Author Q&A with Dee Dee Chumley
With a career spent as a high-school English teacher, Dee Dee Chumley first channelled her creative ideas as part of a friend’s writing group.
Her other talents have included teaching girls’ softball, and even a spot of bus driving!
Dee Dee has received numerous awards for her short stories, essays, and poems, and in 2012 her debut novel Beyond the Farthest Star won Best Juvenile Book from the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation, Inc.
We were lucky enough to have Dee Dee answer some questions for us, and share her thoughts on writing and self-publishing.
Q. Dee Dee, please tell us how you got into writing
I taught high school English for twenty-three years, so I guess I’ve always been a writer in some sense. But I didn’t get into creative writing (other than a few poems) until my early fifties. A teacher friend invited me to join a writing group she’d formed. I was reluctant at first because the group did mostly creative writing, and I didn’t feel that was my strong suit. However, she explained I could write whatever I wanted—as long as I wrote something for each meeting.
I began attending the sessions, at first bringing essays and other nonfiction pieces and a poem here and there. Eventually, I got the idea for a YA novel and started developing that. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but over a four-year process of studying, writing books and multiple revisions, I came up with what was eventually an award-winning book.
Q. Where do you write?
Mostly I write in my dining room-turned-office. It’s a nice space with a good-sized desk, bookcases, and a large window with a lovely view to my front porch and neighborhood. As a formal dining room, it was used twice a year at most. Now I use it every single day. Re-purposing that space was one of my best decisions ever.
Q. What have you learned about yourself through your writing?
I like this question because it made me stop and reflect, and I’m pleased with where my writing has taken me. Foremost, it has taught me to take risks and not be afraid to make mistakes. Secondly, it has taught me to be open to constructive criticism and to learn from it. When I first began entering contests and sharing my work, I was in a panic to make it all perfect. I also wanted everyone to like my work. I quickly discovered the odds of either of those things happening were very slim.When I first began entering contests and sharing my work, I was in a panic to make it all perfect. I also wanted everyone to like my work. I quickly discovered the odds of either of those things happening were very slim. Click To Tweet
Of course I want to do my best and appeal to a wide audience, but getting past unreal expectations in my writing was very liberating for me. I’m learning to apply this to other areas of my life as well.
Q. Where do you get your ideas?
Ninety-nine percent of my ideas come from life around me. I see people and situations and start thinking “What if…?” My imagination begins to fill in details and events, and then I try to add some twists. If we’re observant, everyday life can provide plenty of writing material.
Q. How have your life experiences influenced your writing?
Life experiences have influenced my writing in three ways. As stated above, I use actual events in my life as seeds to grow a larger story. For example, my YA novel Beyond the Farthest Star is based on my observations as a high school teacher. Some Form of Grace is the result of my working with a ministry that helps ex-prisoners assimilate back into society.
My life experiences also influence my style of writing. Both of my parents passed on to me an appreciation for wit and humor and the ability to express it. I think this naturally comes out in my writing (although that might not be evident in this interview 😝). Lastly, my faith influences much of what I write. It was never my intention to write Christian fiction, but I found that I couldn’t write honestly without incorporating some of what I believe into my stories.
Q. Do you have any advice about self-publishing?
Once the decision to self-publish has been reached (and there are many factors that go into this), I would advise budgeting for services that will ensure your work is the very best it can be.
Self-publishing is steadily overcoming the stigma of being second-rate, but there are still enough poorly done, self-published books on the market to make readers wary of purchasing them. Get professional editing – both content and copy. Once that is done, get a professionally designed cover.
One of the best ways to ensure readers the writing inside a book is of high quality is to have a cover of equally high quality. If your budget doesn’t allow for a professional edit and cover design, it might be best to delay publishing until it does. It will be worth the wait.
Q. Which book has influenced you the most and why?
This answer might sound trite, but I will have to say the Bible. I grew up hearing Bible stories and passages read to me and later studied them for myself. The Bible doesn’t influence my style or plots or subject matter, so much as it ensures my stories carry an underlying message of hope and of God’s love.
Q. What’s next for you in your writing career?
Promoting my latest novel and reading. Writing a novel is such an all-consuming task that it leaves little time for reading for pleasure.Writing a novel is such an all-consuming task that it leaves little time for reading for pleasure. Click To Tweet
Now that Some Form of Grace is published, I’m indulging in that luxury. I don’t have to feel guilty because as a writer I can always claim reading as study and research (which it truly is). While I wait for the next “novel” idea to come to me, I’ll be writing for contests and blogging.
Q. Lastly, what would people be surprised to know about you?
Oh my. This is a hard one. I’ve always said a story about my life would be a real snoozer, as it’s pretty mundane. I guess that’s one of the reasons I love to read and write fiction! But if pressed, I’d have to say a surprising fact about me is that I once coached girls high school softball. While that might not seem so strange to some people, it certainly came as a surprise to me. I’d signed up to teach English and coach tennis, and I read in the paper I was also the assistant softball coach. Other than at recess in elementary school, I’d never even played softball and knew next to nothing about the finer points of the game. However, with the help of a patient head coach and understanding players, I managed to muddle through. And I was very good at calling roll and driving the bus!
To find out more about Dee Dee and her books, you can visit her website.
Dee Dee’s latest book, ‘Some Form of Grace’ is available to buy on Amazon on Kindle and in paperback.
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