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Friday, January 6, 2012

Visiting with Tween Author, Aileen Stewart and Her Work.

I was raised in a small Ohio town with a population of about 5000. This area was divided into two basic types of people, the town folk and the country folk.  I was a Townee, but my good friend Kathe and her family lived on a farm which I loved to visit on a regular basis. So much so, that if my mom wasn’t available to drive me, I was willing to ride my bike three miles out and three miles back. My favorite thing to do was gather the eggs, but I even tried my hand at milking a goat once. When not rambling about the countryside, I could usually be found in the library with my nose in a good book. Today I live in a slightly larger town only thirty minutes from the town where I grew up. I’m still a Townee, but now I read and volunteer at the library. I am in charge of the children’s display case and every now and then the main display case. The children’s librarian, Ms. Becky, says it’s because I’m creative and she’s not, but if truth be told I think she was just so tired of seeing me at the library she thought she should put me to work!
Tell us about the genre of your work.
 I write children’s fiction for the 8 to 12 tween group. When I first set out to write a book, I had planned on it being a chapter book. Somehow, though, each chapter kept turning into a short story. Finally I gave in and decided to write a collection of short stories. This concept seems to be working for both me and the readers I have received feed back from so far.
Why did you choose this genre?
I didn’t really choose this genre as much as it chose me. Several years ago when my daughter was younger we would watch cartoons together. Every day as we watched, I noticed that most of the programs we chose to view were based on children’s books. The more I saw that, the more I began to think that I could write a book good enough to be turned into a cartoon.  One day I quit thinking about it and just began to write.
What are some of your books, stories that have been published?
While Fern Valley-A Collection of Short Stories is my first book to be published so far, I did have a short mystery story titled The Case of the Thoughtful Thief published in an online/print magazine a few years ago.
What ages do you direct your books?
As I mentioned briefly before, my book is geared toward the 8 to 12 tween group. However, my wishful thinking is that it is a great read for people from 6 to 86.
Could you tell us more about your books?
Let children discover Fern Valley, and they will step back in time to a place where a nineteen fifties small town feel brings a sense of peace and security. A place where no one locks their doors and everyone knows everyone else. A place where above all, the characters know they are loved and supported by their families, friends, and even the surrounding community.
Told through the eyes of youthful farm animals, this work is a series of short stories about children, their feelings, and how they deal with life. Characters such as Roberta and Mildred Cornstalk, two ordinary but imaginative chickens living on a small farm with their parents and brother, display the resiliency of children even when faced with issues such as the loss of a loved one.
A plethora of other colorful characters from goats to rabbits are sure to entertain with their antics and insights. As the readers find out what happens to Roberta and Mildred’s brother Edward when he goes fishing, what birthday surprise is in store for Betsy Woolrich, or what lesson Kimmy Curlytail learns when she keeps something that is not hers, they will be drawn in as surely as if they themselves were present.
 Fern Valley can be found by its ISBN 9781617395277 at most online bookstores such as Amazon, B&N, Powells, Borders, Parable Christian books, etc… It can also be found on the international Amazon sites like Amazon UK, Canada, Germany, and France. I have even seen it offered at Paddyfields the online book store for residents of Hong Kong.
Do your books have a teaching objective?  If so, what is it?
Yes, Fern Valley does have a teaching objective. In Fern Valley you will find references to honesty, hard work, and kindness, but the main concepts can really be boiled down to Fun, Family, and Friendship! 
How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your books?

I actually used several different methods to come up with character names. Although Fern Valley is not set in the 1950’s, it has a 1950’s quality to it which made me think that I wanted old fashioned names. The first two characters I created were sister chickens named Roberta and Mildred. Next, I wanted the last names to somehow bring to mind the type of animal to which they belonged. For instance, the last name of the chickens is Cornstalk, the last name of the rabbits is Bigpaw, and the last name of the turkeys is Redfeather. Finally, the childhood memory of a family down the street who had a passel of boys all of which had names starting with the letter “J” caused me to give all six of my pig brothers names that started with the letter “J”.

How did you develop the character/s of your in each of your books?

That’s a good question, but I really don’t know how to answer. They just sort of come to me as I sit.

Is there a unique character or a recurring character if you have more than one published or to be published book?

I’d like to think each of my Fern Valley kids is unique. Some are quiet and generally shy, some are outspoken, some are bookish, and others are sports oriented.  Some are only children, while others have numerous siblings. Some are town kids and some are Farm kids. The more that I think about it, the more I’d have to say they are quite the eclectic group.

What is your favorite thing about your book/s?
I think my favorite thing about Fern Valley is the fact that although each story is individual, the characters and the community are the same throughout the entire book.
Is your book illustrated?  If so, would you tell us by whom, and if you worked with an illustrator, can you discuss that experience?
Fern Valley’s illustrator is Greg White, and he was provided for me by Tate Publishing. Since Tate is located in Oklahoma and I am in Ohio, Greg called me and made first contact. We had a long chat about what I had in mind for illustrations. At the time I didn’t really have any concrete ideas, just the idea that the characters should be dressed and everything should have a 1950’s feel. Greg asked if overalls and dresses was what I had in mind, which was right on point. Normally what Tate offers is ten full page illustrations, but after Greg and I discussed the matter he said he could give me twelve illustrations if I wanted small pen and ink style drawings. This way, each of the twelve stories ended up having its own individual illustration. It took him about a week to work up some character sketches for me and when I saw them I knew that it was Divine providence that Greg was my illustrator!
How is writing in the genre you write, different than other genre?
I’m not really sure since the only other genre I have ever tried was that of poetry. I believe that writing, no matter what the genre, has to come from your heart; so in that respect they are all probably pretty similar.
Are there any problems in getting children’s’ books published? 
If only you could have heard me chuckle before I began typing the answer to this question! I think there is difficulty in getting published in any genre. Although there are hundreds of thousands of books published each year, there are probably millions of manuscripts sent in by people wishing to be published. A particular difficulty occurs if you are a new author because many traditional publishers are shying away from new talent due to the poor economy. They are instead sticking with the authors who are tried and true best sellers.
Why and when did you begin writing?
I actually began writing when I was nine years old and my fourth grade teacher had my entire class enter a poetry contest. I won honorable mention for a poem entitled The Little Lamb. Through the years that followed I dreamed of becoming an author and each time my father had a hunting or fishing article published I would think, I will do that too when I grow up.  I would continue to write short stories and poetry for many years, but never actually pursued writing as a career until about three years ago.
What is your writing schedule?
Despite reading numerous times that a writer should write every day, I generally only write when the mood strikes. Sometimes I will write every day for weeks and other times I will go a month or two without writing.  When I am in the writing zone, however; I tend to write after my daughter has gone to bed for the night and the house is quiet.
What projects are you working on now, or plan for the future?
 I just finished Return to Fern Valley-Another Collection of Short Stories which I am currently proofing. Since one reviewer commented that she could almost taste the scrumptious desserts written about in my first book, I have been toying with the idea of combining my favorite pastimes writing and baking. So recently, I started a third Fern Valley book which will include stories and recipes.
What kind of advice or tips to you have for someone who wants to write and get published?
 Be able to handle the word “NO” repeatedly. Be persistent, believe in yourself, accept constructive criticism, don’t be afraid rewrite often, and write what you know.
Are there any other comments, advice or tips that you would give to beginning writers? Contrary to what you might think, spelling and grammar are of the utmost importance!
What do you do when you are not writing?
 When I am not writing I can often be found cooking and baking. Some of my favorite dishes to make are chocolate cheesecake, fruit pizza, chicken curry, and vegetable beef soup. I also love to feed and watch the birds, travel, work in my flower gardens, visit my relatives, read a good book, volunteer at my daughter’s school, work on craft projects,  put together puzzles, attend auctions, and I almost always dance to the music at the end of a good movie.
Anything else you would like to add?
My motto is “Kids who read can do anything!”
What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?
Every single breath I take is a “Made it” moment. It’ just good to be alive!
You can find out more about Aileen at these sites:
My website “Fun For Kids” can be found at
My FB fan page can be found at
My blog “Aileen’s Thoughts” can be found at


Lisa Tortorello said...

Great interview! I had the pleasure of meeting Aileen this past summer and she is a wonderful person. I enjoyed reading "Fern Valley" not only for the cute and interesting characters that Aileen created, but because each story has a lesson that kids could carry with them.

Peggy Strack said...

Can't wait to read Fern Valley. I'll look for it on Amazon and my local Barnes and Noble. I'm a speech-language pathologist (and fiction writer) for a school district and am always looking for stories with the themes of Fern Valley for my students to read and discuss. Your characters sound wonderful.

Aileen Stewart said...

Thank you ladies for stopping by and for the compliments.