Dhonielle Clayton is the author of The Belles and its follow-up The Everlasting Rose. She is a former elementary and middle school librarian, and co-founder of CAKE Literary, a creative kitchen whipping up decadent – and decidedly diverse – literary confections for middle grade, young adult and women’s fiction readers. She is also Chief Operating Officer of the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books.
OCLS is pleased to welcome Dhonielle as the opening speaker and Tim Dorsey as the closing speaker of this year’s Orlando Book Festival. We thought we’d ask them a few questions in anticipation.
Sarah Fisk: What first drew you to writing?
Dhonielle Clayton: I was a teacher and a librarian getting my Masters in Children’s Literature and forced to take a writing course in order to graduate. My professor, Hillary Homzie, forced me to write, write, write about everything, and that’s where I found my writer spirit. I had always been just a reader, and never had the desire to truly explore writing. It was definitely a calling rather than a passion at first.
SF: If you could offer aspiring writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
DC: Read everything and read widely. Writers should be readers. This is a way to fill your creative well and be in conversation with all the writers who have come before and leave behind something meaningful for the next generation of writers.
TD: Discover books that you love, and read read read! You’ll eventually soak it up.
SF: What is the most interesting thing you’ve ever researched for a book?
DC: The most interesting thing I’ve ever researched for a book is what happens to skin tone and skin color after death. I’ve always wondered what the government thinks of my search topics and if they’re watching. Hah!
SF: Do you have any writing habits, superstitions, or rituals?
DC: I have a lot of rituals that help me find focus and entry into the writing zone. I need a full stomach, popcorn, tea, and I usually start with a pencil and grid paper. The computer is a point of distraction to start my writing session. It’s too easy to slide into admin and playing around. So I usually start with the pencil and the paper, then shift to typing those words. It makes my process a little slower and more methodical.
TD: Just get a good night’s sleep, and have the coffee ready to go as soon as you wake up.
SF: What is the most important book you’ve ever read?
DC: Oof … this is an evil question to ask a former librarian, and so I will cheat because these books change with each category. I’m defining important as foundational for me as a reader and a writer. The most important children’s book I’ve ever read was Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor. The most important young adult book I’ve ever read was Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. The most important adult literary book I’ve ever read was Passing by Nelly Larsen.
TD: Probably Catch 22. There were so many lessons on writing in there.