Author Interview with Denise Vega: The Road To Writing

Today we have a special treat!

My friend, the brilliant children's book author Denise Vega, is going to talk a bit about her road to writing.

Denise is the author of seven books for children which include her four Middle Grade and Young Adult novels: Rock On; Click Here; Access Denied; Fact of Life; and three Picture Books: Build A Burrito; Grandmother, Have the Angels Come?; and her latest, If Your Monster Won't Go To Bed.

I first met Denise back in 2013 at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Summer Conference in LA. I wasn't quite a newbie writer, but I was still pretty new to the scene--I had only been to a couple of conferences before that and had spent most of those conferences hiding in a dark corner. Needless to say, I still didn't know anyone. That year in particular, though, I had made it a goal to go out and meet people, so I went to the Rocky Mountain Chapter get-together, which was organized by our Regional Advisor at the time, you guessed it, Denise Vega! There may have been five of us that showed up, all writerly awkward and quietly looking at our feet until Denise arrived armed with chips, dip, margarita mix, and of course, her sparkling personality. What a combination! It didn't take long for her (and the margarita mix) to coax us out of our shells and get us talking about ourselves, our lives, our writing projects, and of course, our goals and dreams as writers. I met some of the most wonderful people that night, all of who are still close friends. I owe a mountain of thanks to Denise for that enchanting evening, and for every writerly get-together I've been able to brave since. Thank you, Denise!

Okay, okay, enough of this sentimental silliness!

Without further ado, I am proud to introduce the fabulous Denise Vega! 

*Applause*


I have thirteen questions for Denise, all of which were designed to give you a little insight into the writer's journey. Pay attention! There will be a bonus question for the readers at the end of this post. Answer in the comments section for a chance to win an autographed copy of Denise's latest picture book, If Your Monster Won't Go To Bed.

Here we go!

Q: Can you describe your earliest memory of wanting to be a writer?

A: I remember writing parodies of Nancy Drew stories when I was probably 10 or 12. One of them was called "Nincy Drewl" (so clever--ack). I had drawn a cover with food everywhere and two rather heavyset legs sticking out of it. Not very PC, but there you have it. 

LOL! I would totally read that book!

Q: What was the title of the first book you had ever written and what was it about?
  
A: The Laziness of Peter Rabit, which I also illustrated with crayon. I created this when I was 11 or 12 with a cover made of two colors of construction paper, bound with yard.

When I was 13 or 14, I wrote an untitled, very bad knockoff of Thomas Tryon's horror novel The Other. I typed it on my mom's Royal manual typewriter.

 You were talented and driven from the start!

Q: What were you doing when you came up with the idea?

A: Wow. You are really taxing my memory! I actually don't know. For Peter Rabbit, I'm sure it was around Easter. For the knockoff, I'm not positive, but I can pretty much guarantee I had just finished reading The Other by Thomas Tryon because my book was about twins too 😊

This would be a hard questions for any writer, I think, as we use our experiences to come up with stories pretty much every minute of every day 😀

Q: Where is that book now?

A: The Laziness of Peter Rabbit is still in my possession, thanks to my sister! I had given it to her when she was about six, and she wrote her name on the cover. Bless her for saving it all these years! you can see it in all it's glory on my website.

 A must read! So adorable and funny!!

 And I kept the first novel as well--two versions of it in fact! My mom kept the box they were in while I grew up and moved around for college and work with my husband. You can catch the first page of each version of the manuscript on my website, along with a picture of the Royal typewriter that I used to write it!

Wow! I love that you have all of these mementos! Your family must have known from the start that you were become a great writer 😀

Q: Which authors most inspired you in your writing journey?

A: Zillions! But here they are a few in chronological order, form childhood to now.

For novels: Beverly Cleary, Edward Eager, Eleanor Cameron, S.E. Hinton, R.R. Knudson, Judy Blume, John Green, Sara Dressen, A.S. King

For picture books: Tammi Sauer, Linda Ashman, Liz Garton Scanlon, Ame Dyckman, and Amy Krouse Rosenthal (such as loss).

Great list! I bet all of the authors (both here and gone) would be honored to have been mentioned as inspiration by such a talented author  😊 

Q: What are some of the most useful writers craft books/ blogs you have read?

A: These are on my shelves:

For Novels, anything by agent Donald Maass, with Fire in fiction, Writing 20th Century Fiction, and Emotional Craft of Fiction being my favorites.

For blogs, author K.M. Weiland's Helping Writers Become Authors.

For picture books, Linda Ashman's The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books. Can't recommend this one highly enough. It's a workshop in a books! Also, Writing Picture Books: A Hands-on Guide from Story to Creation to Publication by Ann Whitford Paul.

For blogs, there are so many, but two that come immediately to mind are Picture Book Builders and Reading for Research Month by Carrie Charlie Brown.

Great Resources, thanks for sharing!

Q: What do you consider the hardest/ best part of writing?

A: The hardest part is knowing something is off and not being able to identify it. 

The best part is when things are clicking, you're in the zone, the dialogue is singing, and I've just written something unexpected that ties back to my theme, plot point, or character development.

Yes to both of those answers 😀

Q: How did you find your agent/ publisher?

A: Build a Burrito, my first book accepted for publication, came from meeting Editor and Publisher Bernette Ford at the Rocky Mountain Chapter, SCBWI Fall Conference back in 2001. She had founded and was running Cartwheel Books at Scholastic, and I signed a two-book deal with her. They opted not to publish the second book, but at least I got to keep the advance 😀    

With agents, it was all about being in the right place at the right time--and having well-written, compelling and "right for the market at that time" manuscripts of course! For my first agent, I got very lucky. A writer in my critique group offered to recommend Click Here to both her agent and her editor at Little, Brown. I loved both and two relationships were born. When that agent and I parted ways in 2014--she really doesn't represent picture books, and I was writing more of them, so we parted amicably--I met my current agent at Big Sur in the Rockies that May. I sighed with her a month later.

This just goes to show that hard work and networking go hand in hand. We must do our best work, but then we must put it out there for people to discover. Scary, but true! 

Q: What is your favorite/ least favorite part of the publication process?

A: My favorite part is the acceptance! That's the best call ever! And next is revision because my editors have all been geniuses and I always grow as a writer during the process. I love it! And, of course, holding that book in my hands at long last and sharing it with readers. Okay, so I have more than one favorite part 😃  

My least favorite part is having to be cognizant of the business side, which means marketing the book as much as I can while trying to make time for my next projects. My book is no longer this fun, beautiful labor of love and pain, but a commodity to be brought and sold. And those purchases (or lack thereof) can directly impact whether my next book is accepted for publication. it means having to detach a bit from the book so that I can help shepherd it in the marketplace. I'm doing that right now as I promote my new picture book, If Your Monster Won't Go to Bed. I'm happy that it's such a fun read-aloud! I'm having a blast with story times and looking forward to some school visits in the fall. School visits, workshops, and speaking engagements are all other ways writers support themselves in addition to book sales. It's one big balancing act and I know I'm not the only author whose writing has taken a back seat to these other opportunities.

The business side of things can be taxing, but well worth it in the end. It's funny, people think authors only job is to write amazing stories, but they are responsible for so much more!

Q: When was the very first time you felt like a for realz professional writer?

A: For realz, I would say it was when I got both my agent and my publisher for Click Here. With Build  Burrito, it still felt a bit like a fluke--I felt like a novelist who got lucky with a picture book. But with Click Here, I had an agent and a publisher. It felt amazing. I remember shortly after that happened I was attending the Pikes Peak Writers Conference where I had pitch meetings with both an editor and an agent for the book. It felt fantastic to walk up to the table and turn those in for someone else to use.

That must have felt amazing and was probably just as amazing for the person who was able to pitch in your place!

Q: Who is your biggest literary character crush?

A: I love this question! Every male lead in Sarah Dressen's books. 😀 And, if I'm honest, I always fall a little bit in love with my own male leads. I think I have to so that my readership does too.

Great advice for writers!

Q: What is your favorite method of procrastination?

A: Email. I can justify its importance because I'm setting up school visits, speeches, teaching opportunities, etc. and it will "just take a few minutes." Ha! When hours have gone by, I curse myself. Recently I've committed to checking my writing-related email addresses (yes, that's plural!) twice a day Monday through Friday between 8am and 5pm, treating them like the business communications they are. That's helped me keep my focus on the writing.

A good rule. Email is a black hole.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Revising one picture book, re-visioning another (read: starting over!), and finishing a draft of a new young adult novel to get it to my agent and critique group by the first part of June!

Good luck! I can't wait to read what comes next!

Thank you so much for sharing your writing journey with us, Denise!

You can learn more about Denise by visiting her website:

Follow her on Twitter:

Buy her books!

And now, dear readers, your bonus question!

Q: What was the name of the bunny who delivered the eggs in Denise's The Laziness of Peter Rabbit?    

Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this inspiring post. Congratulations on your newest book - Looking forward to reading it.

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  2. Great interview. Thanks, Carissa! The Laziness of Peter Rabbit is a classic. I'm sure it reveals much about Denise's childhood--though I've no idea what. ;-)

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    1. Thanks! You're probably right. Everything we write can probably be traced back to something in our childhood : )

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  3. Nice interview! I love "writerly awkward." Glad that people like Denise help us relax and enjoy writerly friendships!

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  4. I met Denise for the first time at Big Sur in the Rockies 2013 too. My first thought was that she was magic. I still think so!

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  5. Good thing Johnny Rabbit knew what needed to be done.

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    Replies
    1. And the winner is...Rick! Congrats and thanks for reading! Send an email to carissamina at gmail.com with your mailing info and I'll send out the book!

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