Interview with Author Debbie Dadey

debbie-dadey-goalWelcome to the stage, author and co-author of 166 traditionally published children’s books, Debbie Dadey, a former teacher and librarian. She lives in a log cabin in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, with nature to inspire her writing.  Her first book, co-authored with Marcia Thornton Jones, Vampires Don’t Wear Polka Dots turned into the series, The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids.  Ready, Set, Goal! is the newest in Debbie’s Mermaid Tales, a multi-cultural series from Simon and Schuster.   Each Mermaid Tales book has an enchanting story couples with non-fiction components where readers learn about ocean creatures and plants.  To learn more about Debbie as an author, please visit her website www.debbiedadey.com; like her at www.Facebook.com/debbiedadey; and follow her on www.twitter.com/debbiedadey.

1. Debbie, thank you so much for doing this interview! Your publishing journey is fascinating. Let’s start at the start. You’ve mentioned previously on The Writing Bug that your writing journey began with a simple yet witty post card after a year of querying. Did you ever feel hopeless during that year? What encouraged you to keep writing and keep submitting queries?

Oh yes! There were many times (and still are) where I was ready to pull my hair out and give up. Writing is an incredibly difficult, disheartening, and depressing way to make a living and yet it can also be an exhilarating, uplifting, and a joyful experience. I was lucky enough to have a writing partner, Marcia Thornton Jones, when I started out. We encouraged each other through all the rejections. We also formed a critique group that was another great source of support. Although I’ve lived all over the country, I’ve almost always been lucky enough to find or form a critique group of fellow writers who been great sources of not only support, but inspiration. Sometimes the SCBWI helped me find a group.

2. Many aspiring authors and illustrators don’t try to harpoon a big fish like Scholastic in the beginning of their journey. What led to that decision in your mind, that Scholastic would be the best place for your early manuscript Vampires Don’t Wear Polka Dots rather than a children’s book literary agent?

Dumb luck had a lot to do with it! We didn’t know much about agents at the time, but we did know the kinds of books that Scholastic published. Marcia and I thought our story would be a good fit and lucky for us it was! So knowing the market is very important and that can only come by studying newly published books, publishers website or catalogs, and reading reviews.

3. Let’s talk numbers. Everyone loves numbers, especially when the numbers are BIG. You’ve got over 42 million copies sold and describe yourself as a professional writer who doesn’t have time for writer’s block. At what point did you realize you could write for a living? How did your family react as your writing career took off?

After Marcia and I sold our sixth Bailey Schools Kids book, lots of things were happening in my life. I remember standing in the doorway of my blue house with Marcia. We cried and hugged, knowing our writing career together was over because my husband, son, and I were moving to Texas for my husband’s job. Then Scholastic asked us to write four more books in our series and we knew we’d have to come up with a way to work long distance. When I found out I was pregnant a short while later, it was a scary decision to try writing full time. I’d like to say there were never any conflicts with my family when I needed to take a trip for my writing career, but I’d be lying. I’m not complaining. I know I’m blessed.

4. Do you think the publishing industry is fair? Does it only take a good, unique manuscript to get the foot in the door? From your personal experience and that of aspiring writers and illustrators you know, how important are relationships prior to getting a book deal or agent?

Marcia and I didn’t know anyone! Our unique book title did help us get a read and the fact that we were educators helped as well, since at the time writing about vampires was sketchy.

5. Let’s circle back to your family. You’ve got a smart scientist husband, grown kids out of school, and pets. Many authors struggle in their quest for a quiet place to write. How did you manage a “writing place” when your kids were young? How do you manage every day distractions now?

Distractions are a constant struggle for any writer. Carving out a personal space is very important I think. My first office chair was the spare bed and my first desk was a side table, but I could close the door and work. When I was working full-time, I worked in the evenings after everyone else fell asleep. Then mornings became most productive for me. I won’t say it’s always been easy, I’ve literally written books with a baby on my back! Now, I try to set goals for myself by listing what I want to accomplish. There’s something very empowering about crossing something off a list!

6. Many children visit your website and read your interviews. Let’s speak to them for a minute. What should children learn about writing books when they research you? Is there anything children can be doing now to become professional writers or illustrators later in life?

I love to read and as far back as I can remember I’ve always loved books. I probably didn’t treat them as well as I should have-I read under the covers, in the bathtub, and with the book in my lap at the supper table. But I’m sure all that reading helped me to become a better writer. Reading is the best classroom a writer can have.

7. As such a prolific writer, you’ve come across so many stories from other authors. There are good ones and bad ones. Despite the subjective nature of personal tastes, what makes a captivating story? What makes a horrible story?

The strange thing is that what makes a wonderful story for some could be quite boring for others. It’s quite rare to find a story that everyone loves. But I think the best stories are those where the underdog somehow finds a way to succeed, hopefully with friends helping along the way. A horrible story to me is one that gets so bogged down with the big picture that if forgets to zero in on the action (or moments that are important).

8. Many people reading your interviews are new to the publishing industry. You’ve built incredible connections with publishers, agents, editors, and illustrators. What characteristics would define a successful relationship between an author and any of the above? What warning signs should aspiring authors and illustrators look out for?

My first book came out almost 30 years ago. Be assured that almost all the editors I knew then have retired or moved on. Publishing is constantly evolving. It is a fluid industry, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When our Scholastic editor moved to Hyperion, she asked us to write a series for them. It’s very easy to get upset when the story you’ve poured your heart into is rejected, but getting mad at an editor will not get your story published!

9. In your interview with Jolene Haley, you describe the tight bond you have with your long time friend and frequent co-author, Marcia Thornton Jones. With such an early connection writing stories together, is it more difficult working on separate projects where you can’t or don’t bounce ideas off each other? With humans being naturally rough around the edges and having unique perspectives, how did you and Marcia conquer differences in decision making? What about differences in plot or story directions?

When Marcia and I began writing together, we didn’t know what we were doing! If one of us felt strongly, the other figured she must be right and we tried it. I know that I probably wouldn’t have continued writing without Marcia’s encouragement, so I’m eternally grateful for her hard work ethic.

10. We are increasingly becoming a connected, global society. With one Tweet, Instagram, Facebook post, Snapchat, or blog we can be engaging with people on the other side of the world. What is your view on the importance of having a mentor? Did you have any mentors in your writing career and are there any you would like to name here for recognition? Are you open to people asking you to be a mentor in the writing space?

Marcia and I struggled together all those years and in a way we were each other’s mentor. But we’ve always wanted a wise Yoda type mentor! By the time we came up for air, we’d sold so many books people were looking to us for advice and we were still learning. I am doing a free writing clinic at the end of this month, as well as two SCBWI conferences this spring. I’m hopeful that I’ll help someone on their writing journey.

11. Debbie, what can we expect from you over the next 1-2 years? What about 5-10 years down the road?

I’m excited to have three more books coming out in the Mermaid Tales series in the next two years. The Fairy Chase comes out in May of 2018, The Secret Code of the Sea Unicorn and The Winter Princess in 2019.  My writing goal has always been to write books for reluctant readers, no matter what the age. But I must admit I’ve always loved writing chapter books for kids who are in between picture books and novels. I hope to continue writing them for a long, long time!

Debbie, you have such a fascinating journey as an author. Thank you for taking the time away to share your story with us and provide such successful insight.

To the reader, do you have a unique story to share in the publishing space? You could be interviewed next! Contact me here or on social media to find out how you can be an encouragement and guide to aspiring authors and illustrators.

Interview with Illustrator Katy Halford

katy-halford-great-adventureWhat a cool job I’ve got interviewing amazing people like Katy Halford. Katy is a children’s book illustrator and also works in art licensing and commercial markets. Her love of drawing started when she was small and she continued to study ‘the arts’ at school, and then went on to graduate at Loughborough University with a degree in Illustration. She is currently working with various publishers on children’s books. When she isn’t glued to her seat impressing clients, she likes to go for long walks in the countryside. She also enjoys a good cup of tea and a nice slice of cake. Who doesn’t?! The best way to keep up to date with her work is through Instagram, Twitter, or her website.

 

1. It’s easy to tell you’re already a very successful illustrator with a strong portfolio of previous clients. How did you begin transitioning your passion for drawing personally into commercial projects and how difficult was it to gain exposure as an artist in the professional realm?

 

I used to draw pen doodles everyday and started up an account on Instagram and a page on Facebook. I would post photographs of my drawings when I did them and gradually my following got bigger and bigger. It did take time and persistence but I love to draw so it was totally worth it. As an illustrator, it’s so important to draw as much as you can. You are always developing as an artist and now, with social media exposure, you never know who may see your work. It might just be your dream client. Eventually, I attracted a variety of commercial clients, such as Feel Unique and Cafe Nero. I have worked closely with 2 local theme parks over the past few years illustrating their park maps and updating the latest rides etc.

 

2. You website describes you as a freelance illustrator, yet you’re partnered with Plum Pudding Illustration Agency. How does this business relationship work and what does it mean for authors who would like to work with you on their projects?

 

I worked as a freelance illustrator for a few years previously, and I then signed up with my lovely agent Plum Pudding Illustration spring last year. They represent me as an illustrator and work requests regarding children’s books and licensing go directly through them. I tend to work on a variety projects with different agents from Plum Pudding and work closely with the publishers. I’m always happy for people to get in touch with me if it’s just to say hi or have any questions about my work. You can get in touch via my contact form on my website.

 

3. Your professional illustration experience ranges from characters to worlds, maps to magazines and many things in between. If you had to pick one (maybe two) areas illustration products that excite you the most, what would it be? What is one area you hope to grow experience in?

 

My favorite areas in illustration to work are children’s book illustration and art licensing for the gift market. I chose children’s book illustration because it’s so fun to come up with characters, what they will look like, what clothes will they wear and then to illustrate the world they are put in. Every project is new and exciting! There’s nothing like seeing your work printed as the finished product. I get great satisfaction from seeing people enjoying my work too.

 

As a second choice, I’d choose licensing for the gift market, I love creating decorative designs and the use of simple color palettes to design many patterns or motifs for cards or gift wrap. I only started in the children’s book world last year so this is an area I hope to grow much more experience in, I’m always learning and can’t wait to learn more about it as I progress.

 

4. There is often a disconnect between less experienced authors (clients) and more experienced illustrators in terms of how projects develop from concept to final design. How would you describe the illustration process from your perspective?

 

As an illustrator, I work closely with the publisher, not directly with the author. So, when starting a children’s book I will first be given the story to read through. I tend to read through it a few times to really get to know the characters and concept. A series of thumbnails (very small rough drawing) are typically drawn up for the spreads; this may be full page illustrations, vignettes or half page illustrations. This allows the illustrator and publisher to discuss any art direction on which compositions and ideas work best to suit the story. Roughs are then drawn up at a larger scale and the work goes on to coloring. After the rough stage the publisher may show them to the author also.

 

5. How would you describe the perfect illustrator/client relationship? What are some aspects that have worked really well to deliver a great product? What are some negative aspects you hope not to experience (again)?

 

I think it’s always good to make sure you communicate, I find speaking on the phone or better as you can have a real conversation and bounce ideas off each other. The same goes for commercial projects too. I haven’t had any negative experiences yet, so hopefully it will stay that way.

 

6. As a children’s book author, I often have a specific illustration style in mind when I begin placing words on pages. Often times, a publishing house or agent also have illustrators in mind when they examine a manuscript. Does the same exist from the illustrator’s perspective? Is there a style of writing, intended target audience, or specific authors/clients, that you would love to receive an art request for? What is one of your dream projects?

 

I guess not so much for an illustrator as the story is typically presented to the illustrator. There’s lots I would love to be requested for, anything with great character and adventure! I have a love for history, mostly king and queens, so maybe a book about great kings and queens. I just love all their over the top fancy clothing, hairstyles and there’s some great characters! I think they would be great fun to draw and also to inject some humor. My dream project would be to write and illustrate my own stories. I have so many ideas and know it’s only the beginning for author-illustrator projects.

 

7. Illustrating is a very subjective endeavor. It’s easy to find fresh talent crushed by rejection. How do you cope when someone in the industry doesn’t appreciate what you’ve created to the same magnitude you do?

 

Yes ,sometimes this can be crushing, but I always try to think in life it wasn’t meant to be so it didn’t go ahead. I understand that the illustration didn’t turn out right for the job, unfortunately that’s how it works, but you can always learn from it as feedback is given. I also always think of things as another piece for the portfolio and something else will come up!

 

8. If you could speak to all the up and coming artists out there, what would you say to them? What do you wish someone said to you when you first set out on your professional illustration journey?

 

Try to draw as much as you can! Your work is always developing and you are always learning. Don’t worry about thinking that you don’t have a ‘style’. You do, even if you can’t see it yourself, other people will. Be yourself with a vengeance! Don’t try to be anyone else – it won’t make you stand out because that person is already out there! Enjoy it!

The design process has its ups and downs like lots of other processes. It’s all about learning on the way. New ideas are always exciting but once you get through to other side, there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing something beautiful and unexpected. I know every new piece I do for my portfolio or a client I learn something new about myself.

 

9. Most illustrators have a list of artists (or pieces of art) they admire. Who are your artistic role models?

 

There’s so many illustrators I admire. I don’t really have a favorite as I’m always finding new illustrators or inspiration. To name a few, Lauren Child – I just love her characters and the childlike quality to her drawings. Quentin Blake – he’s just awesome! Him and Roald Dahl made my childhood. Janet and Allan Alhberg – perfect duo. I also love collecting postcards and random stuff for my office. Oh, and many people I have connected with through online courses and social media.

 

10. Tell us about some active projects you’re working on. What can we expect to see from you in the next 1-2 years and how can readers stay most informed about your activities?

 

All my current projects are top secret! So sorry, but that’s the industry for you! But you can expect to see some more picture books coming your way in the next 1- 2 years. I do try to draw in my sketchbook as much as I can in my free time, although it’s very little at the moment. My current theme is characters and I’m trying to draw more people. You can keep up to date with my work and informed on my social media feeds and website.

 

Thanks so much, Katy! It’s so great seeing industries through the eyes of people so genuine in their craft. I have no doubt you’ll continue to be a successful illustrator. The moment you free up some time to do author-illustrator projects, the sky will be the limit!

To my readers, if you’re an aspiring illustrator, I know this was insightful for you. Reach out to someone like Katy if you’re unsure of the path you should take. There are so many wonderful people in the industry who would love to help you grow and develop. What are you waiting for?

Interview with Author Lisa Connors

lisa-connors-milkweed-mattersIt’s a pleasure to be interviewing author and science extraordinaire Lisa Connors. She writes children’s books and nature essays in the hopes of instilling the same awe of nature in others.  Lisa loves traipsing around on her 14-acre property collecting ideas and being impressed by her fellow Earthlings.  When she’s not actively writing, she is likely pre-writing (a.k.a. day dreaming) while gardening, cutting wood, mowing, drawing, canning and reading…lots of reading. You can connect with Lisa and see what she’s up to on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter

  1. Lisa, thank you for setting the time aside to share your thoughts and story with us. Your writing interests seem to revolve around your education and career. Most writers seem to want an escape from their vocation. What helps you maintain such a sharp focus?   

Thank you for this interview opportunity.  I guess I am blending one common piece of advice, write what you know, with another, write what you love.  Science and nature have always been passions of mine.  There’s so much to learn and so much being discovered to ever run out of ideas.  I just love figuring out an angle and approach that will appeal to young readers in the hopes of instilling in them some of the awe I feel about the world.  I believe this awe is crucial to helping young people become active adult citizens.

  1. You’ve recently released Milkweed Matters: A Close Look at Life Cycles in a Food Chain. How simple or complex do you feel self-publishing is for aspiring authors and illustrators?

With today’s platforms, I think it is rather simple.  That being said, I was very hesitant to release something that might not be professional looking.  My desire to share content with children overcame my fear of failure.  Milkweed Matters was my first attempt, and it has gotten good feedback, but I still have a lot to learn in the areas of design and format.  

As soon as I released Milkweed Matters as an e-book, I knew I wanted kids to hold a real book in their hands.  I then used CreateSpace’s print-on-demand service to offer it in a paperback format.  It’s the paperback that sells the best.

  1. Now, you’re also working on a traditionally published book, Oliver’s Otter Phase, to be released by Arbordale Publishing. That should be coming out very soon, right? Could you describe your experience with the traditional publishing route?

Oliver’s Otter Phase comes out February 10, 2018!  My experience is, I believe, similar to most writers…there’s a lot of waiting!  This idea was born in October of 2014 and drafted a month later.  I revised, had it vetted by two sea otter experts, revised again and sent to Arbordale.  They took over a year to say yes.  Once the illustrator started working on the manuscript, there was little for me to do and, as is fairly typical with traditional publishing, I could not contact the illustrator until she was finished.  In total, it’s been over 3 years from idea to publication.  

Working with Arbordale has been wonderful and I hope to do so again in the future. For this past month I have been quite busy preparing for the debut party, lining up school and library visits and making sure I know as much as I can about sea otters.

  1. You’ve mentioned previously that you like to write fiction and non-fiction. Are all of your fiction books based largely on non-fiction elements? Can you give us any tid-bits of your fiction projects?

I do write nature essays for a blog, which I started when I quit teaching in order to develop a writing practice.  This blog tends to profile a plant or animal encountered on my property.  Most of my children’s stories actually are fiction with nature facts woven into them.  However, not all my ideas are nature related: I’ve got one about a girl and her relationship with her grandfather who is dying; one about a girl who changes her clothes many times a day.

But I guess I do have a LOT of manuscripts that focus on some aspect of the natural world.  I’m working on one about retelling Goldilock’s day that is related to science; one about black snakes, one about streams; there are many.

  1. Life as an author is challenging. With so many aspiring and as-yet-unpublished authors and illustrators reading this, what advice would you give to them as they learn and endure the various trials and tribulations of becoming successful in the industry?

Well, as they probably know, it is not a place to get rich easily!  Writing is hard work and getting your manuscript published is even harder.  But if it is what you love, what’s calling you, then stick with it.  I’ve heard it takes about 10 years to get your first book published, and I do not know if that means when working part-time or full-time on the writing.  So first of all, one needs patience and perseverance.  There is a lot to learn online and I recommend one take full advantage of craft books, webinar and online groups to learn about the industry.  Really research the publisher (or agent) before you send your work out.  Make sure your theme or voice is what they’re looking for.

  1. How would you describe your experiences working with illustrators? What are some important aspects of a successful author-illustrator relationship?

Well, in the traditional publishing world, you don’t really get to work with your illustrator.  With self-publishing you of course have to find your own illustrator.  My illustrator for Milkweed Matters, Betty Gatewood, is a botanical illustrator and a teaching acquaintance of mine at the time that I asked if she’d be interested in creating some illustrations for me.  Because I do not have an art background, I was intimidated with finding and communicating with a professional children’s illustrator. Betty and I are learning as we go and we’ve become good friends.

But to answer your question, I think a key aspect of a successful author-illustrator relationship is to let the illustrator have freedom to express the story the way he or she wants.  Getting a book published is collaboration.  Another phrase in the industry to remember is “It’s your manuscript; it’s not your book.”

  1. If you could say one thing to all the children in the world, what would it be?

Never stop being curious!  Curious people ask questions, read often, have insight and solve problems.  That’s what the world needs.  Well, the world needs more kindness to, but you asked for one thing.  

  1. If you could be any animal for a week…what would you choose and why?

I wanted to be a wolf biologist a long time ago, so that is what animal first pops in my head.  But really, I think a songbird, maybe a Carolina wren.  I would love to experience the flying, flitting about in trees and speaking in song.  Carolina wrens are quite garrulous and active.  I need solo time every day.  It would be a nice change.

  1. Looking ahead, what’s next for you? What can fans expect to see in the next 1-2 years? What about in 5-10 years?

I have written another book with the but that’s not all mantra found in Milkweed Matters.  My same illustrator, Betty Gatewood, is about halfway through with the illustrations.  I hope to have it published by summer of 2018.

My dream, though it may take longer than 10 years, is to illustrate my own picture books.  I am learning to draw and paint with watercolors via online classes and a nature journal club.  One thing I love about writing (started when I was 47!) is that I can do it while traveling with my family.  I hope to be writing long past any normal retirement age, so I hope to actually gain fans (how delightful!) and to give them many books.

Lisa, thank you so much for your thoughts and sharing your story with us. I have no doubt you will continue to be successful as an author and soon-to-be, author-illustrator. For all you readers, be sure to follow Lisa on social media, sharing this interview and Lisa’s books to spread the word about this wonderful nature writer.

It’s never too late to start your journey as an author or illustrator. As the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is NOW. There are many resources available to help you and, as always, please contact me if you need a friend in the publishing space.

 

Interview with Illustrator Jo Painter

jo-painter-anxietyJo is a freelance Concept Artist, Illustrator and Animator trying to break her way into the game industry! She currently works for a variety of authors and companies around the world but when she’s not working and painting at her desk, you can usually find her with her head stuck in a book or out for a walk in the countryside. The best way to keep up to date with her work is through Instagram – @po_jainter or her website, www.jopainter.co.uk

1. You’ve mentioned that your love of illustration dates back to using MS Paint. Now, most people I know who have used MS Paint to draw anything serious are immediately filled with frustration at the lack of refined tools available. You, somehow, were affected differently. Why is that? Why were you drawn in, rather than put off, by MS Paint? Has this ability to endure the more arduous processes of illustration stuck with you?

It all started from my love of Anime and 2D animation. I was fascinated with the idea of being able to color characters on the computer and after stumbling across multiple digital artists online, I was hooked! I am also the sort of person who makes do with whatever they have on hand and so at the time, all I had to work with was MS Paint and my computer mouse. I would spend hours at my desk trying to get a straight line to look slightly less wobbly and my colors to look slightly less muddy. I would then print these out to keep and show to my parents and friends. I always remember this burning desire to be good at painting and it’s something that has never left me all these years later. If it wasn’t for that passion and determination I wouldn’t have put up with MS Paint for so long! I was aware of Photoshop at the time but it was something that would have to wait until I could afford my own tablet and the software.

If it wasn’t for those harder days and hours of painstaking work I don’t think I would have the respect that I have for digital artists now. I respect the process and the work that goes into it and I think that makes me much more humbled as a professional!

2. While many illustrators stop at the 2-Dimensional level, your passion extends into 3-Dimensional animation. Could you explain the process in which you take a project from idea to the fully rendered animation product?

I took 3D animation at University instead of 2D animation because there is much more versatility within the 3D world and I felt that learning something new to add to my skill set would benefit my career more as an artist in the long run. My hunch here turned out to be right as learning skills such as texturing, modeling, lighting and rendering within 3D software has directly influenced and improved my painting skills. I am now much more aware of how light affects different materials, for example, so when I’m painting that subconscious knowledge comes in really handy!

I also adore animation. I remember watching the behind the scenes for the Lord of the Rings for the first time and they were showing how they designed the characters and animated Gollum and I remember being stunned that people actually did that as a career. It was love at first sight and I haven’t looked back since! As an active artist in the industry, it has been really advantageous to have more than one skill – I’ve had CEO’s of companies in interviews tell me how useful it is for me to be able to animate as well as design and draw concepts because it means I am more useful to them across more than one department. I always recommend to young and aspiring artists to create a varied skill set for themselves as it will really help them climb the ladder in a competitive and high achieving industry.

The process from concept to a rendered piece is long and arduous but incredibly rewarding to see it realized and moving on the screen. It depends which industry you are in (film, game, etc.) as some ideas can take years from the first concept to the final product. My experience is within the advertising and book industry the turnaround for these products is much faster! There were times where we only had a month to pitch an idea to the client, get approval and work on the product so that they could get it out and aired on TV in time. It’s demanding of your time and patience, but it has taught me some valuable lessons with time management and client etiquette – remember, the client is always right!

3. Technology evolves at an exponential rate. Tools and techniques available to artists now simply were not available in the days of MS Paint. What software do you find most beneficial to your career as an illustrator? What technology do you look forward to in the future?

It’s pretty alarming to see how fast technology is evolving. I have even seen VR used for drawing 2D within a 3D space which just feels way too advanced for me! I personally use Photoshop for all of my work – it is an amazing piece of software that is regularly updated which makes for a versatile and creative space that benefits my time and skill sets. I am also set in my ways, so I don’t think I will venture too far from Photoshop in the years to come. In terms of tools, I would love to upgrade to a Cintiq from Wacom! They are expensive, but totally worth the money in my opinion.

When I was younger, I thought that getting a tablet would automatically improve my art and was totally disheartened when it didn’t, so I often tell young artists that it isn’t the software or the tablet that will make your artwork improve, but the time and patience you put in as an artist to practice your craft. Your tools should help you work, not create it for you.

4. On your website, which contains a great FAQ section (everyone go read it!), you talk about the need for artists to be versatile. You likely have your own concepts for other people’s work. How do you channel your own ideas when the client has something else in mind?

The client is always right. I pretty much live by this rule! It is so important to remember that even though as the artist you are bringing creativity to the job and bringing an idea to life, you should always be getting approval from the client and if you have any suggestions to add, do whatever they have asked of you first and then add a few extra ideas on the side for them to take a look at and see if it sparks their imagination. Not only have you given them more work than they asked for, it also shows that you are invested and interested in their project.

Often, clients come to me with a very specific idea in mind. For example, when I work with an author on a book cover, they will have a list of things they would like to include and the first thing I do is create three to four initial sketches and concepts to send over to see if there is one that they like and then I will do another three of four variations of that one sketch. This way, I have input on what I am creating but also leaving the decisions up to the client.

Being versatile has also meant that I have worked on a variety of projects rather than narrowing myself down to a very specific style of art. I have worked on children’s books with a very cartoony style of art, I have animated 3D characters with a Disney style personality, and I have painted vast landscapes and detailed characters for book covers. Not only do I get to create something different each month, it also opens me up as a freelancer for more work!

5. How would you describe the perfect client/artist relationship? What are some aspects that have gone well for you in the past? What are some things that hindered project success?

I don’t really think that there is a perfect relationship! Every client is different and likes to work in a different way, so even though I try and stick to a regular routine when it comes to my process, that often changes with each client. It’s important to be OK with this and roll with the punches; sometimes you will send off something that you think is great and all the client will do is come back with a list of changes. It can be disheartening when you are first starting out as things like education and school have taught us to expect praise when we work hard and this isn’t always the case in industry. It can be a shock at first, but once you learn to swallow your pride and take on the criticism, it will vastly improve your work!

Being regularly in contact with my clients is something that has always gone well for me – I will send them regular updates of where I am on their project and the expected deadline if there isn’t one set already. It creates a level of trust between the client and the artist which means they are more likely going to come back to you again in the future. Something else I always find works well is staying professional when emailing. I have a signature at the bottom of my email with where else to find me and I always use the proper sign off (Kind Regards, Yours Faithfully etc.) as well as not using shorthand or emojis like you would in a text message. These things help to create a professional atmosphere, even if it is for a personal commission for someone.

Some things that have hindered a project’s success is not getting a prompt response from the client – I have waited up to two weeks to hear back from a client before and by that time I had already started another project and so then my work load is suddenly doubled, and I am then having to juggle my time. Sometimes this means a project can get rushed and I perhaps don’t feel as comfortable with the work I have produced and so won’t include it on my website. This is of course no one’s fault, usually it is because the client is busy and doesn’t have the time put aside to go through any work I have sent over.

Another thing would be not outlining my terms and conditions properly in my invoices. I always quote a specific amount of time and set a deadline, putting aside a day for changes as well. That way, you won’t have a constant back and forth for months on end making endless changes that you should technically be charging for. If any clients want to make changes out of the time frame we initially set, then I tend to charge a little extra to make up for lost time. You must be careful as a freelancer because it is very easy to end up working for nothing!

I am also very strict with my time management. I have a diary that I use daily to keep track of deadlines, when projects are starting, and what I need to get done that day. It sounds slightly over obsessive but since I started as a freelancer a year ago I haven’t once missed a deadline or got off track with work! Sometimes, I am juggling three or more projects at once due to overlapping deadlines, so it comes in really handy to have something to jot everything down in.

6. Many software packages like Photoshop have gone to the cloud, literally. Stand alone tools are more and more becoming monthly subscriptions. What do you think about that? Are these modern requirements helping or hurting our capabilities?

If 15 years ago, there was the option to have a monthly subscription to Photoshop instead of using MS Paint, I would have probably been able to afford it – eleven year old me would have loved it! Unfortunately, a lot of large softwares, including the 3D ones that I use for animation, are extremely expensive and involve forking out a large sum of money in one go to purchase it. With a monthly subscription, you are paying a fraction of the price on a monthly basis (I pay £7.99 a month for Photoshop) and therefore am able to produce high quality work on a budget. I think that this opens up a lot more opportunities for young and aspiring artists to not be put off trying out digital art and design and instead have a go and see what they enjoy. I was put off for years because Photoshop was so expensive and it felt almost out of my reach, but to now be able to pay for it minimally without it impacting my income, I feel at ease knowing that I will always be able to have access to it.

Don’t get me wrong, there are painting software’s out there that are free and work just as well! I am just used to what I use and Photoshop is what is predominantly used in industry, so I always recommend it.

7. What’s your favorite part of a project? What’s your least favorite?

Hmm. Good question. I would have to say my favorite part is seeing a character come to life on the page. It sounds rather fantastical, but when you read a book and the characters are so ingrained into your head, being able to put pen to paper (or pen to tablet!) and bring them to life is incredibly satisfying. I also love the painting stage of an illustration. I find it incredibly relaxing and rewarding once finished.

My least favorite would probably be the stages in between sketching the character out and starting painting. I spend some time establishing the colors I’m going to use and lighting setup I want to achieve, and this can sometimes put me off finishing the painting if I can’t get it right. It also makes the painting seem intimidating! But you just have to dive in head first and go for it which is usually how I get past this wall.

In terms of animating, I would have to say that I love the final stages of animating a character where you start smoothing out the sharpness of their movements and start adding all the smaller details such as secondary motion; this is where things like hair, hands and clothing move after the body has finished moving. For example, if a ballerina spins, her dress will be the last thing to settle. This really brings the character to life and makes it feel more real which makes all of the hard work beforehand worthwhile!

My least favorite part of animating would have to be the planning stages of it. If I am animating a character, I will always film reference for it. So, if the character is jumping around, I will film myself jumping around and get that into Photoshop to draw all over and make notes of where my weight is falling and which way my hips are rotating – the COG (center of gravity), which is the hips, is the most important thing when animating a character, so I always make sure I’m aware of what’s happening here before I start. Unfortunately, this takes time and usually I am just itching to get started, but if I don’t put this effort in first, I struggle down the line when I get to the smoothing stages of the animation and something doesn’t look quite right.

8. Artists often have role models or art styles they admire from other people. Who are some of your role models or what are some examples of completed projects you are impressed by?

Oh wow, I don’t even know where to start!

I think let’s go from the beginning. Growing up, I was a huge fan of anime and manga ( and still am!) When I was young, I watched the likes of Sailor Moon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokemon, etc. and was reading Naruto and Fairy Tail and then spent my days trying to copy these characters and draw them as best I could. It’s these initial days that inspired me and are still my inspiration today – I still stand by the opinion that Naruto has some of the best character development out of any show/book/film.

As I grew up, I started to delve more into fantasy books and films and in particular, the Lord of the Rings and the rest of Tolkien’s works. I still draw inspiration from this now and I find his work to be some of the most interesting and detailed. His ability to create a fantasy world that feels like genuine British mythology is astounding!

Nowadays, its shows like Avatar, Avatar: The Legend of Korra and Game of Thrones and books from authors such as Sarah J Maas, Leigh Bardugo, Cassandra Clare and pretty much any young adult fantasy book I can get my hands on! I also still go back and watch Naruto or dive into new manga’s such as Death Note. I also love ‘The Art of…’ books from Disney films and games where the creators release all of the original concepts and artwork into book form. I collect these and there are still so many out there to add to my list! I usually grab them from a bookstore or off Amazon.

In terms of artists that have inspired me, that changes as I grow as an artist. At the moment, the ones I can list off would be Anna Steinbaeur, LD Austin, Ryan Lang, Rudy Siswanto, Charlie Bowater and pretty much anyone who works for Riot Games and paints the characters for League of Legends!

I think when it comes to projects that I am impressed by, I would have to say that the work that comes out of Studio Ghibli is the most innovative and unique from the past few years. With each film they release I find myself inspired in a different way. I have huge amounts of respect for the artists and animators that work on these films and the time and detail that goes into them – 2D, hand drawn animation is some of the hardest work you can do and requires endless amounts of patience!

9. No doubt you’ve been tracking the development of virtual reality systems. Do you think this will be a large industry for illustrators and 3D animators? Do you have any plans to carve out a niche for yourself in that space?

VR intimidates me, I won’t lie! I think that I see it being used more in the game industry like it is now as I don’t think the market is there for it to be used by animators or artists. I don’t think that it will benefit us much, but I have seen it being used for the making of film which is amazing. Especially with the combination of motion capture it makes for incredibly detailed pre-production – as far as I’m aware, Peter Jackson used this process for the filming of The Hobbit and was able to use VR to layout the CG elements of the film and track the camera through it.

10. What’s next for you? What can our readers expect to see you develop or accomplish in the next 1-2 years besides more great illustrations?

My plan is the work on my portfolio and carry on world building. At the moment, I have a few characters that need fleshing out and I want to add some more designs to my portfolio and then I plan on trying to step into the game industry as a concept artist! It’s a long process and I’ve had some success the past year with interviews and art tests so I’m getting close but there’s still a lot of hard work to go! For now, I’m happy freelancing and taking my time with everything – industry is tough and competitive, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Interview with Author Thane Keller

thane-keller-trialsIt’s a joy and a pleasure to be able to interview my big brother, Thane Keller. Thane is a science fiction author and U.S. Army veteran who explores the depth of human nature under dire circumstances. After over a decade of service, he has deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan where he was personally engaged in ground combat. Although busy at home as a husband and father to four, he has consistently made time to express his passion for writing.

You can find Thane at www.thanekeller.com and can purchase his books on Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo, or at any local bookstore.

  1. Many aspiring authors are town between the traditional and self-publishing routes. At the time of this interview, you currently have three science fiction novels and a collection of short stories and flash fiction self-published. What inspired you to choose that path? Do you have plans to become a hybrid author; one who seeks traditional and self-publishing avenues?

First off, thanks for hosting me, Rhys. Your own writing, love of literature, and beautiful family are an inspiration to the rest of us. Authors can go a variety of different paths when it comes to publishing and in my opinion, each has its benefits and drawbacks. While I was offered a publishing contract early on for my first novel, Trials, I ultimately decided to self-publish for two reasons. First, Amazon sells fifty percent of books worldwide and gives indie-authors a 70% royalty. This evens the playing field quite a bit. Second, there is a cost and time factor that goes into traditional publishing that I cannot yet commit to at this point in my career – promoting a book while defending Forward Operating Base Lightning, for example, is pretty hard to do.

I would love to be a hybrid author and maybe one day that will happen, but in the meantime, I’m more interested in a telling a story that challenges my reader and is widely distributed.

  1. I’ve written before on my site about what an accomplishment it is to write a single book, let alone multiple full-length novels. You’re an active serviceman with a growing family. How many years, and across how many continents, has your writing has taken you?

My first novel, Trials, was a two-year writing endeavor. I actually started the book after climbing off a helicopter at midnight in Afghanistan. Many people probably don’t realize that when you’re pulling security in the snow at fourteen-thousand feet, the discussion often turns to aliens, religion, and science. By the time I had completed Trials, I had written the book in Afghanistan, New York, Virginia, and finally Germany.  In the Army, we like to say “If you don’t like your circumstances, change your perspective.” Fitting in writing throughout all of my adventures has been tough, but hopefully, readers will feel rewarded as they dive into the worlds I’ve created.

  1. Much of your writing gives the reader a sense that you know what you’re talking about, especially battle scenes and images of war. I’m reminded of a few scenes where characters struggle with their former experiences. How has your service influenced your writing style?

I think my service has made a significant impact on my writing style. In Trials, the main character’s dreams are lifted from my own experiences in war. He is a tormented soldier that struggles to come to grips with his current situation while keeping the past in perspective. This was the hardest part about Trials but it became a form of counseling and confession as well. In Fractal Space and Rogue Fleet, I take a different approach, instead choosing to highlight how an organized force will fight against a capable enemy. Most importantly, however, are how these action scenes should make you feel. If the sentence fragments and choppy thoughts of the characters get your heart racing, don’t worry. Mine races too.

  1. There is much debate between talent and hard work. It seems hard work typically wins the day, not to say you aren’t talented as well! Is there a level of grit necessary to finish a book that many aspiring authors simply aren’t resolving to deal with?

There is absolutely a level of grit. Every day we make choices to watch TV, hang out on the front porch, search Facebook endlessly, or get to work. The ones that get to work accomplish great things. The ones that don’t… don’t.

  1. The publishing industry has changed so much in recent years, yet still maintained a level of historic similarity in that publishing is a very subjective business depending on the book purchaser or editor of the day. Do you think the industry will continue to transform, and if so, in what ways?

I hope it transforms. In my opinion, publishing houses need to change or will face extinction. There is a false economy between publishers, agents, editors, and advertisers that take the money from an aspiring author and spend little time providing feedback or validation. Meanwhile, websites like Grammarly catch way more editing errors than an $800 dollar “professional” edit. Businesses like Apple and Amazon sell far more books than publishers do direct. Advertising is cheap and available. I think publishers will find themselves in trouble if they don’t change their model and adapt. In the information age, there isn’t much forgiveness.

  1. Every author has their style, areas where they will go and boundaries they won’t cross. Do you have any lines drawn in the sand that readers can say, “I know this author will have this or definitely won’t have this” in your books?

I want my children, my pastor, my parents, and my friends to read my work and not wonder “Where did this side of Thane come from?” Sex sells, but you won’t find it in my books. My hope is that my writing brings out the worst in my characters while forcing my reader to wonder who they are truly rooting for.

  1. I’m very excited to have been brought on to write the prequel to your science fiction novel, Trials. I understand you’re actively working on the sequel. Would you give our readers a high-level synopsis of the world of Trials that you’ve built? Keep the details, of course, but what can readers expect if they pick up any book in the Trials series?

Trials is a futuristic dystopian world where nationalism, war, and paranoia have all but ruined society. Old alliances don’t exist and corporations, not the government, are the ones trying to bring change, but they are unchecked. The main character, Jonah Shepherd, has been exiled from the love of his life to a Martian penal colony where he will serve a life sentence for treason. As Jonah’s world descends into chaos, he is forced to rely on his ingenuity and military training to escape the red planet and reunite with the love of his life, Evie. Standing in Jonah’s way is a megalomaniac named Malek, the shadowy mining company Unicore, and one hundred and forty million miles of empty space.

  1. You’ve expressed a lot of excitement about your other series, The Conquests of Brokk. Tell us what drives you to build this world and who exactly is Brokk?

I love this series for a few reasons. First, it is a space opera written by an actual soldier. War in space is violent and unforgiving; so is Brokk’s world. Second, Brokk is the bad guy. You’ll be rooting for him and against him throughout the whole series, but as you do, Brokk will change and hopefully, your concept of humanity will change with him. Third, this is a world that can go forever. For you lovers of Trials – I have bad news: Trials can only end one way and those books are accelerating towards that end. In The Conquests of Brokk and the larger galactic world, my imagination is without end. I’m truly loving it and I hope you pick up a copy to read. Oh, and Rhys, I hope you’ll consider throwing your weight behind a few of the characters too!

  1. I’ll keep that in mind. Writing together has been an incredible experience. Now, you’re a prolific writer and I know part of the answer to the question I’m about to ask but I’ll ask it anyways for our wonderful readers. What can we look forward to seeing from you in the next 1-2 years besides more great books? What will your focus be on?

I really want to finish the world of Trials. I’ve taken a break for medical reasons and my move back to the United States, but you can expect a sequel in the next year. After that, plan on seeing some high-intensity conflict from the heroes of the galaxy.

If anyone is in Kansas City, look for me at your local Barnes and Noble. I’ll be doing a book signing soon and would love to chat!

Interview with Author R.J. Batla

R.J. Batla was one of the first authors I connected with when I embarked on building my own author platform. Always an encouragement, he has truly become a confidant and friend along my publishing journey. R.J. has been fascinated by fantasy novels and the worlds that authors create since he was little. R.J. admits the process of world building has been an arduous process, but proclaims it has been well worth it. He is a fantasy author, Christian, husband, and father who enjoys the outdoors and spends as much time as he can with his family. You can learn more about R.J. at his website and connect with him on Twitter, and Facebook.

1. You have two self-published books out and you’re working on your third. No doubt, you’ve grown as a writer since you began your first book draft. How would you describe your personal development as an author from then to now?

Absolutely, I’ve grown a tremendous amount since the first book draft – which I don’t even remember what it was actually. I would describe it as well worth the effort. Just like most things in life, you get out what you put in. Once I got serious about writing, I dove in headlong, reading books on the craft of writing, story structure, outlining, publishing, etc. It has been a long journey, but I’ve learned so much, and there is still so much more to learn.

2. Being able to finish one book, let alone two, is an accomplishment of itself. What hinders your progress as an author and how do you protect yourself against it?

The need for sleep! Time, actually, is the hardest thing. I have a full time job, and between that and family I don’t have as much time to write as I would like. I don’t set daily goals as far as word count, but I do try to sit down and write at least once a day. My philosophy is work hard, but stay flexible, which is essential for me. The first draft seems to come easier for me, so editing takes way more time.

3. Since you write in the science fiction and fantasy realms, how does what you see, hear, and read in the world influence your writing? Is there any main source for your inspiration?

Everything – movies, comic books, cartoons, books by other writers. For the Senturians of Terraunum series, it is a mashup of epic fantasy, superheros, and Avatar: the Last Airbender. But as far as authors, I love Jim Butcher, especially the Dresden Files, as well as Terry Brooks, with the Shannara books, and the Harry Potter books. One of the great things about being a fantasy writer is inspiration can literally come from anywhere, since you’re the creature of your world. Need orange plants to be the norm? Poof – it is!

4. It’s often heard that people don’t attempt to become an author because of negative self-doubt. What would you tell the aspiring author who thinks they’re not good enough to publish a book?

I would say “You can do it!” Becoming a writer, good or otherwise, is like anything in life – it takes practice. Every time you write something, you are growing. You have more experience today than you did yesterday. And in today’s world, help is literally at your fingertips. There are a TON of resources available, in book form, on websites, and on Facebook groups. There are lots of people more than willing to help. If you’re willing to put in a little work, you can improve your skill level (no matter what level that is). The best thing you can do is find some author mentors who will help you through the process with constructive criticism, which is delivered correctly and in a way where you learn and grow.

5. Speaking of aspiring writers, what were the circumstances of you beginning to write and how has your childhood played a role what you write now?

I’ve always loved reading, so in college I decided I wanted to write a book. It got picked up and put down several times until finally a couple years ago I decided it was something I really wanted to do, so I set out learning the craft of writing and publishing, so I could see my dream in reality! As a kid I loved cartoons, superheros, fantasy books, books in general, old westerns, sports, and the outdoors. So put all of that together, mash it up, and it comes out as… well me! So yes, my childhood definitely directed me to my genre and my style of writing.

6. Authors sometimes sneak things into their books, such as details or events that relate to something in their personal life. Is there anything you’ve sneaked into your books?

I have! There are random ‘semi’ quotes from movies, songs or books, that if you’ve seen them you might catch them. I believe the kids these days are calling them ‘Easter Eggs’? There are also a couple of scenes inspired from movies or books. From my personal life, I think it’s my style of writing/thinking, especially when writing Jayton Baird, the main character in Fire Eyes Awakened.

7. Writing is a continual education craft. What techniques do you use to improve your writing from one book to the next?

You’re right – if you’re not learning you’re going backwards! It’s not quite that bad, but there are always ways to improve. I’ve subscribed to several authors email lists, read blogs, books, and listen to podcasts. I get tips and tricks from all of these. For any beginners, or really anyone, I’d recommend Joanna Penn at The Creative Penn. She has great information and keeps up with what’s going on in the world of writing.

8. Writers have a desire and often a need to express themselves. If you could say anything at all to the entire world at once, what would it be?

Holy cow, what a question! I guess it would be to calm down, enjoy the finer things in life (like your family and friends), and let’s try to get along and understand each other.

9. Let’s close by looking towards the future. What can we expect from you in the next 1-2 years?

Hopefully, lots more books! The goal is to put out a new book at least every six months. Before 2017 closes down, I’ll be putting out “Tempus,” the next novel in the Origins of Terraunum series which outlines some of the characters from Fire Eyes Awakened. In 2018 I’ll have the second book of The Senturians of Terraunum series, another in Origins, and if I can, book three in The Senturians. In the meantime, my email list subscribers will be getting short stories well! So, really, lots of content!

Interview with Author James Conan

James A. Conan is a Toronto-based writer and sous-chef. He has published several short stories over the past two years, focusing mainly on science fiction, but recently on literary and upmarket fiction. James is also a first reader at Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, an online magazine of speculative fiction of all types. He draws on this experience to write his blog, Notes From the Slush Pile, which offers advice to other writers looking to hone their craft and achieve publication. Other than his website, you can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

1. You manage a personal blog called Notes From the Slush Pile and refer to yourself as a “First Reader”. How has this position helped you grow as an author?

Being a First Reader has helped me become a better writer for the simple reason that it’s exposed me to a larger, unrefined body of work than I would have come across otherwise. Reading the finished, published short stories and novels of other writers is important, but this way I get to see the earlier steps in the process. I encounter the mistakes people make, many of which I’ve made myself. I have the opportunity to learn by observation all the ways that other writers can try and craft a good idea into a plausible, engaging narrative. Sometimes they succeed and I give them the thumbs up. When they don’t, gently explaining to them why what they’ve done didn’t work gives me valuable experience. I’ve been teaching myself what works and what doesn’t.

2. You’ve published quite a few short stories. Stephen King has made it clear he started with short stories as well. How would an aspiring writer know short stories could be their starting place?

The fact is I didn’t start that way. I made the mistake of writing a novel first. I was only 23 and fresh out of school, I didn’t know better. I’m still trying to get it published by the way. You can check out a sample chapter on the blog. My point is, I found out the hard way that most publishers won’t take you seriously unless you can come across as professional (I wasn’t). This means the blog, properly written queries, being at least somewhat active on social media, and most importantly having a published body of work to prove you mean business. Any aspiring writer who thinks otherwise is likely in for the same rude awakening I got. That said, once I began writing short stories to help myself get noticed, I began to appreciate the technical challenges. When I was writing the novel I could take as long as I felt I needed to get to the point, but with short stories I learned that sometimes less is more.

3. Since many of our readers are aspiring authors, what is some of the best advice you’ve received in your writing career that you can share?

I’m really better at giving it than receiving. The blog attests . If I took half the advice I gave to others I’d have way more stories and a few more books done by now. Don’t be afraid of rejection, I guess. You have to develop a thick skin. People are going to tell you why they don’t like your work. You need to be okay with that. If anything, you should share your work around with your peers, and encourage more people to give you constructive criticism. Just remember that it’s your work, not theirs, and you don’t have to make any changes you don’t want to. Other than that, just don’t give up, keep writing. It takes time to get good at anything, and the time and effort will show. To quote Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes fame; “with a little practice it can become an intimidating and impenetrable foe.”

4. The medium of publishing has seen some change with the digital era we find ourselves in. Latest of which would include chat stories, where readers receive text, audio, and video messages that push a story forward regularly like a TV show. Do you think already published authors, self or traditional, can break into these new markets with existing work?

I think so. Serializing a novel is nothing new, the technology has just given us a new format. It might take a while to really catch on, but if there’s one thing the digital age has given us more of than anything else it’s ways to consume popular culture. If authors don’t engage and chat stories don’t end up lasting, there’ll be some other new platform before too long. I’m holding out for realistic holograms.

5. With short stories, magazine articles, and novels, the use of an illustrator is typically minimal to create a great cover or add a few graphics to help with the story. Have you found trouble hiring an illustrator or graphic designer when so many work exclusively for agencies?

I haven’t really worked with enough illustrators one-on-one to answer this well. The magazines I’ve been published in have all contracted their own artists. I had nothing to do with it. For the blog, I use entirely public domain science fiction and fantasy images, mostly from Pixabay. I did hire a friend to do some concept artwork for my novel back when I was first writing it. I never ended up using it for much. It’s still hanging on my wall though. Sort of a memorial to the time and effort I put in. Ian, if you’re reading this, I promise when I get it published your stuff will be in there.

6. With so many digital readers, the end of print is always a hot-button issue. Do you think traditional print books or magazines will ever fade away, or will there simply be more options to choose from?

This is a question that people have been asking for years now. I think there’s room for both. I have a kindle app on my phone that I use to download public domain classics. Being able to read “Heart of Darkness” for free helped me pass the time on a transatlantic flight recently. Digital publishing certainly has it’s place, but it’s not going to replace print for me anytime soon. A lot of us stare at screens for a good portion of the day, be it at work or at home. Reading print books is a relaxing, sedentary pastime that lets me take my eyes away from the blue-light glow. My tiny apartment is full of bookshelves groaning under the weight of my library, and that’s just the way I like it. I can admit it’s an affectation in this digital age, but it’s one I’ll never stop enjoying and I think a lot of people out there feel the same.

7. As authors, we continually grow and develop our writing craft, whether in word, form, or style. How has your writing transformed from where you started to today?

This is an interesting one for me. I’d just finished university when I started writing seriously, so one of my biggest challenges was my own verbosity, writing stuff like I would if I were doing an academic paper. It was a big problem that I’ve (mostly) overcome. In general, I’ve had to work on being patient. It doesn’t come naturally to me, and getting anything published is almost always a long, slow process. I’d like to think that my work has become more refined as a result. I think about what I’m writing more, and go through a few more phases of editing and rewrites with every
rejection. 

8. If you could pick only one thing from one of your published short stories that might come true…what would it be and how would the world be different from it?

It’s a pretty generic answer, but space travel. Other planets in our solar system, faster than light, whatever. As a science fiction author, any significant progress in this field that might see human beings living on other planets within my lifetime would be a dream come true. As for what that might mean for the world at large, I’m not chasing some vision of utopia. I think humans generally make a lot of catastrophic mistakes. It just might mean that a mistake that kills this planet might not kill all of us. Optimistic pessimism.

9. What can we expect to see from you in the next 1-2 years?

In the next year or two I expect my next novel to be done. I’m moving away from science fiction towards more mainstream fiction. “I Think I Can” is the story of a down and out motivational speaker who finds himself in therapy after his wife leaves him, and the personal and professional obstacles he encounters on his road to recovery. The first two chapters were published in short story form in The Danforth Review. In the meantime, I’ve got plenty of other short stories I’m trying to find homes for. I’m also going back to school this fall. Working as a First Reader woke a deeper interest in publishing for me, so ‘ll be taking a post-graduate course in book and magazine publishing at Centennial College here in Toronto in order to pursue that.

Interview with Illustrator Alicia Arlandis

Alicia Arlandis is an illustrator from Valencia, Spain, a beautiful city near the coast. She’s been interested in art for as long as she can remember and has been illustrating for over twelve years. Alicia loves drawing, painting, reading, and teaching, both older people and children. She is a graphic designer and illustrator that loves continual learning in both areas. To learn more about her, check out Alicia’s website and Alicia’s Twitter account.

1. You’re a very talented illustrator with a fascinating portfolio online and you’ve mentioned being interested in art your whole life. What are the earliest memories you have that have helped shape your career as an illustrator and what can other parents do to cultivate a love of art in their family?

Since I was little, I remember that in my house, my family valued all artistic ability. We are five sisters (I am the little one along with my twin sister) and everyone, including my parents have artistic skills. Whether painting or illustrating, how to write or sewing … We value all kinds of artistic expression and my parents fostered in me the love of art in a very natural way. I would recommend that parents encourage and empower any child, whether artistic or not. To introduce your children in a didactic way and also cultivate fun hobbies.

2. Illustration software and tools are always changing. What’s your favorite medium or software to illustrate with and why? What are your least favorite?

My favorite method to illustrate is to make my sketches in pencil and then color in Photoshop with my Wacom. I do not dislike any specific method and find them all interesting!

3. Many people wonder what a great author and illustrator relationship looks like. How would you describe your ideal author/illustrator project?

My ideal relationship between author and illustrator is one based on trust, respect, empathy and communication between both parties.

4. Speaking of authors and illustrators working together, do you do freelance illustration? What would be the best approach for an author to take who would like to work with you on a project?

Yes, I’m a freelance illustrator. The way an author approaches me, is to contact me and explain his project. It’s very simple!

5. Being located in Valencia, Spain, how would you describe the international market for illustrators? Has it been easy or difficult for you to extend your reach beyond Spain?

I would describe the international market of illustrators as a very varied market with many opportunities (as long as you are consistent in looking for job opportunities). The difficult thing has been to develop my work within Spain, surprisingly. It’s funny but I value my work much more outside my country. Maybe it’s because of my style of illustration.

6. Speaking of extending one’s reach, how would you advise an aspiring illustrator who wants to grow their international presence?

I would advise aspiring illustrators and graphic designers to frequently look for contacts. It’s also important to review and refresh your portfolio (at least once a year).

7. Most illustrators have people who’s styles they look up to. Do you have anyone you look up to for their artistic style?

I admire many current illustrators but the ones that really inspire me are artists like Alphons Mucha, Gustav Klimt, Frida Kahlo and the Pre-Raphaelite artists.

8. Illustrating any project takes a lot of time and effort. What are some ways you’ve found to speed up the process from concept to delivery?

Unfortunately for me, I have not yet found any method. I am naturally a perfectionist and adore the small details, so that takes a long time. When I am immersed in a project, I have no social life! I sleep very little to make sure the project is delivered on time. Project schedules are very important.

9. I like to close by looking towards the future. What can we expect from you in the next 1-2 years?

I wish I knew! I hope to keep improving and working hard to live my profession.