Interview with Abby Hanlon

First off, congrats! We adored Dory and the Real True FriendCan you tell us a bit about how you came up with the idea for the book? Did it flow naturally from Dory Fantasmagory?
Thank you! I was thrilled to hear that Dory and The Real True Friend was recognized in this very meaningful way. I am a big fan of the Cybil awards because it’s a wonderful way to recognize and celebrate the books that children are choosing to read.

I actually wrote a big chunk of Dory and The Real True Friend at the same time that I wrote Dory Fantasmagory. When I first conceived of Dory, I knew that I wanted to create a wildly imaginative character who you just couldn’t imagine how they were going to pull themselves together to function in school. That’s because at the time I was thinking about how on earth my five-year-old twins were going to handle school. So I wanted to introduce Dory first at home and then at school, so readers could watch her make that transition. I realized with the help of my agent that the first book should take place at home, and the second at school. So, I knew from the beginning that Dory Fantasmagory had to have a sequel.

Dory is SO creative and has a fantastic imagination. Where do you get all your ideas for her adventures?
I get my ideas from my twins, who are now 9 years old. They are so funny and creative and they are a reminder that new ideas are endless. They are a constant inspiration. So when I start a story, I start with them. I collect funny things they did or said and then try to weave all those little threads into a story. My kids are a big part of my writing process. I read them drafts and we make edits together. At this point Dory feels like another member of our family, she is our joint creation – a combination of all of us. She has become a wonderful place to store, remember, and most importantly, share the things that make us laugh as a family.

It’s hard to write for this age group and not come off as simplistic or cloying. How do balance having good character development with keeping it simple enough for the target age group? 
That is something that I hear a lot, that this is a hard age group to write for. But for me, any other age would be hard/impossible to write for. I don’t know how or why this is the age group that my voice resonates with. But I remembering distinctly feeling when my twins turned seven, Oh no! They are outgrowing me!” Because part of me feels like I’m six years old and will forever remain so.

You did the illustrations as well in this book. Are you more at home writing or illustrating? Or is it some combination of the two?
I am more comfortable as a writer. All my life, I wanted to be a writer. But before I was a writer, I was a first grade teacher. As a teacher, I began to have ideas for children’s books and I found myself thinking visually for the first time. So I was 28 years old when I started to teach myself to draw. I hadn’t drawn anything since childhood so I was literally starting with stick figures. I still think of my drawing as an extension of my writing and its hard for me to draw when it is not attached to a story.

If you don’t mind telling us, what are you working on next?
I am working on the third book in the Dory Fantasmagory series, called Dory Dory Black Sheep which comes out September 2016. In this book, Dory is struggling to learn how to read. She wants to read chapter books like Rosabelle but she has to read babyish farm books with her reading partner George. But when a little sheep comes out of the book and starts following Dory around, Dory ends up on the farm herself… where another adventure awaits her.

Thank you so much for your time!