Dawn Brotherton is an Air Force colonel, a wife, a mother of two, a Girl Scout leader, and the author of five books. Trish’s Team is her first youth fiction story. Dawn started out writing a mystery that was based on true events that happened during her days as a young lieutenant in the Air Force, The Obsession. She embellished the story, adding murders to beef up the plot. After that, her writers encouraged her to write a sequel in the Jackie Austin Mysteries, Wind the Clock. She is currently working on the third and final for Jackie. Dawn is excited to turn to youth fiction with the Lady Tigers’ Series. With two teenage daughters at home, she relates well with the characters that come to life through the active dialogue. She is also looking forward to military retirement later this year so she can dedicate more time to writing.
Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Trish’s Team. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?
A: Trish’s Team is the first in a ten-part series that demonstrates that being part of a team is more than what happens on the softball field. These 11-12 year olds have life lessons to learn, and they will go through them together. In this book, Trish really wants to play travel fastpitch softball. Although her parents aren’t against the idea of softball, they feel her priority should be on orchestra. When the timing of practices conflict, Trish lies to her parents about where she is spending her time. When her parents find out, there are consequences to pay.
I love softball and reading—my two favorite things growing up. I started playing when I was nine and now my daughters play. It was an important part of my life, and I hope this series gets other girls interested in playing too. At the very least, I think the stories are fun to read.
Q: What do you think makes a good youth fiction story? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?
A: Enough action to capture their attention; lessons appropriate for their age level; something their parents would want them to read.
Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?
A: I know the themes I want for each of the ten books I’m planning for this series. They grow as I write though. The conversations sometimes take me in directions I wasn’t expecting. Sounds strange since I’m doing the writing, but when you get into a character, you answer in a way that sounds natural. Then who knows where it will lead!
Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?
A: Trish is a character that kids can relate to. She has her good moments and her faults. I think it’s important to show that kids can make mistakes and recover from them.
I didn’t do character sketches when I started writing the Lady Tigers’ Series, but then I quickly learned the error of my ways. Now I have a cheat sheet that outlines every character I’ve ever mention and what I’ve written about them. This is especially important in a series about a team. There are many characters that will repeat in different books and you have to make sure not to describe them differently. It’s amazing the details kids pick up on. If they have a favorite character and you change their hair color, the reader will notice!
Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?
A: There’s no true villain in Trish’s Team. Her parents aren’t as loving and attentive as they could be, but I wouldn’t call them antagonist. Trish is really battling with herself and a decision she has to make. At this age, I think kids’ struggles are often internal as they grow to become better people, stretching their boundaries along the way.
Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?
A: For this age level, too much detail is not helpful. Kids want action and to feel involve. I prefer to keep things moving with dialogue.
Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?
A: Most the action takes place at the softball field. With my girls playing softball year ‘round, I see the fields in my sleep! For me, the hard part was not taking things for granted. I try to describe a field to a person that doesn’t know anything about softball or baseball. It’s a challenge to take a step back and try to see it through someone else’ eyes.
Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?
A: I definitely knew the theme. I have them set for the other nine as well, although I’m not sure what order I’ll write them in. The series is always about the Lady Tigers which is a fastpitch softball organization. That means my players can range from 8 to 18. I have a lot of leeway to work with. The first few books will have players from Trish’s Team (ages 10-12) taking turns as the main character. They all have different lessons to learn, but they will all benefit from those lessons.
Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?
A: Not if you have the right editor. I’ve been struggling with this problem through many of my books. I picked one that knew how to edit but didn’t know how to play softball. I thought that was a good thing because if I could make her understand, it should work for anyone. Not exactly. She tried to correct softball rules or lingo that only annoyed me. It did make me go back and look at those sections again though to make sure they were clear. As my final test, I had a classroom of middle schoolers proof read it for me and give me feedback. That was helpful and I will keep up that initiative.
Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?
A: Success is really a very subjective thing. It’s different for every person. For some it’s money, but when it comes to writing, I would venture a guess that for most it’s not. Three things to become successful, no matter your definition, are hard work (who isn’t going to say that!); a thick skin (not everything you write will please everyone); and the willingness to fail, dust yourself off, and try again.
Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?
A: Absolutely! I feel guilty sometimes when I’m not writing. I have so much I want to write that I feel I should be doing it constantly. Well, if anyone else has that notion, dump it now. You need to recharge your batteries by watching TV, going to the movies, reading a good book—or three. You need down time. Give yourself some time off once in a while.
Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?
A: There are so many blogs, newsletters, and websites that you may never get to your own writing if you try to keep up. Frankly, they overwhelm me. When my youngest daughter was nine, she gave me a book called “The Writer’s Little Helper” by James V Smith, Jr. It has great exercises to help improve your writing, and it gives you things to think about.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?
A: You have to do it because you enjoy it, not because you have to. I would think the pressure of having to write to make a living would be tough. I like being ABLE to write, and the money is an added bonus.