Awesome Authors: Erin Dealey on How Her Inner Teacher & Theater Director Inform Her Writing

By Linda Joy Singleton

I’m excited to welcome my dear friend Erin Dealey to Cynsations. I met her at SCBWI and gained valuable writing insight from her when we belonged to the same critique group for a while. Combining her teaching and drama experiences, Erin delights young readers with creatively fun picture books, including Snow Globe Wishes, illustrated by Claire Shorrock (Sleeping Bear Press, 2019), K is for Kindergarten, and her most recent books Peter Easter Frog, illustrated by G.Brian Karas (Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2021) and Dear Earth…From Your Friends in Room 5, illustrated by Luisa Uribe (Harper Collins, 2020).

How does your teaching and theatrical background influence the topics you choose to write about?

First off, thank you for inviting me here today! As to your question, when a story idea pops into my head (Yes, that’s what happens.), my teaching and theater “hats” are never far away, but they influence how I write more than what I write. Believe it or not, the environmental themes of Dear Earth…From Your Friends in Room 5  were inspired by an illustration for my agent’s holiday card, an angel cradling Earth in her hands, created by the amazing Dow Phumiruk.

From there, TheaterDirectorMe wondered how to make an eco-friendly story entertaining. TeacherMe has always thought Earth Day should be every day so that played into it. WriterMe has always loved epistolary stories like Mark Teague’s Dear Mrs. LaRue, Letters from Obedience School (Scholastic, 2002), and my all-time favorite The Jolly Postman by Allan and Janet Ahlberg (Heinemann, 1986), so I challenged myself to write one.

Of course, TeacherMe could totally imagine how a class might approach this. (I’ve taught a few Bernards—What fun!) And the extra perk of helping kids learn to write friendly letters added another level. I’m beyond thrilled that classes are now using Dear Earth all year long. Yay for Earth Heroes!

There’s rarely just one moment that leads to success. What turning points led to your first sale?

You’re so right, Linda Joy! My first kidlit ah-ha was when I was teaching high school English and theater and directing the Stephen Sondheim / James Lapine musical “Into the Woods.” I was reading a gazillion picture books to our daughter, G, at the time, and somewhere along the way, I realized that picture books are like theater. This was a huge help when I wrote Goldie Locks Has Chicken Pox, illustrated by Hanako Wakiyama (Atheneum, 2002) after G got chicken pox. I had not heard of SCBWI yet, but TeacherMe knew the library always has answers.

Enter Writer’s Market. I was only able to find two publishers that would accept unsolicited rhyming manuscripts, so I sent my queries. Note: You think the wait is long now, my friends? This was 20+ years ago when everything was done via snail mail. Emphasis on the snail. I am proud to say I got my first rejection fairly quickly. I was a writer!

A month or so later, I got a request to send the full manuscript. The good news is I had no idea how long things took and I run the theater department of a fine arts camp in the summer so off I went.

That fall, I got a phone call from Caitlyn Dlouhy, my kidlit hero, the incredible editor who pulled my story out of the slush pile. Two fun facts: Goldie Locks Has Chicken Pox is still in print as I write this. And one of my recent books, Peter Easter Frog, illustrated by G.Brian Karas, was released this January by Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, an eponymous imprint of Atheneum/Simon & Schuster. We have come full circle!

What promotion strategies have worked best for you?

Did you ever have to take a Career Quiz in school that told you what career path you should take?

My answer was advertising. Advertising? To seventh grade me, that sounded like I’d have to live in a big city and sit at a desk and type all day. (I know—right?) All I can say is that I honestly love all things public relations—connecting with others about words, kidlit, and books. The key word here is love.

In my opinion, if you approach “promotion strategies” as a painful task that must be done, stop wasting your time. Find whatever PR avenues you could possibly enjoy and go down those roads. Avoid the “Buy my book, people!” desperation at all costs. (No pun intended.) Use social media to meet others, make connections and learn from them. Create book trailers because you love creating! Don’t ask, “What can your bookstore (or school) do for me?” Ask, “What can I do for them?”

Any new books/projects you’d like to share?

Thanks again, Linda Joy! Please send positive publishing thoughts to the manuscripts currently on editors’ desks. And meanwhile, here’s a shameless plug to encourage everyone to think about Earth Day all year long.

When you turn the book jacket of Dear Earth…From Your Friends in Room 5 over, it becomes a very cool poster of how to be an Earth hero all year. TeacherMe would love it if students would start being Earth heroes in the fall, and then Earth Day could be a celebration of all they have accomplished!

Teachers, please DM me if you want some awesome Earth Hero stickers for your class.

Cynsational Notes

Erin Dealey is a children’s author, whose slush-pile success story, Goldie Locks Has Chicken Pox (Atheneum, 2002) is still in print—along with titles, including Dear Earth—From Your Friends In Room Five (HarperCollins, 2020); Peter Easter Frog (Caitlyn Dlouhy Books/Atheneum, 2021); Snow Globe Wishes (Sleeping Bear, 2019); K Is For Kindergarten (Sleeping Bear, 2017), Grandma’s Favorite and Grandpa’s Favorite (Kane Miller, 2018, 2019).

School visits have taken her as far north as Alaska, and as far south as Brazil. A former SCBWI RA, she is the PR Coordinator and assistant at East/West Literary. Visit and follow @erindealey on Twitter and Instagram.

Linda Joy Singleton is the author of over 50 books for children, including Curious Cat Spy Club, The Seer (Llewellyn/Flux) and Dead Girl series (North Star Editions).

She’s also written picture books, her most recent are Crane and Crane(Chronicle),  Lucy Loves Goosey (Simon & Schuster) and A Cat Is Better (Little Bee Books). She wrote her first animal story when she was eight, dreaming of being a published author—and that dream came true!

She’s a longtime member of SCBWI and Sisters in Crime, and a frequent speaker at schools, libraries, and conferences. She lives in the Northern California foothills, surrounded by a menagerie of animals including dogs, cats, peacocks, horses and pigs. Linda reports on writing and publishing children’s literature for Cynsations.