Rising Stars continues in 2021! Hooray! The goal of this series is to highlight my fellow kidlit creators who are working their tails off to birth their beautiful book babies into the world. These interviews will cast a light on the wonderful work of these pre-published authors and author-illustrators who are destined to be stars!
Meet Rising Star
Dedra Davis received a degree in journalism in 1988 but had no courage. Dedra finally found that courage in 2014 and used it to write at a local newspaper in Waco for three years. She also freelanced with published magazine articles (https://www.clippings.me/users/dedradavis). Dedra blogs at www.dedradaviswrites.com, and also contributes to Waco Moms Blog, a locally focused parenting resource. Dedra is a member of SCBWI, 12X12PB, and Children’s Book Insider and has attended many SCBWI conferences and webinars. She is also an active member of two critique groups and has two individuals she regularly swaps manuscripts with. She is excited and honored to announce that she is on the board of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library of Waco.
Dedra is currently seeking agent representation.
Welcome, Dedra! Thanks for joining me for the Rising Stars in KidLit Series. I can't wait to hear more about your work, your inspiration, and your projects!
AD: Let’s start with a speed round…
AD: Okay, now down to the serious stuff….Please dish us the dirt on who you are and your journey into the fabulous world of children’s books.
DD: I live in Waco with my husband of 33 years and three dogs. We have three children, living their own wonderful lives, close by, thankfully. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I dreamed about a romantic writerly life for as long as I can remember. (In my dream, there were no rejections! haha) I received a journalism degree in 1988, but I lacked courage and confidence. So, for years, I started novels and put them away. And over thirty years ago, I wrote four picture book manuscripts. I researched the old-fashioned way, mailed my manuscript and SASE, and after I received a rejection, I put the manuscripts away. Fast forward to seven years ago, I found the confidence to write for a small Waco newspaper. I was 48, and finally used my degree! I had the best time writing stories about Waco. I also started a blog and was published in several magazines. I was a writer! And, so happy. Two years ago, my daughter’s Great Dane inspired me, and I wrote a new PB manuscript. I turned to a friend who does marketing for kidlit, Oanh Jordan. She advised me to get on Twitter, join SCBWI, and recommended a few blogs to follow. And to start reading picture books! I jumped in kidlit and started learning and writing as much as I could. I started querying three months later, in January 2019. In November, I received my 100th rejection!
AD: Wow! This is so inspiring, Dedra. It's amazing how our true passions never really fade. I'm glad you found your way back into writing even if it was many years later. It takes time to develop the courage to take the leap and your story is evidence that it is never too late to dive in. Never give up on your dreams!
AD: I read in your bio that you are on the board of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library of Waco, a book gifting program that mails free books to children from birth until they begin school. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you got involved in this program?
DD: Last summer 2020, my neighbor asked if I would like to get involved in a charity, they were starting. I was like, sure, so we met in our front yard (socially distanced!), and she told me what they were planning and asked me to be a board member. When I heard it was Dolly’s Imagination Library, I was giddy! Of all the charities, this is the Oreo of charities for me! (I love Oreos!) The Bakers organized, applied for the license and all that is involved, and raised the money needed to get us started. It all became legal and official in November, and I couldn’t wait to announce that I was a board member of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library of Waco! I am doing social media marketing for the Waco affiliate. We are ready to sign kids up and schedule book deliveries! It is a blessing for the children of Waco and a gift for me!
AD: This sounds like an amazing opportunity and wonderful program. Cheers to you for helping to further the cause and help get books into the hands of our youngest readers to hopefully spark a love of reading.
AD: Did you always know you wanted to be an author? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs?
DD: The first story I remember writing was in third or fourth grade. I remember the character and the name, and I’ve thought about writing it again. I stayed home with my children until they were in high school. I then subbed at their school in our small town, where I knew all the kids. I eventually worked in the high school office. I loved it. That’s where I developed my confidence and started writing for a small newspaper. Once I got the writing fire, I couldn’t extinguish it. I just kept conquering my goals by freelancing in magazines. The goal of publishing a book has been a bit harder. But I won’t give up! And for the last four years, I have quotes included in the Hello Day Planner. This is a tremendous honor for me. I might be on the page next to Oprah or Nathanial Hawthorn. Turning the page of my planner and seeing my words sends me to tears every single time. I can’t imagine how I will feel WHEN my picture books are published!
AD: Congratulations on your quotes being published in the Hello Day Planner. I love motivational quotes. They keep me going! You should definitely revisit your first story from your childhood years. How serendipitous would that be to get it published! Full circle, for sure!! :)
AD: What topics or themes do you tend to focus on in your writing? Favorite genres you like to write?
DD: I have many manuscripts about dogs, squirrels, and memories of my childhood or memories of my children when they were young. In all my manuscripts, I try to inspire my future readers. My brand in writing is to follow your dreams, believe in yourself, and be yourself. I hope my children’s book manuscripts mirror these beliefs. And I hope to produce a giggle or two!
AD: Breaking into the publishing industry is not easy! What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far? What have you done to persevere?
DD: The hardest thing so far is getting a yes! I’ve had two R&R’s, but they were both passes. And I went to acquisitions in March! But it was also a pass. Close, but so far! I realized almost two years ago; the only way I would get published is NOT to quit. If I quit, THAT will be my final answer. I FAIL FORWARD every day. I write, revise, read, and persevere!
AD: FAIL FORWARD--I love that! So true! Congrats on those milestones with the Revise and Resubmits. Sometimes those passes burn the most but remember that those are all steps forward and should be celebrated.
AD: In a similar vein, what do you feel are your strengths as an author? What makes your writing unique to you?
DD: I write from my heart. I write about things only I could write about. For example, my brother-in-law died in July. I felt empty and lost, and that grief inspired a story that I hope will help children with grief one day. I’ve been told by my CP’s that I have a distinctive voice. I hope an agent and publisher sees that one day soon. And I pride myself on finding a better verb or noun. The thesaurus is my best writing partner.
AD: I'm so sorry about the loss of your brother-in-law, Dedra. As you said, the story that came from your own grief will one day help a child process the same emotions or possibly not feel so alone. Our stories help heal us and have the power to help others heal, too.
AD: As creators (and humans), we tend to focus on the flaws of our creations or areas for improvement. This helps us grow and develop, but we need not forget the many things we are doing well. With this in mind, what has been your biggest accomplishment or something you are most proud of thus far on your writing journey?
DD: Honestly—not quitting. My persistence. I’ve never wanted anything more or worked so hard to attain something. Ever! I’m proud of myself for failing forward and persevering!
AD: Yes! Just keep going!! :)
AD: What inspires your work?
DD: Memories inspire a lot of my manuscripts. Also, animals in my life or spending time in nature. I am always asking myself, “Would that be a good picture book?”
AD: Tell us about your creative process and what you do to keep ideas flowing or what you do when feeling stuck?
DD: I write any funny word, name, or concepts in my ugly sketchbook—a journal I write all ideas in as they pop into my mind. But if a strong story idea comes to my mind, I sit down and write it. It might be an ugly first draft (most likely will), but I get it out of my head and into a screen. After I feel it is ready for my CPs, I send it to them. They are invaluable to me! I also joined 12X12PB in January 2020, and I’ve written a story a month and revised them to ready-to-query status! (thanks, 2020!) I think the key is to keep your mind open and into kidlit at all times.
AD: What sorts of things have been most integral in your growth as an author?
DD: I think diving in and keeping my head in kidlit—webinars, blogs, picture books, Twitter, and writing! Oh, and querying! I just hit 200 queries. (That is queries, webinar critiques, contests, mentor contests, or anything where I am submitting a story.) I keep my head in the game. Even if I am down about a rejection, I keep reading and researching. I know I always have more to learn, so I immerse my brain.
AD: Yes, always keep learning and developing! That is key!
AD: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?
DD: Two things, the first is the answer above—immerse yourself and learn all you can. And second, if this is really your dream, be prepared for rejections—lots of rejections, and know that your answer will always be no if you don’t fail forward. I quit over thirty years ago, but I will not quit this time. “Dreams don’t have deadlines. Dreams don’t have wrinkles!” -Dedra Davis
AD: Great nuggets of wisdom and fabulously inspiring quote!--is that one in the planner ;)
AD: Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
Thank you so much, Amanda! I am honored and excited!
Of course, Dedra! Thank YOU for being here and for sharing a bit about yourself and contributing to the Rising Stars in Kidlit series! We can’t wait to read your stories and see your work in the hands of young readers! And keep FAILING FORWARD! Feel free to drop a comment below to support Dedra and her work. Stay tuned for next week where we get to meet another Rising Star in Kidlit, and be sure to subscribe so you don't miss out and follow along on Twitter at #RisingStarsinKidlit! Thank you!
Who Am I?
Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. Amanda is the author of the award-winning picture book, 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag, Moonlight Memories (summer, 2023) and a yet to be announced forthcoming title. She also has poetry and illustrations featured in The Writers’ Loft Anthology: Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children. Amanda has over ten years of experience as a classroom teacher and was selected as Massachusetts Secondary Art Educator of the Year. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her family and her rescue pup, Cora. You can learn more about Amanda at www.amandadavisart.com and on Twitter @amandadavisart and Instagram @amandadavis_art.