Category Archives: Author Interviews

Interview with Author/Illustrator Rich Lo

I was contacted by Charlesbridge last fall about illustrating the book. They liked the watercolor technique used for Father’s Chinese Opera. It was a technique I had used on a couple of projects commissioned by Great Books Foundation 2010. It took about two weeks to create the sketches from the manuscript and about 30 days to complete the finished art. The media are pencil and watercolor composed digitally.

Q. What do you mean when you say the publisher used ‘spot varnish’ on your illustrations?  Where was it used on your book, Mountain Chef, and how does it help ‘pop’ the illustrations?

Spot varnish is a printing process used to highlight areas of emphasis. In the book Mountain Chef, the varnish was used on the artwork. If you look closely, you can see a slight sheen over the illustrations. The publisher also used quality semi-gloss white paper stock. The combination resulted in rich colors throughout the book.

book_collage

Q. As an accomplished artist in your own right, how did your journey take you to illustrating children’s books?

In 2012, I was emailing out samples of my work one night on the internet. One email was answered. It was from Anna Olswanger, a literary agent working out of NYC. She asked “I know you can do great art but can you write text?” Without hesitation, I said yes. I had no experience. In about 6 months, she chose 1 of 9 vignettes loosely based on childhood memories when I lived in Hong Kong. Layouts were created into a presentation. She sent the text with three color illustrations to the editors. We agreed on the terms with Sky Pony Press in 2013 and Father’s Chinese Opera became my first published book in 2014.

Q. For your first book, Father’s Chinese Opera, you won the 2014-2015 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in the Picture Book Category.  How did you come to write the story?  How has that award on your first picture book impacted your life?

I lived in Hong Kong for the first 6 years of my life. Father was a famous opera composer and a conductor. I was too young to be in school, so he often took me to work. I met all the actors and acrobats and sat in on rehearsals and performances. Those were happy times, so it was easy to visualize. I used my imagination to create the scenes and wrote text to describe them. It was the right process for me.

The award was unexpected. It is an accomplishment like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It gave me confidence to write and illustrate more children’s books. At a book talk at the Chinese American Museum Chicago, I honored my parents as heroes of my life. It also validated for me that miracles can happen.

Q. How is creating picture books changing your life?

It adds another dimension to my repertoire. The picture book industry provides a stage for creativity. As a professional artist, you want to extend and build skill sets to be better. I was fortunate to be invited to the ALA (American Library Association), participated in an award ceremony in San Francisco and the Book Expo in Chicago in the last two years. These are incredible experiences and are not to be taken for granted.

Q. Your first book was inspired by your father’s work as a composer, so you were born into a creative family.  Was your artistic interest always supported by your family?  How has their support helped?  When did you know you were going to be an artist?

Growing up in a pragmatic Chinese American culture, the arts are not always looked upon as valued professions. I followed my passion and worked hard to develop an artistic life and career. Raw skills are refined and imagination cultivated. With strong fundamentals and a lot of luck, I was able to make a living and raise a family with the earnings from the artwork.

Q. Do you do classroom visits?  If so, what is the response of the children?

Yes, I do. The children are more fascinated by the illustrations than by the story itself. I am learning how to make the artwork even more interesting for children.

Q. Earlier, you were commissioned to illustrate stories by Ray Bradbury and Langston Hughes, among others.  What was it like for you to create visuals for some of these great writers? Did you immediately see images as you read their words?

It is a privilege to illustrate for any author, but the great ones are icing on the cake. I do see imageries as I read. Keywords are used for initial ideas. Compositions are refined and techniques chosen to fit the story. I am blessed to be able to explore and then perfect techniques on projects.

Q. Do you have any more books coming out soon?  Where can people find out more about you?

A picture book titled New Year, published by Sky Pony Press, will be coming out in November 2016.

Rich Lo’s work can be viewed on his websites:
http://www.artclickercreative.com/
http://greatsketch.com/
http://www.studio10twentytwo.com/

Review Rich Lo’s books on Amazon.  Mountain Chef, Father’s Chinese Opera, New Year

Originally published online at Manhattan Book Review

JaNay Brown-Wood, Author & Book Promoter Extraordinaire!

JB Headshot (1)
I met JaNay Brown-Wood at a local book-signing and I was most impressed with her, her book and her promotional abilities.  She read her book, shared her story, fielded questions, and had all sorts of creative give-away opportunities.  The store quickly ran out of books!  She handled everything like a pro who had been up to this business for at least ten years.  Seeing her in other venues since then, I’ve discovered that’s JaNay—she sparkles a room!

My experience in sharing her book with others includes sharing it with a third-grade African-American/Hispanic girl I was tutoring in reading.  She never sat still for a moment.  However, when I read her Imani’s Moon, she was glued to her seat.  She loved it so much, I brought it in a second time and she practically “read” the book to me—from memory!  I knew at that moment just how powerful Imani’s Moon is, especially for young, African-American girls.

How did you come to write Imani’s Moon?  How did the Maasai tribe come to be a part of the story?
I remember one day, an idea bounced into my mind about a boy jumping to the moon. I envisioned him jumping next to a tree, and at each level of the tree were different animals that told him he’d never make it. I really loved this idea. Then, after chatting with my sister, she reminded me of the beautiful Maasai people known for their jumping dance, which I thought was a clear connection to my little jumping boy. From there, I researched and revised and researched and revised and researched and revised…and Imani was born. So, that silly idea of a boy jumping transformed into something that I am truly, very proud of.

What were your favorite stories as a girl?  What stories were missing for you?
I loved Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstien as a young girl. My parents would read them to me at bedtime, and I enjoyed the playful language they would use. And of course the rhyming. That stuck with me, and I often find my own author voice often coming out in rhyme. As for the stories that were missing, I don’t remember very many stories with little black girls on adventures and solving problems. I do remember reading some historical fiction that had black children as protagonists, but they were often linked to dark parts of America’s past. Sometimes, I just wanted to read something a little more lighthearted and magical that included a protagonist that looked like me. So, I used to write my own. For example, I remember writing this story about Detective JaNay who was a crime solver—my very own version of Nancy Drew. In other words, even though I didn’t find many stories like that, I was lucky enough to have an active imagination to make up my own.JB Cover

What has been the response from children to your book?
I think the response has been SO positive. Parents tell me how much they love my book. Teachers share this with me too. As a matter of fact, one of my colleagues shared my book with her child’s teacher, and the teacher said she stayed up late that same night researching moon activities because she wanted to use my book in her class the very next day! Talk about heart-warming. Children enjoy my book too. When I was reading at a local event, one of the parents told me that her daughter, who was playing across the way, stopped playing, found a bench, and listened to me read it until the story was done. My story and my delivery of the story was more engaging then the swing and slide set she was initially playing on and she was captivated from that point on. That made me smile!

In addition to all of that, Live Oak Media liked my book so much that they made it into a wonderful audiobook that is beautifully narrated which you can find on their website: http://www.liveoakmedia.com . Lastly, my book has received many honors including being the winner of the NAESP Children’s Book of the Year Award, a 2014 Distinguished Book with the Association of Children’s Librarians of Northern California, the recipient of an “excellent” rating from the Maine State Library, a Top 2014 Mighty Girl Book for Young Readers, and a Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) Multicultural Book pick for 2015. All of the love I have received has made me so thankful!

Did your passion for writing children’s stories draw you to your career in Early Childhood Education?
I actually do not think my love for writing pushed me toward pursuing a career in ECE. The two grew organically and separately, and it is very interesting how they have converged. What I will say that is shared across the two is my passion for giving children tools to be successful—that’s something that is present in both my love for writing and my love for teaching others how to work with children.  But I wouldn’t say one led to the other.

Are you excited about the recent focus on “diversity” in children’s books?  How does having the right book impact a child?
I am excited about the push for more diverse books. But really, I can’t help but to think: “It’s about time!” Everyone needs books with protagonists that look like them because this allows for readers to connect and realize that “if this character can overcome, so can I!” I hope children get that from Imani. She doesn’t let the bullies stop her. She keeps at it and she makes it. Also, I believe classrooms are enriched by diversity. Society is enriched by diversity! And I believe the books available to read should certainly reflect this.

You use a unique stamp with your signature.   How did that come about?
There’s a little story to that stamp. When I first started getting serious about trying to get published, I would go to different events with authors. One of the events I went to was a book launch party for Jim Averbeck and his beautiful book In a Blue Room. When I got my book signed by him, he stamped it with a moon that said something like “Good Night” and it was shimmery and silver. I loved that idea and I wanted to do something similar. So, I can’t take any credit for that. That was all Jim Averbeck. Thanks for the inspiration, Jim!

Successfully published authors say marketing is an investment in their writing business.  You seem to have a rich promotional plan for your book.  Can you share how you are promoting your book?  What has worked best for you?  Lessons learned?
Well, when Imani’s Moon was published, I held two book release parties to celebrate the publication. I spent time contemplating things that I thought children would like and shared them at these events including bookmarks, pencils, and even moon-shaped cookies. On top of that, I always try to think of creative ways to get the word out there as well as allow for my book to be accessible for use. With that in mind, I had a Teacher’s Guide and Reader’s Theater script created by the wonderful Marcie Colleen. You can see them both on my website http://www.janaybrownwood.com/notes-for-adults.html . Additionally, some avenues seemed pretty important to pursue such as having a website, starting a Twitter (thanks Erin Dealey) and creating some promotional cards that could be passed out and shared. I also very rarely say “no” when an opportunity to share my work with others arises. But, I am still very new at this, and am continuing to learn new things as well as thinking of novel ways to promote my book.

You have a new book coming out in 2017, Grandma’s Tiny House.  With your large family, I suspect the ideas have been sparked from your family.  Can you share about that story?
I do have a new book coming out and I am so excited about it. Since it’s under contract, I can’t share too much. But what I can say is it’s a story inspired by my family’s holiday gatherings where we all come together in celebration. It’s a concept book and written in rhyme. 2017 can’t get her fast enough!

Thanks for taking the time to read about me. If you’d like to learn more, visit my website at www.janaybrownwood.com, follow me on Twitter @janaybrownwood, and like my JaNay Brown-Wood, Author & Educator page on Facebook!

To read more reviews on Imani’s Moon, visit Amazon.

Author Interview: Patricia M. Newman

Patricia NewmanI caught Patricia Newman’s presentation at a local library and was I impressed!  When I arrived, I found a very large vase of water with pictures taped to it and many vials of interesting stuff.  She opened her talk discussing the benefits the ocean provides people, from swimming, to fishing, to providing us clean air.

She then moved into a history of the ocean during the past 300 years and how the introduction of plastics and their accumulation is impacting ocean life, air and people. Using the large vase as the ‘ocean’, clothes pins clipped to the vase to represent the earth’s growing population, and pouring into the vase  more than a dozen vials of ‘toxins’, trash, ‘fishing nets’, etc., the audience got to (almost) experience what happens in the ocean.  If you are unable to catch her in person, check out her book, Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the winner of The Green Earth Book Award.

PlasticAhoyQuestion:  How did you come to research and write Plastic, Ahoy!?  How long did it take?
I wrote Plastic, Ahoy! because of an article I read in the Sacramento Bee about a group of graduate student scientists who mounted an expedition to the North Pacific Central Gyre . The expedition had all the makings of a great book that might in fact become a call to action for future ocean stewards, e. g.  students who were themselves scientists, the scientific method, and, what was at the time, the mystery of how plastic trash affected marine life. The Plastic, Ahoy! scientists were among the first to study the floating garbage.

I first wrote a book proposal, which took about 18 months to be accepted. After I received a contract, I had about a year to write the book. The last few months of that time, I worked with my editor to make the book as perfect as we could.

Q:   How did you develop the presentation?
I wish I could say I created this presentation, but I didn’t. I found it in the December 2014 issue of POPULATION CONNECTION. I wrote to the editors to ask if I could use it during school and library visits. Luckily they said yes! Originally, the presentation was written for high school students, but I’ve modified it for middle-grade audiences.

Q:  One of my favorite parts of the presentation was when you identified little changes we can make to reduce our plastic use.  Can you share the top 3 that kids can do?
I’ll share five:

  1. SKIP THE STRAW. When you order a drink in a restaurant, tell your server you don’t need a straw, and be sure to say you’re saving the ocean! Better yet, speak to the manager and ask him/her to consider ditching straws altogether.
  2. SAY NO TO PLASTIC TO-GO BOXES. If you take food home from a restaurant, politely refuse Styrofroam to-go containers. Ask for a cardboard box or a piece of aluminum foil instead.
  3. REMIND YOUR PARENTS TO BRING REUSABLE BAGS INTO THE GROCERY STORE. A simple “fix” for our oceans. If you forget your bags in the car, ask your check-out person to load your groceries back in your cart and pack them in your bags when you get to the parking lot.
  4. BRING A REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE TO SCHOOL instead of opening a fresh plastic water bottle every day. If you have events at school, such as concerts or festivals, consider a giant urn of water where people can refill their water bottles or buy water in cartons rather than plastic bottles. Here’s a link: http://www.boxedwaterisfbetter.com/
  5. Did you know that most plastics are recyclable? In Sacramento County (where I live) we can recycle the following items to make sure they never wind up in the ocean:
  • All CRV containers
  • Containers with numbers 1 – 7 in the triangle symbol
  • Soda bottles, milk jugs, shampoo bottles, etc.
  • Tubs and containers (i.e. yogurt, margarine)
  • Plastic bags (stuff several bags inside each other)
  • Buckets, pails and crates
  • Toys (i.e. plastic tricycles)
  • Clamshell trays and deli containers
  • Plant pots
  • Laundry baskets
  • Polystyrene (Styrofoam®)

image003 (1)

Q:  Your book won the Green Earth Book Award.  Tell us what that experience was like for you.
The award was announced on Earth Day 2015, and Annie Crawley (the book’s fantastic photographer) and I were so excited we screamed at each other on the phone! We are going to Washington, D.C. for an October 1 ceremony. Can’t wait!

Q:  You have 14 books, most non-fiction.  You seem to have many interests.  How did you come to write on so many different topics?
I often ask myself the same question. I guess I go where my curiosity takes me (although sometimes book topics are also suggested by editors). You never know where I’ll turn up to ask questions for research.

Q:  Have you always wanted to be a writer?  How did you get into writing children’s books?
I never thought about being any kind of writer—although I was always the go-to person in my other jobs for written materials. Somehow it just worked out that way. After my kids were born and I started reading children’s books again, I knew I wanted to give it a try. It’s rewarding, but it’s also the hardest job I’ve ever had.

Q:  What’s the hardest part of writing for children?
To paraphrase Eudora Welty, each book teaches me to write itself but no other. My biggest challenge is finding my way into a new book. How will the story start? What do I want to say with this book?

Q:  The past 5 ½ years you’ve been a Regional Adviser (RA)
for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)?  Tell us about SCBWI and share with us how you find time to write.
SCBWI is the only professional organization dedicated to people who create content for children. It provides craft instruction and entrée to the editors and agents who buy our work. I loved my time as a volunteer RA for SCBWI, and mostly through the help of an exceptional team who worked with me, was able to continue writing while organizing events. I stepped down in January 2015 so someone else could experience the camaraderie of the organization.

Q:  You have a new book coming out October 1, 2015.  Tell us about it and how it came to be.
Ebola Fears and Facts cover (1)EBOLA: FEARS AND FACTS is the brainchild of my brilliant editor, Carol Hinz, at Millbrook Press. At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write a “disease” book, but the opportunity to work with Carol made the decision an easy one. I’m especially fond of the way the School Library Journal reviewer describes the book, “Breaking new ground, Newman has written a truly excellent book for middle grade students that tackles the terrifying specter of Ebola. As the title suggests, readers will come away with more facts and less fears.”

For more information about Patricia Newman, visit her website: http://patriciamnewman.com