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DORI CHACONAS
 
BIOGRAPHY
(A Tale About Me)

I was a stay-at-home mom of twin girls in the '60's when I started writing stories for children.  I can't remember why I began writing.  I think I had a romantic image of what an author should be casual and slouchy clothes  (but chic)... contemplative facial expression... and a pair of cool glasses to suggest a studious and intellectual look.  I didn't need glasses but I found a pair anyway and set them on my writing desk, which was an old ratty board covered with Contact paper, set up between stacks of orange crates. The board was strong enough to hold my 45-pound Royal manual typewriter - a great bargain for $10 at a Wisconsin Gas Company renovation sale. 

I've always been a storyteller, a singer of nursery rhymes, a twister of truth.  The oldest girl in a family of seven kids, I used my survival skills as a storyteller to keep my younger siblings from maiming each other in poking wars.  I loved books and my favorite reading spot was a big green armchair in a hidden corner of our living room.  If I hunkered down, I couldn't be seen by my mom, who would always find a chore for me to do.  I'd read for hours, and I would 'live' in those stories.  If the hero suffered, so did I.  I once roller skated around our block twenty-eight times in a snow storm, mentally fighting the elements in the Yukon.  I froze my butt off, but let me tell you - it was perfect suffering!

As an adult, I read to my twins often.  Then because of a nagging need to do something creative, I began to write.  I learned to submit my writing to children's magazine publishers, ever conscious of the postage money I was sure I was throwing away.  But the challenge was there!  The Yukon needed to be tamed to heck with the suffering or the cost of a stamp!

Writing for publication in the 60's was a lonely business.  There were few books teaching the craft, and fewer people who understood the itch that takes over when you're determined to be published.  Out of desperation, I posted a message on a recipe card   INTERESTED IN WRITING?  PLEASE CONTACT ME on the bulletin board of our corner grocery store.  The call was answered, and I met a writing friend a support person, and I now belonged to a critique group of two.

I sold my first story to Highlights for Children, then many more to that magazine, to Jack and Jill, Scholastic and others.  I sold three picture books: A Hat for Lily, and In A Window on Greenwater Street, to Steck/Vaughn, and The Way The Tiger Walked, to Simon & Schuster.  I was a bona fide writer!  An author!  My fake glasses had earned their place on my desk.  But I didn't feel like an author.  I felt as fake as those glasses.  At least I had the publishers fooled.  Not one of them called to tell me it was all a huge mistake.

I left all these glories, and doubts, in the early '70's.  The embroidery bug bit me. Yarn embroidery kits were the current fad.  Barns, birds, and blooms were waiting to be embroidered on linen with vibrant wool yarns.  I worked one kit and was addicted. I didn't think about writing, except that I had done it. I had met that challenge and had a small amount of success, and now I wanted to move on to new things.  I started drawing out and working my own designs, and while my fingers worked the yarn, my mind worked the possibilities.  If I could sell stories as a free lance writer, could I sell crewel designs as a free lance artist?

I soon learned I could.  All those feed sack towels I'd had to embroider as a kid finally paid off.  I sold designs to yarn companies Bucilla, Paragon, and others and had designs featured in Good Housekeeping, and McCall's Needlework magazines.  I got up at 4 A.M. and put in 8 hours of stitching by early afternoon.  My finger had a permanent callous from my needle.

The needlework craze slowed in the '80's, but family life picked up.  We now had four daughters and schools that introduced us to that annoying word tuition.  I went to work part time at various jobs preschool, nursing home, medical clinic, hospital.  I quieted my creative demon in snitches and snatches of small projects until 1997, when two amazing things happened.  One of my daughters started to write, and I was introduced to this new, alien thing called a computer.

Here's my first list of instructions with the computer, written by me for me:

TO TURN ON:
Push far left button on the floor electrical strip, then
Point mouse arrow at START (lower left corner of screen)
Click (once) with left clicker on the mouse (lightly)

That was only the beginning. Eventually, I had legal pads filled with detailed instructions on how to get in, out, under and around this strange machine.  And I had EMAIL!  My daughter lived in Atlanta and cyber channels smoked with our back and forth messages about writing she asking questions about my long ago experiences, and me, trying to remember things of 25 years before.  She introduced me to online writers' groups and after a few short months, I was drawn back into the world of writing. 

And what a world it was!  I gave away my old Royal typewriter no more carbon paper!  I joined online writers' groups.  No more literary-lonely days!  This new world was filled with amazing things and amazing people.

Online writer's groups developed into critique groups.  These groups also developed into friendships, even though we were separated by hundreds of miles.  It was during the time I was in my first good critique group that I got to know a young woman named Linda Smith.  Linda lived with her husband and eight children in Dallas. She had an outrageous sense of humor, and an ability to touch your heart with words.  Linda introduced a story of mine to her literary agent and within a week, he sold my story to Viking Children's Books.  That story was One Little Mouse (illustrated by LeUyen Pham.) It was released in 2002.

Strangely enough, it was my second sale, also to Viking, that was first to reach publication.  On a Wintry Morning (illustrated by Stephen T. Johnson) appeared in the bookstores in October 2000.  New books are reviewed and the reviews can be good or bad.  If the reviewer writes: "Would someone please shoot this writer," that's bad.  If the book is given a 'starred review,' that's good.  On a Wintry Morning received two starred reviews (lucky me!) and also won the Archer/Eckblad Award for the best picture book to be written by a Wisconsin author in 2000.  I was astonished.  The book has a simple, rhyming text about a daddy and his baby daughter spending a wintry morning together.  How appropriate is that, having watched my husband help raise four daughters?  Now you know where my inspiration came from.

Our early critique group (presumptuously and embarrassingly called The Stars), made up of seven writers, went on to sell a total of thirty-six books in three years.  The field of children's writing is extremely competitive and a single sale is cause for great celebration. So thirty-six sales must make it sound like we were masters.  But even after all those sales, that nag of a feeling that we were imposters flourished.  Linda Smith once said, "I feel like a Velveteen writer.  When will I become real?"

Sadly, Linda Smith never lived to see her first book published, nor to read it to her eight children.  She died in June 2000 of breast cancer at the age of 40.  One of her books, When Moon Fell Down, is published by Harper Collins, and the publisher is donating part of the proceeds of the sales to cancer research. Real life suffering is not as sweet as childhood make-believe suffering. 

With the help of my daughter and my writing friends, I think I'm becoming a good writer. I still like casual, slouchy clothes, but my figure has gone from chic to chub.  And I need these glasses now. 

 But why do I write?  I can't give just one reason.  But I think what comes closest to being the most important reason goes something like this.  Close your eyes and imagine you hear a child laugh.  Then imagine that you are the one who made him laugh. Can you feel that inner glow?


                                                                                                                                                         Copyright 2006 Dori Chaconas.  Not to be used without permission.

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2006 Dori Chaconas