Dana Hawkins Author Spotlight

Dana Hawkins is the author of the sweet romance, SERVING LOVE, about a bubbly cafe server full of dad jokes and chocolate shakes who forgoes romantic relationships to provide stability for her autistic nephew she’s raising. All goes according to plan until a grumpy-but-cute new chef starts.

Dana and I consulted on this novel because the autistic boy is about the same age as my autistic son. We have been critique partners on this and other projects for more than a year. It is my pleasure to introduce to you an incredible storyteller, stellar human being, and one of my dearest friends—Dana Hawkins.

Welcome, Dana! Can you tell the readers a little about yourself?

I am a Queer mom of three who grew up in a working-class family in Minnesota. At 21, I adopted an ND two-year-old child, put myself through school as a first-generation college student, and graduated Summa Cum Laude at 27 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Multicultural Education. I now live in Seattle with my family.

What was the inspiration for SERVING LOVE?

I drew heavily upon my past personal experiences as a young, working-class, adoptive mom. My objective was to write an adoption story from the guardian’s perspective and show that childbirth isn’t a prerequisite for fierce love and urge to protect.

My critique partner and autism mom, Amy Nielsen, also began sharing stories with me about her autistic son. The more time I spent with her, the more fascinated I became with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I learned the unique and effective parenting strategies she uses with her son and applied them to my youngest ND child. And with 1-44 children on the spectrum, authentic autistic representation should be in literature.

As a querying author, how is that going? And any tips for other authors in the query-trenches?

Hitting send to an agent is like spending your life’s savings on lottery tickets—a hefty emotional gamble. But I’m hopeful. Between SERVING LOVE and two other querying projects, I’ve received twenty full requests. Each time my confidence improves and I feel one step closer to winning that lottery!

Here are my best tips for querying authors.

#1 Research and feedback.

Read every article about querying. Watch YouTube. Listen to podcasts (The Shit No One Tells You About Writing is excellent for this). Ask for feedback and find critique groups. Then do it all again. It can be tough to swallow, but feedback is a gift. Every bit of quality feedback will bring you closer to receiving a request.

 Query letters take a lot of time to perfect. But it is the cover letter, your first impression, and it needs to be as good as you can make it. Amy’s article Query Masterclass with Patrick Hopkins of The Queery Helpline is an excellent resource.

 #2 Start another project while querying.

Anything to take your mind off it. The quicker you push it out of your mind, the better your mental health. And it doesn’t have to be another novel. Write a short story, a personal essay or a poem. There are plenty of anthologies you can submit smaller works to and hopefully get a publishing credit for your query bio.

#3 Query in small batches.

For my first book, I queried my top twenty agents right away. After some good feedback, I was able to adjust the query and my opening pages, but now I had burned through my list. Had I waited, my top agents would have received my best work.

#4 Give yourself some grace and praise.

You wrote a damn book! My goodness, what an accomplishment. So few people get to this point. Talk to yourself like you would talk to your bestie, and celebrate your success.

Are you a plotter or a pantser, and what does that process look like for you?

I was a strict pantser, and believed even a whiff of an outline would ruin my creative process. As my writing has evolved, I’ve embraced plotting. It’s helped me narrow down what I need in my story and be less scattered. I do allow myself some flexibility, however. For instance, I am not entirely sure how the third act will go in my current work-in-progress. So I plotted the first and second act and unleashed my inner-pantser for the third!

What is your favorite writing tool?

I use good ole Word for my writing, but I love the combination of Grammarly and AutoCrit for editing.

What is your favorite writing resource?

So many. I am a craft book enthusiast. EMOTION THESAURUS, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, SAVE THE CAT! WRITES A NOVEL, by Jessica Brody, ON WRITING by Stephen King, METHOD ACTING FOR WRITERS, by Lisa Hall-Wilson, and the podcast THE SHIT NO ONE TELLS YOU ABOUT WRITING. There are also a lot of great support groups on Facebook (Support for Beginning Writers is a good one).

What has surprised you the most about writing?

How addictive and cathartic writing is for me. I get a little (a lot!) cranky when I don’t get my writing time in.

What’s next? Do you have another project you are working on?

Yes! My next one is a queer Rom-Com.

What is your number one tip for writer’s?

When writing the first draft, don’t worry about the craft. If you can’t think of the right word, perfect verb, or paragraph, put an X there. You can always come back to it. Grant yourself space to be imperfect.

Finally, where can people find you?

@DHawkinsAuthor on Twitter

Thank you so much to Dana for not only being the best critique partner on the planet, but for also writing inspirational stories featuring diverse characters because, everyone deserves to see themselves in a book!

Check out the book trailer below for SERVING LOVE. And if you are an agent, this is a must-sign!

You fail only if you stop writing.

Ray Bradbury

Published by Amy Nielsen

Amy Nielsen is a former children's librarian of nearly twenty years. She now spends most of her time obsessively pounding on a keyboard. She is the author of It Takes a Village: How to Build a Support System for Your Exceptional Needs Family, Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder. Her upcoming YA Worth it debuts in May of 2024. She is also a freelance writer for The Autism Helper. When she's not writing, she and her family are most likely crusing the waters of Tampa Bay.

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