Allison's Book Bag

Interview with Dianne Ochiltree

Posted on: September 9, 2015

DianneOchiltreeDianne Ochiltree is a nationally recognized author of books for young readers, many of which have appeared on ‘best of’ reading lists, been featured in book clubs, and been translated into foreign language editions. Her chocolate Labrador Retriever Sally is a certified therapy dog, and together they visit schools and nursing homes in their area. Dianne and her husband live by the beach in sunny Florida. I reviewed It’s a Seashell Day earlier this month. What follows is my interview with her.


ALLISON: You had a full childhood. What is your favorite memory?

DIANNE: One of my favorite memories is of an exciting horseback ride when I was six or seven years old. Our family friend had a farm that we loved to visit on weekends. We picked apples, fed chickens and fished for blue gill in a little pond. One day, I was offered a ride on an old field horse, with my dad guiding us along a dirt path at a safe walk. (My dad had worked a few college summers at a dude ranch in Arizona and was eager to show off his equine expertise, no doubt.) I was in the saddle and we were just about to take off, when my little sister pulled out a whistle and blew it as loud as she could—I suppose because she thought she was signaling, GO—and go we did! The horse startled, my dad lost hold of the reins and off we flew across the corn field. I grabbed onto the thick mane, and squeezed tight. One foot slipped from the stirrup, and I soon found myself looking at the world whizzing by at a side angle. I held on tight. The horse soon calmed, and stopped. My dad and mom rushed to my side. My dad was beside himself with fear. My mom was in tears. I, however, was grinning from ear to ear. “That was fun!” I proclaimed to my panicked parents. I have loved horses and ponies from that moment on, and never failed to do a trail ride on vacation when the opportunity arises. But that trot across a corn field on an old farm horse still ranks as the ride of my life.

ALLISON: What were your past-times as a teenager?

DIANNE: All the usual adolescent pursuits of the day: reading paperback thrillers and teen magazines locked up in my bedroom; watching old musicals and monster movies on the family TV; listening to Beatles records with clunky headphones on and annoying my siblings by loudly singing along; playing board games like ‘Mystery Date’ with my friends; writing dramatic diary entries and poems filled with teenage angst; avoiding household chores.

ALLISON: Why did you pick a career in marketing?

DIANNE: Marketing, advertising and public relations are terrific areas in which to hone your writing skills, and that is what attracted me to it most. You must use the right word in just the right place to describe products or ideas or services in a way that prompts action from a consumer. It’s a fun challenge for a writer. Especially when you are writing to a time constraint (radio or television) or word count (display ad). All of these skills transferred very neatly to the equally enjoyable challenge of writing a picture book for young readers.

ALLISON: Share a funny travel moment.

DIANNE: One of our now-adult sons whom we will call “Chad” (to protect his identity) was standing in line for a ride on one of San Francisco’s famous cable cars. He was super-excited. We patiently stood in the ticket line, which was neatly marked off by metal post fencing. It was the height of tourist season, and the line was LONG. We gazed at Alcatraz and the bay as we waited. Well, at least some of us did. We heard a frazzled, “M0-om! Help!” and saw that our youngest boy had stuck his head between the bars of the metal fence to gaze at a toy a girl held on the other side of the fence. Once through the bars, he’d apparently turned his head sideways to get a better look. The trouble started when he jerked his head backward in that awkward sideways position. Meeting with resistance from the metal bars, he panicked, and thought he was stuck there for good! I knelt beside him and gently swiveled his head back to eyes-forward position. He sheepishly backed his behind back into line. Tears turned to laughter once the ‘danger’ was past. Proof positive that life is all about ‘positioning’ yourself for success….

ALLISON: What book from your youth have you never been able to forget? Why?

DIANNE: A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. It was the first book to talk to me as if I were a grown-up, in the sense that the author was not afraid to tackle big ideas about the universe, and scary truths about human life in a story about kids and for kids. It was the first novel I’d ever read that expanded my own thinking long after I’d read the last page. It made me a lifelong fan of science fiction.


ALLISON: How do you remember enough from growing up to write for children?

DIANNE: I often use a journaling technique with the beginning prompt, “I remember…,” keeping in mind the particular age or childhood activity I want to explore. Looking at old family photo albums helps, too.

ALLISON: What is your most memorable moment as a writer?

DIANNE: The most memorable moment as a writer, is when I finish a manuscript and its many revisions and know that it truly IS finished. Something inside whispers, “you’ve said what you needed to say.” I then know it’s time to start sending it out to editors to see if they agree that it is, indeed, finished.

ALLISON: What do you like about nature?

DIANNE: Its infinite variety and endurance against all odds. The beauty of its design. The inescapable fact that every living thing is connected to one another in that thing we call ‘nature.’

ALLISON:What advice would you offer adults in encouraging children to read?

DIANNE: The simplest, most powerful way to encourage a child to read is to let them see YOU read. This conveys that reading is a valued, vital activity. Make sure there are books in your home for children to discover. Establish a daily reading time to share books with your children. Make a visit to a library or a bookstore a regular (and fun) outing.

ALLISON: What’s next?

DIANNE: Right now, I’m writing a picture book about a walk in the woods.


4 Responses to "Interview with Dianne Ochiltree"

Thank you so much for the awesome feature interview yesterday, Allison…and the review and article you have already posted. I am so grateful for your support. You rock!

A fascinating review! Despite picturing herself as having been just an average adolescent, Dianne Ochiltree certainly doesn’t sound ordinary.

Although “A Wrinkle in Time” was written too recently to be a favourite of my youth, as you know it was a favourite of mine when you were young.

Best wishes in sometime having the same most memorable moment as a writer as Dianne Ochiltree identified as hers.

Dianne Ochiltree knows how to make moments come alive! I enjoyed this very much regards my email interview with her.

Thanks for commenting on the interview. Also, I appreciate your continued encouragement of my own dreams to write.

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