In this interesting indie author interview, Rachael chats with Dr. Dawn Menge, an award-winning author of the Queen Vernita's series. If you're interested in writing a children's series, you'll be sure to find Dawn's experiences and advice helpful.
You can find the author's contact information and links to her books at the end of this post.
How important is research to you when you're writing your first draft? What research do you have to do for your genre?
The Queen Vernita’s Visitors educational series is based on real people and real adventures in my life. The research is very important to me as I strive to be as authentic in my writing as possible. Each new month brings a new friend, new subject and new activity to learn. I have done almost everything in my adventures before I include it in a Queen’s adventures.
In Queen Vernita visits the Blue Ice Mountains which is based on Alaska, the Queen snorkels in the icy waters. I went snorkelling in a dry suit in Sitka, went whale watching and kayaked to an island filled with eagles.
Queen Vernita Conquers the Volcanic Islands is based on Kona, Hawaii. My family and I went into a shark cage off the North Shore, we went hiking and swimming in the bottom of a lava tube, we had baby sea horses wrap their tails around our fingers and swam with the sea turtles.
Queen Vernita Meets Sir Heathy Bean the Astronomer was written with my little brother who is an Astronomer at JPL. He added all the links so the readers could search the information on their own.
Queen Vernita’s Magical Christmas Train Ride is based on a train ride from Williams, Arizona to the Grand Canyon. We also went on the Polar Express train ride in our pyjamas and drank hot chocolate and listened to Santa read the story.
When did you realise you wanted to be a writer? In other words, why are you a writer, and how important is it to you?
My writing experience began as an assignment during my credentialing class. We were asked to create a book and game based on math skills. The original Queen Vernita's had my students in it and we used it as a script to travel around to local elementary schools to increase awareness of my students with severe cognitive delays.
When I published the first Queen Vernita’s Visitors I immediately won a first place in the EVVY awards and started receiving interviews. I was asked what I was writing next and hadn’t planned on continuing the series. I loved to travel and explore so I decided the Queen would travel around her kingdom and meet new friends in all the different areas within the land of Quails.
What inspires you to write?
My family and I do a lot of traveling and each new trip is an inspiration for a new storyline. I have also published several new books during the pandemic:
Queen Vernita’s Magical Christmas Train Ride
Queen Vernita Sleeps by the Sandy Fireside
Queen Vernita Visits the Land of Little Rain and Dragon’s Breath.
Where do you get your ideas?
My ideas and characters for my books come from my real life. In several of my books I have included disabilities to help increase awareness. I have included Down Syndrome, visual impairments, deafness, Autism, Rett Syndrome, and Cerebral Palsy. Each person is very real and become models for the illustrations. My very talented illustrator takes a picture of the person and incorporates them into the scene. When I first started, I only used the children in our family as I thought they wouldn’t mind. Soon, many adults asked to be in the books and the Queen is never short on wonderful friends to include in the books.
Do you have a schedule for writing, or do you write only when you feel inspired? How often do you manage to write and when you do, how many words can you manage in one sitting?
The illustrations take several months to complete as they are all hand drawn and water coloured. Once they are done, I begin to write the book. As they are based on my actual adventures and they all follow the same format - 12 months, 1 new friend and subject for each month and 7 facts per month.
Once I begin writing it only takes a week or so to get the book written and edited.
Writers are often labelled as loners and introverts; in your opinion, is there any truth to that?
I am not a loner. I have a very active life with many different avenues for interaction. I teach students with severe cognitive delays, lecture at a local university, have an active family life and travel to book events for my series. But, I would describe myself as introverted for the most part.
The public exposure was very hard for me at the beginning. We are our worst critiques. On one of my first book events at the library a television crew was interviewing the authors. I tried to hide in the restroom but the authors in the booth next to me encouraged me to stay and I completed the interview. During the pandemic, I’ve made a great effort to increase my written and Zoom interviews to increase my exposure since the in person book events were all cancelled.
What would you say are the easiest and hardest things about writing a book? What do you love and hate the most about what you do?
The easiest and hardest thing about writing the Queen’s adventures is picking what I want to write about. I love the ocean so I tend to write a lot of books surrounding the beach.
Some people believe independent (self-published) authors produce books of poor quality in comparison to traditionally published books, often down to editing and cover design issues. What is your opinion on this; what would you say to those people as an independent author?
When I published the first Queen Vernita’s I self-published simply because I was doing it as a personal goal. I did not consider seeking a traditional publisher or agent. Now, The Queen’s adventures have won 41 international awards including several recent awards from film festivals. I won the Special Recognition Champion Award from the Conquering Disabilities with film festival. I received a perfect score from the judging critique for the Writer’s Digest Awards.
What is your experience of publishing so far? How have you chosen to publish and why? What do you feel are the benefits of this method?
My first books were published through a self-published company. After the first year I wasn’t receiving any royalty cheques, I went with a self-published version through Simon and Schuster and then was picked up through a hybrid publishing company. I have now published four more books through this company and am happily receiving publicity and royalty cheques through this company.
The best decision I made was to join writing groups such as SCBWI and USBBY.
Attending conferences with authors who were New York Times bestselling authors, Newberry Award winners and pre-published was an invaluable place to gain advice. I also do a lot of book events, literary award judging and book reviews for an amazing educational magazine called Story Monster Magazine.
Lots of authors struggle to market and promote their book/s. Do you have any top tips you can share with them, and what have you found to be most effective?
Marketing and promoting your books takes a lot of time and energy. The best networking is done through your local communities and then to expand yourself outward. Word of mouth and social media are great avenues but in-person events are a wonderful way to connect with your audience and fans.
Our local school district runs a young author contest each year. Several books are published by an author from each grade level and then there is a conference at the end. I have been the main author at the event for 10 years. It is so heartwarming to read the young authors stories and to have the parents come up to you and tell you that their child reads your book each night and how many they own.
“What is your new adventure this year?” is an exciting statement to hear from a fan.
I also judge self-published romance stories for the Rone awards. I promote my books through their magazine after we are finished judging this years books. I had so much fun attending one of their awards ceremonies. Romance authors are very different from children’s authors.
Do you believe that writing can be learned, or that you must be born with a passion and/or talent?
I believe you have to possess a deep passion to want to share parts of yourself freely to the world. I believe the mechanical parts of writing can be learned. Especially in the beginning when you first start writing. Receiving advice from seasoned writers and editors helps in so many ways. I highly recommend connecting with other experts in your genre to help pave the way.
How do you view and define success? What does it mean to you, and do you currently feel successful?
For me, success is defined by my readers sharing how much they enjoy reading my stories or how it has impacted their lives in some way. I have readers who buy my books before they take a trip to the area. I was at a book event in Long Island, New York and the father of a boy who had autism said he reads my book each night. The repetitious nature of the books is a wonderful learning tool for students who have specific learning needs.
My series has won 41 International awards and is read in schools and libraries all over the world. I find this to be a definition of success more than the income generated from my books.
I was at a book event at the University of Tucson and a woman was going to Ghana, Africa to help build a library. She purchased books and I donated a set. She sent me pictures of these students checking out my books in their brand new library. I have videos of children reading my books in different areas of Africa at their school, in England and Australia. That is the definition of success for me.
How do you find trustworthy professionals and freelancers to work with? Do you have a procedure for vetting someone, and what would you recommend debut authors do to ensure they are not taken advantage of?
This is an issue I experienced at one point. Having another author trying to use my experiences to validate her new series. It taught me a lot about how valuable my series was and to be very careful about who we trust. This is when I began to interact with professional writing groups and published authors. I began working with the Story Monster Magazine and found a great network of professionals to build my writing experiences and move towards a more professional mode in my writing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Dawn Menge has won forty-one national awards as a self-published author of the Queen Vernita's Educational Series. She has a PHD in Education and specialized in Curriculum and Instruction. A Master's and a Clear Credential in moderate/severe disabilities and a Bachelor's in Human Development. Dr. Dawn Menge has been teaching severely handicapped students for twenty years. Dr. Dawn Menge is the mother of three and the grandmother of five beautiful grandchildren.
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This author is not directly affiliated with Curious Cat Books and is a guest on the blog. Please see this website's policy regarding links and recommendations.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Queen Vernita Conquers the Volcanic Islands
Release Date: 05/2019
The Queen of the Land of Quails is preparing to travel to the mysterious Volcanic Islands to meet twelve of her wonderful new friends. After she leaves her loyal subjects in charge of keeping her castle safe from harm for the next year, Queen Vernita boards a boat and heads out on her latest adventure.
The Queen’s first stop is to visit her friend Nicole at the black sand beach at the bottom of a beautiful valley where she learns all about the hawksbill sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seal. Her journey takes her to a new place every month, where she explores volcanoes, pink and orange sand beaches, walks along the hot lava, scuba dives under the sea, and learns about all the flora and fauna that call the islands their home. Along the way, the Queen meets many amazing new friends who are each special in their own way.
"Thank you so much for allowing me to be part of your Curious Cat Books author interview promotions. International exposure is so important to indie authors and you have allowed this to open up for Queen Vernita’s Visitors Educational Adventure Series. The interview questions were very thorough and hit most avenues needed for emerging and experienced authors. I give Curious Cat Books 5*." - Dr. Dawn Menge
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