Saturday, December 15, 2012

Author Interview - Dashka Slater

Last week’s interview was so popular with the students, I decided it would only be fair to give another class an opportunity to participate in the process. Lucky for us, Dashka Slater’s book, Dangerously Ever After, beautifully illustrated by Valeria Docampo, arrived on my doorstep Monday while I was at work.

Tuesday, I brought the book to school and read it to Ms. Wardlaw’s first grade class. You may recognize a few names of interviewers - some of my speech kids are in this class. The story was a hit!

Welcome Dashka. The students were spellbound from the moment I read the title of the book. We’d all like to know, what inspired you to write this story?

I love hearing that! I was inspired by an idea that came from my son when he was the same age as your students. He came home from first grade one day telling me he had a great idea for a story about a queen who wanted to plant rose seeds but ended up planting nose seeds. I loved the idea and couldn’t wait to read the story. When he didn’t end up writing it, I asked permission to write it myself.

I’m glad he gave you permission; but perhaps we’ll be reading his version of the story one of these days. How long did it take to complete the book?

It depends on what you mean by “complete.” I started the story in March 2006. Looking at that very first attempt, I see that the princess was named Anne and she wasn’t all that different from your average princess. But by May of that year her name was Amanita and she loved dangerous things and the story was pretty similar to the one you read – just longer. But the book still went through a lot more revisions before it was accepted for publication in 2008 and a few more revisions afterwards. And then we had to find an illustrator!

What perseverance! It’s nice for the students to hear they aren’t alone in needing to revise their work. When did you first become interested in writing for children?

In some ways, I’ve never been interested in anything else. I started writing when I was 4 (or dictating, as I couldn’t really write on my own) and I never stopped. When I was a kid I wrote for children, because I was writing for myself. But I didn’t start trying to write for children professionally until after my son was born, by which time I was already making my living as a writer for adults.

What were some of your favorite books from childhood?

I loved all of E. Nesbit’s books -- Dangerously Ever After is in many ways an homage to her. Other books that I loved enough to read many, many times include Winnie the Pooh, Harriet the Spy, The Phantom Tollbooth, Swallows and Amazons, Charlotte’s Web, The Chronicles of Prydain, The Egypt Game, Half Magic, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Alice in Wonderland and many other books too numerous to mention. I was a big re-reader and still am.

Reading is one of my favorite hobbies. I’m hoping to pass along that love to my students. Do you have any new projects in the works?

I’m working on several new picture books and my first middle grade novel, called The Roving Trees Railroad, as well as a new book for adults. Too many new projects, actually!


Esmeralda liked the beginning, the middle and the end. She seems to understand good story structure. Would you like to comment?

I find endings are the hardest. Beginnings are the easiest. I love to write beginnings! But then sometimes I don’t know what to write next. Does that ever happen to your students?

All the time, but they usually push through and try to fill a page. Joden wanted to let you know, he likes dangerous stuff too. He likes to go up into his attic where even his Mom won’t go. (He always carries a lantern.) He wondered if you like dangerous stuff too.

Joden, you sound very brave. If I hear a bump in the night, will you come with your lantern? As for me, I like some dangerous stuff. I have a dangerous cat, for instance, and I like him. He’s sitting on my lap right now and he bites if I spend too much time typing and forget to pet him. Ouch.

Chloe asked, “Was there a wedding at the end?”

What do you think, Chloe? I think the noses want to marry the roses, but I’m not sure the roses want to marry the noses.

I will be sure to ask her on Monday. Sebastian wanted to know if the noses are going to grow fingers. He thinks then, they could pick their noses. (Perhaps he is hoping for a sequel).

This is the best idea ever. I think you should write this story, Sebastian, but if you don’t want to then maybe I will.

I think I saw Sebastian working on the story when I left his room but I can’t be sure. I’ll check in with him and get back to you soon. Felicia wondered why the flowers snored.

I think Amanita wondered that too. I wonder why my cat snores.

Allison loved the princess and the little cat. She would like to write a book some day. She asked, “Do you like thorny things?”

I like thorny things but I don’t like being pricked by thorny things.

Natalie wondered, “How did you think of all those funny flowers?”

Some of those funny flowers are based on real ones. The stink lilies were inspired by some real lilies that grow in my backyard. They are a beautiful velvet purple and smell like rotting meat. I didn’t know that at first though. I picked them and put them in a vase on my dining room table. And then I began wondering, “What’s that terrible smell?”

I love bringing lilies indoors. I’ll have to watch out for the smelly variety. Felicia asked, “Why did the princess get sent nose seeds? Was it because she wrote so messy?

That’s something I have in common with Amanita -- I have kind of messy handwriting too. Sometimes I can’t read my own notes! That’s why I’m typing this. Otherwise my answers would look like this: ncv kpinie vim5t bbriohj.

That looks just like my handwriting! Malachi loves the story and he asked, “How did you write this book?”

With a six inch cactus spine as a pen.

I’m going to have to get one of those. Zayd asked, “Do you know somebody that loves so many dangerous things?”

My cat loves dangerous things. He comes home with stickles and prickles all stuck in his fur.

Skylar wanted me to tell you, she planted roses in the grass and they are orange and puffy and they smell nice and she has nose flowers too. She also wanted you to know she made up a story about spinach. First she made Mr. Spinach with Play-dough and put spikey spikes on him like in your story. I told Skylar I like to write stories too and she suggested I get a can of Play-dough. I think I’ll try that! She’d probably love to hear about your writing rituals.

I would like to see Mr. Spinach. I don’t have Play-dough but I have a lot of toys on my desk that help me act out the ideas in my head, including a plastic palm tree, a stuffed cat, and a shoebox that I pretend is a house. Also a llama and an elephant.

I loved the drawings you sent me, and so does Princess Amanita. She says that the pictures make her look very dangerous, which is just how she wants to look. She would like to know if the flowers in Madison’s picture are poisonous and if she can have the seeds for the big thorny plants in Eli’s picture.

Thank you, Dashka Slater, for taking the time to answer our questions. We loved the story and look forward to reading more of your work in the future.

If anyone would like a personalized bookplate to put inside your own copy of Dangerously Ever After or OH NO! Little Dragon by Jim Averbeck, you’ll find the information here.

Artwork from the interview team:


  1. Jeannie,

    What a clever and charming author! So much fun hearing and seeing your students' reactions and artwork, too.

    Another great book to add to my shopping list!


  2. Thank you, Katy, and thanks for stopping by.

  3. I recently won a copy of this book on another blog, and it has quickly become one of my favorites; the story is very clever and bonus: I love the hairstyles!

  4. That's some fantastic artwork!

  5. Thank you! I'll pass along your comment to the artists.