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 Amy Nielander, Author-Illustrator of Grama’s Hug, releasing from Page Street Kids on January 7th, 2020.
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).
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:
And to see more of Amy Nielander’s work, visit her website and social media accounts: