Danette Haworth created her first book when she was six, featuring hair-raising pictures of the battle between a green stick boy and a red stick pirate. She has since stopped illustrating—at least until the market is ready for some really good stick men. Danette is the author of Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning (2012 California Young Reader Medal); The Summer of Moonlight Secrets; Me & Jack (2012 Great Stone Face nominee); and A Whole Lot of Lucky (starred Kirkus Review). Growing up in a military family, Danette lived up and down the East Coast and in Turkey and England; she now calls Orlando, FL, her home. For more info, visit Goodreads.
If I gave you a brick, what would you do with it?
The weight is good, and it’s just the right fit for my hand. I want to throw it through a window. But I’m a conscientious citizen, and I remember another author you interviewed said he’d strap it to his shoe so he could be taller. That guy’s been walking around lopsided. He gets my brick.
What do you do when you see a spider in your house?
I’ve been told my screams shatter glass and burst eardrums, but that is pure hyperbole.
Do you believe in UFOs?
I have always believed in Ultimate Free Oreos.
Which is worse, being in a place that is too loud or too quiet?
I can’t stand a quiet house, unless I’m working, in which case . . . shhh!
What is the most distinguishing landmark in your city?
Well, that would have to be Walt Disney World!
What is your earliest childhood memory?
Dusty dirt roads, open windows, carts being pulled by donkeys. The man trudging down the street with a chained bear that would dance for you if you threw money to them. I was two-going-on-three, and we lived in Turkey.
What is your favoriteboard game?
I grew up on Scrabble. I play by the rules and I play to win. No second chances! No helping! And God pity the soul who challenges and is proved wrong—they will lose their turn. No mercy!
What food item would you remove from the market altogether?
I just don’t think we need cauliflower.
What inspired you to write your first book?
Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning is my first published book, and the character was inspired—in part—by a photo of my mother when she was three years old. She’s wearing a cowboy hat while sitting on a horse. The look she’s giving to the camera is so impish, so mischievous, you just know she was that plucky, does-what-she-wants-to sort of girl.
I’d been reporting to my computer daily in hopes of an idea while my first manuscript was on submission. (This first manuscript was Me & Jack, published later in 2011.) And I swear, this girl Violet walked into the room after a couple weeks of brainstorming. “When Eddie B. dared me to walk the net bridge over the Elijah Hatchett River where we’d seen an alligator and another kid got bit by a coral snake, I wasn’t scared—I just didn’t feel like doing it right then. So that’s how come I know just what he’s saying when I see him in church, flapping his elbows like someone in here is chicken. When Momma’s not looking, I make my evil face at him, but he just laughs and turns the right way in his pew.”
That’s the first thing she said. I wrote it all down, and it now appears—unchanged—as the first paragraph in the book.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I love unreliable narrators; I fall into present tense naturally; and I write in first person. Not to say that I won’t change that up in the future, but this is what’s reflected in my books.
What books have most influenced your life?
I’d been freelancing as a feature writer and copyeditor when I read Terry McMillan’s book, How Stella Got Her Groove Back. There’s a part in the book where Stella mentions something about picking up more side work. Her friend points out that Stella’s been dancing around the thing she wants to do instead of diving straight in.
I read this as I was considering taking on more clients because my youngest was going to pre-K. Stella’s friend was talking to me. What I really wanted to do, what I always wanted to do, was to be a writer of books. And this was my moment.
What book are you reading now?
I’m just starting Lauren Fox’s Still Life with Husband. It’s Lauren’s first book, but I read her second book first, Friends Like Us, and I absolutely loved it. Good, honest writing with a believable story arc.
Name one entity that supported your writing journey outside of family members.
I drafted my first book in secret! I didn’t want anyone to know what I was doing; I was afraid of being peppered with questions or doubts or hyper enthusiasm.
After dropping my children off to school, I pulled out all my how-to-write books. I was teaching myself the art of creative writing and how to carry a story arc. I took notes. I scoured websites. I researched concepts. Before anyone came home, I packed everything up and away—there was no trace, no evidence to give me up. Only God knew what I was doing.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
A Whole Lot of Lucky was my fourth book with my former editor, Stacy Cantor, who has an uncanny knack for teasing out the gems in a story.Hailee Richardson is a spitfire unreliable narrator who doesn’t have a cell phone, wears Salvation Army clothes, and rides a three dollar bike (a boy’s bike!) that her mom picked up at a garage sale last year. When her family wins the lottery, she envisions herself riding to school in a limo, eating in five star restaurants, and hiring a nanny for her baby sister who seems to get all the attention. Hailee’s life does change, but not in the ways she’d expected. I don’t think I’d change anything in it. Hailee makes me laugh!
What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing?
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. One of the things I show at school visits is the only remaining edition of my Peter Pan comic books—these were comic books I drew and wrote myself. They featured a green stick boy and a red stick man, and one story had a robot in it. It all made sense back then. But I took this endeavor seriously enough to bind my homemade comic books by poking a knitting needle through the center of the pages and lacing yarn through the holes to hold the comic together.
When I started college, everyone who wanted to write majored in journalism. I was already on my own and I could foresee the future wave of journalism grads I’d be a part of, all fighting for the one or two spots available at the town’s only newspaper. My sister heard of something called “technical writing,” which was something that had always been done, but hadn’t really been a concentrated field of study. The university in my town happened to have one of the first programs for technical writing in the country.
It has such a dull ring to it, but my first job was fun. I got to interview scientists, Army colonels, engineers, and professors. On my first day, my boss plopped a five hundred page technical Army report on my desk. I was still a student, interning. My first reaction to this ream of paper loaded with military jargon and concepts: Oh, no! I can’t do this! But then I buckled down. Yes, you can, I told myself. This is what you’ve been in school for, and you can do it. And I did, and my boss was pleased.
When my husband and I started a family, I quit to stay home, but it wasn’t long before I needed to exercise my writing brain. I began to place short pieces in small venues and a couple pieces in large venues. I picked up the freelance copyediting work and later drafted my first manuscript.
That’s really the condensed version. There was much angst over the short stories and articles I sent out in which the editors made swift use of the SASE. I want to stress that rejection letters are part of the journey and everyone gets them. That’s why any piece that gets published is worth celebrating over!
The best moment for me as a writer happened when my family and I went out to eat one Saturday night. The restaurant lobby was dark and crowded. A boy walked by, his nose buried in a book, the back of which looked familiar. I pulled my middle son close enough to whisper in his ear. “Follow that family,” I ordered. “See if he’s reading Violet Raines.”
My son went off on his mission while the hostess seated us. A few minutes later, he came back with the boy and his sister, their faces alight with joy. They couldn’t believe they were meeting the author! My face was alight with joy, too. I couldn’t believe I was meeting a reader in the wild! It was the best night ever!
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing? What comes easily?
Starting a work is challenging! Everything is so blank; nothing has shape; I hate to even look at my computer. But once that first draft is done, it’s like hallelujah! Now, there’s something to work with, to shape and refine. I love this stage, especially after collaborating with my editor, whose eyes I trust. When the editorial letter comes to me, I’ve learned to take slow breaths, read it, put it down, back out of the room slowly. I let the comments percolate for a few days, then I come back to the manuscript with a renewed vigor.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
My advice is the same I’ve always given, but it bears repeating: everyone’s heard Read! Everyone’s heard Write! But I add Let a qualified reader critique your work, even if you have to pay for it. Many agents and authors critique full manuscripts for reasonable fees. This is a worthy use of your money and an education in itself—you’ll receive comments from someone who’s crossed the transom and seen the promised land. Their notes come from a place of experience, and that’s a boon to the work you’re trying to accomplish. Submit. Some people don’t submit for fear of not getting published, but you guarantee that by not submitting your manuscript. Don’t be afraid! Put it out there! And if you get rejected, don’t be crushed—just move on to the next step: Repeat from top.
Attend conferences. Force yourself to mingle, even if you know no one. And use every opportunity presented to put your work before an editor or agent’s eyes. I’m not talking about the bathroom stories we’ve all heard; I mean put your first page in if there’s a first pages critique; sign up for the ten page critique; raise your hand during discussion. Essentially, put your work on the line so you can receive the kind of feedback that will make you a better writer. It’s scary, I know, but worth it.