illustrations, parents, picture books, writing

The Tables Turn: Illustrator Interviews Author

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.)


Original Kuda–Not a bear!!


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!


Anika A Wolf Illustrator Interview

There’s an excitement that’s hard to explain when a picture book writer sees the illustrations for the first time. I do well to draw the most basic of shapes, and my imagination doesn’t stretch itself in artistic visions. That’s so sad for me to even put in writing. So, thank goodness for visual thinkers and talented artists like Anika A. Wolf, the fabulous illustrator for ROCK AND ROLL WOODS.


I asked Anika a few questions about our shared journey.

1. What was your first thought when you saw the text for ROCK AND ROLL WOODS? Did you immediately have visions of the characters and woods or did you have to think about it for a while?

Oh I definitely had to think about it! I think that’s where illustrating someone else’s story drastically differs from when I write one of my own. When I’m writing my own story, I have vivid ideas in my mind about how I’d illustrate it and what the characters would look like. Receiving a manuscript and coming into the story with a blank slate takes a little more time, for sure. I think I must’ve read through the story at least 10 times before I actually started sketching anything! And then when I did some first character designs for Kuda the bear, because his character is so grumpy I pictured him as being an older curmudgeonly type. Mira Reisberg, our awesome art director/editor, gently pointed out that even though he’s grumpy, he should still be a “kid” (or, cub I guess in Kuda’s case!). There are some children’s books that break the rules, but usually characters in picture books are child-like so that they’re relatable to the young readers.

Even though the characters didn’t come swiftly at first, I connected with the story straight away! I fell in love with the idea of a rock and roll woods and my favourite is Sherry’s use of onomatopoeia. BOOM whappa whappa!

2. What was the greatest challenge illustrating it?

Every part of illustrating a picture book is a challenge! haha Good thing I love challenges though 😉 But for me, some parts came easier than others. Surprisingly, composition was harder for me than I expected, especially since I have a graphic design background (I’m a disgrace to my design roots! haha). And then the hardest by far was going back and forth with Mira on the colour. The scheme I chose had a bit of a grey-ish undertone to it and Mira wanted me to warm it up. The end result now is more saturated than my original, for sure, although it does still resemble my original vision for it.

And in general it’s tough making any changes to final art and the back-and-forth aspect of the collaboration, but it’s a process that I just took one step and a time.

3. How did you decide on the general style and color scheme?

“General style” is something that’s hard to define as an illustrator. It’s similar to when writers refer to their “voice” in their own writing. It’s something that’s developed over time and my illustration very much now has a look about it that has ME written all over it. Some (but they are few) illustrators change their “style” for each picture book they do – and while maybe I will at some point depending on the project, currently the look and feel of how I illustrate is consistent in all my work.

As for colour scheme – I love to look at inspiration for that before deciding on one. Some of my favourite go-to’s is to look at other illustrator’s work online, search for ‘colour scripts’ or ‘schemes’ on Pinterest, and the Adobe Color website – Pinterest boards and the save to collection feature on Instagram are awesome!

4. How hard has it been to coordinate all of the input to get the illustrations so gorgeous?

Not overly hard since most of the input came directly from Mira. There was the odd time where Callie (the publisher) and Sherry were copied into the conversation and things got a little hairy in terms of getting everyone’s feedback, but in general pretty easy peasy. And Mira made it SO easy on me – every piece of feedback she gave she provided in a YouTube video where she spoke while screen sharing what she was talking about. As a visual person, I greatly appreciated that because I didn’t have to guess at what she was talking about or go back to her about anything if it had just been typed in an email. And I could pause the video at any point to jot down notes.

5. When did you start playing with art? What has your path to this book been like?

Oh this is SO very cliché (all the cool kid illustrators say it haha), but I was drawing as a kid as soon as I could hold a crayon. My parents always joked that if I ever ran out of sketchbooks or scraps of paper in the house that our supply of toilet paper would be in danger haha! That said though, I didn’t realize that being a professional picture book illustrator was even a thing until 2011, when I somehow stumbled across an illustrating for kids books course through the London Art College online. So I’ve been serious about developing my illustration for kids for the past 7 years, but before then was either fine art (in high school), fashion design and illustration (in college), and graphic design (also in college, and I’ve also worked as a graphic designer for 7 years now too).

So you could say that it’s been a long time coming – 7 years is no joke! But I’ve been doing it outside of a day job (one with a terribly long commute for a number of years at that) so I just got in illustration time whenever I could. There’s something to be said about it taking 10,000 hours to get good at something. When I look back at the illustration I did in 2011…wow. I thought it was good then, but now looking at it it’s quite hilarious to me. I’ve come a long way.

6. What do you think about the collaboration that allows a Kentucky writer, a Canadian artist, and a Californian editor/art director to work with a publisher in Texas? Anything about that you’d like to comment on.

Just that it’s so great to be able to collaborate in general across the distance! The internet is so great for that and the distance really isn’t a concern whatsoever. It’s also great to get diverse perspectives and experiences on things and that’s what has made the book as awesome as it is. I also think we all worked super well together, so that helps too! 🙂

7. What’s your favorite illustration and why?

Surprisingly, it’s the last spread where Kuda and Rabbit walk home again through the forest as the sun is setting. It’s surprising to me that it’s my favourite because Kuda’s facial expression in that one was the most controversial amongst the four of us! There were so many rounds of incredibly subtle changes to his expression it got to be a little crazy making haha

I think why I love it though is the mood – it’s such a happy, peaceful moment. And who doesn’t love a gorgeous sun set? It gives me such warm fuzzies.


Thanks to Anika for sharing her experiences so generously! Tune in next week and I’ll answer the questions Anika asked me!

ROCK AND ROLL WOODS is available for pre-order now through Clear Fork Publishing. Releasing October 5! Just click the title!



The lovely Rae McDonald asked me some questions about my journey to the publication of my first picture book. I thought I’d spend some time with those questions here, and hope that my journey inspires someone else to keep writing.

The time has come when I can celebrate officially that I have a picture book coming in 2018! The lovely Callie Metler-Smith will be publishing ROCK AND ROLL WOODS through the Spork imprint of Clear Fork Publishing. And the genius of kiddie lit, Mira Reisberg, is helping to bring it to life with her editing skills! I’m hoping to be paired with an illustrator soon, and then I’ll have some fabulous illustrations to share.

I’ll run out of accolades as I talk about my journey because such wonderful people have been part of the journey. Many of my picture book friends are part of the brilliant Julie Hedlund’s 12 X 12 group for picture book writers. In 12 X 12 you write and revise one picture book each month. Since I joined the group, I’ve written at least thirty picture books. This book is my November 2016 book, and it was critiqued by my bestie critique partners I met through 12 X 12 and a few other talented kid lit friends. I also especially loved a class with Mira Reisberg and Hillary Homzie through Children’s Book Academy that helped shape not only this book but my books coming in the future.

The kids in my home have been tormented by me about my writing since I started working seriously full-time at it six or seven years ago. Sometimes I have to pay the youngest a dollar or two now to critique for me, but it’s well worth it. And the youngest happened to be around when I needed an idea in November 2016.

“What kind of book would you enjoy, Kamora?” I asked.

“A book about a bear. Oh, and name him Kuda.” And Kuda was born.

When book babies are born, our brains pull things out of storage to round them out. And my brain wanted that book to have a broad appeal, but also speak to children who might be on the spectrum for autism. So, I settled on fear of loud noises. What better loud noise to rock out with than a rock and roll band in the woods? Because rock and roll, right? I’d fallen in love with my husband when he sang in his band, so bands hold a special place in my heart anyway.

Another big influence was my love of poetry. I wanted lots of poetic techniques used, or at least a poetic feel to some of the language. There’s a rhythm in the story that I hope will get kids excited about sound.

Unlike some of my story ideas, Kuda came to life very vividly for me from the earliest stages. Even my first draft had the essence of the story that will be the final version. Kuda, a slightly grumpy but very lovable bear, has a thumpity rabbit friend, a crazy squirrel, and a requisite owl for his woods.

I want kids to love Kuda, the slightly grumpy bear, embrace his fears with him, and celebrate when he conquers his fears and joins the fun with his friends.

I retired super young from education, where I served as a teacher, consultant, and principal in one of the largest urban/suburban school districts in the country, winning several awards. I started writing then, but was a “closeted” writer with piles of work in drawers.

Eventually, I dipped my toes in and took classes through Iowa University’s fabulous MOOC offerings, classes where I polished my skills at writing fiction and poetry. I had a few short fiction pieces and some poetry published. I liked seeing my work in print and in on-line literary magazines.

When I started taking classes through the KidLit community, and began following Pitch Wars on Twitter, and jumped into all the warmth that is out there, I felt at home and never looked back.

I have too many works-in-progress and completed manuscripts to name, but they include many picture books (fiction and non-fiction), chapter books, a middle grade novel, and a young adult novel. I also write short stories and poetry, some of which have been published.


My Writing Process Blog Tour

The next stop on our blog tour is Middletown, Kentucky. Middletown is the suburban end of Louisville, shouting distance from some of the beautiful horse farms of Kentucky. I have access to some beautiful backdrops for writing and inspiration in my area of the country. If you ever have the chance to visit the Kentucky Derby, it’s worth the trip. And thanks for stopping by right now.

The wonderful crime fiction author, Sue Coletta, passed My Writing Process Blog Tour torch to me. If you don’t know Sue, please visit her dynamic crime central at which screams drama, danger and crime as soon as the visuals of her blog appear. Sue hails from New Hampshire and is active with Prose & Cons and Sisters in Crime. Sue has written three novels in addition to other works. Her blog is full of all things crime, so be sure to explore all of the nooks and crannies. There’s some great reading there!

What am I working on?

I’m working on a young adult contemporary fiction book, Coach Hart’s Fumble. This is my first attempt at completing a novel length work of fiction with eventual publication in mind. Coach Hart’s Fumble was inspired by the teenage boys I’m surrounded by so often. I set out to write a book that both boys and girls might enjoy. Some football, some romance, some mystery.

To date, most of my writing has been professional and non-fiction. But, I am one of those writers who writes for my own pleasure and I have rough drafts gathering dust.

My blog, Caught in the Middle focuses primarily on the challenges of raising tweens and teens. I’m a novice blogger, so thanks for visiting.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Coach Hart’s Fumble will focus on a teen boy main character facing loyalty issues on all sides. Teens in our modern era have more conflicting loyalties than many of us can understand. Varying configurations of family test loyalties, and normal societal expectations dismiss loyalty, forcing teens of today to face decisions we simply didn’t. My story will dig deep into that theme of loyalty to others, but also loyalty to yourself, a special challenge for contemporary teens. Dealing with a serious topic doesn’t preclude using humor to lighten the mood occasionally. There will be a colorful grandma, a crazy dog, and goats.

Why do I write what I write?

I write what I write because I must. Everything I’ve ever written literally flowed from my fingertips. I am truly a write-what-you-know writer. And I know a lot about teenagers, thus my current work in progress. This work of fiction, as most do, has tiny bits of truth buried deep within. I’ve watched many kids struggle with issues of conflicting loyalties during their teens and believe it’s a driving force for many teen decisions. I want to reach out to a young adult audience with an engaging story that shares issues they face.

How does my writing process work?

I don’t have a process yet for fiction. For non-fiction, I just wrote after research was complete. In retrospect, it was much easier for me to write factual information. I didn’t realize how challenging it would be to write fiction that was this lengthy. I’ve probably spent more time studying fiction writing the past few months than I have spent actually writing fiction. And that is with degrees and lots of credit hours under my belt.

Roughly, though, I started with an idea which I outlined. The actual writing has to be done with pen and ink, one of my quirks. Then, I dictate my work into text after editing. I have trouble editing on the computer, so I print everything multiple times along the way. Tedious, right? I have found some others at MOOC Writer’s University who have this same process, so I feel a little less lonely with it now.

Introducing Natasha Raulerson

The next author is the charming Natasha Raulerson, hailing from Florida. I became acquainted with Natasha on Twitter during Pitch Wars and came to love her online antics as the hostess of the Whiskey, Wine and Writing, her broadcast featuring many things writing. Natasha’s website and blog is because she is. Natasha has completed two books, co-hosts Whiskey, Wine and Writing and stays active with her blog. So hop on over and see Natasha now.


You Can’t Blame It On Your ADD

Okay, first I’ll tell you that I’m highly qualified. I am a licensed mechanic …OOPS…wrong blog. I’m actually a certified teacher and administrator for special needs youth. In reality I’ve worked with special needs children and my own ADD children all of my life. If you have attention deficit disorder it might be harder to write than the average bear, but you actually can be an excellent writer if you can just get yourself organized. That dirty little O word you hate to hear.

You probably consider yourself a pantser as a writer and are proud of the fact that you can just sit down and write your heart out without any organizational tool to get you going. How does that work for you so far? Are you spending way more time in rewrites than you think you should? Does your writing make perfect sense to you but confuse someone else? Does your writing show up on paper as something different than your imagination told you to write down? Then read on.

It’s very fresh in my mind what a struggle it was to help my son edit his doctoral thesis with his ADD adult brain. He made so much more work for himself because of his ADD and at first he wasn’t open to structural suggestions. Eventually it got better, but by then he had spun his wheels for several semesters just trying to focus more precisely and be more open to structure. Try using these tools the next time you sit down to write something and see if they don’t help you a little bit.

  • Begin your work with the end goal in mind. This will help you immensely; if you can just keep refocusing on that end goal to keep yourself from straying into the many interesting avenues you’ll see along the way. Yes, that article in quantum physics is interesting but has nothing to do with your topic of novel structure. Yes, that TED talk would be so fascinating but bookmark it for later.
  • Start small. Set a goal to do something small very well, instead of doing something huge just well enough. Get feedback from someone who won’t spare your feelings on this small thing you’ve accomplished before you move on to bigger things. Start with one chapter, so you don’t end up with a whole thesis, book etc. that only you can understand.
  • Get one critique partner early along your journey who understands your ADD and can help you maintain that focus as well as watch for the specific traits in the writing of people with ADD. Otherwise you will waste a lot of your time and eventually someone else’s.
  • Be an open listener. You may be an adult, but that doesn’t mean that someone else’s insight isn’t important for you to listen to so you can achieve that goal. Whether your goal is a term paper, a thesis, a novel, or a short story the journey for you will be a little bit harder than for the average bear.
  • Use some simple tools like index cards instead of that distracting electronic database that you think is just so much fun. That electronic database may be the biggest distraction you face because you’ll never get it exactly where you want it. For you some old-fashioned index cards may get the job done a whole lot more efficiently. Then build your database when you’re further along the road; you may need it sometime.
  • Take the time to at least set up folders, binders, or whatever you need for your hands on resources while you write. Because of your attention difficulties you will not be able to keep up with the massive amount of web surfing you will do and you will quickly lose the location of that great reference you needed so desperately. Write everything down right away because your brain may not be able to remember it when you need it.
  • Please read Scattered, by Gabor Mate, M.D. My dog-eared copy has been my best reference since I discovered Dr. Mate. He writes as someone who experiences ADD. He is insightful and compassionate. He will help you understand your brain and he will give you hope. To paraphrase him, his powers of creative expression would have been better expressed much sooner except for “…disorganization, driven ness, distractibility, lack of persistence, forgetfulness, and periods of psychic lethargy.” One of the best books I’ve ever owned, personally and professionally.

I was so proud of my son when he finished his doctorate and I knew how hard he worked and how many hours he put into it. I wish he been more open to feedback early in the game; it really took a lot longer than it should have for him. Once he developed some insight into his stumbling blocks, he wrote like gangbusters and got that thesis knocked out and then did great with his orals exams. We call him Doctor Howard now; not really, we usually call him booboo bear.


Good luck with your writing!

You can’t blame it on your ADD.



Five Rules For Grabbing the Gab With Your Kids

Parents complain that their kids stop talking to them at a certain age, usually tweens and teens. These five rules will help you keep the conversation going:

  1. Respond to information they tell you without being judgmental, watch your tone of voice and your facial expression. Sally just told you her fifteen year old friend had sex last night – your job is to keep a blank expression, nod, and let her tell you what she thinks. Reserve the lectures for another time!
  2. Respond to any conversation your child starts no matter when or where it is or how inconvenient it is for you. Teenagers get the urge to share information – that passes very quickly to another person if you are not available. Available means actively listening with your whole being. Matthew will tell you about his new crush or he’ll go tell a friend instead. You may not get a second chance to listen to what’s on his mind right now.
  3. Put your own agenda aside. Kids hate lectures and if you are talking, it is probably a lecture to them.  Consider yourself to be floating with them down a current that they control, fighting it will only result in your drowning!
  4. Seize the moment!  The best conversations with teens happen in cars or in passing. Somehow, sharing important news is often easier for them to do when they are not facing you.
  5. Lower your expectations. Kids are internalizing a lot at this age and just don’t need to share as much information with you any more. If you follow the first four rules, they will share the important stuff!

May I Have Your Attention Please?

“May I have your attention please?” started my official day as school principal for many years. It’s not like I thought anybody, especially the kids, would hang on my every word even if they could hear over the normal chatter and the hustle and bustle of the beginning of the school day.  When your your child tells you, ” I didn’t hear the announcement!” believe him. There are legitimate reasons they don’t hear that important announcement telling them band practice is cancelled or the baseball game has been moved to another location and it’s the last day to reserve a yearbook.

Every morning as principal, I pulled an assortment of papers of all shapes, sizes and colors, and legibility from a magnet near the public address system., which was in a well traveled hallway, not in a nice little office somewhere. The quality of my announcements was then directly related to the scribbling on those papers, often thrust into my hand as announcements were being made.  Rydell’s principal McGee on Grease and her “If you can’t be an athlete, be an athletic supporter,” is a classic. And, yeah, the quality of PA systems in schools is usually great if you are standing in the same room!

Now, once announcements are started, many things could possibly happen to keep my voice from reaching your child’s ear.  It’s quite likely that the cute girl two rows over or last night’s homework being hurriedly scribbled will take priority over my melodic voice. And, unbelievably, some teachers can’t keep kids quiet for five minutes, or simply don’t care to. Your child’s twirling brain has 15 friends, personal appearance concerns, overdue assignments, soccer practice and the fight she had with her brother at breakfast twirling through her brain!

So, cut your kid some slack if they didn’t hear the announcement and you can’t find the baseball field, band practice or your sanity! I promise it’s a legit excuse.  But, just FYI, announcements are NEVER the only way kids get the info!