T.A.A. CARES – Author Spotlight #2 – Julie Hedlund’s Epic Hybrid Author Adventure

As I mentioned last week, T.A.A. CARES is kicking into overdrive for the winter holidays, and in honor of Picture Book Month, our next author spotlight is children’s author Julie Hedlund-

Photo-2-crop (Julie Hedlund Mini)

(Meet Julie, the ORIGINAL “Guru of Gratitude”)


I first discovered Julie when she first guest starred on an episode of “Brain Burps About Books” (Episode  #78, to be exact, which you can listen to here: http://katiedavis.com/78), the #1 podcast about the business and craft of Children’s Publishing, founded and hosted by author-illustrator Katie Davis, who discovered Julie by following her progress back in her “Pre-Published” days as a blogger who back in January 2012 fueled the spark of the picture book writing challenge known as 12×12 (Now in its second year) that has already become a living phenomenon for picture book authors and illustrators the world over.


For those still unaware, 12×12 is a writing challenge specifically for picture book writers and author-illustrators. It’s a YEAR long program designed to provide support, tips and tricks, and inspiration to the writers who participate. Anyone who’s tried to write a picture book will tell you that it’s NO CAKEWALK (What is a “Cakewalk” anyway?) To put it bluntly, and forgive the cliché, it’s harder than it looks. Really.

In some ways, 12×12 is like the picture books writer’s equivalent to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month that begin in November 1999 and been held yearly every November since), in terms of an active community support from fellow writers, the event’s founders, and over the years various bestselling authors providing pep talks, and sometimes taking on the challenge themselves.

Some authors even BEGAN their emerging careers via NaNoWriMo, though not necessarily debuting or otherwise publishing the books they originally drafted during NaNoWriMo.

But there’s  one KEY difference to keep in mind. Unlike NaNoWriMo, or similar MONTHLY events like PiBoIdMo (National Picture Book Idea Month)  where you just have to jot down 30 IDEAS for picture books, not full drafts, or NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month, Originally Founded in April 2003, and has since occurs yearly in March), 12×12 is a YEAR LONG program where the goal is to draft as CLOSE to 12 picture books that you can get, and at those who register in early January are eligible fabulous prizes, and introduced in 2013 was the chance to get critiques from agents, editors, and published authors that can help take your manuscripts to the next level. But you NEED to register in early January to be eligible, and on that note, and there’s something else that’s to key to remember.

Starting in 2013, 12×12 (Which was free its inaugural year) has evolved to a tiered-payment model, partly because year-long events take a LOT of planning, administration, moderating, rounding up authors, agents and editors to lend their expertise and support that takes them away from their own work, and yes, a fair amount of money, for the running of the site and its community, and being able to offer such rad prizes for the writers who take part.

Also because while this event can help writers, writers are also in business, and like in any other career, we balance our charity GENEROSITY (Things we gladly give away to our blog readers, newsletter subscribers  close writer friends, etc.) and things we charge for to maintain our livelihood.

Keep in mind that many writers are also parents, have spouses, and often have to work two or MORE jobs for the bulk of their income. Not all authors are able to earn a living solely through their writing.

I’m not a parent or married, but I STILL HAVE issues with finances, or lack thereof, and like Julie, I too am trying to find ways that will earn me income without putting my writing dreams on indefinite hold.

Something a few of my writer friends (Who are parents and in some cases caring for their own now elderly parents) are being forced to do. Authors provide services that  allow them to stay in the business of publishing, even if the path to selling your first book (Or your second, third, or 20th) is LONG.

PiBoIdMo (National Picture Book Idea Month) is also run in a similar manner regarding eligibility for the prizes author and the end. Though PiBoIdMo, and most other writer challenges are free to participate, some like NaNoWriMo appreciate donations to both keep the site (and it’s conjoined community) running as smooth as possible, and to give back to worthy causes.


It’s on that note I get to what I ask my T.A.A. readers to do to help support Julie. In addition to founding and hosting her 12×12 picture book wiring challenge; she’s a regular contributor to the “Brain Burps About Books” podcast, got repped by a literary agent, published her first picture book APP called “A Troop is a Group of Monkeys” illustrated by Pamela Baron, is now also available in print, both from Little Bahalia Publishing, and contributes to CBI’s “Fighting Bookworms” clubhouse community (For paid subscribers of the monthly Children’s Book Insider newsletter) as their “Guide to the Future of Publishing.”



She’s also a SCBWI member (As am I, though my membership expired this month and I have to wait until December to renew…[Sigh])


Her (Potentially) next picture book is a bedtime verse tale called “My Love for You is the Sun” will also be published by Little Bahalia Publishing, but here’s the twist, being a small press, Little Bahalia can really worth directly with authors in a personal,  more intimate way that larger publishers often can’t, partly due to their larger overhead costs, unless you’re one of their bestsellers (And even then there are countless variables involved on a per author basis), but what larger publishers can lack in being more personable with their authors, can (At least PARTLY) make up for in wider distribution, better line up reviews on sites like The Horn Book, Kirkus, and School Library journal, connecting with library systems nationwide, and some significant marketing efforts in addition to whatever authors do on their own.


Plus, larger publishers (I don’t mean JUST “The Big 5” Folks!) are also high-end indie publishers like Candlewick Press, Chicken House, Nosy Crow, and FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX (aka The ORIGINAL “F.S.G.”) having more pull in brick and mortar retailers, which for print books (ESPECIALLY in the children’s book market) is a BIG DEAL.


Ebooks have their place, and are a strong preference for some teens and adults, especially if space for print books is limited, etc. But children by and large (And adults, myself included) still prefer print books, and in picture books especially, are still the preference of teachers and parents, especially the “rare few” who are able to make time to read to their kids, day or night!


In order for Little Behalia to publish, “My Love for You is the Sun” they need additional funding for the illustrations, and final production costs they can’t cover alone, and Julie (With assistance from her agent) worked out a deal with Little Bahelia Publishing to start a Kickstarter campaign to earn the needed funds, which would allow Little Behalia to add this book to their future release list.


Here’s what I ask of you, my loyal readers (Especially if any of you are authors or have blogs tied to children’s books, parenting, or literacy) to spare some time (And Money if possible) to Julie’s crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter-

 (FYI, that GORGEOUS ILLUSTRATION is only ONE of the 20+ pages of art to accompany the final printed book)


As with my previous spotlight for “FETCH” this is a project I believe in, and I know from following Julie since 2012, she is a writer you can trust. I would NEVER spotlight projects on T.A.A. CARES if they didn’t come from real people who put their trademark grit and heart into it.

Even though publishing is a business (Which is hard for me to type because I feel it can have negative connotations due to the jerky scammers that sadly do exist from time to time. It’s NOT always “Lack of will to work hard” but “Lack of MONEY!” which isn’t the same as saying “I don’t want to pay for good help” but I just can’t fund it all alone. Period.), writers still need to put PASSION into what they do.

Potential readers, especially kids and teens, know when you’re not genuine. While authors need to have tightly written stories to warrant the costs of publication (ESPECIALLY authors who self-publish with no help from a publisher) they still NEED the love and passion ONLY THE AUTHOR can provide. But even the most business-savvy authors can’t do it ALL ALONE!

Kickstarter (Among a few other sites) is another way for authors who can’t head up the costs to publishing themselves, and because Kickstarter’s platform is “All or Nothing” if the total needed funds aren’t meant, the project “fails” and all donations are returned to their respective donors. (Called “Backers” on Kickstarter)

To crack down on jerky scammers, and to aid in avoiding various integrity issues, Kickstarter also has to screen and approve proposed projects, so you need to be sure your proposal covers EVERYTHING, and like with traditional publishers and literary agents, projects can be rejected, but once the project’s approved, you’re in the system, and from there it’s up to you to ensure you do all you can to promote the project (In a sane NON-spammy way!), and let fate do the rest…


As an soon-to-be published author myself (Also via the small press route) it allows me to give back to authors on the same path as me. To deliver the most genuine and passion-soaked stories I can to share with the world, and (While I do want to make some money) I long for the day to receive a letter (Paper or iPad) from a kid or teen who fell in love with a book I’d written, just as the authors I love and admire touched my heart and inspired me to be part of this wonderful tradition of storytellers.

In closing, my loyal readers, I ask you to spread the word, and if you can, spare whatever money you can to ensure that like FETCH, “My Love for You is the Sun” finds its way not just to publication, but to the readers (Young and old) who need it most. You know I will.

Until next time, may the fantastic fauna be with you.



Critter Chat With Kelly Hashway!

When I decided to to interviews on T.A.A., I had many writers I in mind, but minus the ones who aren’t dead/too busy or impossible to reach, I soon realized that the perfect person to debut was someone who while I’ve yet to meet in person, has been an encouraging and precious colleague of mine, the up and coming Kelly Hashway.

Kelly’s debut picture book, “May the Best Dog Win” has found many a grateful reader in the nearly two years since it’s publication.

Her second picture book, The Perfect Puppy, which she collaborated with illustrator, and sister, Heather, and her two-part short story “The imaginary Friend” are her first self-published efforts, both available now from Amazon.

Plus, she recently sold her first two YA novels, the first of which to debut in the near future.

Corny as this sounds, I knew Kelly long before she started make a name for herself, before she’d found her agent, before she sold a book, but even three years ago, she was taking her baby steps in the realm of short fiction and nonfiction for various magazines and anthologies, including the Anthology, “Trunk Stories, where both Kelly and myself have a story in this collection, though it  didn’t pay even a dime, it was special being in the same book as Kelly, a writer I actually knew beyond her author bio to some extent, and who knew me, as well as the other writers from my former critique group (Of which Kelly is also a member) was something special, and I’m glad they talked me into it.

She’s earned every bit of the success she’s achieved in past and recent history, and inspires me to keep pushing ahead, and not let the many, and I meant MANY setbacks, some of which I’m still fighting through, get me down too long.

But as you’ll read in this debut edition of Critter Chat, Kelly and I have a lot more in common than it might first sound like on paper, and you’ll learn how there’s one type of story that we both fear the thought of, and she’s braver in some of her writing than I am, so this surprised me as much as it may those of you who’ve read Kelly’s work in the past.

Something I’ve noticed lately is that many writers who specialize in short fiction tend to find writing a novel WAY beyond them, for whatever reason, and most who are content with short fiction admit never even attempting a novel, again, for varying reasons. This is so opposite my path. While they weren’t great, my first stories were novel-length, and it was only when I started the magazine course at ICL (Institute of Children’s Literature) that I gave short fiction a fair shake, and while it still kind of confines me, and is humbling beyond words, I did learn things worth learning, and I still plug away at short stories whenever I can. Do you approach the short form differently from the long form? If not, how are they similar for you?
Kelly: They are definitely different for me. It’s tough to get an entire story into a small amount of space. I usually come up with my idea, which a lot of times seems like just a snippet of an idea because I’m used to writing novels, and I plan the major event and turning point. Most of what I write now is flash fiction, under 500 words, so there’s not a lot of room. I have to choose every word carefully.

You’ve had a few short stories published, yet you clearly enjoy writing in longer forms, which I personally feel most comfortable with. Have you always done short stories and novels concurrently? Did you begin in one form exclusively before others?
Kelly: I swore I was a novel only writer. But then I enrolled at ICL and I liked writing shorter pieces, too. I write at least one short piece a week now in addition to working on a novel.

Have you ever known of other writers (Either personally, or those you read, love and follow) that find short stories WAY too limiting for similar reasons as the short story writers who find novels too overwhelming?
Kelly: Absolutely! I’ve had writers tell me they’d love to write short stories to get some publishing credits, but they can’t adhere to the small word count. Everyone is different. Some like short, some prefer long, and others, like me, try everything and hope for the best. ;)

Many writers who write YA and Adult fiction say there’s little difference, other than that YA is focused on teens, whereas adult novels with teen characters are handled in different ways, since in many cases the teens in adult fiction are the hero or heroine thinking back to that time, rather than living in it, but of course there are exceptions there. Do you think they’re the same? Why or why not?
Kelly: I really don’t. YA is different because teens are not adults. They are still figuring things out, making mistakes, and hoping to become something great. While some adults do those things too, teens and adults have different ways of viewing things and acting. Maybe I never fully grew up, but I miss being a teen. The emotions are heightened, and life seems so much more exciting. I think adults tend to lose that somewhere along the lines. And I think that’s why so many adults read YA books. We want it back.

One of the reasons I feel lots of writers, including myself, fear writing YA fiction is because while I’ve read, watched, and listened to various interviews done with writers, and publishing insiders, who all say that YA and Dark don’t have to be joined at the hip, the examples often cited by writers that aren’t dark, but not pure fluff, and teens love reading tend to be dominated with-
Meg Cabot
Ally Carter
John Green (The ONLY man apart from Jerry Spinelli I hear of)
No offense intended to the writers above (Love you!) but is that all there is? Do you know of any others you’d like to recommend?
Kelly: I have to admit, I love paranormal and fantasy, so I may not be the best person to answer this question. But…

There are other great YA authors. Alex Flinn’s Cloaked isn’t dark. It’s a fairytale retelling. Maureen Johnson’s Little Blue Envelope series is another good one. I don’t really consider Lisa McMann’s Dream Catcher books dark. And I don’t find Lauren Oliver dark either, and she’s got some great books out there. Wendy Mass’s books are not dark at all, and she’s a friend of mine.

Me: Yea! Another man to add to my small, but special list of male writers to take note of.

I know from sharing our work that you’ve written in all age groups, but between your picture books and YA novels coming soon, have you ever written “Easy Reader” books before?
Kelly: No, and honestly I don’t see myself writing one either. I think that will be the market I leave for others better suited for it.

Do you find it a challenge to keep things concise and simple for younger readers, while still sounding like YOU, instead of being too generic or overly didactic, in so few words?
Kelly: I’ve been told I do this well, but I do make a conscious effort not to be either of those things while I write. I always try to let my writing style come through. It definitely can be a challenge with short pieces though.

While telling a solid story is the most important thing for a writer, there are times when market pressures, and the needs of young readers, can further burden writers who are struggling to just tell their story, without letting these concerns, however legit, drive them insane! (I’m no exception…It’s been a slow growth process for me…) Your thoughts?
Kelly: Honestly, I write the stories I want to write. I’m in a huge paranormal stage right now and I know they are tough sells. I feel bad having just given my agent another paranormal for her to try to pitch, but I really think we can’t force ourselves to write what is trending. The story won’t be as good if it’s forced. I write first and worry about selling later.

Unlike some parent writers I’ve met, you don’t use your parental wisdoms as a weapon against us non-parents, and I so appreciate that. Do you feel the intense outcry from parents and teachers for more books for reluctant readers, or kids and teens with learning disabilities, are confusing and unfairly alienating writers who are struggling to just “Tell the D*** story as well as they can” and that educators/parents/writers are unintentionally adding fuel to the fire that can seem condescending to the non-parent writers?
Kelly: When I taught middle school, I made sure my classroom library had books for different levels of readers. There are plenty of books out there, and I think everyone can find something that suits them. Like I said earlier, when I’m writing, I focus on telling the story I need to tell and staying true to the characters. Does that mean my books won’t be for everyone? Yes. But what book is?

Me: You don’t ever have to convince me of that!

As a mom, do you feel your approach to your writing, or feelings about books in general, differ from non-parent writers, like me? If not, do you see other parent/writers you know, or if you do, in what ways?
Kelly: Being a mom did have an effect on me, but probably not how you’re thinking. I never intended to write picture books. But my daughter asked me to, and how could I say no. I actually find it difficult to read some books because I can’t bear to think of kids being tortured in some ways that they are in popular series out there. But I still give kudos to the author for being so popular and writing a great story—even if it’s not for me.

Do you think some parents and teachers forget how things feels from the prospective of the kids and teens they themselves once were, the ones they’re trying to help? Do you think that hinders their ability to reach them? Have you experienced this yourself or with your daughter?

Kelly: I love kids and I have fond memories of every age. That really helps me remember what it was like and how I felt. I related to my students and gave them credit for getting through their teen years, because they’re tough. Do some people lose sight of that? Probably. But I try to stay in tune with my inner teen as much as possible.

11. Are there writers you love reading, but have no desire to write in their genre? Who are they?
Kelly: Like I said earlier, I can’t see myself writing easy reader books or even early chapter books, so I give those authors a lot of credit. The idea of writing those books terrifies me.

12. Any writers you love reading, but find it hard to write in their genre, but strive to one day?
Kelly: I have yet to write a contemporary novel. I think I’d like to one day. Maureen Johnson is a great contemporary author.

Okay, time for the fun questions-

What’s one pet you wish you could’ve had as a kid if space, parents, and money were no object?
Kelly: An iguana. I’ve always wanted one.

What kind of pet would your daughter love to have if space, money, or you (You’re the parent now!) weren’t an issue?

Kelly: I’d have to say a small dog. She loves them, but my husband and I are big dog people.

If you could spend the day with any writer you admire, living or dead, what would you do? What would you like to ask? What would you thank him or her for writing?

Kelly: Rick Riordan hands down. I LOVE the Percy Jackson series. I would pick Rick’s brain and ask him to tour some of the places in those books with me. I’d have to thank him for helping me find my voice. That really happened after I read the Percy Jackson books. Something in me just clicked.

What book you read and loved as an adult that would make the kid you think, “What kind of “nutty” grownup did I become to like that book?” 
Kelly: LOL. I really don’t read adult books much! Um, okay I’ll say The DA Vinci Code because I did find some of the descriptions disturbing. The teen in me would’ve been very turned off by them.

Me: Thanks for stopping by, Kelly, I wish you continued success and well wishes for your family.

Kelly: Thanks for having me, Taurean!

Find out more about Kelly at her sites below-
kellyhashway.com (Picture books and early blogging years)

kellyhashway.blogspot.com (Her new main blog, focusing on MG and YA related books and topics of discussion) 

Thanks again to Kelly Hashway for giving this interview.

Until next time, this has been Critter Chat!

Take the "P" out of pain and add "G" for Gain

No Pain, No Gain.

At some point we’ve all heard or been told this phrase countless times in our lives. Especially in recent years, when our economy, government, and even Mother Nature dealt us pain we often fear they’ll be no gain at all.

But this is neither a financial or political blog, this blog is for aspiring and emerging children’s book writers, but trust me, I’m going somewhere with this.

Just like the troubling times going on worldwide, and in our respective homelands, every man, woman and child faces their own trials and triumphs. But just as our predecessors survived and thrived despite The Great Depression, and two World Wars almost back to back, we’ll survive these tough times too, even though sadly many of us will recover far slower than others.

But while the modern phrasing of this now clichéd saying is most well known, it comes from an old proverb coined by one of America’s most influential voices, Dr. Benjamin Franklin, who said in his Poor Richard’s Almanac: There are no gains without pains.

While this witty pearl of wisdom is mostly used in modern times as a self-motivator to physical fitness, it definitely applies to writers to further understand our craft, and sharpen it, like a hand crafted Chinese meat cleaver.

You’d be surprised at some of the common turns of phrase we still parrot today were first penned or made it wittingly candid by him.

“A penny saved is a penny earned” is another of his most well known quotes.One I’ve yet to master, but at least I’m not drowning in debt, and that was a ditch I nearly dug myself in, but now I’m in the black and intend to stay that way.

But Time is Money, A place for everything, and everything in it’s place, and even, Honesty is the best policy. They all came from the witty Doc Franklin himself, whose words no less true now as they were in colonial America, but despite all the ignorant prejudice and inequivalent among the American colonists faced with England, and even amongst themselves, imagine how scathing it could’ve been if we had colonial equivalent of television, Facebook, or Twitter? Can you say, “Social Death By Journalism?” 

I’ll take Death by Chocolate instead, cake that is.

One of my favorite Franklin phrases is one I first heard in 2002-

“A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.”

Peanuts Charlie Brown I imagine would find much solace in that quote. I sure do.

What I gather this means is that it’s never too late to better one’s education, or build character, and integrity where previously there was none. Something I think all writers, but especially newcomers to the field like me, need to remind ourselves every day, minute, and hour we live and on the endless journey to improve our writing, for ourselves, and the readers we one day want to have. 

Many wise and more patient writers than I always told me, the journey is more important than the destination. But I believe it’s too stark a message. Though I’ve come to see the truth to it. The destination is still important. 

If it wasn’t, many of the truly joyous moments in our lives, both as a country, as well as individuals, would’ve never occurred. I hope Ben’s Words, and mine, bring you the comfort and joy I’m starting to find again.

I’ll leave you with my all time favorite quote from Dr. Franklin I sincerely wish all my readers and fellow writers can achieve in some form, for their sake, and for the sake of the future generations of wordsmiths-

“We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

Until tomorrow,
May the fantastic fauna be with you.

P.S: While I applaud Ben for his searing sentences that speak truths we often recoil against, but need to hear anyway, I feel sorry for dogs everywhere when he uses these loyal, brave, and playful companions as metaphors on the sins and frailties of human nature. But I did find one dog quote by Dr. Franklin that shows that loyalty. As an animal lover,  whether the creatures of fact, or fiction, it was a quote I was glad to find.

Many Thanks, Ben. Many Thanks.