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debut author interview

Interview with Debut Author Özgen Halil

Authors, debut interview, publishingLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have debut author Özgen Halil, who recently self-published her first book, HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN. I’m thrilled to have Özgen with us today to offer some insight into the self-publish side of publishing and what that process looks like. So without further ado…please welcome Özgen Halil!

Ozgen Website Photo.jpg

Where do you live?

I now live in a village called Weavering in Maidstone which is in Kent (The Garden Of England) in the UK. We moved here just over a year ago but mostly I have lived in South East London/UK and spent a couple of years in Sydney Australia when I was a child.

Özgen with her brother— circa 1970s

Özgen with her brother— circa 1970s

When did you know you wanted to write picture books? 

I always loved writing a story, whether it was at school or just at home - I love being creative. My first memory of that was when I around 6 years old and I remember writing a really funny story about my brother with illustrations just to make him laugh. As children, we were really close and still are as adults. It’s always been on my mind to do this but it wasn’t until last year that I had the opportunity to finally put things into action and I wrote Henrietta Hen In Trouble Again.  

Illustration from HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN written by Özgen Halil, Illustrated by Sarah-Leigh Wills

Illustration from HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN written by Özgen Halil, Illustrated by Sarah-Leigh Wills

Can you tell us more about your decision to self-publish and what that process has looked like for you?

Honestly, I don’t think that I actually sat down and thought about which route I should go in. It just felt natural for me to do it myself. As a person, I have always been very independent from a young age and my attitude in life has always been “If you want something - YOU have to go out there and get it!” I am a real grafter and always work hard and do my best. Besides, I don’t think I would know where to start to get a publisher.

Can you share a bit about your process?

My instinct was to go on a self-publishing course to see what the process would be. Apart from writing the story, I had to find the right illustrator for the book (my own illustration abilities are work-in-progress) so that took a little bit of time searching and speaking to various illustrators. Once I instructed my illustrator (Sarah-Leigh Wills - who did such an amazing job with the illustrations), I then searched and found printers and got together a launch team in readiness of the release and in between, I got my website together and social media accounts set up. Each step of the way has been very important and at times quite hard and now that the book is ready, I have my marketing hat on, to the next level of promoting the book, getting the story out there and scheduling school and library visits. It's full on.

Illustration from HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN written by Özgen Halil, Illustrated by Sarah-Leigh Wills

Illustration from HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN written by Özgen Halil, Illustrated by Sarah-Leigh Wills

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

If I have an “off-day” I just leave it alone and come back to it later. I get away from my desk and do something different or I just go out for a walk. If it’s not happening that day, I won’t force it. As for new ideas, I don’t have any special strategies in place - I guess it also depends on what sort of mood I am in - some days I am more productive than others. I can say that the story comes first, that’s my starting point, and then I map out the characters. Usually I have an idea of how I want the characters to look like. For example, I wanted Dotty Donkey to have goofy teeth and Henrietta Hen to have a handbag and a necklace. I think of ideas all the time.

Anything you can't live without while you write?

My desktop computer. I spent years typing documents in my previous jobs and at speeds of at least 80 words per minute so it’s just easier and quicker for me to type. I prefer a desktop computer to a laptop or anything else. 

Illustration from HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN written by Özgen Halil, Illustrated by Sarah-Leigh Wills

Illustration from HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN written by Özgen Halil, Illustrated by Sarah-Leigh Wills

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Awww there’s lots, but one that really stood out for me is Oliver Jeffers. I used to read his books to my younger son and I loved them just as much as he did. His style is simple but really effective and the stories are so cute. I really admire him -  he’s very talented.

Dream project to work on?

I’m a newbie so my first children’s picture book - Henrietta Hen In Trouble Again, has been a dream project to work on. However, it would also be a dream to work on projects that enables me to give to the community, especially vulnerable children and to make their lives better in any way - I would love that.

 Tell us about your debut book.

Henrietta Hen In Trouble Again is about a Hen and her best friend Dotty Donkey, together they go berry picking in the woods only to find themselves in some danger. There is a happy ending - because we just love happy endings. The book promotes friendships, kindness and sharing and is suitable for the ages between 4-8 years old. I have based Henrietta Hen’s character on my mother’s personality. She is my mother all over!

What's up next for you?

I have already written Chi Chi And The Birthday Surprise and hope to write further children’s picture books in the coming year. I will release information about that book in early 2020. Also in the pipeline is The Evil Eye Quartet starting off with “White Wings” and these books will be suitable for young adults.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Hmmm.…it’s between E.T. and Top Gun (only because I used to fancy Tom Cruise)…ok its E.T.— I loved that film so much and I had the lunchbox, keyring and the toy - what an amazing film!


Huge thank you to Özgen for stopping by Critter Lit today! Thank you for sharing your work with us and best of luck on all your future projects!


ÖZGEN HALIL’S love for children’s picture books started from as young as 4 years old. Her mother read stories to her and her brother and she would tell them funny stories about where she came from (which was a small village in Cyprus) to keep them entertained. Later on at primary school, Özgen often visited the local library to borrow books such as The Cat In The Hat by Dr Suess, The Adventures Of Tin Tin by Hergé and the Asterix series by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo which she loved reading. As an adult, she spent over 25 years in the corporate world as a Legal PA/EA, and finally plucked up the courage to publish her first children’s picture book called Henrietta Hen In Trouble Again as a self-publishing author. She loves animals but hates spiders (after one crawled up her leg when she was 3 years old). Her goal as an author is to be able to bring happiness into children's lives and contribute in making their lives better.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Özgen Halil visit her online or follow her on social media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ozgenhalilbooks/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ozgenbhalil/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dearozgen

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/ozgen5382/

TO DOWNLOAD A FREE COPY of Özgen’s book, click here. To purchase a paperback copy of Özgen’s book, click here. A portion of each sale goes to the children's charity Demelza.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a paperback copy of HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, October 10th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author Ashley Franklin

Authors, book release, debut interview, InterviewsLindsay Ward8 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today, I’m thrilled to feature debut author Ashley Franklin! Her new picture book, NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE, illustrated by Ebony Glenn, released this past July with HarperCollins. I love the story, message, and charming illustrations in this book, which I think Kirkus Reviews sums up perfectly:

A feel-good picture book and a great reminder that classic princess roles can be reimagined to embrace inclusion, diversity, and body positivity.”

So without further ado…please welcome Ashley Franklin!

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Where do you live?

I currently live in northwest Arkansas. 

When did you know you wanted to write/illustrate picture books?

I didn’t know I wanted to seriously write children’s books until I had kids of my own. I wanted to write books that had characters that looked like them and their family members. I also wanted to write books that I felt I needed as a kid.

Can you share a bit about your process?

I’m a work from home mom, so my process is probably a bit unorthodox for most. For example, I don’t write every day. I spend a lot of time thinking things over in my head and taking notes on my phone.

I’m still trying to get the hang of waking up early to write, but I do find that I am most productive once the kids are in bed and I’ve chugged some coffee.

I’m a quick writer and a slow reviser when it comes to picture books because those early drafts are really me compiling those mental and phone notes and seeing what comes of them.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

Honestly, I do two things: watch cartoons and consult with my kids. I watch cartoons to check out popular themes and see how they’re tackled and why they worked. My kids are in elementary school, so their perception of things is still pretty spectacular.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

A good pen! I prefer to draft using pen and paper, but I cannot stand a pen that doesn’t write smoothly!

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Tara Lazar—I admire people who can be funny on purpose. That’s not my gift at all!

Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow—I love her way with imagery. She’s very detail oriented and can really paint a picture. Reading her work challenges me to slow down and really be more deliberate with imagery in my own work.

Vashti Harrison—Everything she does is ridiculously gorgeous. She’s just amazing. That’s not much more you can say.

Dream project to work on?

That’s a tough call. I don’t really have an answer for that because right now I feel like any project I’m working on passionately is a dream project.

Tell us about your debut book.

NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE features a talented young girl named Tameika who is great at singing, dancing, and acting. Tameika auditions for the lead role of Princess Snow White in her school’s musical because it’s one of the few roles she hasn’t played and Snow White is her favorite princess. Unfortunately, Tameika’s confidence is shaken when her peers question if she is right for the part because of her appearance. Tameika has to decide if she will let what others say keep her from pursuing her dream role.

What’s up next for you?

I’m continuing to write picture books, but I’m expanding into middle grade. The middle grade bug bit me thanks to a middle grade short story I wrote as a contributor to an upcoming middle grade anthology. It’s called Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices and is scheduled to be released May 5, 2020.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie? 

Umm...I was born in the 80s, so I’d have to go with a movie I remember most vividly, and that’s Oliver & Company.


Huge thank you to Ashley for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on your debut book— we can’t wait to see what comes next for you!


ASHLEY FRANKLIN is a writer, mother, and adjunct college professor. Ashley received her M.A. from the University of Delaware in English Literature, where she reaffirmed her love of writing but realized she had NO IDEA what she wanted to do about it. Ashley currently resides in Arkansas with her family. Her debut picture book, NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE, was released July 9, 2019 by Harper Collins.

 FOR MORE INFORMATION about Ashley visit her online: www.ashleyfranklinwrites.com or follow her on social media:

Twitter: @differentashley

Instagram: @ashleyfranklinwrites

Facebook: Ashley Franklin

TO ORDER Ashley’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, August 29th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author Hannah Stark

Authors, Interviews, debut interviewLindsay Ward2 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with debut picture book author Hannah Stark. Her first book, TRUCKER AND TRAIN, illustrated by Bob Kolar, comes out on August 6th with Clarion Books and has received fabulous reviews. Vehicle books are big in our household so I can’t wait for this one to come out! We are so excited to have her with us today to share about her debut book and her road to publication.

So without further ado…please welcome Hannah Stark!

Hannah Stark Author Photo.JPG

Where do you live?

I live in Brooklyn, NY.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

Ever since I was a kid I enjoyed writing but never thought I’d share it with others, namely keeping travel journals and pocket notebooks. In 2004 I started teaching third grade in the New York City Public Schools.  We did a project with the book Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier. I was inspired by how this picture book grew awareness for the organization Heifer International and was positively impacting so many people.  

My boyfriend at the time ran a non-profit in Senegal and we spent a summer living in Dakar. While he worked I did a ton of reading, writing, and exploring. I started writing down stories I heard the kids tell and making up stories of my own. By the end of the summer I had a notebook of stories drafted. I never did anything with those stories but for the first time my writing had arc. For the first time, I wondered if I could someday write my own picture book. 

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

In 2013 I decided to apply to author/illustrator Pat Cummings Picture Book Boot Camp in Brooklyn with half a draft of TRUCKER AND TRAIN.  Pat saw potential in the story from the beginning. She really challenged me to walk out of Boot Camp with a polished project and somehow I did. Afterwards, she encouraged me to start submitting the manuscript. Five editors passed on the project before Lynne Polvino at Clarion Books/HMH Kids believed in it and helped me bring my story into the world.

Can you share a bit about your process?

As a third grade teacher and single mom I write in spurts when my schedule (and energy level) allow. The first drafts of TRUCKER AND TRAIN were actually pecked into my phone while riding the subway to work. There are post-its of first lines hanging on my kitchen wall. I add to them when I cook or clean. Sometimes my boys help me with them over dinner.

I like writing by hand and draft in pencil in an oversized artist’s book. When I feel ready to move forward with a page or draft I type it up, print it, and then revise on that page in pencil. When I’m happy with my revisions I edit them on the computer, print it, and repeat the process over and over.  

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

For me, there are many ideas but not enough time. When I don’t get to look at a project for a few weeks because things are busy I usually start by just sitting and reading beautiful writing. These days that tends to be something by Jacqueline Woodson or Mary Oliver.  

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

There’s nothing concrete. I think the only thing I really need is a reminder to be patient with myself.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

I’m really inspired by Sophie Blackall and how she persisted with her career as a single mom. The Horn Book just printed her Caldecott Medal acceptance speech and she describes working on books at the kitchen table while her kids did their homework. That sounds a lot like my home.  

I’m also inspired by Rob Sanders who I was in a course at the Highlights Foundation with in 2018. He’s also an elementary school teacher and has been creating books in the hours when school is not in session. I’m so inspired by his career that started as a teacher with a writing passion side hustle. I’m so happy to see his career really take off with the releases of PRIDE and STONEWALL. He’s also a super sweet person.  

Dream project to work on? 

I’d love to write humor. We laugh a lot in my classroom and I think I get kid humor but I’ve never tried anything like it before.  

Tell us about your debut book.

My book TRUCKER AND TRAIN is about a big rig named Trucker who loves to rule the road with his size, strength, and mighty horn. One day he meets the larger, stronger, and louder Train. Trucker quickly realizes that Train is bigger, stronger, and louder but isn’t using his might for power. Instead, Train is well-adored by the other vehicles. TRUCKER AND TRAIN is a story about using our strengths for good. 

I was inspired to write the story when my son was three. I saw how some kids in his class relied on their size and strength during play since their verbal expression was just starting to develop. I hope the book is seen as more than a book about trucks and trains for vehicle loving toddlers. I hope young readers and their adults will use it to open up conversations about kindness, compassion, and the idea that with great power comes great opportunity.  

What’s up next for you?

I’ve been working on three non-fiction and historical fiction manuscripts. I love history and untold stories that kids can connect to today. The projects are geared towards an older reader than TRUCKER AND TRAIN but they are true passion projects and I love developing them. My goal is to get two of them submitted this summer. Fingers crossed!

And last, but not least, favorite 80’s movie?

Without a doubt it has to be Sixteen Candles.


Huge thank you to Hannah Stark for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on your debut picture book, we are so excited for you and can’t wait to see it on shelves!


HANNAH STARK grew up watching her mom, Marisabina Russo, create picture books in her studio. She remembers a house filled with children's books as well as bags of teaching materials because her father was a teacher. Today Hannah's home is filled with picture books and teaching materials, too. Hannah has been teaching elementary school in the New York City Public Schools for fifteen years. She loves making and sharing resources for other educators and teaching kids to write. She was inspired to write her debut book, TRUCKER AND TRAIN, while playing with her sons, Jackson and Travis. When not writing or teaching, Hannah can be found taking road trips and train rides to unfamiliar places.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Hannah visit her online or follow her on social media:

Twitter

Instagram

TO ORDER Hannah’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of TRUCKER AND TRAIN?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, August 8th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author Sheri Dillard

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward2 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with debut author Sheri Dillard! Her picture book, COWHIDE-AND-SEEK (how cute is that title??!), illustrated by Jess Pauwels, just came out this past Tuesday. (Congrats Sheri!) We are thrilled to have her with us on Critter Lit today!

So without further ado…please welcome Sheri Dillard!

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Where do you live?

Atlanta, GA

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

When my three sons were picture book age, we lived in Lewisburg, a small, central Pennsylvania town. Our friendly borough was surrounded by rolling hills of farmland, and it was almost like living in the pages of a picture book. 

It was during this time that I created COWHIDE-AND-SEEK. I wasn’t even writing yet, but I woke up one night around 2am with the idea of a cow character who accidentally leaves her farm and (unknowingly) creates chaos wherever she goes. I loved it so much that I jumped out of bed and quickly wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget. I'm not sure why I wanted to remember it, exactly. Maybe I just wanted to share my dream with my husband and kids? But the next day, I started writing. 

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

Those kids of mine that I mention above? The picture book aged ones? They are now in college and beyond, so that gives you an idea of the length of my road!  But it all worked out pretty well, actually. Now in my first year as an empty-nester, I have my debut book to focus on. And its release date is just before my twin sons come home from their first year of college, so they can help me celebrate. Great timing!

A few months after I first started writing, I discovered SCBWI. It's such a helpful and supportive community, and I always mention it to anyone interested in writing for children. And it was through SCBWI that I connected with my two critique groups. (Hi Crumpled Paper and Critcasters!) Both the experiences of getting critiques and giving critiques helped me grow as a writer. (And still do!)

I spent years writing, revising, critiquing, and then repeating with more writing, revising, and critiquing. I went to conferences. Sent submissions to editors and agents. Eventually, my form letters improved to personal letters and finally to revision requests. And I came really close a couple times.

But my big break came during a Twitter pitch party. (Which is such a surprise because I am still learning how all this social-media stuff works! LOL) The event was called #PBPitch and it eventually led to me signing with my agent Liza Fleissig. We haven't sold the manuscript that she signed me for - (yet!) - but I love that COWHIDE-AND-SEEK will be my first book. And I love that this story found a home at Running Press Kids. Julie Matysik and her team at RPK are wonderful!    

Can you share a bit about your process?

I love to revise. It feels like working on a puzzle, and it is so satisfying when everything starts to fit together. And I love working on manuscripts that I haven't read in a while because I'm seeing them not only with "fresh eyes" but also with the eyes of a more experienced writer.

An important part of my revision process is to read the manuscript out loud. It really helps me see (and hear!) what needs adjusting. I'm a librarian at a preschool, and I have regular weekly storytimes in all the classes. (Love it!) Sometimes, when I'm at home working on a new story, I'll read it out loud and imagine that I'm reading it to one of the classes. It soon becomes clear where I might lose the kids' interest or where things might be confusing. And also where things might be funny or exciting. And that very last page, right before I say, "the end," needs to be satisfying, in some way. 

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

Ideas usually come to me when I'm not paying attention, LOL. I've gotten several ideas when I'm out for a run, and as I'm running, I'll record the ideas on my phone. The combination of my southern accent and the huffing and puffing (from my run) makes for interesting notes, and sometimes that will spark another idea! 

Captain

Captain

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Laptop. Coffee. And I love having my writing companion, Captain, nearby. (He's great at reminding me to take writing-breaks with a nice walk around the neighborhood.)

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Ooh, that will be hard to narrow down. I love fun and silly picture books, so I'll say Tammi Sauer, Doreen Cronin, Jan Thomas, and Chris Haughton. One of my all-time favorite picture books to give as a gift is BARK, GEORGE by Jules Feiffer. 

Dream project to work on?

Actually, I like to think that my dream already came true. Literally! That story idea that woke me up at 2am is the idea that started my writing career and will be my very first picture book. Pretty dreamy, I'd say.

Tell us about your debut book.

COWHIDE-AND-SEEK is about a cow, Bessie, who hears her farmer counting and mistakenly thinks he's starting a game of hide-and-seek. She hurries off to hide and accidentally leaves the farm. Now, the farmer really IS looking for her, but it's not because he's playing the game-- it's because his cow is missing! 

And since Bessie has left the farm, her hiding spots are in places where you typically wouldn't see a cow. Poor thing, it's hard to stay hidden when people keep pointing at you and saying things like, "I see a cow!" Each time, Bessie patiently tries to explain how important it is to stay quiet while hiding, but no one understands "moo." So she has to mooove on...

I love Bessie's earnest efforts to find the perfect hiding spot and her joy in simply playing the game. (The illustration on the very last page is my favorite. :)

What’s up next for you?

As I write this, I'm preparing for my book launch party at my favorite children's bookstore, Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, GA. And on the book's release date, May 7th, I'll be celebrating with some of my favorite people (kids and adults!) at the preschool where I work. It will be a special storytime for me because I'll be sharing my very own book with everyone. (And rumor has it that my preschool director plans to dress up as a cow that day and "hide" around the school. So fun!)

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Oh my goodness-- I just checked the release dates for my three favorite movies, and they were all made in the 80s! Moonstruck, When Harry Met Sally, and Raising Arizona.


Huge thank you to Sheri for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited for your debut! Congrats!


SHERI DILLARD is a children's author and preschool teacher/librarian. She lives in Atlanta, GA, with her husband Mark, three sons, and a 100-pound puppy named Captain, who is not so good at hiding. Cowhide-and-Seek is her first book.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Sheri, visit her online here or follow her on social media:

Twitter: @sheridillard

Instagram: @sheridillard

TO ORDER Sheri’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of COWHIDE-AND-SEEK?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, May 16th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author Gail C. Krause!