Colleen Dougherty's interview with Tucson Tales
August 25, 2017 Jackie Crone
Colleen Dougherty is a local Arizona author. Her passion for writing began when she was in grade school and continued into her adulthood. Author of Ellie Adventure, Colleen established herself through self-publishing using CreateSpace, an Amazon company designed specifically for Internet self-publishing. She has since started her own publishing house, Five Pad Publishing, made specifically for her series. She is most often inspired by her family as well as other established writers such as the infamous Stephen King. You can find Ellie Adventure on Amazon.com.
Jackie Crone: What was your favorite and least favorite part about your publishing experience while creating and publishing Ellie Adventure?
Colleen Dougherty: My favorite part of creating Ellie Adventure was the writing! The blank page can be daunting, and there have been plenty of times where I would stare at the page without typing a word, but once I start to get comfortable with my characters, and we become buddies, there’s nothing better than sitting down to write. I enjoy editing as well, not the technical side of editing (not my strong suit) but the fun, tinkering side of editing where I get to play with the story until it feels right. The first time I write something, I tend to type without being concerned with sentence structure and if I’ve placed my commas in the right place, (I usually over-comma) that comes later. I’ve learned to let some time go by before I look at my work again to edit. It’s good to focus on something else and then come back to it, after a few weeks, so I can look at it with fresh eyes. My absolute least favorite part of this publishing experience was the formatting because, for me, it’s not easy! I’m not computer savvy and I like a challenge, so I ignore the fact that I can pay the good folks at CreateSpace to do the formatting for me, opting instead to keep chipping away at it until I get it right. It’s frustrating work, but rewarding when that proof finally arrives that is formatted correctly!
JC: Why did you choose to write a children’s novel? Are you working on any other books in other genres such as adult or young adult?
CD: We had just added two new puppies to our household and one night, when I was reading to my youngest son before bed, he asked me if I could write a book about the puppies. It started out being a little book for them, but it expanded into something I thought other children might enjoy, and I got to incorporate my love of rescue and write about why it’s so important to save animals. As the series grows, the reader will learn about different parts of the world as seen through Ellie’s eyes and rescue will be a continuing theme through-out the books. I am currently working on the second Ellie Adventure story that is called Ellie Adventure Grand Canyon Puppies. Ellie will travel to Arizona and lightly teach about the Grand Canyon and different parts of the state. In the back of my book is a “Check for Understanding” section that parents can use to quiz their children on what they’ve retained from reading the book. The series is meant to be fun, with some lessons for the kids, and some relatable stuff for the parents who, I hope, will be right there reading the book with them. I’ve also written several short stories and have been working on another book that is in the fantasy genre for middle school age children. It’s really nice having free reign on my imagination where the possible story lines are endless. One of my books, Three Days To Olam, never seemed to quite work but there were some parts in it that I was really proud of, so I’m borrowing from that book while writing this one. It has a darker, horror feel to it, which I also enjoy writing. It’s completely different from Ellie Adventure but intended for an older audience.
JC: When did you first discover that writing was a passion of yours?
CD: My earliest memory is writing stories in my bedroom when I was in grade school. I used to show them to my father, and he would encourage me and tell me to keep writing. When my children were first born it was hard to find the time to write, so my stories sat in a box for years and I would pull them out and start to tinker with them now and again. What’s wonderful about writing is that it can be put away, but it’s always there waiting to be rediscovered. It’s such an amazing feeling to put sentences together and create a story. Just like with reading, writing is something that I feel I need to do and that I love to do. I specifically remember reading Judy Bloom’s books when I was a child and wanting to be able to write like that.
JC: What made you chose to use CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform and Five Pad Publishing as your publishing outlet?
CD: What’s wonderful in this age of publishing is that we have more than one option. We no longer have to wait until we have an offer of publication; we can do it ourselves and now it’s being embraced by the literary world. For me, using CreateSpace was about being able to have complete creative control over my book in every aspect. Ellie Adventure was originally an ebook with a different publisher, but I thought that maybe it was time to see what I could accomplish on my own by making the book available as a paperback as well as an ebook. CreateSpace allowed me to make my book available on a print on demand basis, so there were no expensive costs to me personally. Taking this new path, I knew if I did nothing, nothing would happen, but if I worked hard, then I might see some fun opportunities come my way, which is what happened. Five Pad Publishing is my own publishing house that was created for my book series. I wanted to be able to expand if I chose to and possibly even offer my publishing services to others, if that’s where I’m headed. I don’t have any plans to do that yet, but it’s nice to have that option. Once I made the decision to have a publishing house, I had to think up a name and I spent a good amount of time trying to come up with something that was special to me. It just so happened that Kirby, one of my foster puppies at the time, was asleep at my feet and his little paw was turned upward revealing his pad and that was how Five Pad Publishing was named! It was perfect, and I love it!
JC: Do you believe that book reviews are helpful for future books? Have you ever checked on your own book reviews?
CD: Oh yes, I think reviews are very helpful and so necessary for my current book and future books! When I was a child, I had an aunt who encouraged reading and liked to get me a series at a time because it ensured that I’d have several books to read on vacation. Back then, we relied on word of mouth or what the book store employees recommended to make the decision on which book series to purchase. Parents today have so many more choices. Amazon has over 27,000 selections in the Children’s Books category alone, so how is a parent to choose? They can use the Advanced Search feature to reduce the selections in order to get closer to what they are looking for, and once they have slimmed down their options, they typically will start to look for a book that has lots of positive reviews. And, as an author, I can tell you that it’s very gratifying to get positive reviews, and helpful. I’m so thankful for every single one of them. It can be scary to read what people think of my book, but I’ve been lucky so far, knock wood!
JC: I noticed that your sons inspired you when you wrote Ellie Adventure: Picking Out Puppies; are there other things aside from family that inspire you when you write?
CD: So much can inspire a story. I can pull from my own history or what’s happening in our lives to be inspired. The other day I was swimming in the pool and the peacefulness of being alone in the pool, with just the sound of the water and the birds around me, made me think of what would happen if that peacefulness was shattered. Stephen King wrote in his book On Writing that stories can be inspired from anything. Simply adding “what if...” to a situation opens up endless possibilities. What if the pool suddenly turned to lava? What if a package fell from the sky full of the answers on how to cure cancer or contained a game plan on how to end homelessness and hunger? I spent the rest of my laps with “what if...” going through my head, and I couldn’t wait to get out of the pool to write it down, because my memory is so bad that I remember nothing!
JC: How did you find John Ewing, former Disney Illustrator, to help illustrate your book?
CD: Ah, John Ewing, what a great man! I had met a friend through a writing connection and I had shared with her that I was looking for someone who could help me with the illustrations for my book. She mentioned that she was in a writing group with a man who was an animator, and who had previously worked at Disney Studios in the 50’s. My ears perked up when I heard the word “Disney,” since Disney was a huge part of my childhood! We used to watch The Wonderful World of Disney every Sunday night and I loved everything about it so, I was excited to talk to him. We corresponded through email and became friends. He is an extraordinary talent and a very funny guy! He not only does animation/illustration, (he did animation for Winnie the Pooh, the original Jungle Book, and so much more) but he has beautiful sculptures that he’s created and is a wonderful writer. I feel honored that he shared some of his talent with me. I can’t say enough good things about John Ewing.
JC: Did Mr. Ewing and Five Pad Publishing decide how the illustrations for the puppies would look or did you have a say?
CD: I was lucky because John was able to capture what I had envisioned in his first sketch, which I included in my book, but I had a say. The picture I’m referring to is of the two pups playing around the ottoman. I clearly remember the morning I opened his email and looked at the picture. My childhood came flashing back, and I jumped up and down saying to my husband, “That’s it!” John tinkered with the images a bit and ended up with the finished product, which is on the cover. John also did the cover for my second book and, it’s amazing! Disney fans will recognize his style instantly, and I hope it takes them back as well.
JC: What are some challenges you face while writing?
CD: Time is the biggest challenge I face while writing, and I think that’s true with all of us, no matter what our job, it’s all the same. Imagine what we could all accomplish if we were given 32 hours in a day instead of 24, (bing!...book idea!) but we don’t, so it’s a juggle, especially if you have a family. Since I write from home, I always have so much around me that could be distracting, from the dogs having to go out a million times a day (never together), to annoying calls from unwanted offers of carpet cleaning and pleads for donations, to the availability of Twitter, Facebook and Amazon being just a click away. I keep my notification option “Off,” and I put on some music (Keith Urban’s “Fuse” and the soundtrack to “Somewhere in Time” are my current favorites). Another problem I think is common to all of us, not just writers, is when the mind wanders. I’m trying a new thing and that is to open up a new page on my Mac and jot those thoughts down as I get them. The hope is that if it’s on the list, maybe it will leave my head. It’s a new technique so the jury is still out on if it actually works!
JC: What age did you have in mind for your target audience when writing the book?
CD: It’s funny, but I don’t think I consciously had an age in mind when I started writing my book. My son was about seven at that time, so I’m sure that I naturally wrote to his level. I knew that I wanted to put Ellie at an age where she’d still have that wonderful childlike innocence, but old enough to understand what kind of responsibility it takes to care for an animal and to be able to relay the excitement of traveling to the young readers. That’s a pretty tall order for a fictional character! I would say a good age group for my book series would be 6 - 8 but it could be younger with a parent reading to the child. I encourage being silly!