When did you know you were a writer? I think my personal acknowledgment that I am a writer came from realizing that I tend to communicate better through writing and that my desire to then share those thoughts, stories, characters, and visuals was truly a part of who I am. I have been writing since childhood, often stories inspired by dreams. As I got older, I took to journaling and writing poetry as ways to express myself. My writing abilities became more refined through numerous writing courses in high school and college and just simply with practice. Writing haiku, as how I’ve written the book, came from a need to get back to being creative. At the time I started writing haiku, my daughter was six months old and we were deep in an all-consuming house restoration. There was no real access, time or energy for my usual art — collage and printmaking. I had started a blog and through the Wordpress community I was reconnected with haiku. I researched the traditional forms of haiku, how they are usually about nature and have a surprise twist or ending. From there, I let myself play and experiment.
What does your writing process look like? That really depends on what kind of writing I’m working on, but in general my process includes quieting my mind and not overthinking — just writing. For the haiku in The Adventures of Piratess Tilly, I have found that for the more educational pieces, simple information or visual references are more than enough for me to create the haiku. As for the pieces I’ve created on my own, I simply interweave bits of my own childhood and younger self into the overall story. One of the reasons I feel the haiku works so well for a children’s picture book is because it can be descriptive and yet open ended. It gives the reader and audience a great deal of room for their own imagination even alongside the beautiful artwork. It gives the reader their own sense of involvement and I love that!
Tell us about your book, The Adventures of Piratess Tilly. The Adventures of Piratess Tilly follows a young adventurous and compassionate girl, Tilly, on her sailing quest to document the flora and fauna of the Galapagos Islands. Her crew consists of seven orphaned boys from around the world and her best friend Yuki, a koala she rescued in Australia. As budding naturalists they spend their time on the ship reading Charles Darwin, sketching, painting, and documenting their nature finds. Once they arrive, they see the beautiful landscape and spot several animals. They even come upon pirates! And those pirates just happen to be smuggling baby Giant Tortoises. So of course Piratess Tilly, Yuki, and the brothers create a plan to rescue them and return them to their family! The story was greatly inspired by my upbringing: bike riding, boating, and exploring the shorelines of the Pacific Northwest, as well as from studying primatology, and anthropology as a young adult. And once I had a daughter, I realized how much I wanted to create and share a strong, independent, curious, intelligent, and compassionate female lead. I wanted my daughter to grow up reading about a young female captain, who was intelligent and perfectly capable of adventure and leadership. And this is certainly not the last story with Piratess Tilly! I have finished writing the second book and have begun the illustration process with Karen Watson. We have all set sail for Easter Island! So please stay tuned!
Why did you choose to self-publish? I primarily chose to self-publish because I wanted full control over the book. I wanted to find the illustrator myself and work with her closely. I also wanted to build my own publishing company in hopes expanding one day to include publishing other girl-empowering works by women. I suppose I’ve always been someone who never fit the mold and I knew that what I had created was out of the norm, and therefore to me, that much more worthy of publishing it myself.
What roadblocks or obstacles did you face? I think the actual book production was the biggest obstacle. I wanted to print in the U.S.A, but the costs were prohibitive for what I wanted with my book: hardcover with dust-jacket, offset printing, 32 pages, 8 1/2” by 11 size, and a smaller run.
How do you balance being a mom with writing and promoting a book? Honestly, I’m not really sure. I somehow get a lot accomplished in several two minute increments throughout the day! My daughter is now just over three years old so she is attending a morning program, which allows me the focused time I need for promotion, research, writing blog posts, or creating the graphics for postcards and social media posts. I’ve found though, that if I’m in haiku writing mode, I tend to be very distracted for those few days; however meals always need to be made and everyday life still goes by regardless. I allow for those everyday routines to give my mind time to mull over ideas. It all seems to work out in the end and everyone gets what they need!
Other than IPNE, what are some other valuable resources for children's authors and publishers? I became a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators right away when I felt my story was ready and that I was serious about publication. They are a fabulous organization and I highly recommend joining. They have bicoastal and regional conferences as well as meet-ups and online forums. It was through them that I found the illustrator, Karen Watson! I also suggest taking a class on writing for children. It isn’t as easy as people tend to first believe. Having an understanding of those guidelines is definitely helpful. I had taken a course in college on writing for young adults. Although that isn’t the same as picture book writing, it still helped me.
How did you choose the illustrations for your book? How did you structure your working relationship with the illustrator? Working with Karen Watson was absolutely wonderful! I gave her written descriptions of how I wanted each page. She not only executed my ideas perfectly, she also added so much fine detail and on a particular page I was stuck on, she came up with a wonderful setting. As I had never done this before, Karen guided me through her own process. I loved getting an email with several pages worth of initial sketches, then line drawings, and finally the finished painted pages. Her work is both meticulous and whimsical, which is perfect for Piratess Tilly, who is studious and fun-loving!
What advice do you have for other indie publishers? How can we find your book? Don’t give up! If you believe in your book and what you’ve created gives you a sense of pride, then do whatever you can to get it into the hands of readers and supporters. Also, be creative with marketing, think outside of the box. For instance, I donated a few books to the Galapagos Conservancy, where the proceeds will go to benefitting their many programs. Not only does that tie into the book, it supports something important and there is no saying what that relationship will become. Also take chances! No matter how nervous I was, I sent The Adventures of Piratess Tilly for a Kirkus Review and was overwhelmingly relieved they understood and appreciated the book! Because of that I felt confident to send the book to Publishers Weekly and got another good review. I believed in the book and the overall product of what was created! Go for it! You can find The Adventures of Piratess Tilly on the book’s website: http://piratesstilly.com and on Amazon. Feel free to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or the blog for more updates on local stores and more sites.