Posts in Interviews

Interview with Amy Nielander

From now through the end of 2020, I’m interviewing the authors & illustrators of the debut group Perfect 2020 Picture BooksToday, I’m thrilled to chat with Amy Nielander, Author-Illustrator of Grama’s Hug, releasing from Page Street Kids on January 7th, 2020.

Welcome, Amy!

Amy Nielander_2018_SMALLER
Congratulations on your-soon-to-be-released picture book! Tell us a little about Grama’s Hug.

First of all, thank you for this opportunity Katelyn! Grama’s Hug is about a devoted grama and her space-loving granddaughter, May. Together they create art, birdwatch and prepare inventions for the annual space fair. They never, ever say goodbye without a hug until that moment slips away one day.

Sounds like a story full of that magical ingredient: heart!

Now, let’s back up a bit. Can you walk us through your journey to publication?

My journey was very long, like many other author/illustrators I am sure! I always loved to write and sketch but it wasn’t until my kids were born when I put the two together. My mom was a captivating storyteller growing up and had written quite a few stories for herself. She wrote a story for a godchild’s birthday and when I left my job to raise our kids, it felt like the perfect time to illustrate it for her. We submitted the dummy but it met multiple rejections.

The silver lining was I fell in love with the process of marrying text and art. I decided to explore my own story ideas shortly after. At the same time I felt like a rookie and wanted to learn how the industry worked. I became a member of SCBWI, attended conferences, signed up for critiques, submitted stories, received rejections, went through roller coaster responses from agents but it wasn’t until I became a finalist in the Silent Book Contest when my luck changed.

After my first book THE LADYBUG RACE was published, I was back at square one trying to get published again! I went through the same motions but casted a wider net. I signed up for more intensive workshops and conferences. After attending the Rutgers Children’s Literature One-on-One Conference and meeting my mentor, I became laser-focused on a particular story (Grama’s Hug). I revised that dummy for a good six months and when it was ready to submit, I went back to contacts I had made at previous conferences. A publisher expressed interest but wanted a new ending. After soaking up every ounce of their feedback (I recorded our phonecall and played it over and over and over again!) I went back to the drawing board and resubmitted. About a month later I received an offer.

So what was THE pivotal moment in your career? “The Call”, “The Email,” or whatever moment you knew that your dreams were about to come true?

It was definitely when I received “The Email” from the Silent Book Contest committee stating my story was selected as an international finalist. I was about to take my kids to school that morning when I decided to check if results were posted one more time (I think I was refreshing their page every five minutes). When I saw the email, I raced to the bottom and was overcome with elation. It is a moment I bottled up and uncork whenever I get discouraged or doubtful.

Wonderful. Two books to your name, and it sounds like it’s just the beginning! As an author-illustrator, what do you like to write/draw/paint about, in general?

I like drawing people and their interactions with the world (and each other). I also enjoy amplifying a person’s character in art. As far as writing goes…my ideas start off pretty abstract. I used to offset that in the past with daily journal entries but have gotten away from those. Now, I tend to write as I develop dummies.

What does a typical day in your life look like?
My day to day is always slightly changing due to a busy household, but the routine that remains pretty constant is walking my dog, working out, following up on any emails, then jumping on revisions to the latest dummy I’m working on.

In the midst of the busyness, what feeds your creativity as an artist?

What feeds my creativity most is finishing a project. It earns the same degree of satisfaction that completing a giant puzzle does. It makes me want to jump on other projects and apply what I learned from the past story. I also really enjoy the design process and apply that approach in the dummy phase. Getting ready to assemble a picture book dummy is like getting ready for a party. It’s very exciting for me! I love clearing the table, gathering my tools and assembling my little sketches. The best part is paging through it over and over and over again. The story feels like an
experience at that point. It makes me want more little stories!

Any advice for other creatives?

Keep believing in yourself. Give yourself permission to grow, invest in learning opportunities and most importantly- start doing the work! You’ll need that wealth of practice when your story does find a publisher and you have to produce final artwork! Attend different workshops or conferences to create deadlines for yourself so projects get finished.

Back to Grama’s Hug. How did the story come to you? Do you remember your lightbulb moment?

Absolutely! It was 2013 and I was walking my daughter to school when the bell rang and a parent yelled out “I AM NOT LEAVING WITHOUT A HUG!” Those words cemented themselves in my mind and I walked away struck by story sparks. What would she do if she didn’t get that hug? The first draft I wrote tells a completely different story than today’s picture book. When I shared it during a SCBWI Round Table critique it was received horribly. It wasn’t until I began digging deeper when a childhood memory was triggered. I drafted a new concept and that was the foundation for Grama’s Hug. The title later changed in the production process but I dedicated the story to my friend, Kathy. She was the parent who shouted those words in 2013 (we did not know each other at the time though).

Amy Nielander dummies

Your dream of publishing a picture book is about to come true, all over again! What’s next?

I have another PB on submission and am currently refining a third story (with more on my To Revise list!). That dummy is packed with fun and will be submitted in January 2020. I’m also busy prepping for the big book launch for Grama’s Hug! I’d like to experiment with some activities and fine tune school visit presentations.

Any promotional events where we might look forward to meeting you?

I was invited to be a part of the 20 for 20: Celebrating Michigan Illustrators Exhibit at the Muskegon Museum of Art in January.  It will run from January-May with a reception in April. I’ll have a book launch on January 11th for Grama’s Hug at Barnes & Noble, followed by a story time reading at the Ann Arbor District Library (with Literati Bookstore) on January 14th. Readers can sign up for my newsletter to learn details about additional book signings and events at: https://amynielander.squarespace.com/config/pages (Scroll to the very bottom of the page.)

Thank you, Amy! Here’s to all your future success!


These days, preorders are vital to a new author/illustrator’s career. To support Amy Nielander and her new release, preorder Grama’s Hug through any of the following retailers:

Amy Nielander Hug Cover_cover_reduced

And to see more of Amy Nielander’s work, visit her website and social media accounts: 

https://www.amynielander.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/nielanderamy
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/amynielander/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Amy-Nielander-Illustration-and-Design-479695018840547/timeline/

Interview with Nanette Heffernan

From now through the end of 2020, I’m interviewing the authors and illustrators of the debut group Perfect 2020 PBsToday, I’m chatting with the talented Nanette Heffernan, Author of Earth Hour, illustrated by Bao Luu and releasing from Charlesbridge in January 2020.

Welcome, Nanette!

Nanette Heffernan in hat - SP

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Congratulations on your-soon-to-be-released debut picture book! What exactly is “Earth Hour”?

Earth Hour is an annual lights-out celebration sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature
(WWF), that unites people across the planet against climate change. On a Saturday night near the
equinox in March, all over the world, at 8 :30 p.m., lights fade to black for this special event. In
Sydney, homes and restaurants—and even the famous Sydney Opera House—turn out their lights.
An hour later Tokyo goes dark. Two hours later it’s Beijing’s turn. Thousands of famous
monuments, from the Taj Mehal to the Eiffel Tower to the Golden Gate Bridge, unplug for the
event.

How did the idea for this book come to you? Do you remember your “lightbulb” moment?

I first learned of Earth Hour while driving over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA one
evening. The bridge went dark. When I found out it was for Earth Hour I was an instant fan. That
night the concept for the book was born, but it wasn’t until many drafts and 4 years later that my
wonderful editor, Julie Bliven, from Charlesbridge offered to publish the book.

So, have you always been a “writer”? And what other fields have you worked in?

I’ve considered myself a writer since elementary school. As a sales and marketing executive I’ve
written every thing from sales brochures, to websites, to advertising copy. Yet it wasn’t until I made
the decision to become a full-time writer that I got to write what I truly love, children’s literature.
But my marketing roots go deep—I love sales and marketing—so I am also an author marketing
coach and founder of Authors Posse. Debut groups are for debuts, Authors Posse is your forever
group!

What do you like to write about, in general? 

I love to write picture books about the environment and sustainability. I also love MG boy humor.

Can you describe a typical day in the life of Nanette?

Coffee. Hike with the dog. Tend the garden and chickens. Write or work on marketing for 5-6
hours. Help the kids with homework. Read for 2-3 hours. Repeat.

What feeds your creativity as an artist? Or helps you out of that “funk”?

Hiking. Lots and lots of hiking. 20-30 miles a week.

Any advice you can offer other creatives?

Being a creator is a tough business. So every day check in with yourself and make sure you are still
enjoying it. If you aren’t enjoying it then it’s time to reevaluate why you became an
author/illustrator.

Looking back over your writing career thus far, what was the most pivotal moment? 

I will never forget when I got  “the call” from my agent. I was waiting to see my oncologist for my
first round of chemotherapy for breast cancer. It was the absolute best call I could have gotten at
that moment.

Oh my goodness! Yes, what a ray of hope! Your career was born…and now your dream of publishing your very first picture book is about to come true! What’s next? What do
you still hope to accomplish in the future?

More eco picture books with a hint of humor. I LOVE funny picture books.

Wonderful, Nanette. Are there any promotional events we can look forward to meeting you at?

I’ll be touring the entire West Coast for the launch of EARTH HOUR. Also hopefully Denver and
Boston and maybe even as far as New York!

And in the meantime, where can we find out more about Earth Hour?

You can learn more about Earth Hour here: www.earthhour.org or www.NanetteHeffernan.com/books or www.earthhourthebook.com . During Earth Hour everyone, young and old, can make a pledge to do their part to help the environment. If you’ve made an Earth Hour pledge I hope you’ll share it with me at www.earthhourthebook.com (pledge page coming January 2020)

Thank you, Nanette! Here’s wishing you every future success.


These days, preorders are vital to a new author’s career. To support Nanette and her beautiful book, preorder Earth Hour through any of the following retailers:

Cover Earth Hour

Interview with Fiona Halliday

From now through the end of 2020, I’m interviewing the authors & illustrators of the debut group Perfect 2020 Picture Books. Today, I’m thrilled to chat with the very talented Fiona Halliday, Author/Illustrator of Numenia and the Hurricane, releasing from Page Street Kids on January 21st 2020.

Welcome, Fiona!

Fiona Halliday-foto

Congratulations on your-soon-to-be-released debut picture book! It is gorgeous. Tell us a little about the journey to publication.

Since childhood I always wanted to be a writer, but I had no aspirations to be an illustrator. (My family are all very artistic.) In 2012, (aged 31) I moved to Austria without being able to speak a word of German. My first job was photographing spare parts for motorbikes and mopeds, which was frightfully dull. I was lonely not being able to speak any German so it was then I started taking things like exhaust pipes and radiator coolers and making them (in Photoshop) into creatures, I think my first was a whale. Since then I haven’t really looked back. I signed with Essie White of Storm Literary Agency in 2016. I didn’t sign my first PB deal until summer of 2018, but now I have 2 PBs on the way and a third I am illustrating.

I can’t help but notice your intriguing subtitle: ‘Inspired by a true migration story.” What facts inspired Numenia?

In 2012, Hope, a GPS-wearing whimbrel, was followed by scientists from the Center of Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary as she negotiated her way through Hurricane Gert. She battled her way through raging headwinds for 27 hours, going an average speed of 9mph. Not only did she survive the storm, she used its headwinds to catapult her back to Cape Cod, where she wanted to be. Days later she arrived in St. Croix and spent the winter feeding on fiddler crabs before her long migration back to Canada the following spring.

Incredible! And truly inspiring as we all face our own headwinds in life before getting where we want to be. Looking back at your career so far, Fiona, can you describe the most pivotal moments that helped you “get there”?

  • Signing with Essie was a wonderful moment for me and she has proved to be a wonderful agent.
  • Long before I signed with Page Street Kids, Kristen Nobles offered me advice and guidance which I do believe I will never forget.
  • And I love the openness and generosity of the kidlit community in general. Being part of that is a wonderful experience.

From what age did you consider yourself a writer/illustrator?

I still find it odd to consider myself a writer/illustrator in a professional-ish capacity. It is something I have always wanted to do but had neither the courage or wherewithal to follow through with in my twenties. I have a degree in English Literature, I worked as a journalist, photographer, graphic designer and translator, also a host of less impressive jobs like house keeping, fruit-picking and room service. Now at the age of 38, I have been pursuing PB writing and illustrating for the last four/five years.

What subjects do you most like to write about/illustrate?

I love writing about and illustrating animals and nature. I love bird photography – I think that influenced Numenia to a high degree. I use digital techniques because I like incorporating a lot of layers into my work from old photos like rust and radiator coolers. I guess I’m a bit of a magpie in that respect! I would love to splash around with some paint someday, but I suspect I’d be lost without Ctrl. V! 

What does a typical day in your life look like? 

Lots of dog walking! When I am not working, I am sitting in front of my computer screen. I find dog walking and running help clear my head.

What feeds your creativity as an artist?

As I said, I like playing with disparate objects. For example Numenia’s feet and scaly legs are made from radiator coolers that I photographed and then liquified in Photoshop. I also used that texture for the moon.

Do you have any advice for other creatives?

I really think you just need to get your head down and do it. Work hard. Don’t give up. Find your critique buddies, do a course, learn your craft. Be steadfast. Be prepared to revise and revise again. Numenia went through many, many revisions. It started off in (bad) rhyme, then I unrhymed it, then returned to the rhyme which slowly got better.

I’m curious–how did you decide on the name Numenia for your main character?

I read that the Latin name for Whimbrel was Numenius Phaeopus and I just knew I had to call my whimbrel ‘Numenia,’ I thought it was a beautiful name about newness and had just a hint of magic. (She is a wading bird and looks just a wee bit drab, I wanted to give her the name of a queen!) Page Street later added ‘and the Hurricane’ to the title, which I also really like!

Love it! Now…any future projects that you can tell us about?

I have a second PB called The Storm Goose coming in 2021 and I have a project I am illustrating at the moment. I currently have another of my PBs on submission, which I am hopeful about.

Here’s wishing you every future success, Fiona!

In the meantime, readers can take a sneak peak inside Numenia and the Hurricane below:


Nowadays, pre-orders are vital to a new author’s career. To support Fiona and her beautiful book, pre-order Numenia and the Hurricane through any of the following retailers:

To see more of Fiona’s work, visit her website www.thedoodlesack.com or follow her on Twitter @fdhalliday 

Cover image "Numenia and The Hurricane"
Cover image “Numenia and The Hurricane”

Interview with Dorothia Rohner

HAPPY OCTOBER, everyone! From now through 2020, I’ll be featuring interviews with all the new authors &/or illustrators of the debut group Perfect 2020 PBsToday, I’m delighted to chat with talented author-illustrator Dorothia Rohner. Her book, I Am Goose!, illustrated by Vanya Nastanlieva, releases from Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) on February 18th, 2020.

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SONY DSC

Welcome Dorothia! Congratulations on your-soon-to-be-released picture book! Obviously, it stars a goose (ha). What else can you tell us about this story?

Hi Katelyn, Thank you so much for the opportunity to share a bit about my upcoming book. The story features a menagerie of animals playing a game of Duck, Duck, Goose. This includes hungry Fox, chicken Chicken, puzzled Pig, disappointed Do-do, slow but generous Turtle along with rule following Rabbit and a trio of wisecracking squirrels. When self-centered and not-so-bright Goose joins in to play, the game turns into utter chaos.

Describe your journey to publication. How long have you been pursuing this dream?

Like many picture book creators, I started a long time ago! I’ve been sending postcards out to art directors for quite some time. My first published illustration appeared in Cricket Magazine. That was way back in 2004 —so, a long time ago! My first two illustrated picture books Effie’s Image (N.L Sharp, Prairieland Press, 2005), and Numbers in a Row, An Iowa Numbers Book (Patricia Pierce, Sleeping Bear Press, 2006) were a huge learning experience for me. After that, I began writing my own stories. I did not share any of them until I joined a writers group and rejoined SCBWI. That is when I began focusing my attention on both writing and illustrating
children’s books.

What was the most pivotal moment in your career? 

In 2014, there were two events that boosted my confidence and got me to believe more in my work. On a whim, I entered the SCBWI Bologna Illustrator Gallery in 2014 and to my surprise, “Firefly Forest” won 1st place. Later that year, I was chosen as one of six illustrators for the SCBWI summer LA portfolio mentorship. A couple of years later, I signed with an agent and she sold my first manuscript (I Am Goose) in 2016.

From what age did you consider yourself a writer &/or illustrator? What spurred you to pursue this path professionally? 

I’ve always loved to create, draw and build things. My siblings and I were fortunate to have a mom and dad that valued creativity, nature and art. In high school, I went to a vocational training center and earned an associates degree in technical illustration. That led to a job in a patent office for IBM illustrating patent drawings. After that, I worked for a mining company inking geologic maps. I attended several universities studying art, art history and graphic design. Eventually I combined my love of nature and science and earned a degree in natural science illustration (Biological Pre-Medical Illustration, Iowa StateUniversity) That lead to a job in animation, both scientific and gaming, botanical gift design, licensing and graphic design. While working full time, I painted in the
early morning and late at night to pursue my personal projects that included botanical art painting and illustrations for children. I enjoyed working in all of the various art fields, but deep down, I had a burning desire to create books for children.

What do you like to write/draw/paint about, in general? What are some preferred genres and media?

I enjoy writing funny books with characters that children will relate to. I like to laugh or cry when I read kids books, or be utterly amazed, so that is what I aim for. I enjoy painting unique and magical worlds usually with a nature theme. I live in the woods, so am influenced more by that than cities. I like to play with luminous light, the scale of animals and children to make up imaginative places where stories can happen. Lately, I have been experimenting and enjoying using pigments, oils, cold wax and collage to create these worlds. I also love to draw with ball point pen, watercolors and Inktense pencils.

What does a typical day in your life look like?

I like to wake up slowly so I can recall my dreams and allow my subconscious to flow into my waking hours. Weather permitting, I sit on my porch with a nice cup of coffee and cream of course, watch the sun rise over the trees and listen to the birds. This is one of my favorite times of the day. If it’s cold, I settle into my cozy tattered butterfly chair where I can read my daily meditations and plan my day with what I want to accomplish. This is also a time where I look at art, sketch, write or jot down ideas for stories. After that, I tidy things up, check emails, yoga, then get head to my studio to work. I take frequent walks to clear my mind and get outside. I enjoy having the freedom and flexibility to plan my time throughout the day. Sometimes I stop work early and spend time with my husband and dog, other days I like to work late in my studio. Currently, I am adding on a space for my studio with windows that look into the forest. I can’t wait to get it all set up.

MessyStudio1MessyStudio2RevisingButterflyChair

What feeds your creativity as an artist? Or helps you out of that “funk”? 

Writing doesn’t put me in a funk because I know I can always revise and keep thinking about how to rewrite. Usually my funky fog settles in when I’m not satisfied with my art. It has taken awhile, but I’ve finally accepted that this is part of the creative process. I like to ignite that little spark by going for a walk and being in nature. I am an avid gardener and digging in the dirt, watching the bees, butterflies, weeding, helps me to get out of my own head. I also peruse art books and create studies of other peoples’ work. I love watching artists create on youtube also. This always helps me to feel inspired again.

Now, back to your debut, with that burning question: How did the idea of  I Am Goose! come to you? Do you remember your lightbulb moment?

I Am Goose! was one of the ideas that I jotted down when I participated in Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month–the name has since changed to Storystorm.) It was inspired by the children at Head Start where I volunteer. Duck, Duck, Goose is one of their favorite games on the playground. None of the children seem to know the rules, but they all get so excited and want to play anyhow. I find it hilarious and chaotic. Each of the animals
in the book are based on the personalities of the children. That was the spark that led me to find a story about the game of Duck, Duck, Goose.

You are about to see the publication of your first (authored) picture book! What’s next? What do you still hope to accomplish in the future?

Thanks for asking this. I have a backlog of dummy books and stories–all at a different phases. My agent, Allison Remcheck has been a tremendous supporter of my work and has helped me to prioritize my manuscripts and dummy book ideas. I have one manuscript out on submission, Maggie and Esmerelda. It is a story about a little girl whose best friend is a chicken. I’m keeping my fingers crossed! I’m also revising a dummy book about moon-shadows and also finishing up a fairy book (pop-up) that I started many years back.

Any promotional events we can look forward to meeting you at?

I’ll be planning some local bookstore signings and events (Central Iowa and the Midwest). I’m sure at some point, I will be heading to my home town (Boulder, Colorado) and other places where my friends and family live (Austin, Texas) to do events. I’m researching some book fairs and will be available to do school and library visits. I’ll post the events at my website: www.dorothiarohner.com

You’re an inspiration, Dorothia! Any parting advice for other creatives?

Create what you love and be unique. Study what other artists are doing and what is getting published, but in the end, stay true to yourself. Experiment, revise, have fun. Find writer and illustrator friends in your community (online or in real life) They are some of the kindest, most talented, encouraging people on this planet. Join SCBWI! Keep working, be patient.

As an artist and writer, living and sharing a creative life while balancing it with family and friends is a top priority for me. Besides working on creating books for children, I’ll be launching a newsletter/vlog at the beginning of the 2020: Creative Moments—Creative LifeA resource for parents and teachers who would like to encourage and nurture creativity in their children. It will include various ideas, activities and quotes that will help to cultivate little moments of awareness and spark curiosity. I have some fun give-aways planned. Anyone can sign up now at my website.

Wonderful. Here’s wishing you every future success, Dorothia!

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These days, preorders are vital to a new author’s career. To support Dorothia and her book, preorder I Am Goose! through any of the following retailers:

I Am Goose!

And to see more of Dorothia’s work, visit her…

Website: www.dorothiarohner.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/dorothiar
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dorothiar/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dorothiarohner.illustration
Perfect 2020 Picture Book Debut Author Website: https://perfect2020pbs.weebly.com
KidLitArtists: http://kidlitartists.blogspot.com

FeatherFlowers-FlyingLeaves Fairy-DRohner