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!



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.


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.