03 August 2010

An interview with Angela Dorsey

I'm lucky to know such wonderful writers (and human beings) who allow me to interview them about their writing life and publication. Today I'm interviewing Angela Dorsey, who has authored three series of books for juveniles, published worldwide. She's also a great sushi dinner companion. She's going to tell us about how she achieved her current success, and why it almost didn't happen. Angela,

Tell us about your road to publication.

It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I gave up twice, but both times realized I would regret quitting, so went back to hitting my head against that wall. It may sound odd, but I actually never expected to succeed at becoming an author. All I knew was that I would regret the not trying, plus I'm a sucker for lost causes. I took courses, did lots of writing, and finally dreamed up my first book idea, Freedom. I wrote and rewrote the book about a million times over the next eight or so years (or so it seemed), until it was finally picked up by an agent for a one time submission. That submission worked out and I am still with the same agent, and still selling books to that publisher, plus others.

Tell us about your first published book, Freedom.

One day, I was driving the back roads from Kitsault to Terrace, a very, very long way! It was a hot, drowsy day, and I was creeping along a rough logging road; there was no traffic and nothing too significant to look at. The scenery was nice but I'd just spent a month in the bush and scenery didn't mean a whole lot right then. Anyway, I was beyond bored. Normally, I'd read or sleep, but I was supposed to be driving so... I zoned out. After a couple of hours of this, my brain was good and empty, and an image popped into my head: a 12 year old girl in an ancient, unlit barn, bending down to fluff up some straw, and hearing the far-away, ominous snort of a horse come from the corner. And then, like a movie the story unfolded in my head, slowly, steadily, completely. It felt like a gift.

What made you almost quit... twice?

Extremely discouraging rejections.

One publisher said they wanted it, but first requested a rewrite that changed the story significantly. It was a hard decision, but I finally decided to go against my better judgment and make the changes they requested. They were the experts after all. The story took a year to rewrite and was completely different when it was finished. I didn't like it as much but thought it was what they wanted - and of course, they rejected it, saying the story had too many problems. Yeah, problems you requested! Anyway, it was a tremendous lesson learned. I always stick with my gut feeling now.

The second time was again when a publisher showed serious interest and backed out. The editor was excited about the book and planned to present it at their next editorial meeting - and then silence. Months passed. I tried to contact her but heard nothing back. Finally, another editor at the publishing house contacted me, saying they're still interested, but that "my" editor had left and she would now champion my novel. Great. Except then again, there were months of silence. After I tried to contact her a number of times and heard nothing in return, I official withdrew Freedom from their consideration - and then sulked for about a year before I tried again. LOL.

So why did I keep going? I believed in that story more than anything.

Do you have any opinions about ebooks vs. traditional books?

I like to read, no matter what the format, so I don't see one as being better than the other. I don't have an ereader, due to cost, but if I did, I could see myself using it quite a bit.

As far as publishing goes, I would prefer my books to be sold in both formats.

Why did you choose to write in your genre, for juveniles?

Simply because that was the first idea that I had. I took a lot of courses on writing, and initially was focusing on non-fiction. Then along came Freedom, my first book idea. I then learned to write fiction.

What's it like having children as an audience?

I love it. They are very open and not shy about contacting me. I appreciate my fans a great deal and still write to girls who have read my books in the past but are now close to adulthood. It's very fun to watch them grow into the great adults they will soon be.

What are you working on right now?

Three things: a juvenile fiction series (finishing book 5 and starting book 6), a screenplay based on my first novel, and I'm playing with an adult fiction novel as well.

What it's like to try to change your writing style from juvenile to adult?

It's something that I found very intimidating for years. I always felt my adult stories were simplistic and unsophisticated, and sought a lot of feedback over the years from different professional writers and writing teachers. They all said the same thing and though it took me a long time, eventually I accepted what they had to say: the problem is all in my head. My adult writing is not like my juvenile writing, just as my different stories for adults have different moods, levels of sophistication, and styles, depending on what that specific story is trying to accomplish. So I guess I was lucky in the sense it wasn't something I had to deal with consciously; my brain sorted it all out, probably many years ago as I read books in the different genres I love. The hard part was accepting that I didn't need to worry about it anymore.

What's your favourite fiction book and why?

I share this with a Jose Saramago book (Blindness) and two books by Jon Macgregor (If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things and So Many Ways to Begin.) I still haven't read his third book, Even the Dogs, but can't wait to get a copy.

Give us a DO and a DO NOT for aspiring writers.

Do be persistent. So much of success is just showing up, day after day.

Do not ever stop working at becoming a better writer, no matter how good you get.

Angela Dorsey is a B.C. writer who has over 20 juvenile fiction novels published around the world. In addition, she has one non-fiction picture book, co-written with her daughter, Marina Miller, and a number of short pieces published in literary journals and magazines in Canada. To check out her juvenile novels, go to www.angeladorsey.com.


  1. Nice interview, Jen... Fascinating to read how a children's author approaches her craft. Thanks so much for posting!

  2. Thanks Anthony. She's pretty great to talk to about what really happens when you start to live on your writing. She's realistic, but also loves what she does. Great combination.

  3. Great interview!

    I'm going to search out and read the novels you tied as favourites, thanks.

    The advice about going with your gut is really good and important, and I totally related to the comment: "So I guess I was lucky in the sense it wasn't something I had to deal with consciously; my brain sorted it all out, probably many years ago as I read books in the different genres I love. The hard part was accepting that I didn't need to worry about it anymore."

    Thanks, Jen and Ang--I love getting a glimpse into other writers' writing lives.


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