D.A. (Dorothy) Hawes is an incredible tour de force. She's an author, a feature writer, a high school English teacher, an accomplished pianist, a foodie, and a lover of all things entertaining. She's recently published Ogopogo Odyssey, a picture book featuring the legendary Canadian monster of Okanagan Lake in beautiful British Columbia.
Dorothy shares her love of entertaining in her feature column, 'Entertain with Dorothy,' published in At Home Victoria magazine and on her fabulous blog, Any Excuse For A Party. You'll also love her Instagram about entertaining, food, and life on Vancouver Island. (any_excuse_for_a_party).
Dorothy and I met when we taught high school together in Victoria, B.C. Now I'm thrilled to introduce you to her first children's book, published in 2016 by Promontory Press. Dorothy and Promontory have generously donated two books for my blog readers: one for a Canadian and one for an Aussie! Winners are announced at the end of this post...
Dorothy, tell us how you got to where you are today as a writer.
I’ve always loved stories. I grew up in a family of 12 kids, and while my parents didn’t have a lot of money, we did have a library card! We spent lots of time at the library and I still vividly remember perusing the shelves for the most engaging books. My Dad was great about reading to us, so my love of books began at an early age. In elementary school, I always enjoyed writing and loved to create stories of my own. My love of reading and literature continued to grow as I went on to high school and university, prompting me to do a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Masters degree with a double-major in English and Germanic studies.
What inspired the story behind Ogopogo Odyssey?
I grew up in Vernon, a small city in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. We swam in Okanagan Lake during the summer months and I heard lots of stories of the mythical Ogopogo. This famous Canadian icon was featured on tourist brochures, postcards, t-shirts, mugs, and many of the parks throughout the Okanagan had large caricatures of the Ogopogo. Before dropping us off at the beach to swim, my parents would often jokingly tell us to “watch out for the Ogopogo!” Later in my life, once I had children of my own, I decided to write a story based on my own childhood recollections of the Ogopogo. Given the many sightings of this mysterious creature over the years, I tried to imagine the excitement of a young boy who believes he has an encounter with the Ogopogo. I also felt that including the story of Chief Timbasket and his encounter with N’ha-a’itk was an engaging way to show respect for the First Nations heritage in our province.
How long did you work on Ogopogo Odyssey, from inspiration to finished product?
This is quite funny as my journey with this story was a VERY long one! I wrote this story in a children’s writing class with author Julie Lawson when my son, Colin, was about 8 or 9 years old. Now he’s 21! After writing the story, I did initially try to find a publisher, but it was a long and arduous process that didn’t seem to get me anywhere, so the manuscript was shelved for many years. That’s why finally bringing this book to fruition has been particularly rewarding. It shows that patience and perseverance really do pay off!
You’ve used a fantastic hybrid publisher in Canada, Promontory Press. What were the main benefits of approaching a hybrid publisher rather than pursuing a traditional publisher for your book?
A good friend of mine had her book published through Promontory Press and she paved the way for me to meet up with Ben Coles, publisher and CEO of this firm. I didn’t even know at the time exactly what the difference was between traditional publishing and hybrid, but soon discovered that hybrid publishing allowed me much more creative freedom and involvement in the process than a traditional publishing house would. While this also meant that I had to cost share in the production of the book, in the end, I also take away a larger cut from the royalties. I believe this system is fairer to both the author and the illustrator in the long run.
Traditional publishers pair authors and illustrators and don’t allow writers to source their own illustrations (unless they illustrate their own books). Hybrid publishers take a different approach. Can you tell us about that?
The wonderful thing about Ben and Promontory Press was their overwhelming support of my decision to have Maggie Parr as the illustrator for the book. In fact, I think Ben might have been more excited about Maggie’s role in the book than mine! After all, she was a well-known Disney artist who could bring a lot of attention and credibility to the book. Sadly, the traditional publishing houses are far less open to authors finding their own illustrators and usually prescribe the specific illustrator for the book without the author’s input. I’ve spoken to many authors who never even saw the illustrations for their book until it was in print. I think that’s kind of sad.
How did you meet your illustrator?
Maggie Parr and I met in a rather serendipitous manner at the San Francisco Writers' Conference many years ago. We happened to be standing in line for an event and began to chat, and at the end of our conversation we exchanged business cards. Her business card featured a caricature of an adorable looking dragon and the first thought that entered my head was, This is exactly the sort of art work I picture for Ogopogo! When I returned to Canada, we began to correspond by email and I finally had the nerve to ask this very talented Disney artist to illustrate my book. Lucky for me, Maggie agreed and so began a long-term collaboration.
You’re now a published children’s author, but you’re also a blogger and a feature-writer…as well as an English teacher. Can you tell us about your writing life?
I’m rather eclectic in my writing. While I love writing children’s books, I have also been working on a young adult novel as well. In addition to that, I’m hoping to write a book on entertaining. Currently, I have a column called “Entertain with Dorothy” for At Home Magazine, a local magazine in Victoria, B.C. I have a real passion for home entertaining and my philosophy is that everyone is capable of bringing friends and family together and feeling comfortable in doing so.
My dream is to publish a book that will act as both an inspiration and guideline to help people discover their own potential to entertain, whether on a very small scale or a big one. That’s the mantra behind my blog and my Instagram “Any Excuse for a Party.”
What’s next for you on your writing journey?
Maggie and I have discussed the possibility of creating another children’s book together, so I’m very excited about that. We’ve both been so busy since the publication of Ogopogo Odyssey that we really haven’t gotten down to discussing exactly what that will look like. I am also keen to pursue my dream of publishing a book on entertaining, which is why I am working hard to develop a following on both my blog and Instagram. It’s so important to have a presence in social media, particularly if you want to publish in the genre of cookbooks, home décor and/or entertaining.
What doubts or resistance are you currently facing as a writer?
It’s always a challenge to really believe in yourself and trust that you have a voice that is different from what’s already out there. It’s also tricky in this digital age to convince people, especially young people, that a book is a worthwhile investment. There are so many bookstores suffering financial losses these days and many publishers are reluctant to take on new writers. I truly believe that nothing beats a hard copy of any book, particularly for children, but we also have to accept the fact that the world is changing. Even Ogopogo Odyssey is available in Kindle edition, something that I still find odd, given that I don’t even own a Kindle!
What would you say to an emerging writer who is just starting out on this journey?
Don’t give up! It took me so long to finally see Ogopogo Odyssey come to life, but it was worth the wait. You have to develop thick skin and not be deterred by the inevitable rejection letters. Once you find the right publisher and the right editor, anything can happen!
Thanks, Dorothy, for inspiring us! The two lucky winners of Ogopogo Odyssey are Sarah V (in Canada) and Jenny J (in Australia). You’ll receive your books in the post soon!
You can buy Ogopogo Odyssey in all Canadian bookstores and online (Kindle and paperback versions) at amazon.com. For teachers or librarians, Dorothy has written a Teacher Resource Guide for the book -- email me for your free Guide!
For delicious party inspiration, check out Dorothy’s entertaining column online and her blog, Any Excuse For A Party. I'm sure we'll be hearing from Dorothy soon...maybe with a glossy book on celebrations!
Take it from a friend who loves her, Dorothy and her parties are THE BEST.