Artfully Edmonds profile: How late-blooming novelist Dee Dahl’s career came to be

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Dee Dahl
Dee Dahl

Book Signing: Rebel and The Promise
Saturday, April 18 ~ Noon
Edmonds Bookshop
111 5th Ave. S.

Dear Readers, Have you ever attended the Edmonds’ 4th of July parade?

Crowded isn’t it? Wall-to-wall people, right? As crowded as Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the Indie 500, the Puyallup Fair!

Well, I was on the streets of Edmonds, 4th of July 2013 – and so was author Dee Dahl. Yes, two retired women who had yet to meet each other, sitting side-by-side on folding chairs staring out into the crowd as the parade went by.

“Oh! I do love parade costumes! But those seem rather silly,” I remember her proclaiming to no one in particular as Romans in togas marched by.

I agreed with her, “But I love the era the costumes represent.”

“So do I. I love history!”

And we continued looking straight ahead as we through comments back and forth. “I love history also. So much so, I wrote an historical novel.”

“You’re kidding! Me too.”

That is when the parade took second place and we actually took note of each other.
“What’s your novel about?” I asked.

“The period before the Civil War,” she responded. “At this point I think I need the help of a coach. My friend suggested someone here in Edmonds, but I haven’t followed up yet.”

Well, I feel that I am fairly well connected with literary coaches in Edmonds, so I asked, “Who did your friend recommend?”

“Hmm . . . I’ve got her name on a post-in-note in my purse, let’s see . . .” and she peered into her purse and pulled out a note. “’Someone named . . . Emily Hill.”

Well! You can imagine how much Dee Dahl and I laugh as we look back on the synchronicity of meeting in Edmonds on the 4th of July 2013.
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I have followed Dee’s career as an author since that day and have gotten to know her much better. And, I thought – with her book signing at Edmonds Bookshop (111 5th Ave. S.) just days away – it might be fun for you to get to know her – and her book, “Rebel and The Promise” a little better as well.

Please join Artfully Edmonds (AE) in an interview of novelist Dee Dahl (DD) who will be signing her book, “Rebel and The Promise” at Edmonds Bookshop this Saturday, April 18.
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Rebel 23 copyAE: Dee, what incident, or life passage inspired you to write “Rebel and The Promise”?

DD: A couple of incidents inspired me to write “Rebel and The Promise”. The first one occurred while I was completing my teaching credential in Los Angeles. At the time I shared my apartment with the daughter of my friend. She was a terrific young woman, who was going through a bit of a crisis and needed a place to chill out for a while. Her favorite thing was to read romance novels. I didn’t appreciate her choice as I’d never read romance novels. I thought maybe she could write one. I recall that she’d read over a hundred romance novels.

In my ignorance, I thought, “How hard could it be to write a romance novel?” So, I approached my young roommate with the idea, “You’re imaginative. Why don’t you write one? It can’t be all that hard. Besides, it’ll get your creative juices going.”

She gave me a blank stare and said, “I couldn’t think of a plot.”

“Oh, sure you can,” I encouraged. Without thinking, I rattled off what I thought would be a pot-boiler kind of plot: “You see, there’s this orphaned sister and brother who just lost their parents and have to get to California to save the family inheritance from an evil lawyer.”

My roommate nodded thoughtfully. “It sounds about right; you should write it.

“Me? Heavens, no!” I protested and promptly dropped the idea.

I had no desire to write a novel, much less anything else. I was exhausted having just completed a teaching credential at the age of 53. I’d been commuting 45 minutes each way to school, and working in the evenings. I could barely keep my eyes open.

At the end of that school year, I headed back to Seattle and to Whidbey Island where I had a little cabin. I planned on having a good rest with nothing more to do than watch animals and garden. But that didn’t happen. Instead, I became restless and started thinking about the characters I’d mentioned a month earlier. I became almost obsessed with them. I had an old electric typewriter and just started typing. At first, I hated everything I wrote, but I kept going all summer. What I didn’t realize until much, later, was that I was trying to get back in touch with my own seventeen-year-old – when I’d felt I could do almost anything. Ah, youth. Thirty-two years and all those summers later, I finally completed “Rebel and The Promise”.

The second inspiration was from a couple of students who didn’t like to read. I hoped to get them interested, so I involved them by asking them to read the chapters of my book as I was working on them. I asked my students what they did or didn’t like about the plot twists and challenges the characters endured.

The students were very honest. But what really encouraged me most was when they asked, “And then what happens?”

It felt good to see them reading. I knew they felt equally good to have a helpful purpose– an important idea in teaching, as in life. People need purpose, a helpful purpose. That’s one of the themes in my novel.

My students’ interest in the integrity of my book was all the encouragement I needed to keep going. I was determined to finish this novel—to prove I could, but to also understand why I was so compelled to write it. It turned out to be part of my healing process.

Writing for the YA market:
I always hoped to appeal to young adults, especially young men who might not ordinarily read this kind of novel—a so-called historical romance/ adventure. I believe that living through fictional characters adds much to the study of history. In my story, the teens Aaron, White Hawk, and Cass Bartlett are heroes.

I try to give students a reason to keep reading, so there’s plenty of danger, suspense, and romance in every chapter. The characters succeed because they depend on each other, work together to accomplish their goals, support each other’s dreams They show what it’s like to persevere through obstacles during that difficult year of 1860 and reveal the best tradition of the American “Can do!” spirit, which still exists in teens today.
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AE: How usual would it be for orphaned youth of that period of time to set out on such a journey? i.e. In researching your novel did you find such circumstances?

DD: When the story begins, Sara realizes that the wagon master, Mr. Hanson, isn’t happy about them making the journey to join the wagon train. It’s a two-day journey just to reach the Overland Stagecoach, and he is convinced that the prairie is no place for such young travelers.

He, and others, warn Sara and Aaron about the dangers, especially about packs of men looting and killing, targeting travelers. Hanson only agrees to let them leave when old man Rufus Tanner decides to go with them and see them safely to the first stage of their journey, the Overland Stagecoach line. Sara is not confident about Rufus Tanner. She doesn’t trust him. But he is the only volunteer. Everyone else is weary and grief-stricken from a cholera epidemic that has swept the community.

Sara can’t wait to find a better alternative than Tanner; she and her brother have a court date in San Francisco. Their whole future depends on getting to their destination in time.

Saying goodbye to her best friend, nineteen-year-old Mark Davis, is especially hard. They vow to meet in a year and further consider marriage.
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AE: My! What difficult decisions for such young people. Is this a stand-alone novel, or the beginning of a series?

DD: I hope to write a sequel. I’m involved in the research stage right now.

AE: How will “Rebel and The Promise” be promoted, or marketed?

DD: Friends who have published are trying to direct me some. But I do need help here. I have a list of places to contact. I’ve just started.
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AE: What was the biggest learning surprise in the experience of getting “Rebel and The Promise” published and placed in bookstores?

DD: I was surprised that Mary Kay (Sneeringer, owner of the Edmonds Bookshop) gave me a chance when I asked to set up a book signing. Bless her heart. I want to support small bookstores. This is my first entry.

AE: What attracts you to the Edmonds writers’ community?

DD: I adore the commitment to the arts. It adds such a rich tapestry to the culture of Edmonds. One of my daughters lives here, so I’m feeling a part of things. It’s a great community with lots of civic pride.
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AE: Well, Dee, I am going to watch with great interest how your career as a novelist grows. Thank you for taking the time out of planning for this Saturday’s book signing to include My Edmonds News in your literary plans. We wish you great successes!

— By Emily Hill

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