This month we welcome Austin SCBWI member Deanna Roy to our interview series.
Deanna is the author of the three Magic Mayhem books for kids aged 9-12 that start with Jinnie Wishmaker, and is a six-time USA Today bestselling author of adult fiction, as well.
Deanna wrote her first story, “Blackie and the Garbage Dump Dogs,” when she was in elementary school. As a teen, she tried to destroy her little hand-made books, but if you get a chance to meet her dad, he will whip out the one surviving copy, still to Deanna’s total embarrassment.
Thank you for joining us, Deanna!
Where did you grow up, and how did that place shape your work?
I grew up in rural Texas. My home town has fewer than 2000 residents, yet it still boasts a Pulitzer Prize winning author — Larry McMurtry. Imagine the odds of that! I have set a lot of my books in Texas because it’s so unique. Cowboys and oil wells might be a cliche, but they were definitely prominent elements of my childhood!
Did you always want to be a writer, or did that come later?
I started making little books when I was six years old, mostly about brave kittens who would fend off mean, garbage-dump dogs.
If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
I try to be balanced! I spend a couple hours each day writing new words. Another hour or two is taken by other writing matters, such as marketing, talking with fans, or reviewing my tasks on the publishing schedule. Then I make sure each day has “think time,” usually a long walk, or sometimes reading something slow and thought provoking. The rest of the time is filled with family obligations. I have three children aged 7 to 19, two with extra challenges. Some of my days get taken up by their needs (I’ve lost entire years this way). I try to write at least four complete books a year. Not all of them are publishable, but I do finish most projects I start.
I’m known for taking on heavy subjects, so all the issues our family deals with daily — past trauma, child abuse, foster care, epilepsy, identity — all become part of the ideas that swirl in my head. One of my favorite writing tasks is to absorb all the things I’ve learned and create new, more dramatic situations that take on those same issues. In my middle grade books, I tackled things that were hard for me to face personally, particularly in Elektra Chaos where the main character deals with having seizures at school. Most all those situations were ones my own daughter went through numerous times.
Tell us about some accomplishments that make you proud.
I wrote my first young adult novel last year and made it into Pitch Wars. Working with published mentors was a new experience for me. They really believed in both the premise of the book as it deals with teens who age out of the foster care system, and my treatment of the topic.
As far as life, there are days that stick out. One is definitely the day when my youngest, a couple months after he arrived, pushed his plate away and said he didn’t want to eat what I had made for dinner. I cried that day because he had been profoundly hungry for most of his life and was well behind in growth. He always shoveled food in his mouth with his hands without any regard to what it was. To refuse food based on its taste was a huge step. He no longer feared hunger. He felt safe and secure that we would always feed him. It was a really big day. Really big.
Getting started is hard, and I don’t understand why. Writing something new is literally my favorite thing to do, and yet, almost every day, I sit down and try to procrastinate. I have a team of writing friends who sprint with me early in the day to force ourselves to get going. Once I’ve actually started typing, I’m fine. It’s just writing that first sentence of the day that gets me.
When a reader discovers your work, what do you hope they find?
Authenticity. I write contemporary real-life stuff. I want them to walk away having felt a connection to someone in the book. To understand something they knew nothing about before. And to hopefully have more compassion when they encounter people they may have misunderstood. We all have stories. And we often behave badly. The more we know, the more we can bridge the gap between how we perceive people and how they really are.
Quick Fire Questions:
Would you rather be a hamster or a pig?
Hamster-sized pig. (Everyone would think I’m adorable.) [Interviewer note: And WAY better than the alternative, a pig-sized hamster!]
Would you rather win an Olympic Gold Medal or an Academy Award?
Academy Award! I like speeches. Medalists have to stand there quietly. Nope.
Would you rather make a movie of your life before you were twenty-one or a movie of your life after the age of twenty-one?
AFTER! For sure. I was a hot mess. Well, more of one than now, anyway.