Posts in Interviews

Interview with LaRonda Gardner Middlemiss

Happy New Year to one and all! 

All through 2020, I’ll be interviewing the new authors of Perfect 2020 PBs. Today, the spotlight is on LaRonda Gardner Middlemiss. Her first picture book, I Love Me!, illustrated by Beth Hughes, debuts with Beaming Books on April 21st, 2020. 

Welcome, LaRonda! 


Tell us a bit about I Love Me! ?

First, I want to thank you for this interview. I appreciate you taking the time.

I Love Me! is a fun, self-affirming, book that encourages children to love and appreciate their bodies. The art is wonderfully inclusive, sharing a diverse group of characters, expressing how they love themselves.

What a great theme for a brand new year! Now, let’s back up: What got you writing in the first place?And what has the journey to publication been like? 

I was introduced to picture books as a mom. My son really loved story time and I saw how engaged he was and how he’d request (my husband) or myself to read books again and again. I loved finding new books to share with him and that really opened my eyes to the vast landscape of picture books. Still, writing picture books wasn’t something I was pursuing, it was something that just presented itself to me out of the blue. I was busy cleaning the house and thinking about my son and his bi-racial identity, and out of nowhere the words of a book popped into my head. It was such an exciting moment. And that was the beginning for me, the first spark, back in early 2015.

Incredible–a surprise “calling.” And you’ve come quite far in only 5 years! What other fields have you worked in?

Yes, I’m an incredibly late bloomer to the craft. I could have never imagined being a creative writer. My educational background is Industrial Engineering. So today, my non-literary career involves program management with elements of my degree woven in. I will say, since coming into the creative writing world, I’ve come to realize that being an engineer also requires a fair amount of creativity when designing processes and creating solutions to solve problems. That’s another form of creativity, so I already had that ability, now I’m exploring it through writing. I would not have made that connection in the past, though.

At what point did you realize that your writing career was taking off? How did your first offer of publication come about?

I participated in a Twitter pitch event called #DVPIT, aimed at amplifying diverse voices and stories to agents and publishers. During that event I pitched several manuscripts and two of them got hearts. Beaming books liked my I Love Me! pitch and an agent liked a different pitch. Hearts don’t come easily during Twitter pitch events, so it was both surprising and exciting rolled into one. I then did some research and moved forward with submitting the full manuscript to each, respectively. The agent replied quickly to my submission and asked for a ‘revise and resubmit’ for that story (she wanted me to increase the word count a bit). And while that was underway, I got an offer of publication on the I Love Me! manuscript from Beaming!

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?

I know, it’s so exciting! First, I hope that I Love Me! is embraced by children, parents…everyone. Not just in terms of my book, but as a mantra to know and realize that they are enough. Each of us have something positive to contribute to this world, and once we embrace who we are as we are…we can get to a place where that positivity radiates and helps make this world a better place.

Beyond that, my agent has other manuscripts on submission, so I am hoping for good news there. And I continue writing and creating art, hoping to someday be published as an author/illustrator.

So you like writing and illustrating! And what do you prefer to write/illustrate about, in general?

Picture books are my primary focus. The ability to empower, enlighten and entertain a child in 32 pages is just so appealing. I’ll also share that early in my journey I connected with an amazing Author/Illustrator who encouraged me to explore my drawing. I always wanted to draw when I was a kid, but didn’t quite have the confidence to pursue it. I was doing that awful thing of comparing my drawing to others. Never do that. That’s another lesson I’ve learned in this journey. It’s okay to get inspiration, but don’t compare. Getting back to my point, I followed her advice, embraced her guidance and have been working on art ever since.

What is it then, that feeds your creativity? Or helps you out of that “funk”? 

Observing kids in real-life or in print. Or people and things in general, I would say. I’m an observer by nature. Sometimes just imagining a scenario playing out either differently or beyond where it ended at that point in time. Letting my imagination extend it to a different possibility. I let things roll around in my head long before I put pen to paper, and that really helps me keep my creativity sharp.

What does a typical day in your life look like?

I returned to working outside the home this past May, so my days are mostly filled with that professional work, being a mom and wife. I am still adjusting to the balance of writing and creating art while working full-time, so unfortunately, I don’t have a nice buttoned up routine to share. I wish I did!

Nothing wrong with that! In the midst of that daily juggle, what advice do you have other creatives?

My humble opinion is to know why you’re doing it. That will be your motivation to keep moving forward. Oh, and don’t compare. Being inspired by another’s work is fine, but know that only you can tell the stories you are meant to tell and create the art that you are meant to create.

Great advice, which brings us back to theme of your debut book. How exactly did the idea of I Love Me! come to you? Do you remember your “lightbulb” moment?

Yes, it was inspired by my son, Ryan. I was teaching him to say and sign (ASL), I love you. And he would always say “I love me.” And those three simple, powerful words really stuck with me. Then the rhyming stanzas began filling my head. It became a sing-song that I did with him as I was teaching him various parts of his body. And working toward a picture book was mixed in there as well. I can’t say the events were sequential, I believe it was more a parallel journey.


A true labor of love. Congratulations on your debut, LaRonda! May I Love Me!, find a wide and loving audience. Can we look forward to meeting you at any promotional events in 2020?

We are working on putting some events together as we speak. I will post information on my website and social media as soon as it becomes available.


Instagram: @iamlgmiss

Twitter: @IamLGMISS


These days, preorders are vital to a debut author’s career. To support LaRonda Gardner Middlemiss and her new release, preorder I Love Me! through any of the following retailers:


Interview with Joy Nelkin Wieder

For my final post of 2019, and in honor of Jewish Book Month, I’m happy to bring you this interview with Perfect 2020 PBs member Joy Nelkin Wieder. Her picture book, The Passover Mouse, illustrated by Shahar Kober, releases from Doubleday (Random House) on January 28th, 2020.

Welcome, Joy! 


Tell us a bit about your story, The Passover Mouse.

The Passover Mouse is a rollicking, funny, and ultimately inspiring story that weaves together the themes of community, kindness, charity, and forgiveness. In this charming Passover story, a little mouse disrupts a town’s preparations for the holiday when it steals a piece of leavened bread–or chometz–just as all the houses have been swept clean in time for the holiday. On the morning before the start of Passover, all the villagers have swept their homes clean of leavened bread, in keeping with the traditions of the holiday. Suddenly, a small mouse steals a piece of bread and tears through the town, spoiling everyone’s hard work. But just when it seems as if the townsfolk will never be ready for their Seder, the little mouse’s actions unwittingly bring everyone together, to work as a group to save the holiday.

Sounds like a lot of fun! This is your very first picture book, and it will be out in a little over a month.  What can you tell us about the journey to publication? How long have you been pursuing this dream?

I have been pursuing this dream most of my life, and I can’t believe it’s finally coming true! This particular book’s journey took 18 years from concept to publication. While I had several chapter books published previously, this is my first picture book and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

How did the idea for The Passover Mouse come to you?

I was inspired to write the story while I was doing research for another book in 2002 and came across an interesting passage in the Talmud, which is a collection of Jewish laws with commentaries by ancient rabbis. It won Best Picture Book Text at the Jewish Children’s Bookfest Writing Contest in 2004 and was considered for publication by two Jewish publishers and two mainstream publishers at that time. When they all turned it down, I was crushed. I put the files away in a plastic bin in the basement where it stayed for many years. It wasn’t until the story won another award for the SCBWI/PJ Library Jewish Stories in 2018 that it got traction and it will finally become a published book on 1/28/20!

Gasp! I guess your book’s time had finally come! How great that you didn’t give up on it completely! Describe for us that magic moment when you found out The Passover Mouse would be published at last?

I was doing an errand and pulled into a parking lot. I decided to check my phone and saw an email from PJ Library. When I read that my story won Honorable Mention, I burst into tears! I knew that this was the break I had been waiting for all those years, because having the stamp of approval from both PJ Library and SCBWI would finally open all the doors that had been closed previously. With award in hand, I sent my manuscript off to an agency and landed my wonderful agent Barbara Krasner at Olswanger Literary. Now, we could submit to publishers who only accept agented work and it was accepted by the fabulous Frances Gilbert, Editor-in-Chief at Doubleday Books for Young Readers. It couldn’t have been in better hands!

From what age did you consider yourself a writer? What spurred you to pursue this path professionally? What other fields do you work in (professionally or otherwise)?

I’ve always been creative and wanted to write and illustrate books since I was young, but I didn’t have the confidence to pursue it until I had my own children. I studied graphic design in college and had a flourishing freelance design business for many years. Now I design custom wedding invitations in my small business called Joyously Yours Custom Invitations. I’m also a freelance copy writer, and I write articles for the local newspaper, quarterly newsletters and monthly blog posts for my clients. Additionally, I teach creative writing in a before-school enrichment program at my local elementary school, which is a lot of fun.

In terms of your art, what are your preferred media and techniques?

I’m a watercolor painter, and I love to paint landscapes as well as children’s illustrations. I’ve taken several plein air workshops in beautiful locations such as Maine, Italy and France—including Monet’s Garden and Lake Como! Being outdoors and painting in watercolor is a pure pleasure for me, and it hones my skills as a watercolorist for my children’s book illustrations. I’ve recently started playing around with digital illustration on my iPad Pro and I’m working on a board book dummy in Procreate.

What does a typical day in your life look like?

Being a freelance artist, I don’t really have a typical day. But I often start the day with a water aerobics class at my health club. It’s great exercise, and I frequently work out story problems either as I exercise or on the way home. It’s a great way to clear your mind and be open to creative solutions! When I get home, I have to attend to whatever job has the most pressing deadline. If I don’t have an invitation to design or copy to write, I can work on my own stories and illustrations!

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

I already mentioned exercising and painting outdoors as ways of refreshing my creative energies. I also love to take baths in my whirlpool tub—another place to work out story problems or get new inspirations. I attend closely to my nightly dreams, which is a way to tap into our intuition and unconscious selves. I keep a dream journal and meet with a dream circle every other week to discuss our dreams. I often get ideas for stories from my dreams!

That’s fascinating! What other advice would you have for fellow creatives?

Don’t give up on your dreams! While most creative people need to have a day job, it’s important to make time to pursue your creative interests and continue to “fill the well” so your creative energy doesn’t dry up. Journaling is one great way to do both—keep your dreams alive and keep the well full at the same time.

Now, back to your debut. You mentioned coming across an interesting passage in the Talmud that originally inspired The Passover Mouse. Can you give us the details?

While reading the tractate in the Talmud discussing all the laws and rituals of Passover, I came across a discussion by the rabbis about the possibility of a mouse bringing bread into a house that had already been searched for chometz, leavened food, which is prohibited during Passover. They wondered if the house would have to be searched again and came up with several scenarios – what if a mouse with a piece of bread went into a house, but a different mouse came out of the house carrying a piece of bread? Is the second mouse carrying the same piece of bread or a different piece? The rabbis went around and around the issue, but in the end, they never made a decision. I was in shock! How could the rabbis take so much time to discuss an issue and then leave the question unanswered? I knew I had to come up with an answer, and I immediately imagined this troublesome mouse running amok through a Jewish village just before Passover.

Ha! Love it. Flash forward to today, and your dream of publishing your first picture book is about to come true!

Yes, and I’m thrilled to report that The Passover Mouse received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, indicating a book of exceptional merit. The Kirkus Reviews star is one of the most prestigious designations in the publishing industry. Kirkus Reviews says: “A book that fits moving scenes, puzzles, and mice into the same story is an excellent addition to the Jewish tradition. (glossary) (Picture book. 4-7)” Read full book review here.

Congratulations! That’s wonderful news! What’s next? What do you still hope to accomplish in the future?

There are several projects in the works. The last time I went to New York City, I had the pleasure of meeting my editor at the Random House headquarters. She mentioned that she would love to have another book set in the same world as The Passover Mouse, so I’m working on a Purim story set in the same village with the same characters. My agent has submitted two picture book manuscripts and a board book manuscript to several publishers, so keep your fingers crossed for me!

We wish you plenty of future success, Joy! Are there any upcoming events where we can look forward to meeting you?

Yes, the Launch Party for The Passover Mouse will be held on Sunday, February 9 at the Concord Bookshop in Concord, MA. The first Sunday after publication, Feb. 2, is Super Bowl Sunday, and we couldn’t take the chance that the New England Patriots would be in the Super Bowl and then no one would show up to the launch! I will also be doing Story Time at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, MA on March 29 and Barnes & Noble in Framingham, MA on April 5. I’m really looking forward to reading my book to kids!

Readers can also connect with me on the following social media sites:

My website:

Wonderful, Joy. Thanks for being with us today and sharing all your debut news! 


These days, preorders are vital to a debut author’s career. To support Joy Nelkin Wieder and her new release, preorder The Passover Mouse through any of the following retailers:


Interview with Sharon Giltrow

Happy Thanksgiving Eve, Everyone! Today, I’m thankful to be chatting with 2020 Debut Crew-member  Sharon Giltrow. Her very first book, Bedtime Daddy, (illustrated by Katrin Dreiling) debuts with EK Books on May 12th, 2020. 

Welcome, Sharon!


And congratulations on your first picture book! Tell us a little about Bedtime Daddy.

Putting a daddy to bed can be hard work, but it can be loads of fun too. This hilarious book shows how a child…

  • wrestles their daddy into his pyjamas
  • reads just one more bedtime story
  • battles endless excuses….
  • frightens away monsters with monster spray

to finally get their daddy to bed.

Ha! Sounds like the perfect Father’s Day gift, since Bedtime Daddy will release in plenty of time for that holiday.

Now, let’s back up a bit. The road to publication is so often “long and winding.” Was that the case for you?

Well I was practicing my writing and honing my skills for eleven years before writing BEDTIME DADDY in June 2017. Then I revised it with help from my fantastic critique group. Started submitting it in November 2017, which was too soon. I revised it again with more help from my critique group and a publisher’s critique and submitted it to EK Books in June 2018. I Received the email two weeks later and signed the contract two months later. Twenty-one months after signing the contract BEDTME DADDY will be released.

Do you remember the exact moment when you found out you were going to be published for the first time?

The email from EK Books the publisher of my debut PB BEDTIME DADDY came through July 2018 when I was on a road trip with my family to the picturesque Denmark in Western Australia. I checked my emails while my husband was driving and I saw the email from EK books saying that they were interested and was the manuscript still available. “YES, YES!” I screamed. I re-read the email three times and then read it aloud to my family. Then I tried to act calm, replied to the email and continued on my holiday. I checked that email over and over until I was convinced it was real. At that point I knew my dream of becoming a published author was about to come true.

Wonderful. And have you always been a “writer”? What other fields have you worked in, and what made you want to write professionally?

From the time I learnt how to write as a child, I was either copying text from my favourite books or making books myself. I lived on a farm and loved having little projects to do. I even turned my bedroom into a library and made library cards for my books, which I borrowed out. Then I grew up and because I wanted to surround myself with playing, books and children, so I became an early childhood teacher. It wasn’t until my first child was born in 2006 that I thought, “Hey, I should write my own children’s book.” My first manuscript was called Noises at Night based on all the household noises I heard when I was awake in the middle of the night feeding my daughter. That manuscript hasn’t been published (yet) but it set me on my path as a professional author. Now I get to be a teacher and a writer at the same time ?. I get paid to play, read stories and write stories– best life ever!

In your writing, what subjects do you usually focus on?

Because I am surrounded by children every day, I like to write about them and their everyday life and routines. At the moment I am really enjoying writing role reversal stories about adults and children and how to books, written in the second and first person point of views. Being a teacher and a parent, I know a lot about child development and what makes children tick ?. I also come from a very big family: I am the youngest of eight children, so I have lots and lots of nieces, nephews and even great nieces and nephews ranging from 47 years old to 3 months old. So, I guess in the true sense of the word children and parents are my target audience.

Indeed! So, what does a typical day in your life look like?

Depends on the day ?. Three days a week I teach. So I wake up get ready, get my children ready, teach (play) for 6 hours, come home, walk the dog, play with my own children, catch up on emails, help my children with homework, read to my son (My husband and I still read to him every night even though he is 10). On my writing days I wake up, get the kids off to school, check my bullet journal to see what I’m focussing on that day either writing, revising, submitting, critiquing or marketing or a combination of those. Then pick my kids up from school and begin the evening routines.

What feeds your creativity as an artist? Or helps you when you’re feeling “stuck”?

Gathering ideas. Listening to children. Reading to children. Walking my dog. These all spark my creativity.

What tips do you have for aspiring authors?

Be open to ideas. Write that first draft, just get the words down on paper. Then revise it.

Also, a critique group is essential to help with the revision process and for encouragement. Critiquing another person’s story is a great way of learning how to write. The final version for BEDTIME DADDY was version 10. It changed a lot from my first draft.

Finally READ, READ, READ, picture books. I get to do that as a teacher to an enthusiastic audience, which is the best. But everyone can visit libraries, book shops, etc. Read to your children, other people’s children, your pets, yourself ?.

Now, back to your debut: How did the idea of Bedtime Daddy come to you? Do you remember your lightbulb moment?

The idea came to me from my husband’s (Bedtime Daddy) and my experience of putting our children to bed every night for ten plus years. All the excuses that my main character uses are excuses my children have used to postpone bedtime. At the time, I was also reading funny memes and parenting articles about putting children to bed. I thought it would be hilarious to write a how-to, role reversal story about a child putting a parent to bed. BEDTIME DADDY was born. Although it was first called How to Put a Grown Up to Sleep, but a very wise critique partner pointed out that putting someone to sleep has two meanings. So version 6’s title changed to BEDTIME DADDY. It also became a pivotal line in the story.

Belly flop onto the bed

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?

I hope to publish ten books in ten years ?. I have a number of polished manuscripts that I am currently submitting and I plan to write many more. Also, I am currently working on a chapter book which started out as a PB idea which I have extended. I plan to finish the first draft by the end of 2019 ?. Then revise, submit and get it published.

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

I plan to launch my debut picture book BEDTIME DADDY in June 2020 in Perth Western Australia. But if you can’t make that one, I would love to meet readers anytime they are visiting Australia. I’m happy to do personal book readings and signings, so do reach out!

I am a member of the 2020 Debut Crew, which is a group of authors and illustrators that have debut picture books coming out in 2020. Here’s our website:

You can also find me on:




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


These days, preorders are vital to a new author/illustrator’s career. To support Sharon Giltrow and her new release, preorder Bedtime, Daddy through any of the following retailers:

 Bedtime Daddy - final cover - Sharon Giltrow

Sharon Giltrow grew up in South Australia, the youngest of eight children, surrounded by pet sheep and fields of barley. She now lives in Perth, WA with her husband, two children and a tiny dog.

When not writing, Sharon works with children with Developmental Language Disorder.

Sharon was awarded the Paper Bird Fellowship in 2019.

Her debut PB Bedtime Daddy, is due to be released May 2020 through EK books.

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: (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:

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


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

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

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

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: or or . 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 (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 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.


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.


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:

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!


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…

Perfect 2020 Picture Book Debut Author Website:

FeatherFlowers-FlyingLeaves Fairy-DRohner