Not Too Early to Start Thinking About Your Next Christmas Book

Terri Dunham donated The Legend of Papa Noel: A Cajun Christmas Story  for the Bridget Zinn Auction.  I discovered that she has a book I recently listened to on her nightstand, The Underneath.  It’s a great read, Terri. And she likes dark chocolate, my favorite as well.

What have you recently published and what are you currently working on?

My picture book, The Legend of Papa Noel: A Cajun Christmas Story, was published by Sleeping Bear Press in 2006. It’s the story of the Cajun Santa Claus who travels down the Mississippi River on Christmas Eve in a pirogue pulled by alligators (with a snowy white one named Nicolette in the lead) to deliver toys to the good little Cajun boys and girls.

In addition to writing for children, I enjoy writing poetry, essays and short stories. My work has appeared in Victoria, Whispering Wind, Backwood Homes, The Louisiana Review, Louisiana Literature, Mississippi Magazine, Grit, Cappers, St. Anthony’s Messenger and St. Anne de Beaupre.’ I’ve also written book reviews for several publications.

I am working on a picture book and mulling over an idea for a middle grade novel.

What books are on your nightstand?

The book on my nightstand is The Underneathby Kathi Appelt.

I am also reading the novels of my critique partners: a historical boy’s adventure, a middle-grade contemporary fantasy, and two middle grade historical novels, one set in 1800’s France and Germany, the other in the western United States during the early 1900’s.

Where do you find inspiration?

If you’re asking where I find story ideas, I find ideas everywhere; from my family, television, newspapers, magazines, books and the internet.

If you’re asking what inspires me to write, I’d say many things inspire me; reading good books, reading not-so-good books, going to writing conferences and SCBWI meetings, getting together with my critique group, seeing a child get excited when he reads a book or when he’s being read to, and the thought that a child could light up in the same way when he reads something I wrote.

I’ve been making up stories and rhymes as far back as I can remember, even before I could hold a pencil. But I didn’t “write” until the fifth grade, when my teacher, Mrs. Vernon, gave us fifteen minutes to write a Halloween story. That seemed an impossible task to me, like magic, to pull a story out of thin air, not realizing that’s what I’d been doing for years. Only, I’d been a story teller, not a writer. So, even though I didn’t really think I could, I wrote my first short story. I don’t remember a lot about the story, except that it involved two witches who got into an argument and started throwing pumpkin innards and pies at each other. Anyway, I didn’t think it was very good. But my teacher thought it was excellent and (without revealing the author’s name) read it to the class. I don’t think anyone ever knew who wrote that story, though they should have, because my face must have turned every hue of red. — That was all it took. I was hooked. Since then, I’ve filled dozens of notebooks with poems, stories and story ideas.

What advice do you have for would be writers/illustrators?

Read voraciously, write with passion and don’t give up when you get those rejection letters. Be stubborn, like I am, and keep writing and/or illustrating and sending your work to publishing companies. I’ve known so many wonderful writers over the years who gave up their dreams of being published because they couldn’t get past being rejected. — Also, join the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and a good critique group. Information on the SCBWI can be found at

What was your favorite book as a child? As a teen? As an adult? Any particular genre stand out?

Dr. Seuss was my favorite picture book author, because his books were (and are) so much fun. I loved (and still do) his way of making up silly words. As an older child, I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory over and over. I loved the perfect world inside the chocolate factory. As a teen, I loved The Outsiders and That was Then, This is Now.

It’s hard to choose a favorite adult book. My book shelf is so eclectic. I read mysteries, historical fiction, contemporary novels and a lot of nonfiction. It just depends on my mood. My shelves are filled with John Grisham, Scott Turow, Iris Johansen, Barbara Kingsolver, Lisa Wingate, Billie Letts, Elizabeth Berg, Ken Wells, etc. My nonfiction shelves overflow as well, with books about different cultures, Civil War, nature, true stories and reference books. And then there are stacks of children’s books, from picture books to YA’s. I find myself reading more middle grade and YA’s now than adult novels.

Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?

It depends. Writing a first draft can be exhilarating when the story comes bubbling up in my head and I can hardly write fast enough to get it all down. Then there’s the thrill of turning a story that doesn’t work into something that does. Of course, not all writing or rewriting comes that easily. When I’m struggling with a story, whether a first draft or a revision, it’s not much fun.

Favorite time of the day to work?

Again, it depends. I’m afraid I don’t have a set schedule. Lately, I’ve been writing after everyone goes to bed. The house is quiet and peaceful and the ideas have been simmering all day. – But sometimes I wake with an idea that has to be written down immediately. Also, there are times when I’m obsessed, writing day and night.

Chocolate: white, dark, or milk?

Mostly dark, very dark.

Coffee or tea or —?

I drink decaf coffee, herbal tea (chamomile or a blend of mints and lemon balm from my herb garden) and a Diet Coke once in a while.

Dance: Funky chicken or the tango?

Funky chicken, I guess.

You can bid on her donation here.  Thanks, Terri,

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