Today I’d like to introduce you to my guest, fellow author, Baltimore, MD native and chocolate-lover, Dorothy E. Hardin. She resides near Hershey, PA, the sweetest place on earth. An award-winning MD educator, she now enjoys writing children’s fiction, visiting amusement parks, and traveling with her husband and extended family. Her approach to life and writing is positive and engaging.
As her gentle humor wins the hearts of readers, she focuses on the social needs of children, who typically call her Miss Dottie in real life. With an upbeat style, her books address topics, such as making friends, sharing, adjusting to change, and learning. Her first children’s book, Zander’s Friendship Journey, captivates boys, girls, parents, grandparents, and educational professionals with its energetic plot and appealing illustrations. Like many children who tend to be shy or socially anxious or are on the Autism spectrum, Zander experiences challenges as he tries to make friends. Through caring adults, he and his classmates receive support on their mutual journey with lots of fun and delightful mayhem along the way.
Zander’s Frogtastic Adventure, her second children’s book, features more charming illustrations and another enjoyable, narrative journey. Set again in Spring Creek Elementary School, the story continues with Zander, Emmy Lee, Kippy, and a new character, Clinton, who enters their classroom midyear. The plot takes several unexpected twists that will engage children and adults in the fun adventure with friendship and amphibians at the center. Frogs and tadpoles help Zander and his friends learn not only about the environment and its creatures but also about themselves.
When did you decide to become a writer, and why?
Telling stories have always been a part of me. Being a writer probably was stored somewhere in my DNA. When I was an English teacher, administrator, and college lecturer, I wrote for adults. My newspaper op-ed pieces, education journal articles, and chapters for books about teaching and learning were published nationally. In “retirement,” I decided to try writing for a new audience: young children. An early and enthusiastic reader, I still remember the joy of books and the learning I gained from the page-turning experience. I feature this sense of joy through learning in Zander’s Friendship Journey, and Zander’s Frogtastic Adventure.
It seems that everyone varies as to how long it takes them to complete a book, how long does it usually take you?
I take approximately two years from first draft narrative to illustration/book design (by another person) to publication. I am working on a third Zander book, which should be available by 2018
What is your editing process like? Do you have help from anyone?
Because I have done book, article, and curriculum editing for others, the first part of the editing process is mine. This stage involves multiple drafts completed by perfectionist me. When I am comfortable with what I think is a solid product, I turn the book over to my first beta reader, my husband, who is a former newspaper journalist and copy editor. Wayne is a tough critic and allows me no slack. Once I argue with him, rethink what I wrote, and revise the narrative, I give the draft to my other beta readers, several adults and children (ages 4-9) for more feedback. In the third Zander book, I currently am writing, I built in a new step. Because my beta readers seemed so committed to Zander, I thought they may overlook errors or plot holes, etc. Luckily, I found a writing critique group through Pennwriters, and they are providing additional feedback.
That is so helpful to have all that help readily available to you. How do you think you’ve evolved in your writing?
My writing evolution has been lifelong. For years, I thought of myself as a nonfiction writer because my articles typically featured topics on education, teaching, and student learning. Since high school, I had not written fiction. However, in retirement, I decided to try writing for children. It has been an evolution to find my voice for children and for the adults who are in their lives. I try to appeal to both ends of the age continuum, which is a complicated skill, one that I am still striving to improve.
Can you give us some insight into your main character? What does he do that is so special?
Zander is a young boy who has difficulty in making friends and lacks social skills. As I did not want to label my main character, there is no mention of social anxiety or autism or Asperger’s. Today, children are hooked on devices at such an early age that social interactions are becoming more problematic for most kids. Zander is a boy who requires guidance in appropriate social behaviors. As he acquires social skills, Zander reveals his sensitivity, excellence in reading, sense of humor, love of learning, and thoughtfulness. He is a complicated boy navigating a complicated world. That doesn’t make him special. It makes him like most of us at some point in our lives or perhaps throughout our lives.
Which writers inspire you?
When I first started to write fiction, I went back to my English major roots with the style of Ernest Hemingway and Harper Lee, whose straightforward and clean prose can be read and understood by a wide audience. When I started to write social stories fiction for children, I tried to do a similar thing, although I knew the words would at first be read by adults to children. Therefore, I needed to consider how the words sounded aloud, not just existing quietly on a page or screen. Eric Carle’s books are highly inspirational to me. They are beautifully crafted and are happy books. In a world so filled with negativity, I want my books to be attractive and positive, too.
I love Hemingway, and when it comes to children’s literature Carle is a classic. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors? I work with people of all ages to support them and their writing. Everyone has stories to tell for a variety of purposes. One of my favorite recent experiences relates to using my Zander books to inspire children to help others through their writing. The Zander books are fiction with elements of truth in life woven in. How do you make a friend? How do you have a conversation? How do you help a new child feel welcome in a classroom? How do you keep a friend? Stories may be woven around these questions, and children have used the Zander model to write their own stories that will help others.
One last question, What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
PA is known for its ice cream, and it’s one of the reasons I moved to the central part of the state. My current, local favorites are Honey Vanilla and Honey Chocolate, flavors I first tasted at the famous PA Farm Show. When those are not available, Yuengling’s Black and Tan will do. In case you’re wondering, yes, it is the same company that brews beer.
Thank you so much for joining us today Dottie, we really enjoyed it! I also want to thank my readers for coming back this week. I truly appreciate your following my weekly blog and staying tuned in. Please leave your comments below, and we’ll be sure to respond. If you would like to know more about Dottie and her works, you can visit her at the links below.