An Interview with author Debbie Vilardi.
Welcome, Debbie. How did you get started writing?
Thanks! Let me see. Well, I guess I started with story. By three, I was making up stories, and I still am.
And what inspires your stories?
Absolutely everything. I mean that seriously. I’m a student of life and human nature. I write to discover my own answers to those questions that have puzzled many for centuries. Who am I? What is this world? How do I fit in? They’re classic middle grade, coming-of-age questions. Perhaps this explains why my earliest writings were poems completed in Jr. High.
Poems? Tell us more.
My first published work was a poem, “Life Long,” in the 1986 issue of Reflections, the literary magazine of Westbury High School. Following that, I submitted to Seventeen magazine and was rejected. I didn’t know enough about poetry or the markets to pursue it. Today, I dabble in this field, but I’m learning. Also, I have had a few more poems published. Poetry requires an economy of words and clarity of imagery that improve my prose work as well.
Did poetry lead you to writing for children?
No, a bet did. Shortly after I met the young man who became my husband, he told me I could never understand how it had felt to lose his mother as a teen. I wrote what later became the central chapter of my middle grade novel, Darklands, to prove him wrong. He hasn’t counted out my imagination since.
But it was years before I had the idea to expand that short piece into a novel. I then attended the SCBWI/Hofstra conference where I met my first critique group. That was the beginning of my journey toward becoming a professional author.
And what made you decide to accept freelance assignments?
There are a few things. Most of my freelance work has been for educational markets. This taps into my teaching background. Writing for Tun Tun English, a Korean publisher, utilizes my skills as an ESL teacher. I have a passion for language, literacy, and culture and love that these books may teach all three. I’m also writing and copyediting for a Chinese publisher, Xiaoduo Media. The work I do for them will be translated into Mandarin. My article on llamas and the Quechua people appeared in 2016. Talk about a cross cultural experience!
Writing to specification is a welcome challenge. It forces me to break away from my independent projects and any ruts I’ve fallen into. I come back with a fresh perspective. I’ve also learned about working with editors, meeting deadlines, dummying picture books, and the topics of every issue of Cobblestone from July 2011 until May 2016 as well as corresponding issues of Dig from the past few years. My copyediting focuses on science- and technology-related topics, so I’ve learned a lot there too.
What are you writing now?
I always have more than one project in progress. I’m finishing a major revision of Darklands and hope to query as soon as one of my critique groups reaches the final chapter. Meanwhile, I’m revising a YA novel based on the stories I used to tell myself and I have a few picture books and short stories ready to go to my critique partners next. Of course, I never know when a new idea may strike. I’ll draft a shorter work or take notes for a novel. Any idea that sticks after I finish what’s in the queue is a keeper.
I also devote time to supporting other writers. I became a global moderator of the SCBWI Blueboards (in June 2017) after years moderating only the Online Critiques section, and I participate in two LinkedIn groups. Recently, I began mentoring writers for a fee, but the other work is purely volunteer. Critique partners and mentors are invaluable to writers. My own groups have helped improve my work and supported my professional growth.
And what about when you aren’t writing?
I’m a soccer, piano, bowling, and library program mother of two. My daughter has an autism spectrum disorder as well as ADHD. This prompted me to be active in my local special education PTA (SEPTA), where I am now past president. My son is a gifted student with Crohn’s disease. These varied parenting experiences along with my experience as a teacher have fed my fascination with the inner workings of the mind, the producer of all stories.
Along with exploring stories in books and visual media, I enjoy hanging with friends and family. I will always advocate for my passions: children, literacy, and learning. I’m also a chocoholic, but I see no reason to add my voice to chocolate advocates unless the chocolate supply is threatened.
Is there anything you’d like to add before we conclude?
I’d just like to thank all of the mentors, critique partners, and mentoring organizations helping me along in this journey. I’m looking forward to its future. And to thank you for having me, of course.
Thank you for joining us.