Interview with Dionna Mann: FREEDOM PEN

Dionna Mann is a journalist, teacher and author living in central Virginia (where you’ll find a lot of writers!) and I’ve always been impressed by the spirit and poetry in her writing.  She was one of those whose writing made me think, “Why doesn’t she have a book published yet?”  Well, she does!  FREEDOM PEN will be published in September 2012 by Pugalicious Press and I think there’ll be a lot of happy readers out there.  Here’s some information from Dionna herself: 

Can you tell us how Freedom Pen came to be published?

When I saw Pugalicious Press’s call for middle-grade submissions in the Institute for Children’s Literature’s e-newsletter, I thought Freedom Pen would make an excellent e-book, since its word-count is low. I was pleasantly surprised not only to get an acceptance some months later, but also to find out that Freedom Pen will also be sold as a paperback!

Tell us why we should buy this book.

See my upturned hat on the sidewalk? I’m accepting change! (Just kidding.)

First of all, it’s a good read! Second, I hope Billy’s choice to be nonviolent despite being penned in by a negative upbringing will inspire young readers with difficult backgrounds to make the same choice. Third, I hope young ones intimidated by reading a lengthy book will find Freedom Pen’s chapters quick moving and interesting enough to keep their attention.

Who or what has been the greatest inspiration for your stories?


You have the chance to give one piece of advice to young readers.  What is that?

Pick books that inspire courage, hope and love.

What’s an important “nugget” that you’d like readers to take away from your book?

Make no excuse for meanness. Choose kindness. 

Why did you write this book?

Unfortunately, physical violence between my parents was a reality for me, so the topic was one I have always wanted to write about.

Why do you write for young people? 

For me, writing for young people is plain fun. I get to act out the lives of my characters on paper.

When do you write? 

The last manuscript I wrote, I woke at about 5 in the morning and “free” wrote in my computer for about two hours. I printed out those pages and would make edits any free, quiet moment I could find during the day. I’d type in the corrections in the evening before I went to bed.

Where do you write? 

I like to make my edits outside with the birds chirping or in a bedroom (or bathroom) with the white noise of a fan whirring.

What helps you write?

I like to mentally hear and visualize my scenes without any noisy distractions. The sound of the television is the bane of my muse.

How do your ideas come to you?

Listening to people talk about their life yields a lot of great ideas. Usually, though, I need to have some emotional connection to the idea for it to get past the first-page stage. For Freedom Pen, for instance, a friend told me about hearing her neighbor’s dogs fighting and how upsetting it was for her. (The police were called.) This conversation precipitated the plot of Freedom Pen.

How long have you been writing?

In high school, I wrote for the high school newspaper. I also was given the opportunity to be in a creative writing class with an amazing, published writer. I stopped writing, however, until about 13 years ago when my husband bought us our first computer. It’s a whole lot easier to make edits when you can hit the back space or delete button than it is to rip out a piece of paper from the typewriter and have to start all over again! And I must admit I’m more of a re-writer than a writer!

How much of your book is autobiographical?

My main characters and I all live in Greene County, Virginia!

Is there a sequel?

No sequel…yet! Have to wait to see how that upturned-hat works out!

What are you working on now?

I just finished a middle-grade entitled Pennies. It was so much fun to write and I absolutely love my main character, Allie! So right now I’m working on finding an editor who loves her story as much as I do. I’m also writing two assignments for Charlottesville Family Magazine, an award-winning parenting magazine.

Why should kids read books when there are so many other things to do?

George Orwell wrote, “Good prose is like a windowpane.”  Sometimes a book’s windowpane helps us see the world through the emotions of someone very different from ourselves. This, I believe, helps build empathy, and enables us to be less self-centered. Besides, many books help us laugh, and laughter, as they say, is the greatest medicine!

Do you have a favorite quote or bumper sticker?

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read. ~Groucho Marx

What’s an embarrassing story about yourself that you don’t mind telling?

The day after I got a perm to straighten my hair for the very first time, I went to the beach with some friends. On the way home, with wind blasting through the open car window, I imagined my hair was as straight and flowing as Brooke Shields’. (Remember her Calvin Klein commercials?) But when I got home and looked in the mirror, there was my hair, straight, all right—straight up in the air like I’d just been electrocuted!

Tea or coffee?  Flavor?  Milk or sugar?

Carmel Mocha!! MMMM!

Favorite season?

Spring, when green creeps up the mountains

Can you deal better with wind or rain?

Do I have a hat to hide my hair? In that case, bring it all on!

Deciduous or evergreen?

Evergreens—boldly keeping their color in the winter, shining spiky leaves in the sun, bearing red or purple fruit beneath snow, carrying the scent of pine in the breeze on an otherwise barren landscape—are absolutely amazing to me. But deciduous trees—budding pink or white after the thaw of winter, sending out helicopters and other seed pods in the summer, bearing fruit in the fall, then adorning the mountains with color before winter—are absolutely awe inspiring. I simply love ALL trees!

What’s always in your fridge?

Milk, cheese, Mrs. Filbert’s margarine, eggs and caramel macchiato creamer

Favorite comfort food?

Hershey’s cookie dough ice cream

Chocolate or some lesser nectar?


Food you’d rather starve than eat.

Lima beans

Cat or dog?

Oh, the comfort of a dog looking up at you with compassionate eyes, head on your lap, when you’re crying your heart out. (Cat’s run when there’s any amount of sobbing.)

Flats or heels?

Impossible for this girl to walk in heels

Natural fibers or synthetics?

Whatever is on clearance 

Jeans or fancier?

Anything that fits

Short hair or long?

If only my hair would grow so I could pull it into a pony tail when morning laziness calls.

Ideal evening.

Going to bed at 9:30

Ideal vacation.

Toes in the sand during the day while going to bed 9:30 every ocean-spray night

Favorite board, card, or computer game?

When alone: Spider Solitaire. In a group: Loaded Questions.

Favorite sport or form of exercise?

Define exercise, please.

Language in which you’d most like to be fluent.


Country you’d most like to visit.

Hawaii, United States

Skill you’d most like to acquire.

Typing…I mean, keyboarding 80 wpm. Okay, I’d take 40 WPM.

Favorite musical instrument.


You’re going on a book tour:  Plane, train or automobile?

Automobile…unless I’m headed to Hawaii.

Topic you’d most like to write about.

Any National Geographic nature documentary

Topic you think most needs writing about.

The lives of many educated, well-spoken, secularly-successful, free African-Americans who lived and raised families before the Civil War

Author you’d like to meet.

Rita Dove

Question you’d ask that author

Would you teach me to be a poet like you?

What gives you spiritual guidance and inspiration?

The Bible

What most surprises you about our current culture?

People texting a friend who is not in their presence while ignoring a friend who is

Some favorite books?

Picture Books:

Owl Moon (by Yolen)

More than Anything Else (by Bradby)

King Bigood’s in the Bathtub (by Wood)

Chapter Books/Middle-grade:

The One and Only Ivan (by Applegate)

Each Little Bird that Sings (by Wiles)

Winnie the Pooh (by Milne)

Mockingbird (by Erskine)

Hugo (by Selznick)

The Whipping Boy (by Fleischman)

Rats of NIMH (by O’Brien)


To Kill a Mockingbird (by Lee)

Jim the Boy (by Earley)

Some favorite movies?

Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day

Toy Story

Monsters, Inc.

Finding Nemo

To Kill a Mockingbird




Thank you, Dionna!  And I’m looking forward to your next books!


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3 responses to “Interview with Dionna Mann: FREEDOM PEN

  1. Great interview, Kathy! I’m really looking forward to reading Dionna’s book.

  2. Sam

    Very charming interview!

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