Author Interview: Hazel Edwards

SLEUTH ASTRID; LOST VOICE OF THE GRAND FINAL BY HAZEL EDWARDS Sleuth Astrid - Lost Voice of The Grand Final by Hazel Edwards

1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your children’s book is about.
Sleuth Astrid, a hi-tech, mind-reading chook rides a Harley, plays e-games and finds lost things. Illustrated (with visual clues) by Jane Connory, this e-version of the original popular print book includes a new story The Lost Voice of the Grand Final.

In Book 1, The Mind Reading Chook, the Magician has lost his sense of humour. Astrid must find that before the 3pm show.

In Book 2, The Lost Voice of the Grand Final, Astrid has to find the Voice of the Coach in time for the Saturday Grand Final. Was the Voice captured in the TV ‘Footy’ studio? Lost down his throat? Was a Voice Coach any use? What about the Speakeasy? or the Voice-over on the TV Footy panel or on Talk-back? And then there’s the Bird Wedding of the Year. Carrot was supposed to be the MC (Master of Ceremonies) As usual, Sleuth Astrid the Mind-Reading Chook, solves the problem.

2) What inspired you to write this book?
When staying at Varuna, the writers’ retreat in the Blue Mountains, I was introduced to a ‘chook’ who used to belong to a stage magician. They said the chook could mind-read and was part of the magician’s act. I believe in observation, not mind reading,so thought the chook could become a very observant sleuth. So Astrid has unusual things to find, like a lost sense of humour.

3) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your book?
That it’s ok to see things differently. Use your imagination.

4) With your picture books, how do you ensure the message of your book is conveyed succinctly through to the illustrations and how do you ensure it is a smooth and productive collaboration?
I choose an illustrator like Jane Connory, who has a quirky sense of humour. I don’t always have a ‘message’ but I like to encourage unusual problem-solving. Creativity depends upon putting together things which have not been in that combination before.

5) Tell us about some of your extra challenges you have experienced in pitching controversial subjects for junior books.
f2m;the boy within the YA novel about coming of age and transitioning gender from female to male has been the most controversial for the subject, not the way we wrote the book. Check out the Youtube clip which interviews us as co-authors. Ryan Kennedy, my co-author is an ftm. And a family friend.

Currently I’m writing a junior chapter series Hijabi Girl , with a Muslim children’s librarian Ozge. Our character is s feisty 8 year old girl who wears a hijab and starts an Aussie Rules girls team. Plus there’s Rastus Rastus the Reading rat, soccer-mad Zac and the new girl who cartoons everybody. Just a fun school-based  story.

Feymouse about a large and clumsy cat born into a family of highly talented mice is a different way of showing how to cope with being different. Now a picture book app on Itunes but previously a rock pop musical and a print book.

6) What is the most fulfilling thing about being an author?
That your book may go into the lives of readers and let them be a little more tolerant of others who are coping successfully with being different. PLUS be an enjoyable read.

7) Tell us about your adventure to Casey Station in the Antarctic and how that inspired you into writing your YA books.
As an expeditioner with the Australian Antarctic Division, I became beset in the polar ice when our ship got stuck en route to Casey Station. So lucky to be with some of the greatest experts on Antarctica who all wanted to talk to me and helped me plot the YA novel Antarctica’s Frozen Chosen and the other plays and books. We did get rescued after several weeks. Check out the ‘cool’ Antarctic stories here.

8) What are you working on now? 
My memoir ; Not Just a Piece of Cake: Being an Author

THHazel EdwardsANK YOU FOR LETTING US GETTING TO KNOW YOU!
Should you wish to know more about Hazel Edwards and would like to purchase her book, here are all her pertinent details.

Website: Hazel Edwards
Where to purchase her book: Hazel Edwards and Port Campbell Press
Hazel’s social media connections:

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Author Interview: Beth Ferry

STICK AND STONE BY BETH FERRY Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry

1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your children’s book is about.
Stick and Stone is a short, rhyming story about friendship.

2) What inspired you to write this book? Did it take you long to translate your idea into words and subsequently into a book?
A song by the band Train, called “Drops of Jupiter” was the inspiration behind Stick and Stone. There is a line in the song about friends sticking up for one another and that sparked the idea of a stick sticking up for a friend, namely, a stone. Friendship is a common theme in picture books, but an important one. I began writing the story in prose and wasn’t having much success. When I switched to rhyme, the story developed quickly.

3) Why did you pick this genre and how did you come to be a writer?
I chose to write picture books because of their beauty and importance to the youngest of readers. I also think picture books transcend age ranges and can speak to people of every age. I love the bond they offer parent and child. I’ve always loved to write, but I became a write in 2011 when I challenged myself to write a picture book that was under 200 words. That was the genesis for Stick and Stone.

4) How do the illustrations complement your book? What was important to you as an author?
Well, the illustrations of Stick and Stone are phenomenal!! Tom Lichtenheld created characters are that sweet and cuddly and utterly perfect – quite an achievement for a stick and a stone. His illustration process shows the extreme care and time he put into making the illustrations a perfect match for the text. I couldn’t be happier!

5) As a child, what books and/or authors influenced you the most and why?
The picture books I remember loving the most are Maurice Sendak’s Nutshell Library. As a child I adored miniatures and so this tiny set of books was right up my alley. I had every story memorized. I also loved Miriam Young’s Miss Suzy. I think the dollhouse aspect also appealed to my love of miniatures.  As I grew up, I read all the classics – Nancy Drew, Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables and A Wrinkle in Time.

6) What is the most fulfilling thing about being an author? Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring children’s authors?
Having a child tell me they love my book are some of the sweetest words I’ve heard. It floors me every time. Interacting with children at schools and bookstores is the most fulfilling aspect of being a children’s book author. The kids themselves are the best reward for being a picture book author. There are so many wonderful blogs that give advice to kidlit writers. My advice is to join SCBWI, and to check out taralazar.com, kathyteam.wordpress.com, and lauriewallmark.blogspot.com. Also, to write, write and then write some more. Don’t give up. This business requires a supreme amount of patience.

7) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your book? What do your children think of it?
I hope they will see how good friendships require a bit of effort and that friends help each other – it’s not a one-way street. I hope they also see that we all might act like Pinecone now and again, but it’s important to forgive those prickly characters in our lives. My children are all teenagers, but happily, they love the book. There’s nothing better than overhearing them tell their friends that their mom wrote a book.

8) What are you working on now? We wait with great anticipation!
My next book, Land Shark, is being released on August 4, 2015. As I’m waiting for that, I’m working on a few stories involving a scarecrow and an alligator, but not in the same story. Although that might be interesting . . . Thanks for asking!

THBeth FerryANK YOU FOR LETTING US GETTING TO KNOW YOU!
Should you wish to know more about Beth Ferry and would like to purchase her book, here are all her pertinent details.

Website: Beth Ferry
Where to purchase her book: Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Indie Bound
Beth’s social media connections:

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Illustrator Interview: Stephen Macquignon

Stephen MacquignonPROFESSIONAL BIO:
Stephen Macquignon has illustrated eleven picture books. The first one he worked on was Angeline Jellybean published in 2008 by 4RV Publishing and a chapter book called The Art of Science. He was a contributing illustrator with Berry Blue Haiku Magazine and also Stories for Children Magazine, working alongside some very talented editors, art directors, and writers. More recently he illustrated Tea with the Queen an eBook/ paperback for Xist Publishing.

He has had the privilege of working for Michael Sporn Animation Inc. on many different titles including, The Little Match Girl, Ira Sleeps Over, Abel’s Island and many more. He also has a Bachelor degree from The School of Visual Arts NY and is a proud member of SCBWI.

1) How did you become an illustrator of children’s books or similar works despite never having read a picture book when you were a child?
Well I did look at the pictures. It happened while attending The School of Visual Arts in NYC. I was planning to be a cartoonist like Charles Shultz, but I was short on credits in my last year of college and a class on creating art for picture books fit into my schedule. And that was it

2) Describe your illustration style and creative process. What makes your illustrations unique and different? 
I have been told that my ink line is unique that it’s easy to pick out my artwork because of it. I like to think it’s a classic style using brush on watercolour paper, India ink, watercolours and Photoshop.

3) When did you realise you could make a living from your talent? 
I still work full- time as a New York State licenced massage therapist. It is not easy to make a living from your artwork.

4) Has technology changed your trade and the way you work? 
I have been moving away from creating art digitally and have been embracing more traditional mediums. I still use Photoshop on the production end; cleaning up or adjusting the size, splicing images together, maybe adding some kind of text or effect

5) Who are your biggest influences in your artistic career and why?
It all began with my High School art teachers. I can say with 100% certainty that without them I would not have even gone to college, let alone pursued a career in art. At SVA, Will Eisner was a huge influence. My first job as an artist was working with Animation Director Michael Sporn; both taught me how to tell a story using images. Maurice Sendak and Dr Theodore Geisel Seuss are early influences.

6) When collaborating with an author or a client, how do you ensure you are able to translate their words into art and convey the message they are trying to portray?
Trial and error! I sketch, sketch, sketch, submit, feedback, sketch, sketch, sketch…

7) Tell us about the proudest piece of work you have done.
Not an easy one to answer. It is usually the most recent piece.  However, I was a semi-finalist for the 2014Tomie dePaola award. I was one of fifteen selected for the semi-finals. It was an unforgettable moment .

8) What advice do you have for aspiring illustrators who are trying to break into a highly competitive market?
Keep trying and don’t give up. Don’t go chasing trends; they come as quickly as they go.

9) Please provide a short brief of each of the pictures you have submitted
Mouse Falling Down the Waterfall was chosen for the Tomie dePaola semi-finals. Pen and ink, watercolour and Photoshop.

 Mouse Falling Down the Waterfall

Winter Has Come. First of three illustrations I did with the fox and rabbit theme. Watercolour and India ink and Photoshop.

Winter Has Come

Found Red Mitten is part of the same fox and rabbit theme. Watercolour, India ink and Photoshop.

Found Red Mitten

Should you wish to know more about Stephen Macquignon, here are his pertinent details.

Website: Stephen Macquignon
Stephen’s social media connections:

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Illustrator Interview: Hazel Mitchell

PROFESSIONAL BIO: Hazel Mitchell
Children’s author and illustrator, Hazel Mitchell is originally from England and now lives and works in Maine. Her childhood was spent in a seaside town in Yorkshire. She can’t remember a time when she wasn’t drawing, and still can’t be left reliably alone with a pencil. When she wasn’t creating art, she was riding horses or rambling along the beautiful Yorkshire coast. She attended art college in the UK and then spent several years in the Royal Navy. She worked as a graphic designer for many years. Now she’s doing what she always dreamed of – creating books for children. Her first trade book was published in 2011 and latest books include Imani’s Moon, One Word Pearl and 1,2,3 by the Sea. Her first book as author and illustrator, Toby, will be published in 2016 by Candlewick Press. Her work has been recognized by Bank Street’s Best of Children’s Books, Society of Illustrator’s of Los Angeles, Foreword Reviews, Reading is Fundamental, Learning Magazine and Maine Libraries ‘Cream of the Crop’ 2015. She is represented by Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown, NYC. See more of her work at http://www.hazelmitchell.com or online in all the usual places.

1) How did you become an illustrator of children’s books or similar works?
My route to children’s illustration was winding. I was always interested in illustration, and writing, from an early age. Unfortunately, back in the 1980’s when I attended art college, courses in children’s illustration were thin on the ground or, rather, non-existent. It seemed to be a career you just ‘fell in to’. So I studied fine art and then had a long career in graphic design until I moved to the USA. I was working in commercial illustration at that time, as well as painting fine art pieces, and wondering how I could enter the field of children’s illustration. In 2009 I attended my first SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and illustrators) conference and began to put together a portfolio specifically directed towards children’s illustration. I began to mail postcards to editors and art directors in publishing. In 2010 I was offered my first book contract, which was for a non-fiction book about autism, and I’ve been illustrating for children ever since. I’ve just written my first book for children about a poodle, ‘Toby’, to be published by Candlewick in Fall 2016.

2) Describe your illustration style and creative process. What makes your illustrations unique and different?
The first thing that people say about my style is that it’s ‘very English’!  I guess there’s no denying my roots. M style is quite traditional. I think my line work is the most recognisable. It’s like my handwriting. It took me a while to realize that my line work identified me, now I’m developing that and becoming looser and freer. I think my drawings are a little ‘quirky’. When you begin to illustrate I think you try to cover up your ‘quirks’ but really, those oddities are the things that make your work individual. So now I embrace them!

I’m quite disciplined in my creative process, I think that comes from years working to deadlines as a graphic designer and from being in the military. I usually begin by writing some written notes about an illustration project. What it embraces, what springs to mind, connections … all kinds of things. I write in a sketch pad. Alongside, I’ll start to noodle around with sketches, characters. I think about the setting. The age of the reader. The characters. Is it black and white or colour? What’s the mood of the book? It’s a synthesis that starts to come together. I may start by researching place, people, animals – depending on the story. Maybe I’ll take some time to look at other books along the same lines. After I’ve sketched for a while I’ll dive straight into thumbnail layouts of the book, see how the words and pictures might work together. What the arc of the story is and the climax points. Sometimes I’ll make a grid of this, with the pages, emotions, situations and feelings listed. This is the exciting part. Anything can happen and most things are possible! I think I enjoy this stage the best.

Then I’ll get into larger page layouts, working out composition of the pages and where the ‘page turns’ will happen. All this is building towards that final page which will tie the story together. I often work in different styles and mediums depending on the content of the story. I love to draw in graphite, add water colour washes and colour on the computer (photoshop, usually). I also like mixed media and pen and ink. I’d love to do some work in oils, but haven’t as yet! It makes it fun and interesting. I don’t think I’ll ever be the kind of illustrator who only works in one style – discovery makes the work fun! The longest part of the process for me is the drawing stage. Getting everything right before moving on to the final images. And the hardest part is keeping the vision you had in mind at the beginning of the project fresh in the final art.

3) When did you realise you could make a living from your talent?
Hmmm. I don’t think there was ever a choice for me. It’s all I was good at! So as soon as I left college I earned my living from art somehow, although not always in the field I wished for. I wish that there had been more choices when I left art-college, but the path I followed led me to where I longed to be in the end. I am lucky to make a living from doing what I enjoy … mostly I have always worked as a freelancer. It’s not an easy life. But I wouldn’t change it!

4) Has technology changed your trade and the way you work?
Yes, like most of my generation I started out doing a lot of mechanical art, especially in graphic design. Cut and paste etc. I was lucky to be able learn how to use computers back in the late 1980’s. I have always used computers throughout my career. In my illustration work, though,  there has always been a hand drawn element and I think that gives it my ‘style’. I love to incorporate the use of computers in my work. I don’t think I can work without them now! From the ease of changing compositions in the beginning of a work, to adjusting the final images they are so useful. And I use digital colour a lot. Of course, the ease of creating full colour images is huge in all visual industries these days. Plus the ease of proofing and submitting finished work makes life easier for all. But maybe one day I will just send my publisher a big crate of canvases to scan!

5) Who are your biggest influences in your artistic career and why?
I am still very much influenced by the illustrations I loved as a young person created by artists such as E.H. Shepherd, Pauline Baynes, Edward Ardizzone, Arthur Rackham, Raymond Briggs, Ralph Steadman, Quentin Blake, Beatrix Potter, Kate Greenaway, and so many Victorian and Edwardian illustrations that I used to pour over. In fine art I was a sucker for pre-raphaelites, the art and crafts movement, impressionism, fauvism. I loved detail and richness. I was also hugely influenced by children’s cartoons on the BBC. So much good work! I still love to watch them. Very different from American tv … but I did love Disney and Tom and Jerry, too! However, I now probably know more about the USA children’s illustration field, because I’ve had a crash course since moving here. My modern favorites include David Small, Garth Williams, Emily Gravett, Helen Oxenbury, Loren Long, Maurice Sendak, Marla Frazee, Ashley Bryan, David Weisner, Tony Diterlizzi to name a few.

6) When collaborating with an author or a client, how do you ensure you are able to translate their words into art and convey the message they are trying to portray?
I think that’s a kind of alchemy. Luckily I seem to have been creating something that fits the bill so far. I do feel quite responsible when I receive a manuscript and you know that that author has their own vision. But the publisher is hiring you to do a particular job as the  illustrator and you bring your own vision and ideas to the table. The art director is the person one relies upon to make sure the book is satisfying the translation of the text. I like the team work that comes with working on the making of a book. Sometimes you’ll receive a brief from the publisher, or guidelines, sometimes the artwork is totally up to you. A book is a sum of many parts – the vision of the author and the vision of the illustrator, brought together by the publisher. If there are too many constraints placed upon the illustrator, then it’s likely that the end result will not contain that ‘spark’. There has to be freedom to develop an idea and add that ‘something extra’ to the words. The author has done their job in creating their story and the illustrator must bring it life with the space that the author has left them. A good collaboration between words and pictures is where the magic happens for the reader – who of course brings their own creativity to the story by way of their imagination!

7) Tell us about the proudest piece of work you have done.
That’s a hard question! Often the work I am proudest of is the last project I worked on! ‘I did it!’ Sometimes, when faced with a new book or idea, starting it can be the hardest thing. (Can I do this again? Will it be any good? So much fear, in the beginning!). So, I guess I’ll say I’m very proud of ‘Imani’s Moon’ by JaNay Brown-Wood from Cahrlesbridge Publishing, (my lastest book) which is about the aspirations of a small Masaai child who wants to touch the moon. It’s my first book with a child of colour as the main character and I got to use a lot more hand-done techniques in it.

8) What advice do you have for aspiring illustrators?
Know this is a journey. Enjoy it. Don’t be in too much of a hurry. Practice your craft and be open to learning at all stages of your career. Read and feed your soul!

9) Please provide a short brief of each of the pictures you have submitted
One Word Pearl – Mixed media, created with layers of collaged paper scanned and type added, graphite line work and coloured digitally in Photoshop.

One Word Pearl

Imani’s Moon – Created using graphite and watercolour underpainting, coloured digitally in Photoshop.

Imani’s Moon

Seagulls – Graphite line art, digitally coloured in Photoshop.

Seagulls

Where Do Fairies Go In the Snow? – Hand drawn line work coloured digitally in photoshop.

Where Do Fairies Go In the Snow

Should you wish to know more about Hazel Mitchell, here are her pertinent details.

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Author Interview: Pat Zietlow Miller

WHEREVER YOU GO BY PAT ZIETLOW MILLER Wherever You Go by Pat Zietlow Miller

1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your children’s book is about.
Wherever You Go is about all the paths you can take in life and finding joy in the journey.

2) What inspired you to write this book and why did you pick this genre?
I wrote this book as a love letter to my oldest daughter. It contains some of the things I want her to take with her as she leaves for college and moves further into the world.

3) How do the illustrations complement your book? What was important to you as an author?
Eliza Wheeler did a magnificent job with the illustrations. I couldn’t be more pleased. I think they make the book something you want to walk across the room to see. In picture books, words are only half the story. And, the illustrations are often what first catches a potential reader’s eye. So they have to be good.

4) All your books have very different themes and subject matters. How do these stories come to you and how do you know they will be well received?
I write about topics that interest me. Things I find curious or noteworthy or funny. I hope that if I write a story I’d like to read, others will find it appealing too. But I never know if what I write will be well received. All I can do is give a story everything I have, send it off into the world and then hope it will find its audience.

5) As a child, what books and/or authors influenced you the most and why?
I loved THE WESTING GAME and other books by Ellen Raskin. It was a great story set in Wisconsin, where I lived, and I just adored it. I read it many, many times.

6) What is the most fulfilling thing about being an author?
To know that kids and teachers and parents and booksellers and librarians are reading your book, and that sometimes they think enough of it that they reach out to you to tell you why it’s their favorite or how they used it in their classroom or to see what else you’re working on.

7) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your book?
That life isn’t a straight line. It can take you on a lot of unexpected journeys – some fun and others not so much – but that no matter where you are, you have the ability to make choices and head toward where you’d really like to be.

8) What advice can you give to aspiring children’s picture book authors that you have learned over the years?
Success is a combination of writing skill, perseverance and luck. You can control two of these factors. And, if you focus on improving your skill and increasing your perseverance, luck often takes care of itself. You may have to recalibrate your definition of perseverance, though. I’ve heard writers say, “I’ve spent weeks on this manuscript and it keeps getting rejected!” If you wanted to be a professional athlete or musician or surgeon, you’d need to spend more than weeks honing your skills if you expected to be hired. The same is true with writing at a professional level. It may take years of practice and perseverance.

9) What are you working on now?
An early middle grade novel set in Wisconsin. Its plot involves Harry Houdini, Tony Bennett, basketball, cooking and the weather. Will it ever see the light of day? I’m not sure, but I’m working on making it as good as it can be.

THPat Zietlow MillerANK YOU FOR LETTING US GETTING TO KNOW YOU!
Should you wish to know more about Pat Zietlow Miller and would like to purchase her book, here are all her pertinent details.

Website: Pat Zietlow Miller
Where to purchase her book: Amazon, Barnes & Noble & Mystery To Me
Pat’s social media connections:

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Author Interview: Karen Kaufman Orloff

I WANNA GO HOME BY KAREN KAUFMAN ORLOFF I Wanna Go Home by Karen Kaufman Orloff

1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your children’s book is about
Alex is not happy about being sent to his grandparents’ retirement community while his parents go on a fabulous vacation. What could be worse than tagging along to Grandma’s boring bridge game or enduring the sight of Grandpa’s dentures?  But as the week goes on, Alex’s desperate emails to his parents turn into stories about ice cream before dinner and stickball with Grandpa. Before he knows it, Alex has made a surprising discovery: grandparents are way cooler than he thought!

2) What inspired you to write this book? 
I guess I was thinking about my own experiences visiting my grandparents in their retirement village in Florida back in the Seventies.  There were so many activities for the residents to do!  I thought it would be fun to put Alex (and his siblings) there, and to have Alex slowly come around to the idea that his grandparents are pretty fun to hang around with.

3) Why did you pick this genre? 
I love writing for kids. I write for older children as well as toddlers and elementary age kids. Probably because I’m a kid a heart, myself! And kids are the best audience.

4) How do the illustrations complement your book? What was important to you as an author?
The illustrations, done by the wonderful David Catrow, really add another dimension to all the “I Wanna” books. Dave just seems to know how to be funny and he makes my words look good!  The right illustrator can make or break a book, and I feel very lucky.

5) What is the most fulfilling thing about being an author?
I love knowing that people — especially kids, parents and grandparents — are enjoying my books together.

6) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your book?
I hope they learn that people don’t get boring just because they age. Maybe they will enjoy time with their own grandparents.

7) What advice do you give to aspiring writers at your adult workshops on how to succeed in this highly competitive market? 
I always tell people to just keep writing, learning, and improving.  If you stay at it and learn your craft (and keep submitting) you will eventually find success.

8) School visits are a big part of your writing career. What are the benefits for you personally and professionally?
It’s so great going into the schools and meeting the kids and teachers. It’s really my core audience! I have learned what they like and what they don’t; what they laugh at and what they don’t laugh at.  I’ve learned so much by visiting and I’m always humbled when they applaud me! I would encourage every children’s author to get out and meet the kids in the schools.

9) What are you working on now?
I am working on a series of middle grade novels that I hope to get published.  I also have a new rhyming picture book coming out next spring from Sterling Publishing. It’s called “Miles of Smiles.”

Karen Kaufman OrloffTHANK YOU FOR LETTING US GETTING TO KNOW YOU!
Should you wish to know more about Karen Kaufman Orloff and would like to purchase her book, here are all her pertinent details.

Website: Karen Kaufman Orloff
Where to purchase her book: AmazonBarnes & Noble and Merritt Books
Karen’s social media connections:

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Press: Joy 94.9 Radio Interview

Joy FM 94.9Author A.S. Chung was interviewed by Australia’s only gay and lesbian radio station, Joy 94.9. The station’s very own book reviewer, Gordon Wilson, loved A.S. Chung’s book, Wishful Wedding, a children’s picture book about same gender marriage equality. Gordon invited her in for an interview at their studios today. Thank you Joy 94.9 for this wonderful opportunity! Click here to listen to the interview.

Author Interview: Rich Okun

THE SUN, THE MOON, THE STARS AND MAYA BY RICH OKUN The Sun, The Moon, The Stars, and Maya by Rich Okun

1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your children’s book is about.
Our lives are bombarded with things that take us away from the special connections we are capable of. Each of us has the ability to demonstrate love, compassion, gratitude and generosity. We can choose to live our lives by the golden rule. We can make time to appreciate the exquisite construction of our planet, and experience the joy of nature. We can look towards the star spangled heavens, appreciate the velvet silence, and draw peace from spirituality. We have the ability to find beauty in simplicity, and we can marvel at the complexity of what at first glance, appeared deceptively simple. Many of us have just forgotten how.  My intention is to help connect and expand the most meaningful of relationships, that of parent and child.

In today’s busy, electronics oriented world, dominated by distractions, special effects, and noisy shoot ’em ups, simple earth based spiritual / moral issues have been all but forgotten, effectively obscured from view, buried in the smoky haze of the fiery explosion of Computer Generated Images. We conceptualize creation rather than competition as a means to engage and grow relationships. We offer alternative perspectives that are meant to evoke awe and wonder in all things and capture the imagination of the child and the child within the parent. With illustrations of Maya, my puppy muse, in complementary settings, accompany bits of wisdom relating to spiritual and moral issues. Notable quotations are the inspiration for Maya’s simple-language lyrical interpretations. Maya represents a reassuring presence, a gentle guide who leads by example. She helps encourage and pave the way for a rewarding dialogue with children, teaching them to appreciate the earth, and to follow the golden rule.

2) What inspired you to write this book?
As part of my spiritual journey, I want to contribute whatever I can through creative expression of spiritually impactful messages in words and pictures. I was inspired to this format and genre during meditation where I felt my inner voice move me to action while on a nature walk with my puppy. Although I am an unlikely children’s book author not having written or read children’s books throughout my life or even when I was a child.

I would post these on my website and social media pages and they became very popular with over 110 countries and tens of thousands of viewers monthly. I then decided to self-publish this book to use as a platform to help Parents and Children to be able to discuss these important matters instead of ignoring them. I use simple language so that all ages can understand, but they express very big ideas. I was picked up by a traditional publisher after a few months and have since published 2 additional books and about to release the fourth.  I use my pets (puppy and cats as well as other animals) not in an anthropomorphic way but recognizing that all living beings have a spirit that speaks the same language. It doesn’t matter whether it is a cat, dog, or wild beast, we all are the same if we can see with spiritual eyes. I want to contribute to this and help awareness to spark a change in the way we have operated on this planet. To help the golden rule to emerge as the way of being – going forward.

3) How did you come up with the title or series of your book?
Maya is my puppy’s name and this series is a compendium of different spiritual topics such as love, compassion, paths, fear, happiness etc. Part of my spiritual practices embrace Native American philosophies that honour the directions, the sky and earth the elements and all things with spirit. The Sun, the moon, the stars and Maya seemed to fit that bill.

The second book is titled Earth, Wind, Fire and Maya along the same lines. The third book is titled Embrace every step; life is a dance, which had more themed poems in life path so it wasn’t as broad in topics. My soon to be released fourth book is all about one specific topic and uses my cat as the main character.

4) As a child, your parents didn’t read you books and you didn’t read any either. Why then have you decided to become a children’s author? Why did you pick this genre?
I want to help. I want to contribute to a positive world and use whatever life experiences and talents I have to that end. Although I have always been a seeker, I became more engaged in my spiritual journey when I turned 47, and I didn’t want children to have to wait until they were that age to discover the magic in everyday life with the right set of eyes. However, I see that todays busy, hectic, two working parent households, time and energy are extremely challenged. Everybody is so tired and there are so many things to worry about. Technology furthers this distance in the family. Everyone has their heads down, surfing the internet on their smartphones, or texting in short meaningless sound-bites, or watching reality TV. Family time is limited and nobody has dinner table discussions anymore.

Spiritual matters are important, but complex, and parents have a difficult time bringing them up in a way that could engage their children. The traditional children’s stories are longer and attentions spans are shorter. I wanted to provide a medium to be a way that parents could discuss and expand upon these issues with their children through colour, language, words and pictures, using my little puppy as a centrepiece to engage.

5) How did you use your illustrations to convey your message? How does the colour palette complement your book?
I was the youngest member of the Art Student’s League of New York, across the street from Carnegie Hall at 6 years old, but I was afraid of color and using it so everything I did was in Black and White. However, when I started this effort, I used color openly and with courage, and vividly as another source of expression and to capture the child’s eye (and the child in you) and draw attention. I found that my fears of the past were unwarranted and that I could approach color with confidence.

The use of color represents the vibrancy of life and stimulates a sense of beauty.

6) What is the most fulfilling thing about being an author?
When I know that something that I contributed to, helped someone. There are many reviews of this book, but this one touched my heart and answers your question best – an excerpt is quoted here:

“I read several of these vignettes to my son at bedtime, and instead of lulling to sleep we ended up having a full discussion about fear and how to deal with it. It allowed him to reveal that he was being bullied in school but he never felt that he could bring it up to anybody without feeling ashamed. But it seems that Maya, has some magical tricks up her sleeve and made it okay for him to tell us before something tragic happened. I am going to buy this book for every parent I know as a Christmas gift. Buy This Book!”

This is why I do it. What I am now trying to do is get some corporate support to be able to give my book away to children’s hospitals, hospices, senior centers, and other places where spiritual voids can be lifted. I would love to take Maya with me and be able to bring some smiles.

7) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your book?
I want children and adults to gain insight to how they feel about spiritual matters.  Most of us, most of the time do not have or devote time to thinking about things that are not immediately on our plates. We are constantly entertained, distracted, diverted, working, busy, marketed to and, and, and ….. The reasons we are here, the way to be, the things that are more spiritual and ethereal are not something that our society has valued. For too long, society is manipulated into believing that life is a job you hate, that you are the sum of your material objects, and many end up living a life that’s meaningless and the really big questions are replaced by “how am I going to pay my bills this week, what job will pay me the most, what will others think, etc.?”

Religion tries to answer these questions, but spirituality begs the questions. I prefer questions to answers that have a particular point of view. I want to help children to become more self-aware of things the ancients knew, but have been suppressed by our way of life. I would like to give them choices as to how to live their life, and to pursue their dreams, rather than take what they feel is good enough.

8) What are you working on now?
I just submitted the draft for my fourth book, to my publisher. It is titled, ‘Annie and me, a shared journey home.’  This is a different book than the Maya series, which was a collection of various topics.  Annie was my elder cat who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in February.  I decided to journal her progression in my words and pictures format. My intent in doing this was to identify my own feelings and observations about the process of death, dying, grief and loss through the eyes of love and palliative care.

My mother died when I was too young of cancer – I was not able (or willing) to provide the kind of care that I know she needed. For the past 50 years I regretted this as well had unknowingly formed fears, angers and many other hurtful inner feelings surrounding this subject – We all will die, we all have loved ones that die around us at some time in our lives. I wanted to see if I could sensitize to this important event and tell this story. What happened during this sacred journey was that I started to heal, the fears and angers simply fell away from me. I feel that this body of work is my best to date. I want to offer this healing to all.

THRich OkunANK YOU FOR LETTING US GETTING TO KNOW YOU!
Should you wish to know more about Rich Okun and would like to purchase his book, here are all his pertinent details.

Website: Rich Okun
Where to purchase his book: Amazon, Balboa and Barnes & Noble
Rich’s social media connections:

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Author & Illustrator Interview: Kurt Cyrus

TADPOLE REX BY KURT CYRUS Tadpole Rex by Kurt Cyrus

1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your children’s book is about
A prehistoric tadpole grows up in the footprint of a dinosaur, where he gets in touch with his inner tyrannosaur.

2) What inspired you to write this book?
My wife and I found frog eggs in our little backyard pond. I rescued them from the goldfish and raised the tadpoles in an aquarium. At a certain stage of their development, when their hind limbs and tails were large but their forelimbs were tiny, I noticed a resemblance to T. Rex. A little research confirmed that frogs did coexist with the dinosaurs, and this gave me the idea to write and illustrate Tadpole Rex.

3) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your book?
I hope their love of reading is somehow enhanced, or at least not diminished! And especially I hope that their curiosity about the natural world around them is piqued. I don’t really write lessons or morals into my books.

4) After bouncing from job to job, how did you come to write and illustrate and why did you pick this genre?
All that job-bouncing was getting really old. I had been drawing as a hobby for my entire life, and felt that it was the one thing I could do better than the average person. The writing aspect was something I developed just so that I’d have stuff to illustrate. Children’s books are a good fit for me because of the storytelling, both verbal and visual. My drawing has always leaned toward storytelling.

5) When you have an idea for a new book, what comes first? The words or the illustrations and what is your process of putting them together?
Often it begins with a visual concept, but the writing must come first. Toward the end of a project I’ll often tweak both the words and the pictures to get as perfect a flow as possible.

6) As a child, what books and/or authors/illustrators influenced you the most and why?
There’s no escaping the influence of Dr. Suess. McElligot’s Pool was the big one for me. But I think a guy named Carl Barks had a bigger impact on my style of storytelling. He wrote and illustrated the Disney duck comics for several decades, and spun some great yarns.

7) What is the most fulfilling thing about being an author?
The joy of feeling something finally click into place after having struggled with it.

8) Describe your illustration style and when did you realise you could make a living from your talent?
My drawing skiils exceed my painting skills, so my illustrations are basically colored drawings. The first few books were illustrated in watercolor, oils, or scratchboard. Now I draw digitally. Earning a living from it began to happen after five or six books.

9) What are you working on now?
I’m finishing up a picture book titled Billions of Bricks, to be published next year, and starting illustrations for a picture book titled Shake a Leg, Egg! I’m also revising a middle grade novel. Variety is the spice of life!

THKurt CyrusANK YOU FOR LETTING US GETTING TO KNOW YOU!
Should you wish to know more about Kurt Cyrus and would like to purchase his book, here are all his pertinent details.

Website: Kurt Cyrus
Where to purchase his book: Barnes & Noble and Amazon
Kurt’s social media connections:

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Blogger Interview: Lottie Lomas

THE SECRET DIVORCEE BY LOTTIE LOMAS The Secret Divorcee by Lottie Lomas

PROFESSIONAL BIO:
When I was 40, I realised I’d married the wrong man. I had two beautiful boys, but was sinking into a mire of depression. So after months and months of tears and discussion and loneliness, I made the decision to separate from my husband.

I am a single parent, but don’t want to be defined as such. I work, I’m a pilot, I’m a singer, I’m a photographer. And a parent. I write about all sorts of aspects of life, from my family to my ageing body. Occasionally I add in pictures I’ve drawn, but they are awful. I am terrible at art.

I’m still looking for the right man. God knows where he is. He’d better show himself soon because my knees have started to make a frightening creaking sound every evening as I go upstairs to bed.

1) Tell us what your blog is about and what inspired its conception?
I started to write very soon after I had separated from my husband. Although it was my choice to leave, it was a very stressful time and I found that there was a lot of – well…stuff – that I couldn’t say to anyone. So I just let it out in my blog. In one big dump.

It started as an electronic diary, a private log, but quite quickly it grew into a more public space. As I became happier in my personal life, I found that I was considering my audience much more, and I wanted to share the fact that divorce can actually be a positive experience.

2) Who is your ideal reader and what do you hope they can gain from your blog?
My blog isn’t all about divorce now! In fact, as I separated three years ago, it’s much more about the ups and downs of life as a single parent. So I guess that the blog is aimed at single parents, because they will identify with my shenanigans – but actually the reality is that most of my readers tend to be in relationships.

I do get messages regularly though from unhappy women, who are thinking of leaving their husbands. Sometimes they want advice, and other times, they just need someone to speak to.

3) Where do you see your blog in 5 years’ time and will the topic continue to be as prevalent?
As the blog is about my life then I’m hoping it will still be going in 5 years’ time. Let’s see: my boys will be 19 and 17 by then. The 19 year old will probably have swanned off to America (he was talking about this just yesterday) leaving me hanging on to my 17 year old   with all my might. He will no doubt hate me for this, and I shall become a wizened old bitter empty husk of a crone, with a severe case of premature empty nest syndrome.

And who won’t want to read about that?!

4) How do you continually find content for your blog?
It mainly comes from my children. How I feel about them, what I do with them, how they affect my relationships… They have a wonderful insight on the world that adults don’t seem to have. I’m also a keen amateur photographer so, if I don’t have written content, I will share some of my photos. I don’t sweat it, though. If nothing comes into my head, I won’t post anything.

5) Do you have any words of wisdom for all the single parents out there that have tweens and teenagers in their household and how to deal with co-parenting effectively?
When I split from my husband, I had a fairytale vision that we would spend Christmases together, babysit for each other, support each other. But quite quickly our relationship exploded; he lied about me to our friends and cut off all communication. If this happens to you, my advice is to not rise to it. Head down, keep being polite, don’t lash out. Particularly don’t reveal your feelings to your kids. If you manage to bite your tongue, it will all level out in the end. It’s taken me three years, and we’re still not quite there, but we show each other more respect now than we have done for a long, long time.

6) Does your ex-husband read your blog? How does he feel about it?
No. I blog anonymously.  If he read some of my earlier posts, all our positive relationship-building would go down the toilet.

7) What opportunities has your blog provided you professionally?
Well, I spent six months drawing up an agreement with a large internet-based organisation, which sadly closed down before everything went live! So I’m back to the drawing board on that one. I would love to publish a collection of my posts, or write a book about divorce – but as all single parents know, time is hard to come by.

8) Do you have any advice for aspiring bloggers?
Don’t faff about too much, thinking about your aims, or the blog title, or the platform, or whatever. They’re just excuses. Just write. It doesn’t matter if your first posts are a pile of poo. Actually, what am I saying? It doesn’t matter if ALL your posts are a pile of poo. Just get on and write. You’ll find it’s an amazing outlet for you. And if you’re not already on Twitter, get on it. There are like-minded single parents out there who will, in time, give you support when you most need it. Good luck!

THANK YOU FOR LETTING US GETTING TO KNOW YOU!
Should you wish to know more about Lottie Lomas and would like to follow her blog, here are all her pertinent details.

Blog: The Secret Divorcee
Lottie’s social media connections:

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