Besides being a wife and mother, Dianne Ochiltree has three other roles in her life. She is a children’s author, writing coach, and workshop presenter. As a children’s author, she has numerous books published and encourages children to write. With the job of writing coach, she helps aspiring children’s authors to edit and publish. Finally, as a workshop presenter, Ochiltree draws on fifteen+ years in the publishing industry. Tomorrow I’ll review her book: It’s A Seashell Day. Save the date: September 1!
To MyShelf, Ochiltree refers to her childhood home as one of “happy chaos.” Her father was a lawyer, who had at least one do-it-yourself home improvement going at one time. Plus, he was an amateur carpenter/woodworker, and artist. Ochiltree often sat on the cellar steps for hours, watching him work on oil paintings, and listening to him tell her about art techniques or his favorite Impressionist artists.
Her mother was a full-time homemaker but, prior to Ochiltree’s birth, she had worked at some unconventional jobs for a woman in those days. For example, Ochiltree tells MyShelf, her mother worked machinery in a tool and die shop. During World War II, she inspected bomb casings in an ammunitions factory. Ochiltree loved hearing her tell stories about growing up during the Great Depression, or what life was like on the home front during the war. In addition, Ochiltree’s mother preferred sewing and gardening to housekeeping chores. “She’s the one who taught me how to plant a seed and tend a garden; to see nature’s wonder, not only in the grand sense but also in the simple beauty of small things.”
Both of Ochiltree’s parents were also avid readers. MyShelf reports that her father built bookcases in several rooms, and when they were filled, the books were stacked on every available surface. Her mom faithfully read to Dianne, her two little sisters, and baby brother at bedtime. The children were taken to the library early and often. “I devoured the many history books, encyclopedia volumes, art books, cookbooks, magazines and science books lying around the house, too.”
During her childhood, besides being a reader, Ochiltree was a bit of a tomboy too. She roamed the neighborhood on foot and on bicycle. She climbed my grandparents’ apple tree, tossed a baseball with the boy next door, and tried to build things with my Dad’s leftover lumber and my junior tool kit. The family home was populated by a parade of pets, from guppy to puppy, as well as the stray animals that Dianne rescued. Her grandparents also had a cocker spaniel, whom she often went next door to play too.
When it was time to go to college, Ochiltree studied English and art. This led to a position for many years as a marketing/advertising/public relations writer. She notes, however, that she feels most rewarded by the opportunity to write for children. “There is no more important readership than young beginning readers. I work hard to write the very best prose or poetry I can for them, because I hope that I just might be able to help them develop a life-long love for reading,” Ochiltree explains to MyShelf.
When one of her books was selected as a title in the Imagination Library by the Dollywood Foundation’s committee of literacy experts, Ochiltree became involved with the organization. She shares with Fresh Mom that it’s an honor to support the organization’s endeavor to help young families encourage childhood literacy by reading the Imagination Library books received to their kids.
Ochiltree and her husband currently live in Florida with a household of pets. Their chocolate Labrador Retriever not only entertains and inspires the couple, but also accompanies Ochiltree on visits to schools and nursing homes as a certified therapy dog. When not writing, Ochiltree enjoys being out in nature. She is also often found in the yoga studio taking a class or teaching a class. In addition, Ochiltree likes to travel with her husband to other countries. On her website, she notes that “Wherever I am, of course, I’ve got a book that I’m in the middle of reading.”
Ochiltree believes she was born to be a writer. Her website states that as long as Ochiltree can remember, she’s been listening to the stories her family loved to tell, reading all sorts of books, drawing pictures and writing stories. My first books were written on the backs of old reports, illustrated in crayon, and stapled together by my mom. Her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters, baby brother and pets listened to her stories and poems “with a lot of enthusiasm … and patience”.
Naturally shy, especially during her teenage years, writing stories and poems was a way Ochiltree could say things she couldn’t say out loud to a real person. MyShelf quotes Ochiltree, “My characters could say and do things I just couldn’t in real life. Writing a story is a good way to deal with disappointment or frustration, I guess. I would start my story with a real situation, and make up my own ending: the way I’d like it to turn out, not necessarily the way it did turn out.”
After 20 years as a marketing/advertising/public relations writer, Ochiltree decided to try writing for a new audience, one she had gotten to know quite well since the births of her two sons: namely, kids! Fresh Mom reports that when Ochiltree reached her forties, and her youngest son outgrew picture books, she didn’t like the idea that these wonderful books would be out of her life too and decided, “Why not write one?”
According to Fresh Mom, Ochiltree was inspired to write her first book Cats Add Up, because she always had cats as pets. All the silly things the cats did in the book actually happened to her or another cat owner, “including the scene with the cats eating a frosted birthday cake. My cat, Toby, did that when l was hosting a PTA meeting one morning years ago!”
Cats Add Up was published in 1998 as a title in the “Hello, Reader!” series from Scholastic. Ochiltree found it especially exciting to be published by Scholastic because, just like many of us when we were kids, most of her reading material came from those monthly book club offerings.
Getting that first book in print was not easy, Ochiltree tells Children’s Lit. Ochiltree went to a lot of conferences where she met with editors and focused on those companies that don’t take unsolicited manuscripts. She tried twenty different publishers before her first manuscript was purchased.
Publication came about because she had applied for the Rutgers One-on-One Plus Conference with a writing sample, an early draft of that first published book, and was accepted. Her mentor that day was Paula Danziger. Not only did Danziger give her priceless writing advice, she introduced Ochiltree to an editor at Scholastic who agreed to look at her manuscript once Ochiltree had made revisions based on Danziger’s input. Her advice to aspiring writers is to constantly work on improving your craft and make sure that the story you are writing is one that you connect with and that you are going to like working on for a very long time.
Besides the creative process, I love the idea of connecting with children, parents and teachers in a positive and fun way through the books I write. I love hearing from my readers!
–Diane Ochiltree, Interview with a Children’s Book Author