the top musical artists?
Dotti: I like the Calf Scramble where they let loose a herd of calves and kids scramble to catch one. Itís so cute! I also like the pig races that take place before the rodeo.
Connie: Thank you so much for sharing yourself, Dotti. We really appreciated the opportunity you gave us to visit with you!
I think we covered a lot of ground, but just in case, is there anything we left out that you really want the readers and parents to know?
Dotti: Youíve pretty much covered it all. Thanks so much for the unique questions. Itís not often that I get to share kitchen disasters.
Connie: Youíre very welcome! We had a great time.