Today we’re please to welcome Danette Haworth to Day By Day Writer. Danette’s debut novel, Violet Raines Almost Got Struck By Lightning, was released last fall. It tells the tale of spunky 11-year-old Violet Raines. Click here for the book trailer.
Welcome to Day By Day Writer, Danette, and congratulations on Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning. I read the first chapter on your website, and when I then read your bio on your website, I was struck by how similar Violet sounds to you. Is there a lot of you in Violet?
Secretly, I am a lot like Violet; I’m just not as bold. Violet isn’t afraid to make her feelings known; she doesn’t check herself for political correctness. Though this boldness gets her in trouble sometimes, I admire her for not being a shrinking violet (heh-heh!)
I feel like I am the same person I was when I was younger—just more experienced now. As an adult, I know what feelings I’m allowed to express and what feelings I need to deal with. I’m not so quick to blame, having learned that my perspective is not always the correct one. That’s something Violet learns in the book.
As far as being outdoors, Violet and I prefer the woods to being inside the house. Many forts were built by my hands, and I was always proud of the heights I could climb to in the sap tree across the street. Daddy-long-legs and caterpillars were welcome to crawl on my arms. (Notice the past tense! I hate bugs now.)
Violet’s voice is so clear from the first paragraph. “I wasn’t scared-I just didn’t feel like doing it right then” says so much about this character. Was Violet this strong a character when you first started writing your book, or did she come into view the more you worked on the story.
Violet pushed herself right in front of every other idea I had. When I sat down to write this book, I wrestled with adult themes and issues—sibling rivalry and what it turns into as children become adults, mother/daughter issues—but Violet appeared in my computer room one day. She came with all her quirks, her accent, her affinity for the outdoors, and she delivered the first paragraph of the book.
What tips can you give writers about creating strong characters?
Though Violet came to me as a complete character, I can’t help but think her appearance was the result of my spending a couple of weeks thinking about the setting and the catalyst for the story I thought I was going to write. Violet stemmed from my original vision with a path of her own.
If I have any tips worth giving, I would say don’t skip over the preparatory steps in a rush to begin writing. Allow yourself time to play around with your characters; let them take over a bit; give yourself permission to do this thinking without pressure. Then you can develop a character sketch and in doing so, details you hadn’t even realized you knew will flow from your pen.
Make sure you’re honest. Don’t hedge when developing the personalities of your characters. Strong characters have real feelings, all the way down to their secret hearts; if you can, or are willing to, expose those feelings, readers will respond to that. They’ve had the same feelings too.
What was your inspiration for this book and these characters?
It kind of started with my mom. I have a picture of her when she was three years old, and she’s sitting on top of a pony like a little princess, a tomboy princess. By all accounts, she was stubborn and feisty, and I had that picture in the back of my mind when I sat down to write the story.
My mom lived in farm country, and I grew up hearing how she always got invited to the neighbor’s house each Sunday for a fish fry. One of the best parts about the fish fry was that her brother and sister never once were invited, a real coup for my mom, who was the youngest!
Eddie is based on a boy I knew in 4th-6th grade, a gracious boy who really was the fastest runner in all those grades. I think everyone had a crush on him.
Will we see more of Violet Raines? She’s so much fun.
Thank you! I had a lot of fun writing Violet. I’ve often said I felt more like I was watching her rather than creating her. I don’t know if we will see more of Violet Raines. I like where I left her, right near the bridge with Eddie. Of course, you never know!
Did you always want to be a writer? And if so, did you always want to write for children?
I always wanted to be a writer. I used to produce volumes of poems and comic books, starting when I was six years old. Reading was my favorite elementary school subject, and later, I loved writing. In seventh grade, I penned (penciled!) my first novel, which took up three composition books and got lost the next time we moved. (My dad was in the Air Force.)
Because I love literary stories and short stories, I thought I’d be the writer of those kinds of works. But even the first novel I wrote as an adult (Me and Jack, Walker 2011) was conceived as an adult novel, yet when I hit the keyboard, it was a middle-grade novel that took over. I think that’s where my heart is.
Can you tell us about your road to publication?
When I went to college, I wanted to study some kind of writing, and I wanted to make sure I could pay my bills; I took up technical writing. I enjoyed my job. I got to work with scientists and engineers who studied the uses of state-of-the-art technology. That was my day job; at night, I wrote short stories and stuffed them into envelopes with SASEs. I submitted everywhere, often without any acquaintance with the journals or magazines I was submitting to. Yet I was always surprised and disappointed when I’d find that little story back in my mailbox shortly after.
Not having any background in writing fiction, I decided I needed more of an education on the craft. I read books, writers’ magazines, and took a course on writing short stories. I began to study the magazines I wanted to submit to, and after a while, I began to have some success. Small successes, but still!
Eventually, I quit working to have a family, but I kept writing and submitting. Just a few years ago, I decided to chase after my big dream and write a novel. I didn’t know how to do it, so I prepared myself by once again reading books, this time on the craft of novel writing. Then I wrote Me and Jack, and when I finished it, I started Violet Raines.
I’d just finished the rough draft for Violet when I heard about an SCBWI conference coming to Orlando. Critiques would be available! I knew it might hurt, but I also knew it could only help me improve the manuscript. I polished up the first ten pages and submitted them for critique.
Stacy Cantor, an editor with Walker Books, critiqued my submission and loved it! I tried to act professional as she spoke to me, but I was floating like a balloon on helium. She closed the session by asking me to submit the full manuscript to her, and that’s how I got started on this whole thing.
What’s the biggest thing you learned working on Violet Raines, about writing or otherwise? And what was your biggest challenge?
One thing I learned was that when you’re done with a manuscript, move on! Do not get out of the discipline of writing every day. Because I’d never published a book before, I didn’t know how demanding the proofreading rounds would or would not be. I was afraid to get into a new story for fear I’d need to dive deeply back into Violet. Now I know I can handle those rounds while remaining entrenched in a new work.
My biggest challenge is still trying to stop talking about Violet when innocent people ask me about her, and I jabber on even when I see their eyes glaze over.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on revisions for The Hotel of Blueberry Goodness (Walker 2010), in which a girl who lives in a hotel meets an eclectic group of friends, including a teenage runaway. Next are revisions on Me and Jack (Walker 2011), about a boy, the dog he adopts, and the narrowminded residents of the new town they move to.
Thanks so much for joining us, and we hope to see more of Violet.
Thank you, Samantha!