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.


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.