Why and when did you begin writing?
I have been writing (and drawing) since I can remember. I have always loved making up stories and drawing pictures. My teachers always told my parents that I had a vivid imagination and I loved to doodle all over my work. I especially love to write poetry. In high school, my English teacher published one of my poems in the yearbook. That was exciting for me. That may have triggered the publishing bug. As I began my career in Early Childhood as a nanny, then a teacher, my love for children’s books grew. I loved to make up songs for concepts I was teaching which later turned into books for children. While I was a First and Second Grade teacher, I wrote a story called A Day Without Ms. Hatting to teach my students about how to treat a substitute teacher and how to see her point of view. My students responded well to the story and so began Flip Side Stories™.
Flip Side Stories™ is a series of stories that is intended to teach children to see another point of view. Each story has two sides of the same everyday situation to which children can relate. I have written 6 stories and I have a few more in the beginning stages. Just Because is about two families who are learning the value of giving to those in need and learning about needs and wants. The first family teaches their children why is important to give to others as they struggle to give their things away. The other family is the family in need. They are teaching their children that even though they do not have a lot, they too can help others who are in more need than they are and to be thankful for the things they receive and already have. Just Because teaches the value of giving, being thankful, having empathy and compassion and working together to reach a goal.
You can find Just Because at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1933916907
and my author page on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/author/amberhousey
and my author page on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/author/amberhousey
Do your books have a teaching objective? If so, what is it?
The Flip Side series teaches children how to see new perspectives, respect other points of view and encourages empathy and compassion for others. Each individual story has its own lessons like self-perception, animal care, social cues, empathy, respecting other’s things, bullying and more. Each story is divided in two parts and written almost exactly the same but in two perspectives. My books have two clear voices of the same everyday situation that is familiar to children and the adults who will read them. Many of the lessons are those that my family values and I am certain many other families will too.
How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your books?
My own family inspires the characters in the Flip Side series. The illustrator, Denise Clemmensen, asked me for a picture of my kids and used them to create three of the children. The dog, Mango, in the story is my Cockapoo. We now have a new Cockapoo named Hershey that my kids insist has to be in the next story. I have to agree. She might feel left out (kidding). I, also, asked Denise to include characters and objects from future Flip Side Stories including Mango (the dog), a toy robot, a girl in the mirror, Victor (the homeless man) and Army boots. Each story is based on true-life experiences that we have had as a family.
Is there a unique character or a recurring character if you have more than one published or to be published book?
I am hoping that Mango, the dog, will be a reoccurring character in the series because children can relate to animals and everyone finds them endearing. Mango has a story of his own about how “his boy” is too rough with him and does not read his cues that he is unhappy. I wrote it because my son was being too rough with our dog causing him to grow and hide. We were constantly trying to tell him why Mango was trying to get away and that he was scaring him. One day I wrote a story from my son’s point of view and Mango’s point of view. I read it to him and he began to treat the dog with more respect.
What is your favorite thing about your book/s?
I have read many children’s books and I have never come across a concept like Flip Side Stories™ that teaches children how to see two sides of the same story in the way I write mine. Aside from the amazing illustrations, I like how each story that tugs at your heartstrings a little. One of my favorite things is in the story “Victor” (unpublished), the homeless man. It says, “He is a man with a heart, and feeling you see. He is down on his luck in the land of the free.” It helps create a sense of empathy for Victor. All of the stories have an element like that.
Is your book illustrated? If so, would you tell us by whom, and if you worked with an illustrator, can you discuss that experience?
In the illustration process, the first thing Denise had to do was create character sketches. She had to draw each character with different expressions and angles to show that she can be consistent with each character. This can be a difficult task in a 32-page book. After the character sketches were approved, my editor, Kris, and I had to map out what we wanted on each page of the book. I gave Denise some creative license. She needs guidelines though so we would not end up with something totally different than we wanted. She sketched the entire book and sent it to us for approval. Once approved, she began painting the illustrations on appropriate paper for her watercolors. Throughout the process, she would send us pages to look at. She did not paint one page at a time. She paints in layers so we had to wait for the entire book before we saw any finished paintings. Finally, when it was done, we, again, had to go through it page by page for approval.
The last piece for Denise was the cover. We had to come up with a catchy looking cover. We gave her some ideas and she put some things together. Between all of us, we came up with an adorable cover. I give Denise credit for the majority of the design. I knew she could capture what I was hoping for. She sent us the originals to be scanned and then it goes to layout. After layout, we sent out the digital form of the book for endorsements. These are the people who back your books by writing a blurb that either goes on the book, in the book, on website and in promotional material.
How is writing in the genre you write, different than other genre?
Writing for young children is a tricky task and a very competitive business. It is important to read many kinds of picture books to get an idea of what is out there and what parents are buying for their children. The story should be catchy and the topic should to be familiar to young children relating to their everyday lives. For the very young, the story should be short and fun. Even if you are writing for a little bit older children, 6-8 year olds, the story should not be too lengthy either or the child will lose interest. Parents will also lose interest in reading it if it is too long and the listener will sense that.
Young children enjoy stories that have the three R’s- repetition, rhyme and rhythm. These types of stories are sing-songy and fun. Rhyming also taps into language development and re-enforces how words are related which helps an early reader with decoding. Word and sentence boundaries are also easier to distinguish with rhyming text whereas prose or full speech is a little more difficult when they are trying to become fluent.
It is not an easy task to write rhyming books and even harder to have them published. Publishers are very picky about how they are written. I spent hours with my editor making sure my story has the write rhythm or beats. You may have read many that do not rhyme perfectly but take a look at either who wrote it or who published it. If it is a big publisher, it is probably a known author. If it is a small publisher, they may not be as picky (which is not a good thing). My publisher and editor are extremely picky during the editing process. Her books have won many awards, so it pays off.
Are there any problems in getting children’s’ books published?
Publishers are inundated with hundreds, even thousands of books every year. I have noticed that many have completely closed their doors (mailboxes) to unsolicited manuscripts. You must have an agent solicit your book. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find an agent to represent you for the same reasons, too many authors. Many also do not want to represent an unpublished author.
What? How does that make sense? This is where independent publishers step in to help out authors. Unfortunately, the smaller companies do not have the capital to support their authors so the author has to pay for the entire process. The up side is that the author has control over the process and in some cases makes their money back on the first print. The publisher will then take a small percentage thereafter. Another benefit is that you have access to their editors, illustrators and printers. Going it alone as a self-published author requires you to do all of the legwork, contracts and find all of your own services. In all cases, it is important to make sure they are reputable companies with a good reputation and successful books. Do your homework carefully and read your contracts. Even better, hire a copyright lawyer to as I did to make sure you are not being taken advantage of.
What is your writing schedule?
I write when the inspiration hits me. I am so busy with my kids that it is difficult for me to sit down everyday to write. I write in my head. I will roll the ideas around in my head trying to find the flow. It may take a few minutes or a couple weeks to find the emotion and direction that I need to write it down. Once it comes, the story will start to play out in my head and I realize that I have to write it down before I lose it, wherever I am. I have written on napkins, in notebooks, on scrap paper, in the dark (literally) and on mirrors (full stories). I always try to keep a pen and paper handy wherever I go.
What projects are you working on now, or plan for the future?
I continue to add to the Flip Side series. I have many other books outside of the series that I come back to every once in a while to re-edit. I, also, enter contests. I will continue to reach out to the public by way of Facebook and Twitter to share my mission. I will do book signings, school visits and I will do presentations for adults. I have a couple of presentations for the Storytellers Guild and the Metropolitan Detroit Association for the Education of Young Children’s annual conference later this year.
What kind of advice or tips to you have for someone who wants to write and get published?
Publishing is a difficult thing to break into but if you have a drive to share your books, talk to anyone and everyone. Tell everyone about your books and stories. You never know whom you will talk to about it that might be able to help you. I think it is important to share your books or stories with others to get their feedback. Feedback is critical. People reading your work are ultimately the ones buying and promoting your book. Find others who have published to find out how they got their books published.
I have a friend published a book (Michael D. Scott). I asked him to sit down with me and go over the process. He loved what I was doing and introduced me to his publisher. The biggest key to writing books is to read books in your genre, get to know the different styles, get to know what is out there and what is not out there yet and figure out what your own style is.
What do you do when you are not writing?
When I am not writing, I love to spend time with my children and family. We enjoy soccer in the spring and fall and skiing in the winter. I love to take photographs and draw. I have recently taken up kickboxing, which is fun and great exercise. I like to stay in shape and we try to eat well. However, I cannot resist a bowl of chocolate chip mint ice cream or a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup. My husband and I love to eat and try interesting restaurants. Our children are great eaters too. We are teaching them to try all kinds of food. I enjoy my pups, Mango and Hershey. They are sweet and fun little dogs that follow me all over the place. Lastly, I have an ongoing battle with the laundry monster that fills my laundry room with an unending mountain of dirty clothes. We have never come to terms and I do not think we ever will.
What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?
In my life, I have worked very hard for everything I have accomplished. I worked full time and went to school to become a teacher. I loved teaching so much that it was evident in my work. My love of teaching earned me a “Teacher of Year” award. Even better than the award, my students who are graduating high school and college now, come back and tell me how I impacted their life. I would not trade that for any award.
I do not know what the success of my book will be but just being published is an “I made it” moment. I am in a select group of people who are talented and unique. I am proud of that. Now, I am going to continue to work hard to share my mission with people all over the world with honesty, integrity and passion.
You can learn more about me and Flip Side Stories™ and become a Flipsider on my website, http://www.theflipsidestories.com/, my blog, http://amberhousey.blogspot.com/, on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/flipsidestories and follow me on Twitter via “imaflipsider.