Today I'm joined by Liza Gardner Walsh and Hazel Mitchell, the author and the illustrator of a wonderful new picture book Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows.
Liza Gardner Walsh has worked as a children’s librarian, pre-school teacher, high-school English teacher, writing tutor, museum educator, and she holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College. She lives with her family in Camden, Maine.
Award-winning illustrator of more than a dozen books, Hazel Mitchell grew up in England, where she attended art college and served in the Royal Navy before moving to the states in 2000. She lives in Detroit, Maine.
Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows is an adorable book. Liza, how did you come up with the idea?
Liza: First, thank you so much for the kind words and for interviewing us! The idea came to me on a walk where I was actually trudging about in the snow. I found a perfect little tree hollow and thought what a good fairy house it would make. But then I wondered if the fairies hung around in the winter or if they took a long nap or headed south. The questions kept coming and I felt like it might just be a story. It helped that I was teaching preschool at the time and probably heard about three hundred questions a day!
Hazel, I love your fairies. How did you decide how they would look?
Hazel: This was pretty easy! I was at a book festival a few years ago and Liza and I were at adjacent tables. I had some postcards on my table and one of those was a picture of a flying fairy and her little bunny friend! Liza fell in love with it. (It's almost the very same image that is now on the cover of the book, with some clothing adjustments). Liza mentioned she was writing a picture book about fairies (she'd already published a couple of non-fiction books about fairies and fairy houses), and would I be interested in illustrating it? You bet! I'd always loved the little sample drawing I'd done of flying fairies and now they'd found a home. Which just goes to show, always draw what's in your heart, because you never know where it'll find a home. Or fairy home in this case.
I know that many authors and illustrators do not meet during this process. Some do not even talk. What was your relationship in creating this book?
Liza: When it was decided that Hazel would illustrate the book, I was over the moon. I had complete trust that she was going to get it and when I saw the first proofs, I knew it was going to be great.
Hazel: It really was a serendipitous meeting at that book festival! When Down East approached me saying Liza had suggested me to illustrate her book it was like illustrating for a friend. But I had free rein to create the drawings. Liza saw them at sketch stage and loved them. Really, this was a very easy book to illustrate and a lot of fun! Now the book is almost with us, and because we live quite close together in Maine, Liza and I are able to do quite a lot of marketing and promotional stuff together and that's going to be a lot of fun! Who doesn't love little, cute fairies?
Tell us about your journeys. How did you get your first book contracts?
Liza: My first book was The Fairy House Handbook. I heard through some friends that the publisher was looking for an author to write a book about fairy houses. I “auditioned” for the role and was very fortunate to get it.
Hazel: Pretty much my first contracts came to me from mailing out postcards to publishers. I built a list from CWIM, SCBWI and other places and mailed out regularly, about 500 postcards. Other things that really helped were having an online presence, a website for editors and art directors to go and see and attending as many conferences as I could afford.
Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?
Liza: I don’t think I could give this up if I tried. I am hooked but I do have a non-fiction picture book that I have been working on for three years. Sometimes I wonder if I should give it up but I am in love with the idea and despite my hundreds of drafts, I trust the right shape will emerge someday. It is not the easiest career but it is the only thing I have ever really wanted to do.
Hazel: Yes. Usually when I'm dog-tired on a deadline. So that still happens! But when you are working on a book, you are working with a team of people (the author, the editor, art director and all the other people who will help make the book a success), so that keeps you going too! But mostly I just have too many ideas that won't let me give up.
Is there anything about being a published author and a published illustrator that has surprised you?
Liza: I am always surprised when I see the book in person after so many months of writing, editing, and designing. And there is also the surprising fact that books don’t write themselves and you really have to sit down in your chair or else nothing happens!
Hazel: That this is a game of waiting. You are always waiting for something. So learn to be patient. The nicest surprise is when someone loves what you do. That makes all the waiting worth it.
Liza, any advice you would give to a picture book author just starting out?
Liza: It’s the old cliche, but read in your genre. Reading a gazillion children’s books as a former children’s librarian was the absolute best training for my writing. Not only did it give me a good ear, but I was able to gauge how kids respond to certain styles and subjects. My other advice is to do the things that scare you a little. Reach out to your favorite writers, write something that is a stretch for you, read your work in front of people you don’t well. I find my best writing has come when I am a little at sea and not too comfy.
Hazel, any advice you would give to a new illustrator?
Draw, read, draw, read, draw, read, draw, read, draw, read, draw. Respect your health. Draw, read. Laugh. Draw, read. Meet other illustrators. Draw, read. READ.
Thank you so much for joining me here today Liza and Hazel. To learn more about Liza, visit her website. To learn more about Hazel, visit her website. You can find out more about Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows by joining the book's Facebook page.
Get your own copy of Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows at B&N or at Indiebound or win it here with a winter fairy kit by leaving a comment on this post.