Children's book author Donna J. Shepherd talks about her two new picture books, Ouch! Sunburn! and No More Gunk! both under Guardian Angel Publishing's new Health and Hygiene imprint. Donna, who also writes devotionals, also talks about her working environment, book promotion, and her experience in looking for a publisher, among other things. She offers some sound, wise advice to aspiring authors.
Do you consider yourself a born writer?
I wouldn’t. I've never been one to journal, and besides a few things written for English class in high school, I didn't write. But once I started, I wrote every day!
Did you always want to be a writer?
I never really thought of writing for children until the summer of 2003 when I wrote a short poem. I submitted it to Guideposts for Kids. The editor replied favorably with a couple of suggestions. I thought I might be onto something, and wrote a couple more stanzas, and then a few more. The resulting manuscript became "Topsy Turvy Land," the first picture book published by Hidden Pictures Publishing.
And in the meantime, I continued to submit to magazines, and GP4K published one of my first poems, "My Tooth Is Missing."
Tell us about your recent release. What was your inspiration for it?
Ouch! Sunburn! is a 27 page, 94 word easy reader. My redheaded son, Aaron, to whom I dedicated the book, has always had a terrible time each summer preventing sunburn. We've learned a LOT about skin care! But the little boy in the book thinks he's smarter than mom. Sun Safety Tips in the back of the book reinforce the book’s theme.
Ouch! Sunburn! and a new book, No More Gunk!, will soon be released as a print book as part of Guardian Angel Publishing’s new Health and Hygiene line. No More Gunk! features the same little boy and tips for taking care of teeth in the back. It will be two books in one, or as Lynda calls it – “a double-doozie!” I’m sure kids will giggle at the fun illustrations Kevin came up with for Gunk!
Tell us about your other children's books.
Topsy Turvy Land was so much fun to write, and just as fun to promote. It’s a rhyming picture book with hearts hidden throughout, and a hidden picture puzzle on the back cover. I’m sure I’ll have the same delight in promoting the Ouch! Sunburn!/No More Gunk! book, too. I also have a follow-up book to Topsy Turvy Land coming soon called Dotty’s Topsy Tale. It features the polka-dotted hippo first seen in Kevin’s illustrations in Topsy Turvy Land. It deals with the delicate subject of discrimination.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? If yes, how did you ‘cure’ it?
Just about the time I think I’ve forgotten how to write and run out of inspiration, I’ll experience an ‘Aha! Moment.” It’s like I can’t get to the computer fast enough to start writing.
Some writers go on long walks, others keep a journal, write at a café, or listen to music. What do you do for inspiration and unleashing your creativity?
I like to think of God's pleasure as He created. Can you imagine Him smiling when he put that humongous beak on the toucan? And then, with a flourish, added all the beautiful colors?
As writers, we are blessed to be able to create. And as a children's writer, sometimes I'm really blessed, and the words I write are illustrated with pictures. It's so much fun to see my words come to life. I thank God every day for the joy of writing, and for allowing me the pleasure of seeing my words in print, and sometimes illustrated.
Describe your working environment.
For Valentine’s Day three years ago, my husband bought a notebook computer for me. I call it my writing machine. I write for grownups, too, and I’ve written hundreds of devotionals and articles in the last three years. So, I’m usually sitting in my family room with the television on – as I am now!
Are you a disciplined writer? What is your working style?
Oh, I’d love to say I am disciplined! I write ideas in a little notebook I keep in my handbag or even on the backs of napkins. I’ve been given several beautiful journals to write in, but I can’t bring myself to scribble in them. Eventually, all the scraps work their way into my writing.
Do you like to outline and plot ahead, or are you more of a stream-of-consciousness writer?
I start with a few lines, and have an idea of where I’m headed. It’s the middle that takes so long!
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your works?
I’m what you’d call a blogaholic! I have several. They can all be accessed through my website: http://www.donnajshepherd.com/.
I write for ‘grownups,’ too, and have lots of links and information about that on the website.
What are you working on now?
I have a publisher interested in my “Devotionals by Donna” and I’m very excited about getting to work compiling and editing my writing into a book. I’m also working on a couple more children’s books.
Where are your books available?
Topsy Turvy Land is available through any bookstore, and of course, on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The ebooks can be ordered through Guardian Angel Publishing, Fictionwise, and other sites specializing in ebooks. When they come out in print, they will have the same availability as Topsy Turvy Land in bookstores and online.
What was your experience in looking for a publisher?
I met the publisher of Topsy Turvy Land, Liz Ball, with Hidden Pictures Publishing, after looking for an SCBWI chapter. We met for a critique session without my knowing she also had her own publishing company, and had been considering publishing a picture book. I took my laptop to a meeting to show what Kevin and I were doing, and she loved it. Soon after, we met to talk about the release of the first picture book for her company. I was honored she chose mine!
Kevin introduced me to Lynda Burch with Guardian Angel Publishing. We’ve worked together on several books now. She’s a terrific promoter of her authors and great to work with.
What was your experience in working with an illustrator?
Kevin (Scott Collier) and I have worked together on several projects now. He has a wonderful sense of humor, and adds a lot of whimsy to my words through his vision. I never know what he’s going to come up with next. For “No More Gunk,” he practically turned the teeth into characters in the story.
What type of book promotion works for you? Any special strategies you’d like to share?
Networking is key. And give more than you get. I try to promote and encourage other authors, and I’m blessed when they reciprocate. I’ve set up blogs for all my books, and the Topsy Turvy Land blog has coloring pages by Kevin, Hidden Picture Puzzles by Liz, some poetry I’ve written, and a few other goodies. It gets a lot of traffic.
What advice would you offer aspiring writers?
Well, I still feel like an aspiring writer, but I can tell you what has worked for me. If you want to be a writer, write! Don’t just talk about it, or go to critique groups, or read about it – although that’s all part of learning. Take out a pen or fire up the computer and write. Then re-write. Great writing is re-writing!