What happens when you mix mothering twins with your own memories of being the youngest kid in a family? Sometimes, a gem of a book. This week, we talk strong girls and family life with Abby Hanlon, author of Dory Fantasmagory.
1. You managed to capture the painful moments of being left out by older siblings, all while wrapping this book in humor. What was it about the experience of being excluded that drew you to write about it?
I am the youngest of three kids and was always the black sheep in my family. The sibling dynamic in Dory’s family is similar to my own, and even continued into adulthood. My relationship to my family has always been my primary struggle, and I think that is why I was drawn to write about it. As the powerless member of my family, this is where I draw my strength – from the accomplishment of writing about something painful and making it funny.
2. Dory is a pest, but a lovable one. How did you find this character? Is she pure fabrication or is she based on someone you know – maybe even YOU?
Yes, Dory’s feelings are all ones that linger from my childhood. But everything else in the book (the details, the dialogue, the humor, the games Dory plays) comes straight from my own lovable pests –my twins, who were five year olds when I wrote the book. I took so many things from both of their personalities and poured it into Dory. There isn’t one page that I could have written with out them. If anything in the book seems authentic, that’s because it is! I shamelessly stole everything from them.
3. What makes Dory a strong girl, in your opinion?
I think Dory is strong because she finds a creative solution to her problem; she creates her own world since the one she lives in falls short. Solving her own problem enables her to be independent. Dory will put up a fight to protect herself, but at the end of the book, she also demonstrates an equally important strength: She can prioritize her siblings’ needs before hers.
4. What’s your writing process in general? Are you a plotter or a seat-of-your-pantser? How long does it take you to work through a project?
Dory Fantasmagory took me about a year-and-a-half to write. My writing process starts with being a full time mom; I’m always listening as I’m cooking, washing the dishes and doing laundry. I collect little snippets of dialogue and pay close attention to what makes my kids laugh. Then I take all of those notes and try to stitch them into a story. I’m definitely a plotter. I need to carefully analyze how one scene can connect to the next. When I’m working, I have to actually draw an arc, and fill in the essential story elements – the exposition, trigger, rising action, etc. – and constantly refer back to it.
Unlike many authors, I was not a big bookworm as a child. Like Dory, I was too busy playing in my own world. But I remember studying closely every page of The Light in The Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends. I’d memorize the poems, and perform them for my parents’ friends.
Now I get to read a lot with my kids. Mostly, we like the old classics – Roald Dahl, Astrid Lindgren, Beverley Clearly, E.B. White, and a new favorite, Kate DiCamillo.
6. Finish this sentence: Strong girls… don’t do what other people want them to do. They follow their instincts. They make waves.
The sequel to Dory Fantasmagory, Dory and The Real True Friend, comes out July 7. Dory starts school and works hard to make her first real (non-imaginary) friend.
Now I am working on the third Dory book in which she struggles with learning to read.