In Retrieving Adventures! Lincoln and Nicholas Go to Alaska, the latest children’s book by author Victoria Laird, two Golden Retriever brothers travel to Alaska and have many exciting adventures. In this interview, Victoria discusses her favorite children’s illustrators, what makes Golden Retrievers so great, and much more. Retrieving Adventures! can be purchased at the Write Place online bookstore or from the author’s website.
Tell us a little about your background as an artist. What mediums do you work in? How did you develop your skills? What is your favorite subject matter and why?
I primarily work in pastel, watercolor, colored pencil, and pen, although I occasionally work in oil or acrylics on canvas. I have a BS in art from West Liberty State University 1977, with a minor in journalism. I have been selling my portrait art since 1971 and teaching art most of my life. I have been teaching at William Penn University since January 1992. Demonstrating art techniques and helping students with their projects has also helped me figure out new techniques. My favorite subject matter is animals of all types, but I also paint people, flowers, and landscapes.
Is this the first children’s book you’ve created?
No, I wrote and illustrated children’s books back in the 1980s, but they were mostly written for my children. I loved reading books to my four children, and loved good illustrations. To me the pictures are a huge part of what makes a children’s book a success. I illustrated children’s books for author Dr. Nancy Frakes in the 1990s. A natural foods cookbook I wrote and illustrated, America’s Favorites, Naturally, was published by Melius and Peterson Publishing in 1986.
Did you have to teach yourself to write for children, or did it come naturally? If research was involved, how did you go about it?
I think writing and illustrating came naturally after reading hundreds, probably thousands of children’s books to my kids. Some books could be read daily and always were wonderful with beautiful, colorful illustrations. I loved illustrations by Jan Brett, Maurice Sendak, William Steig, and others. I did take creative writing classes in college, but mostly I wanted to write stories that made children smile, giggle, imagine, and feel optimistic about life.
The two Golden Retrievers who are the stars of this book are based on your own pets. How long have you had Golden Retrievers, and what do you particularly like about the breed?
We have four Golden Retrievers, getting our first in 2003. My husband and I have owned dogs our entire lives, of assorted breeds, but the Golden’s temperament seems to us to be uniquely wonderful. They are very intuitive, very easy to train, love to please, and make wonderful therapy dogs. When they look into your eyes, it feels like they connect in a soulful way, unlike any other breed we have owned.
Why did you choose Alaska as the setting for your book?
We took a trip to Alaska in 2010, which had been a lifelong dream of mine. I enjoy painting places and animals I find beautiful, and Alaska is an incredibly scenic place with such diverse wildlife, it seemed the best place to start. All the illustrations are based on photos that I took. Lake Keomah in Iowa is also featured on the last illustration of the book, as we have beauty here as well.
What’s in store next for Lincoln and Nicholas?
In 2016, they will take a trip to Africa, again chosen for the beauty and diversity of wildlife there. A friend of mine, Bob Barnes, has graciously granted me permission to use his African photography to base my illustrations on. In the years to come the brothers will visit Australia and the Great Barrier Reef, the rain forest, Scandinavia, and many more places I hope.