This is the blog of children's book author and elementary school teacher, Stacy Barnett Mozer. I blog about my own writing journey, the journey of other kidlit authors, my classroom, and talk about books. Thanks for stopping by. Your thoughts are always welcome (and encouraged).

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Interview with the author AND the illustrator of Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows, Liza Gardner Walsh and Hazel Mitchell

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. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Interview with YA Author Amy K. Nichols

Today it is my pleasure to interview Amy K. Nichols. Amy holds a master’s in literature and studied medieval paleography before switching her focus to writing fiction. She is mentored by award-winning novelist James Sallis. Insatiably curious, Amy dabbles in art, studies karate, and has a long list of things to do before she dies. She lives with her family on the edge of the desert outside Phoenix, AZ. In the evenings, she enjoys counting bats and naming stars. Sometimes she names the bats.

When did you decide to become an author?
Like many authors, this is something I’ve dreamed of doing since I was very young. Early on, my parents instilled in me a love for reading and books. I wrote stories when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. My mom still has some of them. However, as I got older, my dream of being an author was dampened by the advice to choose a practical career and my fear of rejection. So, while I continued to write for myself, I got a master’s in literature (because I loved books) and then foundered through a number of odd jobs (tech writer, political aide, graphics and web designer). All the while, I whined to my husband about wanting to be an author. Finally, in 2004, I took the leap by participating in the 3-Day Novel Contest, an international writing contest where participants write a “novel” (novella, really) over Labor Day weekend. It was an intense three days, unlike anything I’d ever done before. Monday, nearing midnight and the end of the contest, I wrote, “The End” and I sat at my kitchen table and cried. A couple of months later I found out I’d won third place. I took that as a sign and I haven’t stopped since.

Tell us about your journey. How did you get your first book published?
Even though I started writing with the goal of publication in 2004, I didn’t have a finished, publishable manuscript until somewhere around 2010. I spent the years in between learning as much about writing as I could by going to conferences, workshops and classes. I also joined a writing group (The Parking Lot Confessional - http://parkinglotconfessional.com). Another member of the group and I had both been revising our novels for a long time and realized we could stay on the revisions hamster wheel forever if we let ourselves. So in the fall of 2011 we made a pact that by spring 2012 we’d be querying agents, and we kept each other accountable to that timeline. I started querying in April 2012, signed with my agent in August, and sold the novel to Knopf in November. Hooray for deadlines and accountability!

Did you always know that you would write a sequel to Now That You’re Here?
I didn’t, and it’s a pretty cool story that way the sequel came about. I wrote Now That You’re Here as a standalone, then we pitched it to publishers as a trilogy all set in the same universe. My editor came back with a different idea: two books with the second book set in the parallel world mentioned in the first book. When she shared this idea with me I about fell off my chair. I thought it was a brilliant idea. Still do. 

I noticed that for each of your books you include a playlist on your website. Can you tell us more about this? 
Music plays a big part in my writing process. Back when I started taking writing seriously, I had two small children at home. My husband has always been very supportive, watching the kids while I write, but I found that I had to drown them out completely or I’d get distracted. So headphones and music started out a necessity and became part of my process. What I usually do is find a song that matches the mood of the scene or chapter I’m working on, and I play it on repeat while I write. By about the third play through, the song becomes white noise while the mood and tone sink into my subconscious and inform what I’m writing. I create playlists as I go. When the novel is done, they become a kind of road map through the story, which is kind of cool. I shared them on my site in hopes they might offer readers another insight into the books. 

Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?
Yes! Like, every other day. Writing is a crazy gig. One day you’re up, the next you’re down. You spend a lot of time alone, caught up in your thoughts. Some people take you seriously, others don’t. There’s rejection to deal with. Negative reviews. There have been many points along my journey where I doubted I was cut out for this business. But I’m wired to write stories. It’s how I think. Back in 2004 when I made the decision to pursue writing was when I started becoming who I’m supposed to be. So I keep going. 

Is there anything about being a published author that has surprised you?
There’s a scene in While You Were Gone where Eevee returns to her room after an event that pushed her way outside her comfort zone. She flips on the light and sees that her room is just as she left it, and she says, “Nothing has changed. Everything has changed.” That’s how I feel about being published. It’s this huge accomplishment. I’m really proud of what I’ve created and I’m excited about my future. At the same time, though, everything is the same. I still drive my kids to school. Still do the dishes. Play with my dogs. Have coffee with friends. There’s a pretty big learning curve when you’re going through publication the first time, and I’m still getting my head around a lot of the business aspects of the job. There are also times when I have to pinch myself and I think, How did I get here? Like Eevee, I stop sometimes, look around, and realize I’ve changed. I’ve stepped way outside my comfort zone and it’s taken me places I never thought I’d go. And that’s pretty cool. 

Any advice you would give to a writer just starting out?
That drive you have to tell stories is a gift. Not everyone has that. And those who do have it don’t have it the same way. The stories you have to tell are unique to you. Unless you write them down, they’ll only exist inside you. The world is poorer if you don’t share them. So honor that drive. Respect it and foster it. Give your stories the chance to live outside of you so others can read them and be richer for them. Respect yourself as a writer and give yourself permission to make time for your stories. Even if it’s only an hour here, fifteen minutes there. Those minutes add up. You and your stories are worth it. 

Is there anything else about you or your books you would like to tell us?
Thank you for inviting me here to talk about writing and my work. And thank you to everyone who’s read the books!

Thank you, Amy, for joining me today. To learn more about Amy and her books visit her online.