Category Archives: Author Interviews

Interview with an author: Victoria Laird

LairdCover-webIn 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.


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Interview with an author: Jean Saxton

saxton-photoJean Saxton is the author of four books, three published with the Write Place. Her most recent book is a poetry collection entitled Mind Set, which you can read more about at our website. Jean spoke to us about her life and poetry:

Have you always been a writer?

I’ve always enjoyed writing and before the days of computers did a lot of correspondence to friends in hand writing. English was my best subject in school and in high school I was the editor of the yearbook my senior year. Since college I’ve been a daily list maker, which at my age is a very good habit to have acquired. Recently I’ve had a strong urge to share my experiences and my thoughts with others, hence the four books.

How did you begin writing poetry? Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote?

Not being an early reader of novels I enjoyed poetry and likened it to a very short story in most cases. As an elementary teacher I also enjoyed sharing nursery rhymes and poems by famous authors. I’m thinking the first poem I wrote may have been an invitation to a party decades ago, and later I wrote two poems for programs at PEO Reciprocity dinners.

How do you find inspiration for your poems?

With my eyes wide open.

When is your favorite time to write poetry?

With my morning coffee, though occasionally in bed around 3:00 a.m.

What did you find most enjoyable about writing and publishing your books?

Living alone I found it to be a great mental release. I also appreciate any and all comments about my books from friends and acquaintances whether positive or negative. And when I read and re-read my own books it brings back a flood of memories.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Go for it―many folks down the road will benefit from your printed words at some point.

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Interview With an Author: Tricia Ballenger

If You Go to Tulip TimeIf You Go to Tulip Time, recently published by author and former kindergarten teacher Tricia Ballenger with the Write Place, shares the beauty, history, and excitement of Pella’s annual Tulip Time festival through the eyes of a child. We talked to Tricia about her experiences writing and publishing her book.

What inspired you to write this book?

I had been teaching kindergarten for twenty-five years, but I never had a book about Tulip Time to share with my class. I would talk with my class about what it’s like to be the host of a festival and welcome guests to Pella, but I wanted a book to help explain what the festival is all about.

For those not from Pella, can you explain what makes Tulip Time unique?

During Tulip Time, the whole community comes together to volunteer, spruce up houses and yards, and dress up in Dutch costumes. Young and old participate, making it a true family celebration—which is unique for such a big event.

Tricia Ballenger, author of If You Go to Tulip Time

What’s your favorite Tulip Time tradition?

Each year I sit on the north side of the square with my extended family to watch the parade. Then, we all walk to my sister’s house, which is only a few houses away, and spend time together as a family.

Can you tell us a little about your process for writing this book?

Six years ago this project started out as a notebook with pictures of Pella landmarks and the story of Tulip Time told as I knew it. I used the notebook in my class that year, and when we toured the town I noticed my kids were pointing out landmarks that I’d included and telling me what they’d learned about them. I was inspired to take the book to the next level. I decided to get help from the Write Place, which turned out to be a good decision.

What did you find most enjoyable about writing and publishing your book?

I liked working with Hannah and Lexie at the Write Place. Before coming to them, I had the vision for my book but I felt like I had no confidence. They helped me organize my vision and made me feel like I was part of the whole process.

Do you have any advice for an author wanting to write a children’s book?

Seek professional help if you need it. Also, know children and write to their hearts. I feel like most people who write children’s books do this.

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Interview With an Author: Chuck Hackenmiller

“I’ll be the first to admit…I’ve always been a bit of a daydreamer,” says Chuck Hackenmiller, author of the recently published book Follow the Cow Path Home. The book, published with The Write Place, is a reflective look at farm life of 1950s and 60s Iowa, when Chuck grew up. Here he shares some of his thoughts on writing, poetry, journalism, and publishing.

Why did you want to write a book about your childhood on the family farm?

They always say if you publish, write about something that you can relate to or have a vast knowledge of, and the words will come easier. So a memoir seemed to be a good fit for my first book. After I had retired in 2004 from the newspaper reporting-editing business, I knew I needed to keep writing. Writing about my childhood on the family farm appeared to be the logical choice. My mother and her friends from those rural days are in their 80s, so she and her neighbors were my inspiration, along with my siblings and my own family. It was also a tribute to my dad, who passed away in 1996. He worked very hard and long to be a successful farmer.

Chuck Hackenmiller

What was your writing process for this book? How long did it take you?

When starting the book, I jotted notes on paper of some of my recollections, and from those notes I began writing, mostly on one topic at a time whenever the inspiration hit me. Eventually I organized the subject matter into chapters. I wrote enough without getting burned out. I have a collection of poetry, too, and I placed those poems with the chapter I felt best fit the subject matter.

With my familiarity with the subject matter, it didn’t take long to write. But it stayed in files on my computer for years. I had every intention of publishing it, and checked into publishing companies, but kept putting it off. When the publishing firm, The Write Place, held a contest and my memoir entry was selected as a finalist, and the prize was a publishing discount, I decided to go for it.

What is your favorite passage from the book?

“Many sometimes stray from what appears to be their destined path, but there’s always that increasing urge to return to that safe corridor, or

comfort zone, that will take them home―if only for a few seconds, a moment, hour, or day to reminisce―and to quench that thirst for the memories of days gone by.”

What was the most difficult part of writing it?

Writing was the simple part, but the difficulties were in deciding how to correlate the photos and poems to the copy, making it grammatically proper, knowing little about book design and publishing, having the confidence to know if what I wrote was marketable, and being concerned about publishing costs and contracts.

You write poetry as well, some of which is included in your book. How do you get your inspiration for your poems? How is writing poetry different than prose?

Chuck’s father, Rudy Hackemiller, moves mountains of snow after a blizzard. (from Follow the Cow Path Home)

Just like prose, I write what I’m familiar with. Poetry, I feel, has a hard or soft reflective impact upon on a reader once that last verse is written. Unless what you write is an ode to someone or something, the impact needs to be realized with fewer, but more powerful words. With prose, words flow easier and stretch longer toward that impact moment.

How did your career in print journalism prepare you for writing your book?

Editing experience is helpful, photography skills contribute, and the ability to put a story together is essential. I wrote personal columns, too, which is different than straight-forward news stories, allowing me an opportunity to enhance my imagination.

What advice do you have to others who want to write a memoir?

Do it before you forget things. Get some feedback from people other than kinfolk, to see if what you write appeals to a wide enough audience. Find a solid, experienced publisher. Plan better. I had some poems written earlier that I wished later I put in the book. Make

sure you have enough “eyes” to look at and edit your copy…nobody is perfect and having a professional appearance is important. Accept editing changes because they will only make your material more readable. Be flexible and open to publishers’ ideas. Their goal is to put out a quality product. Finally, once the book is finished, be prepared to confidently and aggressively market it and plan for some rejections…your book might not appeal to some. Learn about how to make a book signing event into a success.

And start thinking perhaps of the next book.

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