The fabulous illustrator, Anika A. Wolf, asked me a few questions this week.
1. Was it hard to write anthropomorphic characters while weaving in the theme of sensory integration without it coming across as obvious or didactic?
That’s what might be a little unusual. No, it wasn’t hard because I just wrote my vision of Kuda, a grumpy bear who disliked new things. Our brains are funny things, and my brain is full of the personalities of special kids I’ve worked with over the years. Kuda’s personality is partially based on one of my favorite kids of all time, a grumpy but adorable person who resisted anything new. That behavior isn’t unusual with children who crave routine, special needs or not. And, I never set out to do anything more than tell Kuda’s journey—no lesson was ever intended, only a story. I hope I ended up with a fun tale about a grumpy bear with a subtle thread that shows what sensory integration problems might feel like.
2. What inspired you to choose the characters you did, and the setting of a rock and roll woods?
My grandchildren are truly my writing partners. One day, brainstorming, I asked Kamora, then 8, what she’d like our next story to be about. Immediately, she chose a bear and named him Kuda. (Kuda is also the name of her bearded dragon.)
I researched bears for a few months as I worked through versions of the story. My late husband had a band, so I’m sure those memories influenced the rock and roll element. Unlike some other stories, this one didn’t change a huge amount through revisions—it started out fairly close to where it ended up.
3. How many drafts did you do before it was picked up by Callie of Spork / Clear Fork Publishing?
I don’t count drafts like many writers do. I constantly make revisions without re-naming a draft. The changes on this one had more to do with efficiency of language than any plot or structural changes. It went through a lot of critique, as do all of my manuscripts.
4. Was it hard to “hand over” your story and have someone else illustrate it, without having much control over the final look?
Actually, it wasn’t at all hard. I totally trusted Callie Metler-Smith, owner of Clear Fork. Then, when I learned Mira Reisberg would be editing AND art directing I couldn’t have been happier! I trusted them and the process, and you, even though I didn’t know you yet!
5. What was your impression of the art when you first saw it? Was it close to what you imagined?
I was thrilled! It was nothing like I’d imagined, but far better and more imaginative! I can’t get enough of looking at it, and can’t wait to hold the book in my hands. I’ll probably sleep with it for a few months!
6. Since this is your debut book, what did you find surprising about the entire process? The hardest?
The slowness of the entire process has to be the hardest part, although not surprising. Fortunately. I have plenty to keep me busy. I don’t think I was surprised by anything—maybe the huge email stream we had over one facial expression and what that represented as far as attention to even the tiniest detail.
7. How long have you been writing? Do you write for other age groups?
I’ve been writing for my profession and for pleasure forever. I have tons of my writing collecting dust. Only recently did I start to submit some things for publication and was published in some anthologies and on-line magazines. I’ve had poetry published as well. I think my concentration on writing for children started with a deep dive into classes at least five years ago. I already had an advanced degree in education and had studied kiddie lit, but learning to write it is another story, pun intended.
8. “The text has deeper levels of resonance for kids on the autism spectrum including insider jokes for parents and teachers of kids with this disorder.” – Mira Reisberg. For those children who aren’t on the spectrum and their parents, they may not know much about it. Are you hoping to bring more awareness to those who don’t have it first hand in their daily lives? Could you speak to the ‘insider jokes’ Mira mentions – what sorts of tidbits have you woven in?
I think that this type of fear of new things is not limited to children who might be diagnosed to be on the spectrum or have sensory integration issues. It’s a far more common issue than that. So, I hope that Kuda will be relatable to any child. But, for parents with a child with sensory issues, they will have a different level of understanding when Kuda goes through his avoidance, his grumpiness, his coming around to try something, and his very reluctant acceptance. It’s very deliberate that Kuda never shows anything more than reluctant acceptance at the end—for me, that’s the insider joke. For Mira, it may be something else. And I hope to inspire kids to be brave enough to try new things and loving enough to accept differences!