Today is a bonus stop on the Dory Fantasmagory: Head in the Clouds blog tour! Today, author Abby Hanlon is joining us to answer my questions.
Tell me a little about yourself:
Hi Bridget. Thank you for interviewing me! I live in Brooklyn and I have twins who are 11 years old. I started writing the Dory books when they were five years old. I love my job because it is something I get to do with my kids. They help me write my books. It’s a whole family project.
When you were my age (8), did you like to read?
Yes, but I was not a great reader. I had too much energy to stay still. I adored Shell Silverstein’s poems and I liked to act them out for my parent’s friends.
What was your favorite story?
I loved the Ramona books. My third grade teacher thought I looked like Ramona so when our class created a Ramona bulletin board in the hallway, she put photographs of me on the board to represent Ramona! For a long time, that was my closest claim to fame.
How did you become an author? Your bio says you were a teacher.
Yes, I was a first-grade teacher. That was when I first got the idea in my head that I wanted to make books. Not only did I love reading picture books out loud to my students, I loved seeing how my students were able to use words and pictures to tell their own stories. I wanted to do it too! I would go home after school and try and make books like my students. I didn’t know how to draw so I had to start with stick figures. I wrote a picture book manuscript that was inspired by a little boy in my class who hated writing. That became my first book, Ralph Tells A Story.
How do you get your ideas for your stories?
Most of my ideas come from my twins. I have spent a lot of time spying on my kids and writing down the details of their games and the funny things they say. Some examples from when the series first started… Dory pretends to be a dog named Chickenbone –my son pretended to be a dog named Buffy for years, and my daughter was his owner. Dory’s cow costume comes from my son’s beloved cow costume that he wore every day for nine months… and like Dory, he would ask us to milk him. Dory gives the doctor a shot with a lollipop- unfortunately my son actually did that too. Like Dory, my daughter never wanted to take off her nightgown and she constantly begged for salami. Dory’s friend Rosabelle wears many skirts under her dress so her dress looks poufy—that was something my daughter used to love to do.
Is it hard to write a book?
Yes, it’s hard for me. It takes me a long time. I want my books to be funny and also to have a suspenseful story. They also have to be clear and easy to follow and be full of stuff that makes kids go, “That happened to me!” I want my books to be so absorbing for kids that once they start reading, they don’t want to stop. And for kids who are just learning to read, I want them to push through all those new hard words just to find out what happens next. AND I want kids to love the books so much that they read them over and over again. So, yes, it is very hard for me to write a book that can do all that.
What author do you really like right now?
I love Dav Pilkey mostly because of his new Dogman series.
Do you have any new or lesser known authors you would suggest?
My daughter introduced me to a brilliant Japanese graphic novel/manga series called Yotsub&! by Kiyohiko Azuma. We have so much fun reading it out loud because the dialogue of the 5-year-old girl Yotsuba is hysterical. I also love the French graphic novel series called Ariol.
What advice do you have for a kid who wants to be an author?
Well, I know everyone says read a lot. And that’s always a good thing! But what I would also say is to keep your imagination alive. Never outgrow your imagination. Also, I think writing in a diary helps you find your voice. When I was a kid, I wrote a lot in my diary. Writing can be a powerful way of making meaning out of your experiences. For example, if you have an awful day but then you write an amazing story about it – you can wonder- maybe it was worth it to have that horrible day because then I wouldn’t have this story…
As an author, do you hear from your readers? What do you like about that?
Yes! I get lots of emails and letters from kids. They send me drawings, photographs and even sometimes photographs of themselves dressing up as Dory or Mrs. Gobble Gracker. Very often their letters are full of ideas for the next Dory book. I love reading their ideas. But mostly I’m just inspired by how many ideas they have. Whenever I ask a kid, what should happen next to Dory, kids never hesitate—they have a million ideas. Their limitless imagination is what inspires me most.