SELECTIONS FROM ERIN DEALEY’S LIBRARY
Little Bo Peep Can’t Get to Sleep, Atheneum, 2005.
Goldie Locks Has Chicken Pox, Atheneum, 2002.
As a kid on the playground, Erin Dealey’s sport was tetherball. “If tetherball had been an Olympic sport, I’d have gone for the gold,” she quips. Although her skills have grown rusty, she employs the same strategy for life that she used to defeat her classmates: Aim high!
A UC Davis Aggie, Dealey majored in English and Art and never considered writing for a living. After earning her teaching credential, she taught English, Drama, Art, and Humanities for several years. “As a high school theater teacher, I wrote skits and plays for my students. . .My first published play was in Plays magazine,” she says. But a few years ago, Dealey picked up a young adult novel that one of her drama students had left behind. She remembers thinking, “‘I could do this.’ My mom always said, ‘You never know until you try.’ So I decided to try [writing].”
As a newcomer to the field of children’s literature, Dealey discovered that the theater had prepared her well for writing. When she was an actress playing one of the lead roles in “On the Verge,” Dealey kept a journal written by her character. “I want[ed] to know the full life of the character,” she explains. Dealey took the information the playwright included in his script and developed a history for her character so she knew how that character would react in any situation. After all, in live theater virtually anything can happen. Dealey’s journal ensured that no matter what surprises awaited her on stage she could react in character with a seamless response.
As a writer, Dealey uses the same techniques to develop characters in her books. “I actually hear characters talking,” she says, “and I sit and listen to them.” Dealey eavesdrops on her characters’ conversations and writes them down so when they appear on the page they are fully realized, three-dimensional people with problems, worries, and flaws that her readers can relate to. In her newest book, Little Bo Peep Can’t Get to Sleep (Atheneum, 2005), Dealey had trouble figuring out what was keeping Peep awake. She knew Peep couldn’t find her sheep, but that wasn’t enough. And her characters were strangely quiet. Reaching back into her own experiences, Dealey heard her older sister whisper, “Don’t tell Mom.” (The sister who knew just how to peek into wrapped Christmas presents and re-wrap them so no one knew she peeked!) Peep’s brother (who is just as sneaky as Dealey’s sister) advises her not to tell their mother about the sheep. Peep follows his advice, but guilt keeps her awake.
According to Dealey, directing a play and writing a story are very similar. In her plays, she uses the script as an outline and determines what the set looks like, what costumes the actors will wear, and how the actors will move across the stage. “You get to decide the whole world of this play,” says Dealey. In her stories, she starts with characters and dialogue (much like the script of a play) and from there determines the setting and the action that keeps her readers turning pages.
In her Placerville office overlooking the Sierra Nevada, Dealey’s writing schedule is anything but regular. Married to an attorney and the mother of a high school-aged daughter, Dealey runs from activity to activity with an energy that would put many soccer moms to shame. “I sit down to write five minutes a day. Some days that’s all I get. Other days five minutes becomes five hours in the blink of an eye.”
Sought after for her innovative motivational presentations on writing (which combine elements of theater, of course), Dealey is often on the road. Every summer she leads a writing workshop for teachers at UC Davis and a theater workshop for children at the Sugarloaf Fine Arts Camp in the Sierra. Her Sugarloaf students dubbed her the “Drama Mama.” Through games, songs, rhymes, and sound effects she encourages her students to become the characters they portray.
School visits are the newest outlet for Dealey’s performance abilities. In multi-purpose rooms across Northern California Goldie Locks Has Chicken Pox (Atheneum, 2002) andLittle Bo Peep Can’t Get to Sleep are brought to life on-stage by her audience. Dealey’s energetic and humorous presentations delight kids and make her a popular speaker.
Looking back, Dealey feels like all of the paths in her life—teaching, acting, directing—have brought her to writing. “My teachers never thought I would be the one to write children’s books some day. At school visits I read my seventh grade journal (with such riveting excerpts as, ‘I don’t know what to write about today’) as proof you can do anything you set your mind to.”