Dianne de Las Casas [storyconnection]
What did you first read? How did you begin to write? Who were the first to read what you wrote?
I have always been an avid book reader. My father was in the military so I lived abroad during my childhood. You could often find me at the library. My favorite childhood author is Roahl Dahl. I also liked reading a book series called Dorrie the Witch. I was always attracted to whimsical stories with an unlikely hero. From the time I was in second grade, I knew I wanted to be a children's book author.
I wrote for my high school literary magazine and my college newspaper. The most memorable thing I wrote as a child was a collection of poetry I compiled in the fifth grade. I put all of the poems in a notebook with accompanying illustrations. I dedicated the book to "anyone and everyone who reads this." It was such a heartfelt collection of poems and I remember how hard I worked on the "book."
When I was 12, I even wrote to "Dear Abby," who had an advice column in the Stars and Stripes newspaper. I asked her for advice on how to get published and she told me to do my research and go to the public library. Those words stayed with me and the public library became a haven.
What is your favorite genre? Can you provide a link to a site where we can read some of your work or learn something about it?
I love picture books and middlegrade novels. As a picture book author, I founded Picture Book Month, an international literacy initiative that celebrates the printed picture book during the month of November. You can see the celebration at www.picturebookmonth.com My website as an author is www.storyconnection.net.
What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
I find inspiration everywhere. I do a lot of school visits and the children inspire me with their silly ideas. I don't have a set time that I sit down and write every day, but I do like to write in the quiet of night when everyone else is asleep. There are no emails dinging, no phones ringing, and it's a good time to write uninterrupted. Creativity is an inherent part of who I am. If I didn't write, I don't know who I would be. Even when I worked for the corporate world, I put pen to paper, writing for pleasure, if not for publication.
What type of reading inspires you to write?
I really love reading books in the children's literature genre, since that is the audience I write for. But I also find inspiration in books written for adults. There is a beauty in words, whether in a picture book or a full-length novel, that completely inspires me. Words are our greatest allies and our sharpest weapons. Words change world.
What do you think are the basic ingredients of a story?
For me, the most important ingredients in a story are strong characters, a well-developed plot, and an authentic voice. Even in a picture book, you can see this present. One of my favorite examples is a book written by Peter Reynolds called The Dot. The character in the book, Vashti, is stubborn, creative, and ultimately, inspiring. You see all of these characteristics in a book that is a mere 32 pages long.
What voice do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
I am a fan of whatever voice the author chooses. I like to read books in first person or third person. As long as the story is told genuinely, I don't think that it matters whether the story is in first or third person.
What well known writers do you admire most?
There are so many writers I adore that I cannot pick a favorite. I have many friends who are incredibly successful authors. For me, the authors I really love are the ones who truly connect with their audiences, both within the book, and online through social media and at in-person events. If you are a good writer and if you are nice, then you are a success in my book!
What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
A really believable character must have flaws. The flaws are what give the characters "character." The characters must learn to adapt to their flaws or overcome them. I develop my characters by writing a biography. I look at them as though they are real people. In this way, they become real to me. If they are real to me, then I hope they become real to my readers.
Are you equally good at telling stories orally?
I am a professional storyteller so I would have to say that yes, I am equally good at telling stories orally as I am at writing them down. There is an intrinsic difference between oral storytelling and books in print but both require imagination and creativity. I believe that it behooves every author to learn to become a good oral storyteller. My storytelling has greatly improved my writing and my writing greatly enhances my storytelling.
Deep down inside, who do you write for?
Deep down inside, I definitely write for the little girl inside Dianne de Las Casas. As a child, I went through several tragedies. Writing children's books feels like I am giving a gift not only to my readers but to myself.
Is writing a form of personal therapy? Are internal conflicts a creative force?
I do believe that writing can be personal therapy. It is a great cathartic activity. I personally do not pour my inner pain onto the page but everything I write validates who I am. With every book I publish, there is a true piece of me in that story.
Does reader feed-back help you?
Yes, reader feedback is important. I like to hear from my readers, the good, the bad, and the ugly. No writer can improve him or herself without critique. It is how we learn and how we grow.
Do you participate in competitions? Have you received any awards?
Yes, I have won awards. I have won iParenting Media awards, Storytelling World awards, a NAPPA award, and Children's Music Web awards for my books and storytelling audios. I have also won a Highlights Foundation writing scholarship and the SCBWI Amber Brown grant.
Do you share rough drafts of your writings with someone whose opinion you trust?
Yes, I do share rough drafts of my writings with trusted family, friends, and colleagues. It is, though, a very small circle.
Do you believe you have already found "your voice" or is that something one is always searching for?
I do believe that I have found my voice as a writer. Of course with every book, I change and grow. So I believe that my voice evolves with time.
What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?
I am actually one of those people who thrives under deadline. With that being said, I almost always push my deadlines to the end. I am a very goal oriented person and I know exactly what I want in life. I write all of my goals down in a new journal that I begin at the start of every year. Periodically, throughout the year, I check on my goals. Seeing them written down makes intangible and helps me to meet my goals.
What do you surround yourself with in your work area in order to help your concentrate?
I renovated my office about a year ago. I decorated my office with a beach theme. The beach is one of my favorite places in the whole world. It is where I feel calm, collected, and connected. In my beach themed office, I have shells that I have collected from beaches all over the world. As a child, I lived in the Philippines, Hawaii, and southern Spain. I was always just a bike ride or walk away from the beach. I now live in New Orleans, and though I am near lots of water, it is not the beach so I create this environment in my workspace.
Do you write on a computer? Do you print frequently? Do you correct on paper? What is your process?
Yes, I write on the computer. Increasingly, however, I dictate my writing. In fact, this entire interview has been dictated using my iPhone. I do love to see my manuscript printed out. I love the tactile nature of paper. It also helps me to better visualize the book. So I do most of my copy edits the old-fashioned way, with a pen on paper.
What sites do you frequent on-line to share experiences or information?
Twitter is one of my favorite places to connect with writers. On Twitter, I learn industry news, information, and resources. I also like to share information and resources via Twitter. Through Facebook, I really connect with my fans. I am a big proponent of social media so you can find me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube.
What has been your experience with publishers?
The things that you get from a traditional publisher that you may not necessarily receive through self-publishing is marketing and distribution. I have had good experiences working with my publishers. Without them, as an author, I would not be where I am today.
What are you working on now?
I have several picture books in the works. I am also finishing a professional development book for Libraries Unlimited. In addition, I am working on a superhero middle grade novel. I have a story book app called Rockin' Three Billy goats that will be available on the iPhone and the iPad through the App Store.
What do you recommend I do with all those things I wrote years ago but have never been able to bring myself to show anyone?
A former editor once gave me the most sage advice. "You cannot publish anything that you can leave in a drawer." My advice is to step outside of your comfort zone and go for it! Every successful author was once a nobody no one ever heard about. It could be your turn to make the pages of history.
Dianne de Las Casas
New Orleans, LA