Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Dena Daw

I first found out about Dena through a mutual friend (thanks Jon!), and began lurking at her very funny blog only to find out that she was lurking at mine.  Dena's voice is so clear in everything that she writes, that I feel like I can actually hear it through the computer screen.  I have no doubt that Dena will go far with her writing.  She's also the reigning Queen of WIBIJ--will nobody take her down?  And her blog is fantastically funny.  And she's not afraid to ask for stuff.  Go check it out!  (No, seriously, I'll wait.)  Are you back?  Great.  

Welcome Dena!  Thanks for doing this interview--and start off by telling us a little about yourself!

I'm Dena, also known as "D." I've been writing for as long as I can remember but recently I've enjoyed writing for my two kids. I have a degree in Journalism and International Politics from the University of South Carolina.  I am married to a Brit  (who moved across the world JUST for me!)  and we have a spunky 4 year old and sweet 1 1/2 year old to show for it.  I spend my days blogging, writing, and putting out pint-sized fires. I also enjoy writing adult short stories (an indulgence of mine). One such indulgence is published online with Black Lantern Publishing.

Dena, share with us what you are currently working on.

Currently my brain is working on a lot of things.  Literally, not that much.  I recently finished revising my first picture book which I am absolutely paranoid of sending out to publishers. I have written a few more picture books (some yet to be critiqued), as well as a few children's short stories that I plan on submitting to various children's magazines. I'm also halfway through a YA novel as well as a historical mystery. I have a horrible habit of not finishing what I start, so honestly I have half-written manuscripts that date back to the 1990's.  Although I'm not currently not working on them, my brain is.  Picture books and short stories are right up my alley- they're finished before I have time to second guess myself and put them on the shelf.

What made you start to write seriously?

My husband.  He's been reading my secretive short stories for years and he's always encouraged me to go for it.  For a long time I ignored him, paranoid of rejection.  The thing is, writing is the only thing I think I'm really good at.  It's one of the few things I truly enjoy.  If I fail at this then it confirms my deepest fear: squirrels are organized.  Oops, I mean my 2nd deepest fear:  that I really suck at writing. Thankfully, my husband urged me on.  He knew one day I'd only hate myself for not trying.  So here I am. Trying.

What stage are you at, currently, in your journey toward publication? And--how is that going for you?  Has anything surprised you about this stage?

Well, here's the thing...I tend to do things backwards.  When I first decided to "go for it," I really went for it.  I mean I stupidly went for it.  I tend to throw myself into things without the proper research and preparation.  That's exactly what I did with "Sally Circle," my first picture book.  I submitted that bad boy to like 7 publishing houses and several agencies.  UN-CRITIQUED.  Yeah, you heard me right.  Then I started blogging.  Wow, it didn't take me long to realize the gravity of my mistake.  Luckily I had a lot of help from my followers and since then I've learned a tremendous amount. I am now a member of an extremely supportive 6-person picture book critique group as well as a card carrying member of SCBWI.  So now I'm at the beginning of the journey toward publication.  Still haven't submitted my revised version of "Sally Circle" or any subsequent PB's. Although I have recently submitted a children's short story to Highlights.

If you had to pick one favorite blog, what would it be?

Wow, this is a really hard one!!!  Honestly, my favorite blog is one that doesn't really exist anymore.  Well, it still exists...but it is no longer being updated. Still, I get a LOT of laughs and advice out of her archives.  Go and meet Miss Snark.  I think she should come out of retirement!

What is a favorite blog post that you have written?

Without a doubt this is the most informative, helpful, awe-inspiring blog post I've ever posted.  I've heard it even brought Jonathon Arntson to tears.

 What online resource have you found most helpful?

Jacketflap. It's the first resource I ever used and it basically has a list of all the publishing houses listed in the Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market.  Not as up to date, but it's a great source if you just want to take have a look at publisher's websites.

What has been your biggest trial in writing?  

TIME.  With two kids and a house that looks like a toy bomb exploded, time is my biggest enemy.  My second biggest enemy is my own insecurity.  Sometimes it's hard for me to forget about the fact that someone will be critiquing it and I draw a blank.

 What tricks have you acquired to make you write or create when you don’t feel up to writing? 

I go and read your blog, as well as hundreds of other writer's blogs.  Everyone in this "writing blogosphere" inspires me.  Whenever I don't feel like writing, I go and read about what everyone else is doing, what stage they're at, what inspires them...and it lights the fire under my butt.  But that might just be the curry.

Tell us about a book that has impacted your writing life.

I remember reading "Gone with the Wind" when I was in middle school. I stayed up all night reading that book.  It took me to a different place- a different time, a different world.  Middle school was hard for me and it helped me escape.  I wanted to create that same escape for others.  I wanted to take people to a different world, just like Margaret Mitchell had done for me.

What is your practical goal with your writing?  Do you have a reach-for-the-stars goal that you would like to share?

My goal right now: to get better.
My dream goal: I want my grandkids to check my books out at the library one day.

So far, what has been the best part of your writing experience?

Finally meeting people who don't think my dreams are unrealistic or childish.  Thanks to all of you.

If you could create the perfect place for you to write in, what would it look like?

A squirrel free zone.  Oak trees and Spanish moss.  Free drinks.

If you could be a character in a book, and live within their world, what character would you be?

I can't really say.  I'm not sure I'd want to be any particular character because I could do without the conflict in their lives. Without conflict, you lose a good story.

What other distractions are in your life?   

Laundry, dishes, breakfast, lunch, dinner, diapers, get the idea.

And, just because I’m curious, coffee or tea?   

Creamer...with a little bit of coffee.

Dena--so many of your answers struck a chord with me.  I'm so glad that you are going for it, in your writing life.  That takes guts!  Thank you so much for your honesty.  

Everyone, make Dena feel welcome by leaving a note or question in the comments, Dena will be stopping by (when she's not making an appearance at the award ceremony for WIBIJ!--I told you she was reigning Queen!)  And make sure to check out her blog and give her some love there as well! 


  1. Dena--Welcome to your own Friday Feature! I have to say that I totally identified with a lot of what you talked about here--everyone remembers their first newbie mistake, and time really is a huge challenge. You recently bit the bullet, and started submitting Sally Circle to publishers--can you tell us what that is like? What do you do to distract yourself during your wait for responses?

  2. Dena, all that and you support WIBIJ too?! You are truly amazing. I AM super impressed by your abilities to do it all with such a young family. And those are cute kids! When do you find the time to write? Do you have a regular schedule? Do you write for long periods until the urge passes??

    It's a pleasure to get to know you better! Great job, H and Dena.

  3. Dena it's great to meet you! And it's awesome to meet someone that writes picture books. That's one thing I've dithered around with, but never done. I can get the long ones written but I have trouble with something as short as picture books. I've just really started on short stories the last few year, as a way to improve on my writing all around.

    So what made you go for picture books first? Or short stories for that matter? And what's you YA about? I'm dying to know.

  4. Heather- I'm glad I'm not the only one who's made a newbie mistake! Thanks for putting this feature up, I feel like a celebrity HAHA! Finally submitting Sally Circle feels like a RELIEF. I took about a month and a half of simply not looking at it before I decided to submit it. I wanted to practically forget what I had written so I could look at it with fresh eyes. Big thanks go out to my critique group- those poor suckers had to read like 20 versions of it. So glad that's over!
    I've recently noticed I'm having trouble writing during the submission process- but once all the submissions are out, I'm hoping to fill my time by more writing! Plus my kids keep me very occupied :-)

    Tina- I find the time to write at night, after the kids go to bed. Thankfully my husband is super supportive so he lets me have at least 2 nights a week to stay up for ridiculously long periods of time- simply so I can create things in my mind and transfer them to paper. He's the king of awesome. Sadly, I do not have a regular schedule- I imagine I won't have one of those until the kid graduate high school LOL! When I do write, I call it a "sickness." I cannot be stopped- just like the Numa Numa kid. I keep going and going until I'm completely worn out. Hence why I can't write and take care of the kids at the same time!

    Thanks for the questions guys!

  5. Great interview Dena! I totally relate...I made the same mistake w/ my first picture book manuscript! But, look how far we've come! It's amazing to have such a great community of like-minded colleagues. Good luck with your new round of queries!

  6. So what is the problem with squirrels? If you ever figure out how to get a squirrel-free world, let me know. Because we have 'em in our walls. I can't stand them!!!

    And yes, I made mistakes too. I thought revising was fixing typos and then I sent it out publishers! I don't do that anymore. :)

  7. Welcome Dena! Very nice interview, Heather.

  8. A. Grey-

    Short stories are a fantastic way of improving your writing! Not only that, but tons of my ideas for novels and YA books come out of my short stories. They are also a fantastic way of brainstorming. Just start writing and see where it goes!
    I began writing short stories in a creative writing class I took in college. We'd have to write a story based on a 'theme' and then have them critiqued by the class. I quickly became known as the "lifetime movie" girl. All of my stories were tragic and had an element of mystery. Ha! I knew then I had a knack for it- and I absolutely loved it. (Although not all of my short stories are tragic!)
    I decided to start writing picture books because of my kids. I have a 4 year old and a 1 1/2 year old- and I love to write for them. I formed a PB critique group so I could polish them and potentially submit them. I knew that picture books were right up my alley- I knew I could write short, and that's exactly what they are.
    Now to summarize my YA novel...hmmm.
    It's about a young girl who is trying uncover the mystery surrounding her mother's sudden case of amnesia. This journey leads her to dangerous and shocking revelations.

    That's all you're gonna' get :-)

  9. Kris and Bish- Thanks for reading!

    Laura- I am absolutely terrified of squirrels. Little disease carriers. If they lived in my walls I'd need serious medication. My squirrel phobia began in college. Those squirrels were so fat they literally needed scooters to make it across campus.

  10. Great interview, Dena and Heather!

    When I lived in Brevard, NC, we had WHITE squirrels. Somehow they seemed more ominous than regular squirrels.

  11. I once worked in a building that was still being finished. The squirrels would get in at night and run around -- one morning there was one in my office. Little bugger peed all over stuff. "Ewwww" doesn't even begin to cover the grossness. It DID help me throw out paper that I'd hoarded for too long. I haven't like squirrels since - though my daughter can't get enough. She thinks they're the cutest things. Yuck.

  12. Sarah- ooo White squirrels! That sounds very "Bunnicula." Did you ever read those? Creepy creepy. Ominous indeed.

    Kris- AGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Kris -- OMG!

    Dena -- More like the tomatoes than the bunny, though, I guess.

    I just read BUNNICULA to my 1st-through-3rd graders and now they're drawing vampire teeth on all the bunnies on their springtime coloring sheets. I wonder if the squirrels had teeth like that ...

  14. Maybe a bunny came and sucked all the blood out of the squirrels?? Oh the creepy possibilities!

  15. Um...excuse me? The party is not supposed to start until I'm here! Wa. Okay, actually, I just feel guilty for sleeping in and not coming here at 7am like I usually do. Dena and Heather, I'll be back later tonight to read the whole interview, I see some cool Jon guy is referred to a few times.

    I can already see this FF taking an unprecedented turn, Heather, vamp bunnies and squirrels. I favor the vamp chipmunks.

  16. Great interview, Dena and Heather!
    When I first started submitting, I was also naive and did not send in my very polished piece. I also did not realize the extreme competition I was up against. I seriously thought I'd have a book out soon!! :)
    Good luck to you, Dena. Great to hear you are in SCBWI and a critique group now.
    Do you like chipmunks? :)

  17. Thanks Kelly!
    I don't fear chipmunks...I think it's because of their small stature


  18. Jon--I hear you! I take a few hours to grab some groceries and do some errands, and the party is in full swing by the time I return! Woo-hoo!

    Hello everyone! I have to say that I'm not a huge fan of squirrels, but I think white ones sound kinda cute. As long as they're not albinos or vamps. And, I find flying squirrels fascinating.

    Dena--I'm amazed that you have the energy to stay up at night and write--that's awesome. I'm normally a night person, but I have adjusted to write in the morning, since I'm exhausted at night.

  19. Great interview!! Good luck to Dena!!

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  21. Bunnicula!!! I love that story! And the squirrels on scooters bit made me snort coffee through my nose!

    My aunt is having serious squirrel issues. She has a shaker shingle roof, or whatever those wooden shingles are called, and the squirrels are chewing them up. I love squirrels myself. We have big red ones here that we call fox squirrels.

    The summary of your short story has me drooling Dena...

    Heather- you know what's funny about writing at night is that a lot of time I try to go to bed, since I have to be up early for the ponies, and if I haven't written, I can't get to sleep anyway. Or I do nod off, but I sleep horribly. I'm better off staying up and getting less-but-deeper sleep than trying to curb my night-writing. I do love writing in the mornings too, but during the week I usually don't have time, and on the weekends J.D. stands outside and brays until I go out and feed him...

  22. A. Grey--I hope that J.D. is an animal of some sort and not a boyfriend or brother-in-law or something! I wish that were true for me--that getting less sleep but deep sleep would help. Evidently, I'm on the needing 8 hours of sleep to function end of things. I actually fall asleep doing whatever I'm doing if I don't... And even though I'm not a morning person, I actually am okay writing then.

  23. Fox squirrels sound equally terrifying! I completely agree with you about not sleeping well if I'm not writing- I'm better off to write until 1-2 am ish and then get a few hours after!

  24. A Grey, please tell me J.D. is after our beloved catcher!

  25. Dena - your interview is the first of Heather's that I've read where I am close to the interviewee ahead of time. I love the extra things I learned about/from you!

    Having had the pleasure of reading one of your secret hidden adult fiction stories, I totally believe in you and am hanging my entire writing future on your condoning nepotism. In the meantime, I'll listen to your advice and keep getting better.

    Still mad about the lobster.

  26. Heather- yes, J.D. is a miniature Sicilian donkey. Small package, large attitude.

    Jon- nope, sorry. J.D. stands for Joe's Donkey, Joe being my father... funnily enough in a role reversal, I'M the one taking care of my dad's pet instead of the other way around. :)

  27. Jon- I'm glad you liked the interview! And thanks for thinking I'm a good writer- seriously that's like the best compliment you can give me.
    Heather/A.Grey- Still laughing about J.D. being a boyfriend. I had a funny visual :-)

  28. Hi Dena!
    Just finished spitting red wine all over my keyboard!!Loved the squirrel imagery...on scooters...ha ha!
    Can't say I have problems with any kind of furry or feathered livestock myself. I live in Greece and have a family of cute lizards living in my newish sofa. They come in and out as they please and we have a mutual understanding 'we'll not bother you if you don't bother us.' I have an obsession with reptiles,dinosaurs etc in general.
    Really admire you being able to combine motherhood and all the other jobs and still come out as a great writer!
    Thanks for admitting your 'newbie' mistake too. I'm sure an awful lot of us feel much better now!
    Hi Heather - saw you over at Inkwell earlier.

  29. Hi Ann Marie!

    Thanks so much for reading the interview and following my blog! How awesome that you live in Greece! I bet it's beautiful there. Lizards I can do. I'm not sure about them living in my sofa though...I think they'd have to go. Or the sofa would have to go.
    I'm glad I can make you feel better with my newbie mistake...and that's not the only one I've made, that's for sure!

  30. Ann Marie, do you have a blog I can follow? I don't see the link to one when I click on your name!

  31. Dena, I was looking for one too! Ann Marie, where is it?

  32. AAwww GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS!!! Now you've made me spit 'ouzo on the rocks' all over my flipping keyboard...AGAIN!!! my ROCKS are stuck between my Q, my A and caps lock...SH-T!!! Hang on a if i never write in capitals again you lot owe me a new keyboard.
    I'm blushing like a beacon ladies...I'm not used to 'electronic compliments', the truth is that casey mccormicks blog was the first blog i ever read about 8 wks ago - honestly! since then we've become friends via email - i think she's posting something of mine on 'tuesday's tip' next week - however, all this space age stuff is pretty darned new and i'm trying to get used to the internet lark as fast as possible. Now I've fessed up you'll see that i will definitely start up a 'blatantly humourous blog'...but not yet. am aiming for the summer when i'll be a bit more computer literate!thanks for your kind words my caps bloody lock!
    Just found a cotton bud - those things you clean your ears with...(Greek hubby calls them 'ear poles' ha ha ha) and am trying to move my melting rocks and........oh sh-t. it's a used ear pole!!!!

  33. Ear pole!!! Now I'M the one spitting alcoholic beverages all over my keyboard!!! Seriously I'm dying over that! Lizards in the couch cushions and poles in my ears... oh this is the way evenings should go out! Loud and with laughter!

    Greek hubby eh? Has he got any brothers? Not that I could nudge in ahead of my mother, I swear, that woman has 'Greek man' radar... and she's been happily married for thirty-odd years!

    I'll be stalking you along with Heather and Dena, Ann Marie, no way I'm going to miss out on you! :)

  34. LOL at "ear pole." LOL at 'Greek man radar' too. Maybe just called it "Greekdar" or "Mandar of the Greek Variety" or ...okay, running out of ideas here.
    You should definitely start up a 'blatantly humorous blog' - I would fully support it!

  35. Just...Hick ...want to apologise for lowering the tone of your Gosh that ouzo's strong.
    Yes,my "Greekdar" called the things "ear poles" at the very beginning of our relationship and of course I never corrected him!!! He sounded a real plonker last year when he went into Boots the Chemists (in the UK) and asked for "a sack of ear poles and do you by any chance have a fly slapper?"
    "Madam, I'd like a container of cotton buds and do you have by any chance a fly swatter?"
    The lady killed herself laughing when she understood what he wanted....When he asked me why she was laughing I just said because of the Greek accent!! I'm Bad

  36. ER.. Heather...where are you? It's all gone dark...Heather?.....

  37. Sorry I'm jumping in so late! But it was a great interview. I especially enjoyed your fear of organized Squirrels, Dena. That is a bit frightening I must admit. Especially if they are wearing little hats...

  38. Yes, Lisa! Hats would be menacing- but helmets would be worse. That would suggest that they are ready for battle.
    Thanks for reading!

  39. Woo-hoo! What a rowdy bunch! I just spit coffee all over my qwerty (--keyboard--in case they don't call it that in Greece) and am going to hunt down ear poles right now. So relieved that J.D. is a donkey. I have a cat named J.D. that (sorry Jon) my brother named for Jefferson Davis. I know that's weird. There is a reason--I'm trying to remember. I think my brother wrote a law school paper about Lincoln at the time that he adopted the cat, and wanted to give Jefferson Davis some due. I don't know. We're a wacky family.

    Ann Marie--if you don't start a blog soon, I'm going to start one for you. I swear, my friend. I need to know where I can find you on a regular basis. Inkwell is good for now, but, we'll teach you the blogging ropes if it means you'll get off the ground before the summer! (It snowed here yesterday. The summer seems way too far off!)

    Dena--thanks so much for being the hostess with the mostess! Who knew squirrels would starts such hilarity!

    I deeply apologise for lowering the tone of this fabulous blog. In the stark light of day I see ouzo was STRONG.
    BUT still owe me a whatjacall it?? Qwerty...what kind of name is that? Anyway - you STILL owe me a new keyboard!! C U over at INKWELL
    PS thanks Dena, Lisa and A.Grey for a whole bunch of fun last night!!

  41. Ann Marie--Whoever maintained that this blog is a strict or serious place was seriously mistaken. Let the ouzo flow (I had to google that, btw)! Thanks for adding to the fun here last night, my only regret is that I wasn't here in real time.

    Speaking of time, I added some on to the blog's side bar so we'll know what time it is for all my wonderful visitors! Clocks, anyway. If anyone figures out how to add time, please let me know.

    And, I'd be happy to replace any qwertys lost to the spitting of beverages, that is, after I replace mine.

    Has anyone seen my son's lost, lost tooth??? It's going to be a day!

  42. Qwerty Heather? Now that's one I had to google. My sis' I.T. geek (not to be confused with Greek) hubby would flog me with a USB cord for not knowing that, considering his job and how long I've owned a computer... Maybe I really should stick to longhand... :)

    Oh, and ouzo is dangerously lovely. It often leads to things like extreme laughter, amateur belly dancing, and lost items which are later found in strange places, like the tops of ceiling fans and behind the refrigerator...

  43. Suddenly I have a desire to create a portal to transport us all to one location, drink lots of ouzo and give belly dancing a try, to the audience of couch lizards. A place void of squirrels, D!

  44. Sorry I missed all this!! The water cooler is more like Cheers these days (Is there a more current equivalent? I'm afraid I'm dating myself.) Heather, thanks for providing this for all of us!! Dena, thanks too. This was fabulous. Ann Marie, awesome to meet you.

  45. If there are any squirrels I'm gonna' need a LOT of Ouzo.... :-)

  46. Tina--I love the Cheers reference. And I think it's timeless. At least in the Boston area it is.

    Dena-- :)

  47. I am proud to say that I never spit coffee all over my QWERTY. Oops.