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Detroit Lakes children's book author calls foray into self-publishing a success

Detroit Lakes author Dawn Marie Duncan, who published her first children's book, "Seraphina the Ballerina," this past spring, signed copies of her book and read it out loud to participants at a special Storytime session on Saturday, Sept. 17 at the Detroit Lakes Public Library.

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Children's book author Dawn Duncan read aloud from her book, "Seraphina the Ballerina," during a special Storytime session at the Detroit Lakes Public Library on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune
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DETROIT LAKES — Children's book author Dawn Marie Duncan has never been especially fond of things that slither.

"I've always had a fear of snakes," she admitted during a recent interview.

So how did an emerald tree boa become the subject of her first published book, "Seraphina the Ballerina"?

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Children's book author Dawn Duncan introduces Storytime attendees to a stuffed version of Seraphina — an emerald tree boa — during a reading of her book, "Seraphina the Ballerina," at the Detroit Lakes Public Library on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune

"Seraphina came to me in a dream, over Christmas (night) in 2019," says Duncan, adding that writing the book helped her to "make peace with snakes and understand them better."

Of course, she added, the bright, cheerful illustrations by local artist Anna Lassonde also helped make the subject of her book seem more cute and cuddly than fearsome.

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"She did an excellent job," said Duncan of Lassonde, whom she discovered after moving to Detroit Lakes from Fort Collins, Colo., in 2020.

"Anna did the illustrations having full creative license — meaning that she was given the manuscript and got to choose which parts to illustrate," Duncan continued. "I could not be happier with the result."

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Children's book author Dawn Duncan brought along a stuffed version of her book's heroine, an emerald tree boa named Seraphina, to a special Storytime reading of "Seraphina the Ballerina" at the Detroit Lakes Public Library on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Though Duncan is a native of Fertile, Minn., who lived in Colorado for 26 years, she is no stranger to Detroit Lakes — it was the location of her first job after graduating from the University of North Dakota with a degree in English literature.

"I was nanny to the newborn twins of my sister, Deanna, and brother-in-law Jim Sinclair (a Detroit Lakes native) for the summer," she said, adding that she moved to Fort Collins not long after leaving Detroit Lakes.

So when she and her husband, engineer/carpenter Michael Duncan, moved back to her native Minnesota a couple of years ago, they decided to purchase a home in this community, where they've lived ever since. Michael currently works in the purchasing department at Dynamic Homes in Detroit Lakes.

On Saturday, Sept. 17, Duncan appeared at the Detroit Lakes Public Library for a special morning Storytime event, where she read her book to the children in attendance (as well as the adults supervising them). Both before and after the session, she signed copies of the book, then joined the children for a craft activity where they could write and illustrate a mini-book of their own to take home.

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Ella Lauinger got to play a little bit with "Seraphina the Ballerina" during author Dawn Duncan's special Storytime session at the Detroit Lakes Public Library on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. Ella wore a special tutu to match Seraphina's at the event.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Though she has no children of her own, Duncan says that she's always had a special affinity for them; much of the volunteer work she has done over the years has been in the area of teaching the arts — reading, writing, dancing and other forms of artistic expression — to young people of varying ages.

"I've always loved writing, and I've always loved children," she said. "I grew up in a family that really loves reading — all three of us kids learned to read by the age of three, because our mother always read books to us and gave us lots of opportunities to read, whether it was books at home, or at the library."

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Maddie and Ella Lauinger were among the first arrivals at Saturday morning's Storytime with children's book author Dawn Duncan at the Detroit Lakes Public Library, so they got a chance to cuddle with "Seraphina the Ballerina" before Duncan began reading her book to the group.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune

In addition to reading and writing, Duncan said, "I've always been a dancer." So the subject of her first published book was a natural choice. But "Seraphina the Ballerina" is about more than dancing, she added.

"I've always been a dreamer," she said. "I was shy as a child, but I've always had supportive friends and family, and I've always had very big dreams and aspirations. All of these converged in a series of positive messages for children: To dream big, to embrace the arts, to encourage one another and to work very hard to achieve their goals."

"Seraphina" was also Duncan's first foray into self-publishing: She created a publishing division of her creative writing and consulting company, Yellowbright , called Yellowbright Press .

"I teach people how to self-publish, so I decided to take my own advice and do it myself," she said. Eventually, she hopes to add more titles to the catalog.

"If all goes as planned, 'Seraphina' has nine other titles in the series," Duncan said. "I have a few other works of adult fiction and nonfiction in the works as well."

She is also open to working with another publisher to bring her books to the public, however. "There are great advantages in self-publishing, but ... it depends on what you're doing. I have certain projects in the works where I would like to have a publisher and an agent."

Still, she added, "This particular project has done very well, being self-published and promoted."

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Children's book author Dawn Duncan signed copies of her first published book, "Seraphina the Ballerina," during a special Storytime event at the Detroit Lakes Public Library on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune

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'Where can I get one?'

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Dawn Duncan's enjoyment of her Saturday morning Storytime at the Detroit Lakes Public Library was evident, as she interacted with the kids who came for the in-person reading of her children's book, "Seraphina the Ballerina," on Sept. 17, 2022.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Soft cover copies of "Seraphina the Ballerina" can be purchased at Bluebird Books , Mainstream Boutique , Beautiful Junque and Red Willow (south store) in Detroit Lakes as well as The Willow Bookstore in Perham.

The Detroit Lakes Public Library has some available for checkout, and a limited number of hardcover copies are also available for purchase, by contacting the author directly at 970-980-6399. Duncan said that she will provide free delivery to local residents, and will ship books nationwide. Though the book is not yet available via online sellers like Amazon or Barnes and Noble, it will be soon, she added.

A reporter at Detroit Lakes Newspapers since relocating to the community in October 2000, Vicki was promoted to Community News Lead for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus on Jan. 1, 2022. She has covered pretty much every "beat" that a reporter can be assigned, from county board and city council to entertainment, crime and even sports. Born and raised in Madelia, Minnesota, she is a graduate of Hamline University, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature (writing concentration). You can reach her at vgerdes@dlnewspapers.com.
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