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.

Hazel’s social media connections:

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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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A Brand New Day Review by Lost in a Good Book

A Brand New Day is reviewed by book blog, Lost in a Good Book. Founder of the blog Amy had this to say: “I love to read and I love to write, and I have a wonderful and terribly addictive habit of book collecting. My book reviews vary from the funny and jovial, to the straightforward and serious. It certainly depends on how I have enjoyed the book and how much emotion I can get out.” Thank you Amy for this lovely review!

Lost in a Good Book

Published: 1st July 2014Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Pigeonhole Books
Pages: 32
Format: ebook
Genre: Childrens Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Mondays and Tuesdays are fun, going on cooking adventures with Dad. We look forward to Wednesdays and Thursday too when we get to be a green thumb with Mum. Don’t forget the holidays! Spring breaks with Mum and hot summer camping with Dad. Each day is a truly special day!

A Banana Split Story is a series within the Pigeonhole Books collection that features stories about children from separated and divorced families.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

This is a sweet story about one child’s experience with divorce, making it into a fun adventure and showing that having two houses, two families, and being apart doesn’t have to be a terrible experience.

The narrative rhymes but in a…

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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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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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Importance of Book Contests For Self-Published Authors

A.S ChungPosted by A.S. Chung.
Award-wining author of children’s picture books A Brand New Day: about divorce and Wishful Wedding: about LGBT equality and same gender families. Creator of Pigeonhole Books and blogs about self-publishing, writing, online book marketing, peer bloggers and illustrators.

IMPORTANCE OF BOOK CONTESTS FOR SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHORS
ONLINE BOOK MARKETING TIP
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The Polar Express

5 Star Trip (Caldecott Medal) – Worth the Travel! by Carol VanHook.

I don’t believe that self-published authors understand the true benefits of winning a book contest. Apart from the fact that someone is telling you that you have written a great book, the knock on effect from a marketing point of view is substantial. Let’s explore some of these advantages.

RECOGNITION AND CREDIBILITY
It is an excellent medium to gain some recognition for your work. Being an award winning author immediately improves the perception of you as an author and a reader’s willingness to read your book. Continual accolades lend credibility that can be hard to ignore. It naturally spikes curiosity and could lead to increase in sales.

A WELL WRITTEN BOOK
In the first instance, getting good reviews from family and friends about your book isn’t necessarily unbiased or valuable. Entering a book competition means you are confident your book is worthy of the contest whilst winning an award cements what you had always thought along, you’re a great writer! It is important to know you have in fact written a good book.

RE-VISITING REVIEW REQUESTS
With your increased credibility, it may assist you in gaining more reviews about your book. Requests which may have been ignored previously may be worthwhile exploring again. Reviewers may re-consider reading your award winning book.

CREATES PROMOTIONAL MATERIAL
Winning a contest gives you something to talk about and enables you to create promotional material for marketing purposes. You can send out press releases to various different mediums and also have fodder for your blogging, website and social media.

The creators of the competition would also be sending out their press releases and creating a marketing buzz on your behalf. A renowned competition can command a large audience that matters to you and your book. Award seals are also a great promotional tool for your books at the point of sale.

PRIZES AND CONTRACTS
Most book contests offer some lucrative prizes. Monetary rewards, no matter the amount, would at least cover the costs of the entering the competition in the first place. Additional funds may be utilised to enter further contests for newly published books for the following year or ease any other expenses you may incur in the future.

Some contests offer audience with literary agents or traditional publishing houses. This poses a great opportunity for all indie authors trying to get that publishing contract.

FEEDBACK
Some book competitions offer feedback. This is a most useful service that should be embraced. You would gain unbiased and productive comments about how to improve your book.

The next important step is to identify which book competitions are worth entering. There are many out there in the marketplace but only really a handful which will bring you good marketing dollars and wide spread recognition. Find ones that suit you best and be strategic about your selections. Competitions are spread out throughout the year so make a comprehensive list as you will no doubt need it all again for the next book. Good luck with your entries!

Press: Gay Star News

GayStarNews Press 25.06.15Wishful Wedding is featured on Gay Star News! Gay Star News titles the piece “Gorgeous picture book teaches kids about marriage equality”.

“As the US Supreme Court prepares to make a decision about equal marriage, Australian author Amy Chung is doing her bit to educate the younger generation about different family relationships.

‘Wishful Wedding’, a book for children aged between three and six years old, tells the tale of two dads who can’t get married because it’s illegal – viewed from the heart-warming perspective of their young daughter.”

Gay Star News is an international media source focused on events related to and concerning the global LGBTI community.

Author Interview: Mariana Llanos

The Staircase on Pine Street by Mariana Llanos

THE STAIRCASE ON PINE STREET
BY MARIANA LLANOS

1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your children’s book is about.
The Staircase on Pine Street is a story that will touch your heart with its tenderness, humor, sensitivity and page-turning narrative. I have crafted a beautiful story of family love to share with readers of all ages. Ten-year-old Lilly has to learn to live with her grandfather’s diagnose of Alzheimer’s disease. Lilly and Grandpa Leo have a close, loving bond but ever since he’s been diagnosed, things have drastically changed. Alzheimer’s is taking away her grandpa’s memory. Lilly feels that there is nothing she can do to help. Until one day, Grandpa Leo gives Lilly an important assignment: to find a long-forgotten treasure. Lilly— with the help of her best friend, Mei Ling— goes on an exciting quest where she discovers more than she could have ever imagine.

2) What inspired you to write this book?
Something funny happened when I started writing this book. The main character, Lilly, popped up in my head with a blank piece of paper asking me to draw on it. Something like The Little Prince. Then I realized she was at a park talking to her grandfather. I learned that her grandfather had Alzheimer’s disease. Then it all came to me, I remembered my own grandmother who wasn’t officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but I’m convinced she was in on the early stages when she died. She inspired me to write it, like a tribute to grandparents everywhere.

3) How did you come up with the title or series of your book?
I picked one of the elements of the book. I didn’t want to give away too much, because there’s a mystery surrounding the story, but I didn’t want it to be bland either. I think The Staircase on Pine Street have a little mystique in it.

4) Why did you pick this genre?
I think it’s just the way I write. I don’t think genre when I write. But I like it that my writing in mainly geared toward children. It’s hard to impress children, and I feel like a champion when I do.

5) School visits is a large part of your portfolio, including your Spanish visits for immersion schools. Tell us a bit about them and what do you hope to gain from them?
Yes, this past year I’ve been visiting schools around the world: Nigeria, India, Canada, Mexico, Pakistan, Australia, Argentina, and Ireland. And around the US: Illinois, Florida, California, Montana, Kansas, Missouri, Texas and more. Also I’ve done visits in person in Oklahoma City, where I live. My goal is to inspire children to write and read. It’s amazing to see how children relate to my stories, no matter where in the world they are. This visits have an unmeasurable educational value for children (and me!) as they get to talk to a real author, ask questions about the book, the process, and life as a writer. Also, for me, as an author, school visits are a great way to build an audience and be in touch with their needs.

6) As a child, what books and/or authors influenced you the most and why?
I was a classic literature geek. I read anything that was on my parents bookshelf: classic tales by the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Andersen, Alice in Wonderland, The Little Prince, short tales by Oscar Wilde, Hemingway, even Shakespeare.  It wasn’t like it is today where children’s literature is so defined as a genre. Well, at least not at my house.

7) What is the most fulfilling thing about being an author?
Hearing from people that have read your book and knowing that I’ve touch them. I received a message by a gifted 5th grader the other day, regarding The Staircase on Pine Street: “Your book was the first book that made me cry. You lied when you say it will touch my heart. It drilled a hole straight through my sensitive, emotional, heart. Also, can’t wait for the Skype lesson!”

Do I need to say more?

8) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your book?
I hope this book helps them appreciate their grandparents, and enjoy them while they have them close. Lilly and Grandpa Leo’s relationship is sweet, they’re friends and partners, and I hope children learn from it. I also want to create awareness about Alzheimer’s disease, and help children understand it and be empathic with people who have this disease.

9) You heavily promote #weneeddiversebooks and #biligualkids. Please tell us more about them and why it is so important to you.
These two hashtags where created by people who are serious about promoting diverse literature and bilingual literature. In the case of #weneeddiversebooks, I jumped in the wagon immediately after I perused through their website and learned the lack of representation of minorities in children’s literature, not only ethnic, but also gender, religious, disabilities, etc. I want my children to grow in a tolerant and inclusive world. In the case of #bilingualkids, well, my family is bilingual and I’m always looking for more resources to motivate us. I also use it to promote my own books in Spanish. I started my own hashtag: #multiculturalbooksmatter to help highlight the need of multicultural characters in our literature.

10) What are you working on now?
I’m working on two stories: A Superpower for me, a picture book to help children understand the power of the vote. I’m already working on the illustrations and I hope to have it out by the beginning of the new school year.

The other story I’m working on is about a girl who is afraid of a boy with Down syndrome because he’s ‘different’. Through the story she learns that they are more alike than she thinks. This story is still in development.

THMariana LlanosANK YOU FOR LETTING US GETTING TO KNOW YOU!
Should you wish to know more about Mariana Llanos and would like to purchase her book, here are all her pertinent details.

Website: Mariana Llanos
Where to purchase her book: Mariana Llanos, Amazon US and Amazon UK
Mariana’s social media connections:

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Author Interview: Lesley Gibbes

SCARY NIGHT BY LESLEY GIBBES Scary Night by Lesley Gibbes

1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your children’s book is about.
Once upon a scary night three friends set out on a journey. Hare with a hat. Cat with a cake. Pig with a parcel. But where were they going in the dead of the night, tiptoe creeping in the pale moonlight? It was a mystery!

Scary Night is a rhythmical, rollicking read-aloud picture book with a lot of suspense and a dash of surprise. It’s about three friends who set out on a mysterious journey. They meet up with all kinds of scary creatures but they never ever give up. I won’t spoil the ending. You’ll have to read to book to find out just where Hare, Cat and Pig were going and what dangers they faced. You won’t believe surprise!

2) What inspired you to write this book?
As a child I loved exploring and going on journeys into the unknown. I love all things scary so of course my first picture book had to be a scary journey set in the dead of the night when anything can happen.

3) How did you come up with the title or series of your book?
I wanted the title of the book to help children predict what the story might be about. So a scary book set at night just had to be ‘Scary Night’. But the title doesn’t give everything away. I kept lots of things a mystery!

4) Why did you pick this genre?
My background in primary education ignited my interest in picture book writing. I was lucky enough to be taught at Sydney University by some very passionate lecturers in children’s literature such as Robyn Ewing, Len Unsworth and Geoff Williams. I’m pleased to say that their passion for children’s literature rubbed off on me and I spent the next 16 years immersed in the world of children’s literature at the forefront of teaching.

Writing children’s books was something I’d always wanted to do but I never seemed to find the time. It wasn’t until I took leave from sixteen years teaching in the NSW public school system to have my two children that I began to write. I attended many writing courses and wrote as often as I could sending manuscripts to publishing houses that accepted unsolicited texts. ‘Scary Night’ was pulled out of the slush pile in 2012 by Jane Covernton at Working Title Press. When she told me Stephen Michael King would be illustrating the book I danced the conga!

5) You have a further three books due out in 2015/16 with different illustrators. How do you work with their different styles to ensure the message of the book is appropriately captured and conveyed?
In August this year ‘Bring A Duck’ illustrated by Sue deGennaro will be released, followed by ‘Fluke’ illustrated by Michelle Dawson, ‘Little Bear’s First Sleep’ illustrated by Lisa Stewart, ‘Quick As A Wink Fairy Pink’ illustrated by Sara Acton, an information book ‘The Cicada Hunters’ and a chapter book series about a feisty dog named Fizz illustrated by Stephen Michael King.

My books are very varied in their writing style and publishers have chosen illustrators to reflect these differences to bring about a unique look for each book. Although I have opportunity to comment on illustrations it is primarily the responsibility of the publisher/editor to work with the illustrator. I have a great deal of respect for my illustrators and I just let them do their stuff!

6) As a child, what books and/or authors influenced you the most and why?
It took me a while to find that one book that turned me onto reading. It wasn’t until my fourth class teacher read ‘Bottersnikes and Gumbles’ by S. A. Wakefield that I caught the reading bug.

7) What is the most fulfilling thing about being an author?
The people that I’ve met along my writing journey, is by far the most fulfilling thing about writing. The generosity and encouragement from other authors, illustrators, editors, publishers and my agent has taken me by surprise in the nicest of ways.

8) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your book?
I hope children are utterly entertained, rolling around the floor laughing and singing in delight wanting to read it all over again. I’d like them to take away a message about friendship and perseverance, about never giving up no matter how hard the journey.

9) Who is/are your favourite author/s as an adult and why?
Well, I definitely haven’t grown up because my favourite authors write children’s books. At the moment I’m really into Louis Sachar and have just finished ‘Dogs Don’t Tell Jokes’.

10) What are you working on now?
This year is about writing more picture books and some longer pieces too. But I won’t tell you what they’re about, it will spoil the surprise.

THLesley GibbesANK YOU FOR LETTING US GETTING TO KNOW YOU!
Should you wish to know more about Lesley Gibbes and would like to purchase her book, here are all her pertinent details.

Website: Lesley Gibbes
Where to purchase her book: Booktopia, Fishpond and Bookworld
Lesley’s social media connections:

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