The first time I saw Dee White was on stage at a SCWBI conference in Sydney. She blew me away with her writing but I was too much of a newbie writer to go and tell her that at the time. It wasn’t until much later that I finally met up with her properly and this time she blew me away with her knowledge about the writing industry, her warmth, optimism and her inclusiveness.
Dee has wanted to be a writer since she was seven and has published over 20 books, including two that have just been released Beyond Belief and Eddie Popcorn’s Guide to Parenting.
RM: Hi Dee, thanks so much for this interview. COVID19 has created some strange times. What’s been the most surprising thing about COVID19 isolation for you?
DW: I’ve discovered how much I love filmmaking and editing as well as writing. My son’s an actor who doesn’t have work (apart from being a barista – he’s a really good barista) due to the pandemic. He moved back home just before it started and we’ve been making little films using popcorn and puppets … and I’ve discovered how to make puppets out of oven mitts. Who knew that could be so much fun? My general lifestyle hasn’t changed a lot really. I’m still working from home, writing.
RM: What are you currently reading?
DW: How to Grow a Family Tree by Eliza Henry Jones. It’s a beautiful YA book about family, friendship and the meaning of home. Everyone should read it.
RM: What author do you wish could be your mentor?
DW: Ellen Hopkins – NY Times bestselling author of amazing YA verse novel books – and I actually got to work with her when I was awarded a SCBWI Nevada mentorship. So lucky! At the moment I’m doing the Masterclass series of online workshops with authors like Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman and Judy Blume. They’re sharing lots of their writing secrets so it kind of feels like I’m being mentored by them.
RM: What does literary success look like to you?
DW: Getting messages from readers telling me how much they resonate with my work, making people happy, writing books that change lives and people’s way of thinking. Of course having a book made into a film would be great too.
RM: You were supposed to have three books out now, how does that even happen? Are you super human? Do you have a favourite?
DW: I have the two books out now. The third one, Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Teacher Taming, has been postponed till next year because of ‘the virus’. I started writing Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training more than ten years ago when my son (the one who is now an adult and is helping me make movies) was the same age as my character Eddy. I started writing Beyond Belief four years ago yet somehow both books ended up being released within a month of each other. It’s all about accidental timing … I mean you wouldn’t actually plan to have two books released during a pandemic, would you?
Asking me to pick a favourite is like choosing a favourite child, which of course I could never do. I love Eddy because he’s so much fun and he’s that kid who’s quirky and a bit naughty … kind of like I was as a child. Beyond Belief is very dear to my heart in a different way. It’s inspired by the true story of Muslims at a Paris mosque who saved Jewish children during WW11. My father was forced to flee Nazi-occupied Austria after Kristallnacht and I grew up with stories of what he and his family went through so when I became an author I always wanted to represent his experiences through my writing somehow.
RM: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as an author?
DW: I’ve made lots of mistakes as an author. Sorry, as you can probably tell I’m not very good at picking just one thing. Things I’ve learned are, never compare yourself to others, be open to constructive feedback but don’t lose sight of your vision for your story, expect the unexpected and just go with it, don’t be deterred by the pessimism of others … somebody has to get their book published … why not you?
RM: One of the first times I met you, you rolled off at least 5 grants you’d applied for recently and received. I walked away thinking that you’re not only super imaginative in your work, you are also creative and resourceful when it comes to managing your career. What are your three best tips on how to make a living out of writing?
DW: 1. Definitely apply for possible grants, mentorships, any opportunities for free learning or getting money to do what you need to develop a project. They have to be awarded to someone, why not you? Having said that, I tend to focus more on grants at state and local level and have more success there than with national ones. I always just go for things and then worry about how to make it happen. For example, when I applied for the SCBWI Nevada mentorship and got it, I then applied for a CAL grant to help with travel costs. When I discovered the true account of the Paris Muslims who had saved Jews, I knew I had to get to Paris and applied for every grant possible until I got there. I don’t get many of the grants that I apply for, but each one teaches me something about applying for grants.
2. Make your own opportunities. For example, I have a one-month artist residency coming up with a remote school on the border of Victoria and NSW. I’ve always thought that these kinds of schools miss out a lot because they don’t have the funds to get authors up from Melbourne or the city. I discovered the Creative Learning Partnerships grants offered by Creative Victoria. So, then I approached the school with a plan of how my artist residency could help raise literacy levels and engage kids in writing and I related the activities to their local history and environment. The school was very enthusiastic. An author in residence for a month … and it wasn’t coming out of their school budget. We applied for the grant together and were fortunately successful.
3. Diversify and keep writing – I’ve worked as an advertising copywriter, journalist and blogger, but being an author is still my favourite. I have more than 80 manuscripts in my filing cabinet (must clean it out one day). At least 75% of them will never come to anything, but they are my practice manuscripts – the ones I have used to hone my skills. The other ones are being revised and tweaked; waiting for the right moment to be submitted. I love being an author but I’m also interested in screenwriting – which is why I subscribed to Masterclass – to learn new skills. So that’s the next thing I plan to try.
RM: I love your attitude of just going for it and working it out as you go. You are so right – someone has to win the grant, get published, etc so why not you. Thanks so much for your insights and now to finish off, every non-decisive person’s nightmare of choice a quick This or That.
Physical book or ebook? As you’ve probably gathered by now, I’m not good at these questions … not very decisive. I LOVE physical books, but seeing as my library has been closed and book deliveries have been very slow, I discovered BorrowBox and now I LOVE having books on my phone and reading them there. It’s like keeping a book in your pocket. How cool is that?
Longhand or typed first draft? I always start longhand. I feel more connected to my story somehow … and I can write anywhere.
Coffee of tea? Tea
Scones or Cake? Cake (except for my hubby’s amazing pumpkin scones).
Fantasy or Contemporary? Contemporary … but I love fantasy too)
Sport or Music? I love playing golf … although some people probably don’t consider that a sport, so I’d better say music.
Middle Grade or YA? That’s like asking me to choose a favourite child again. I read and write both. Sorry, can’t choose.
Thanks for having me, Renee. I really enjoyed your questions.
You can learn more about Dee on her website.