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Interview with Freelance Children’s Writer Donna McDine

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Donna McDine is a freelance children's fiction writer with a first book in the works. Balancing her family life, day job, and writing career isn't easy, but as she herself stresses, setting boundaries and having a private writing space helps. In this interview, she talks about her writing environment, habits, and she offers aspiring writers some useful advice. 

Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?

I'm a native of Rockland County, New York and live with my husband and two daughters. I write, moms, and I’m a personal assistant from my home in Tappan. I’m a 2007 graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature, Writing for Children and Teenagers program. I’m also a member of the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators), The Children’s Writers Coaching Club at The National Writing for Children Center, and Musing Our Children Group. I have been published in Stories for Children Magazine, Kid Magazine Writers, Long Story Short, Institute of Children’s Literature Rx for Writers, SCBWI Metro NY Newsletter, and Once Upon A Time. And a forthcoming non-fiction article with Boys’ Quest to be published in December 2012. I’m also a children’s book reviewer for Musing Our Children Group, The National Writing for Children Center, and Stories for Children Newsletter.

When did you decide you wanted to become an author? Do you have another job besides writing?

I married 18 years ago and with the strong desire to be home (after contending with the rat race of sending Nicole to daycare and running off to my corporate job) I found myself pregnant with Hayley 10 years ago and armed with a Bachelor’s Degree in Office Management and 11 years as an Administrative Assistant in the corporate world I successfully landed a job working for a Fundraising Consultant working primarily from my home. This position has been a Godsend, since worrying about the endless responsibilities of what to do with the children at the end of the school day, illnesses, etc. I was now home to deal with them. And the gentleman I work for is a doll – he respects the fact that family comes first. However, over the years I have yearned for something more challenging and rewarding. Then suddenly one day in the mail, info on the Institute of Children’s Literature found its way to me. I haven’t looked back since – even though I still hold my “day job” (it helps pays the bills). I continue to make progress in achieving my writing goals (even if they are baby steps).

Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?

I always enjoyed reading from a young age and you could always find me immersed in a Nancy Drew mystery. I still have my collection (that my mom saved, in hopes of passing them down to her future granddaughters) that my daughters have been enjoying. To this day I still love a great mystery. In the past year I have read The Garden of Eve by K.L. Going, The Haunting of Frances Rain by Margaret Buffie, and Victory by Susan Cooper, plus many others.

Describe your working environment.

It has finally been confirmed that I’m a writer! The room that I had my computer in for years did not have a fourth wall – not until the day my husband surprised me that he had contracted a friend to put in a wall with a pocket door as a Christmas present to me. Having him acknowledge the fact that it is very important for me to be able to shut out the world when need be when I’m writing is a tremendous support. When the door is shut it tells my husband and daughters that a creative writing session is in progress and I shouldn’t be interrupted at this time. I feel validated!

My computer desk is adorned with a picture of my daughters in a Precious Moments frame that reads “There’s Always a Place in My Heart for You!” This helps me stay focused on the greater picture of life and family. I have writing and spiritual affirmations posted around my computer screen to help me to stay on track in my writing career. Morning is definitely my best creative time. I face a paneled wall and above that there are three 10”x10” quilts framed in oak frames (from Amish Country, PA) with a metal cut out sign that reads: "Write" (picked that up at an antique shop in Hunter Mountain, NY). I feel that it is very important that you designate some area in your home that is your space alone where you can let the creative juice flow. Go ahead… create your own oasis!

As a writer, what scares you the most?

Everyone says rejection, but I’d have to say acceptance of my manuscript and then having to come up with another idea for another manuscript. I’ve spent so much time with my current characters it probably would be odd not to have them rambling around my head anymore. It’s scary for me at times to have my words out there for all to judge, but I know publication and acceptance is the golden reward for our fruits of labor.

When it comes to writing, are you an early bird, or a night owl?

I rise about 5:30 am, read through my spiritual affirmations, check email and get a Pilates session in before the girls and hubby rise. Once the girls are off to school I make sure that I’m organized for my “day job” and then hit the ground running with my writing. This way when my boss calls late morning/early afternoon it’s not difficult to switch gears. Morning is definitely my best creative time.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

So many people that I’ve met over the last two years have given me very sound advice. The one that stands out from early on is from Gayle Jacobson-Huset, Assistant Editor, Stories for Children Magazine: “Don't worry about your writing so much … your girls are young yet and need you … your time for writing more and more will come sooner than you think … just try to write something — even if it's an email or a letter to somebody, or even a journal entry — every day to keep your skills up, and also read, read, read children's books in the genre you hope to specialize in … the rest will come in due time. I think you're doing great!”

Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

I am working on my first book through the Institute of Children’s Literature Advanced Book Course. Tentatively entitled, “Images of the Past,” includes historical events of General George Washington and Major John Andre. However, the long ago occupants, Nicole, and company are purely fictional.

The town I live in Tappan, NY is listed on the New York State Historical roster and I live down the street from the DeWint House, which was once occupied by General George Washington. Major John Andre attempted to deliver the secrets of West Point to the British, but was later tried, convicted and hung as a traitor.

SYNOPSIS: Nicole Sloan has moved to the east coast of the United States with her mother and sister and finds herself immersed in discovering the identity of the long ago occupants of their new home and proving their innocence of treason. While the move is difficult for Nicole, especially since her parents recently divorced (because of wife abuse), she is intrigued to solve the mystery from over 200 years ago. With the help of her sister, Hayley, and her two new friends, they are working against forces beyond their control. Yet their determination leads them down a road they never thought possible.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

I have developed a blog and a website in conjunction with my writing and use them as a tool to provide information and maintain relationships with fellow writers. I blog at least 2-3 times per week and update my website on a monthly basis, or sooner if necessary.

Thanks for being my guest, Donna! Good luck with your writing career.

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.
  • Llinda Kuzyk

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this interview. Donna pointed out some things that she has done and is doing that have spurred me to deal with some issues of my own, in terms of making this writing life work. One of the things is a “sacred writing space and time.” I need to do that and I need to do that soon! Thanks for sharing. Linda

  • Jewel Sample

    Inspiring interview of a writing mom who has found a balance between availability to meet the needs of her family and her professional goals.

    Thank you for sharing a part of your real self Donna!

    Blessings to you,

  • Jan Verhoeff

    What a pleasant interview! I often find the most informative reading is wrapped up in personal attributes and understandings of the way we as individuals perceive ourselves.

    As a mom, writer, professional, I recognize the characteristics required and appreciate them in your interview, Donna. Thank you for sharing a little bit of yourself.

    Jan Verhoeff

  • Donna McDine

    Ladies…thanks for stopping by so quickly and leaving such lovely comments. Glad you enjoyed the interview. I’m even more happy I have a door & wall on my workspace now…contractor is here now working on the kitchen and the noise is quite loud, but it will be worth it in the end. Here’s to inspiration!

    Warm regards,

  • Mayra Calvani

    It was great having you here, Donna! Thanks for all the useful advice. I also would like ot thank you ladies for stopping by and leaving a comment.


  • Kim Smith

    Hey Donna! Love the interview. Was happy to see that we share a love of early morning activities and Susan Cooper. Best wishes for the future!

  • Cynthia Reeg

    Thanks for letting us into your world for just a bit and sharing your journey. Best wishes with all your writing endeavors.
    And to Mayra, another great interview!

  • Diana Delosh

    Great Interview – Donna! Seems like you live in the perfect place to research your novel in progress. As an illustrator/writer – who always has problems juggling her personal and professional lives it was inspiring to read how you have found balance. Wish you loads of luck with all your creative endeavors. -Di

  • Sparky Firepants

    Great interview, Mayra. It’s always interesting to hear about author’s personal lives in relation to their work.

    Donna, I hope your day job is Full-time Author very soon!

  • Beverly McClure

    You are an inspiration to all of us, Donna. A wonderful interview. How exciting to live where so much history took place. Your story sounds great, and I’ll be looking for a copy some day.

    Mayra, you always ask the most interesting questions. Great interview.


  • Donna McDine

    The lovely comments of support are very touching…thank you everyone. The writing community is such a wonderful support!

    Warmest regards,

  • Carma Dutra

    This was a great interview. Donna thanks for letting us all get a glimpse of the freelance writing life. You are doing great.

  • c hoare

    An interesting interview, Donna & Mayra.

    It really is inspiring to live amid history, and so good that you write to share that sense of history with others.

    Chris H.

  • Jan Verhoeff

    I came back to reread the portion about your office, again. I’ve got a corner of the living room sectioned off and use it as my office for writing, tax season, school (I am currently taking classes AND teaching classes), and for most anything else that needs doing. I find I must be extremely organized or it all becomes chaos. And honestly, I’m not extremely organized. I like the idea of having a separate room. Thanks for the idea.


  • Jessica Kennedy

    It seems like you’ve made great strides since I interviewed you. I enjoyed seeing all of your hard work paid off.

    I’m happy to see your success growing. What an exciting time.

    Jessica Kennedy
    The Differently-Abled Writer

  • Donna McDine

    Hello All…was just checking out all the other wonderful interviews by Mayra…thanks one and all for stopping by and for your wonderful words of support. Here’s to everyone’s writing careers and success!