WHEN DID YOU FIRST KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A WRITER AND WHY?
I have always enjoyed writing, but during my career as a clinical psychologist it initially took the form of psychological reports, custodial evaluations, and teaching materials. With several colleagues, I also co-wrote three books on family change which incorporated many children's drawings.
HOW DID YOU GET THE IDEA FOR YOUR AWARD WINNING TITLE?
When my children were infants, I made each a "starry night blanket" which became favorite security objects. We took our infant daughter and later our baby son up the hill behind our house and, in introduction, lifted each to the sky. "World, this is our daughter (son). Daughter (son), this is the World." I used the concept of a starry night blanket in my book as an object providing visual continuity for the reader and as a symbol of Daniel's developmental growth, in terms of how he uses and needs his blanket. It seemed natural to include the blanket in the book's title.
I first published Rad Art: A Journey Through Radiation Treatment (American Cancer Society, 2012).
I did not think about creating another book until my experience having cancer propelled me toward "paying it forward." Rad Art: A Journey Through Radiation Treatment was an "accidental" book rather than intentionally planned. It shares the private visual and written daily log I kept during radiation treatment for cancer. Creating a small painting in 20 minutes or less immediately after each of 33 treatment sessions was a personal strategy I devised to help me express and better understand my intense and unsettling emotions about having cancer. Only later did I agree to share it as a book.
I created my second book, Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket: A Story of Illness and Sibling Love, which won a Gold Medal in the Literary Classics International Book Awards Program (Picture Book/Preschool Category), as a way to bring attention to very young children who are emotionally impacted by illness in an older sibling. My experiences as a clinical psychologist, cancer survivor, and now professional artist underlie the development of the book – both in words and illustrations.
AS A CHILD, WHAT DID YOU ASPIRE TO BE WHEN YOU GREW UP?
As the child of a curious father and artistic mother, I've always loved solving problems and creating things. In college I initially wanted to be a philosopher because I was so drawn to ideas and the mysteries and conundrums of life. As an offshoot, I began studying psychology, especially developmental and clinical psychology. All of these studies were also no doubt in pursuit of understanding myself. I later switched my major to psychology because it resonated with me emotionally as well as intellectually.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LINE FROM YOUR AWARD WINNING BOOK AND WHY?
"Dad borrowed a microscope to show them cells from plants and animals. Daniel pretended they were Kate's cancer cells and yelled at them, 'GO AWAY, RIGHT NOW!' Then the whole family roared, 'GO AWAY, RIGHT NOW!' in their biggest voices. Soon they were laughing together."
I like this quotation because it depicts the father helping the children learn about cells and Kate's cancer. It also communicates Daniel's desire to chase away his sister's illness. And together, the family members find empowering humor in the situation as they yell at the cells.
WHICH OF YOUR CHARACTERS FROM YOUR AWARD WINNING TITLE DO YOU BELIEVE ARE MOST LIKE YOU AND WHY?
I identify with the children and their parents, each trying to cope with their emotional response to Kate being so ill. I have great empathy for sick children and for family members who may feel ill-attended and left out. The mother in my book no doubt reflects my own way of parenting my children — hopefully with kindness, acceptance, and guidance.
WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU HOPE READERS WILL GLEAN FROM YOUR AWARD WINNING BOOK?
I want readers to understand more fully the impact of pediatric illness on each person in a family, not just the ill child. I want the book to give young children encouragement to express their feelings in such a tough situation, increase empathy for healthy siblings as well as an ill child, and support parents in the challenge of juggling the needs of all their children.
TELL US SOMETHING RANDOM/INTERESTING/FUNNY ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A WRITER:
Neither of my books was created in a traditional manner — straight-forward "writing" per se. The first, Rad Art, evolved from a private visual strategy I devised to help keep myself steady during cancer treatment. This material only later became a book when professionals and friends repeatedly urged me to share my painting and written log to help others on the same journey.
I created my second book, Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket: A Story of Illness and Sibling Love, by painting an illustration and then crafting the words to accompany the picture. I would get an idea about how to visually portray an interaction in the family, and after creating the painting, would find the verbal narrative to go with it.
WHICH AUTHOR HAS MOST GREATLY INFLUENCED YOUR WRITING STYLE?
Among children's books, I have always admired Maurice Sendak's work and Judith Viorst's Alexander and the Terrible Horrible Very Bad Day. Both authors have whimsy, wit, and warmth.
WHAT BOOK HAS HAD THE GREATEST IMPACT ON YOUR LIFE?
I am widely read and cannot pick just one book!
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST LITERARY ACCOMPLISHMENT?
Perhaps completing my dissertation! More seriously, I don't think of myself as having literary accomplishments, but just someone who has created several books that are compassionate and visually appealing resources in tough medical situations.
DO YOU HAVE ANY WRITING RITUALS?
My writing often evolves out of my painting, which centers and calms me. This state then allows words to arise and take shape as a description or a narrative. I am trying to become more lean in both my painting and my writing, leaving greater space for viewer and reader interpretation and reaction.
Sometimes a painting will inspire a haiku. Now I am trying to reverse this by experimenting with writing haikus, which may then inspire paintings.
HOW DID YOU FIND AN AGENT / GET PUBLISHED?
For Rad Art, I decided that I would actively try, literally for a week, to find a publisher. I knew this was insufficient time, but I was ambivalent about putting my private cancer story out there publicly and very busy in my art career. I am so glad that I contacted the American Cancer Society during that trial week, because the book director responded positively within several days. Having learned subsequently from readers how much the book has helped them, I am now very happy I shared my story.
Finding a publisher for Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket: A Story of Illness and Sibling Love was quite different. I tried for a number of months and gathered some rejections. But along the way, I found that many people, both professionals and those personally touched by pediatric cancer, saw the book as potentially very helpful to families. My strong belief in the project's worth propelled me toward self-publishing. In spite of the high cost and the huge challenges of marketing, I am glad that I went forward.
WHAT DID YOU DO TO CELEBRATE THE COMPLETION/PUBLISH DATE/OR OTHER OF YOUR AWARD WINNING BOOK?
When I finally saw the first printed copy, I breathed deeply and rested for a couple of days!
CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE PROCESS OF BECOMING PUBLISHED AND ANY TIPS YOU MIGHT OFFER FOR OTHER ASPIRING AUTHORS?
· Believe in your project, or don't proceed!
· Don't rush any of the stages of getting your manuscript ready for publication.
· Accept and embrace that creating a successful book entails far more than writing.
CAN YOU OFFER ANY ADVICE FOR WRITERS ON HOW BEST TO PROMOTE THEIR BOOK?
· Promote your book in multiple arenas — print, social media, blogs, talks, signings, and more.
· Identify your niche audience and find ways to reach them.
· Don't assume that being on Amazon.com is enough to get your book out there.
· Carefully pick and use key words online.
· Be involved and patient during the marketing process.
· If you are shy about promoting your book, remember that marketing is key to anyone discovering (and buying!) your book.
LITERARY CLASSICS Book Awards & Reviews International Book Awards • Top Honors Youth Book Awards • Seal of Approval http://www.clcawards.org