Dianne Ochiltree has been writing stories and poems since she was a child growing up in a small Midwestern town. Today, she is a nationally recognized author of books for the very young. Her picture book, LULL-A-BYE, LITTLE ONE has been a selection for the Dollywood Fourndation’s national literacy program, and her picture book, MOLLY BY GOLLY! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter received the Florida Book Awards Bronze Medal in the Children’s Literature category in 2012. Her earlier books have been translated into foreign language and Braille editions as well as audio versions. For more information about Dianne and her books, go to http://www.ochiltreebooks.com. Dianne lives in sunny Sarasota, Florida with her husband, Jim, and the family pets.
Her books have appeared on several recommended reading lists nationwide, including the Bank Street College Children’s Book Committee ‘year’s best’, and the Dollywood Foundation’s national childhood literacy program, ‘imagination library’.
IT’S A FIREFLY NIGHT is illustrated by Betsy Snyder who was featured last December on Illustrator Saturday. If you would like to see that post, here is the link: http://kathytemean.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/illustrator-saturday-betsy-snyder/
Dianne has agreed to give everyone a chance to win one of three signed copies of IT’S A FIREFLY NIGHT. All you have to do is leaves a comment to get their name in the hat one time. If you would like to collect more entries in the hat, you can increase your chances by do the following:
1 entry everything you tweet this link (One a day).
1 entry for putting this link on facebook
1 entry for putting up this post on your blog.
2 entries if you reblog this post.
5 entries if you talk about the book on your facebook page or blog.
Please come back and leave an update on what you did by Friday October 5th in the comment section, so I know how many times to put your name in the hat for the drawing. I will announce the winner on Sunday October 7th.
Here is the interview I had with Dianne.
I know you have been writing since you were a little kid, but how did you hone your writing skills as a serious writer?
Great question! First, I made the commitment to write something very day. Depending on the particular day, some days it was 20 pages and other days it was only notes on a future project. The important thing was to make the writing a daily priority. Second, I made a list of what I didn’t know about writing for young readers and the children’s publishing industry. (Initially, a very long list!) Then I set off on a crash course to gain the knowledge I needed to write effectively for this market. I read books, magazine articles, and blogs on the topics. I took a couple of in-person and online classes. Most important, I joined SCBWI. The first year in the business, I attended eight regional and national conferences, where the workshops and presenters shared valuable tips on the craft and business of writing for children. I networked with fellow beginning writers. I found experienced writers who generously offered me guidance from time to time. I joined two critique groups where I could not only bring my own writing skills up to speed, but also learn from evaluating other writers’ work. Oh yes, it ‘takes a village’ to raise a children’s writer!
Were the first things you wrote, poems?
Yes, little poems about pets and flowers and that sort of thing. Also scripts for puppet shows. I made hand puppets from paper lunch bags and construction paper. My third grade teacher let me do puppet shows for my book reports because I was so shy! Before learning to actually read or write, I drew little ‘picture books’ using recycled paper sheets , bound with punch holes and yarn.
Did you start out knowing that you wanted to writer for children?
Not at all. I just wrote things without thought about intended readership or publication at first. It was just for fun.
Have you done any other type of writing?
My first job was as an advertising copywriter. My first writing career, as staff writer and freelancer, was in marketing/advertising/public relations. I have written poems and personal essays for adult readers, too.
When did you get your first picture book published?
My first book for children, CATS ADD UP!, was published in 1998 as a title in the ‘Hello, Reader!’ series from Scholastic. This was especially exciting to be published by Scholastic, because when I was a kid, most of my reading material came from those monthly book club offerings.
How did that happen?
I’d applied for the Rutgers One-on-One Plus Conference with a writing sample, an early draft of that first published book, and was accepted. My mentor that day was Paula Danziger. Not only did she give me priceless writing advice…she introduced me to an editor at Scholastic who agreed to look at my manuscript once I’d made revisions based on her input.
Are all your picture books in rhyme?
No. All three of my ‘Hello Reader!” series titles are in prose, as is my 2012 Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills Press book, MOLLY BY GOLLY! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter.
Do you have an agent? If not, would like to find one?
No, I do not currently have an agent. And YES, of course, I’d love to have representation. It’s not just the negotiation for the initial contract in which a literary agent makes a key difference—it’s the on-going interface with the publisher on issues such as subsidiary rights in which having an agent on your side can make a big impact.
Not counting your latest book, which book are you most proud of?
Now you’re asking me to name the equivalent of my favorite child—tough question! So, while I love all my books, I am proud of LULL-A-BYE, LITTLE ONE (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2006) for being on the Dollywood Foundation’s ‘Imagination Library’ list for many years running. Because of this, thousands of families with infants have received a free copy of the book in the mail for their own little ones. These are parents who could not otherwise afford books for their kids. Also proud that the ‘Molly’ book won the 2012 Florida Book Awards bronze medal in the children’s literature category.
Do you have a regular writing schedule?
The only regular thing about my writing schedule is that I write something each day: a journal entry, a blog post, or chunks of a manuscript. It’s all good.
I see you do yoga. Do you feel that helps you write better?
Yes, I’m a Yoga Alliance 200-hour RYT instructor and devoted lifelong learner. And yes, it helps tremendously. As an instructor or student, my observational skills need to be engaged at a high level. This also helps make writing shine, taking notice of all the details. There is a meditative state that practicing yoga and writing share. By connecting with your true self, or your creative self, your work on the mat and at the keyboard will exceed your expectations. There is also an element of non-judgment of effort and non-attachment to results that frees up a yoga practice and writing efforts alike. I believe so strongly in the corollary processes that I teach a ‘zen and the pen’ workshop from time to time.
Can you tell us the story and journey behind your new book, It’s a Firefly Night?
It’s been a long and happy journey with that manuscript. I think my first draft of the story dates to 2003. It was prompted by my memory of sharing ‘firefly nights’ with my own father. From him, I learned an appreciation of—and a respect for—the natural world. That’s a lesson as valuable today as it was in the 60’s. Catching fireflies on a summer night was one of the rare times I had one-on-one time with my father. My father passed away when I was 18 years old, so of course working creatively with any ‘daddy memory’ is a special pleasure for me. It has also been a joy to connect with that childlike sense of wonder while crafting this manuscript. My goal was to share the feeling of magical, barefoot, starry summer nights of long-ago with today’s kids. I also hope that the book inspires today’s parents to get out there and share some nature outings with their children.
What number of books does this book bring you up to now?
I think it’s 11.
Have any of your books been put out as an e-book?
Yes, some of my Scholastic books are now offered as an e-book. Both original Scholastic publications and picture books that were subsequently sold to Scholastic for paperback and other rights.
Do you have any thoughts on why some writer’s get published and others do not?
Some writers do the homework and some do not. Some writers can receive editorial input and utilize it effectively, some cannot. Some writers can handle rejection, others cannot. Some writers give up, others do not. The biggest difference? Published writers are not quitters.
Do you have any suggestions on how to market yourself to editors and publishers?
Simply, be professional. Know what they do or do not publish. Ask informed questions. Use appropriate communication channels for your queries and pitches. Only present your most polished work.
What are you working on now?
A book proposal for a juvenile biography, plus a narrative nonfiction picture book manuscript.
Do you have any words of wisdom for unpublished writers?
I’m not really qualified to give anything as profound as words of wisdom…but I will mention that it’s important to find out what makes your writing stand out from other authors, which is another way of saying what makes you unique, then go for it! Let your writing express your viewpoint on life, as well as your personality. You were called to be a writer because there is something you really need to say to young readers. Make that connection with every word on the page.
Thank you Dianne for sharing your time to answer todays, interview questions. I have your book and it is a great addition to my picture book collection and thank you for your generous offer to let three people win signed copies of your book.