By: Michelle Lynn
What are the titles of your work and can you tell us a bit about them?
Lonnie the Loon Finds His Home – This is a story about a baby loon looking for his home. He tries to convince his mom where he would like to live but discovers there is only one place he can call his home.
Lonnie the Loon Learns to Fly – When Lonnie is a little older, he asks his mom a lot of questions about nature that surrounds him. He discovers more about life than just learning about his surroundings.
Lonnie the Loon Learns to Call – This is a story about a loon coming of age. Lonnie forms a relationship with his dad as he learns the four common loon calls. Readers can listen to the loon calls using a QR Code Reader App.
Lonnie the Loon Flies South for the Winter – Lonnie and his friends fly south for the winter and end up on a desert lake when they are blown off course. Lonnie forms a friendship with a little quail named Quincy who teaches him about living in the desert. The reader can hear animal sounds in this book also.
Quincy the Quail Leads His Family on an Adventure – Quincy is a little clumsy, but he is still the leader of his family. He takes them in search of food in the desert, but it turns into an adventure as Quincy is almost washed away during a sudden rainstorm.
Who’s your favorite character from your books?
I’m fond of both Lonnie and Quincy. I’m excited about Quincy because he’s a little clumsy, but that doesn’t hold him back from considering himself as a leader. I’m a little clumsy myself! I want children to realize that even though they may have shortcomings, they also have strengths.
As a children’s book author, which comes first – writing the story or creating the images? Is there a reason for that?
I’m not sure about other authors, but I write the story first and then give the manuscript to my illustrator. My illustrators have been wonderful about working with me and revising their illustrations to match what I have in mind. When I write, I probably describe the scenes with a little too much detail. Then I have to delete words once the illustrator can picture the scenes in his/her mind. My new illustrator for Quincy put together a storyboard, which makes it easier for her to picture what I want in the book. I just have to quit writing so many words and have the illustrations speak to the reader! I’m still learning!
A quail and a Loon are the stars of your children’s books. Why did you choose these animals when they’re less recognizable to kids?
When my husband and I first starting going to Minnesota for the summer, I discovered loons for the first time. I fell in love with them and did some research about Minnesota’s fascinating state bird. I thought everyone should know about loons, so that’s why I wrote my Lonnie the Loon books. I have facts about loons in my books, so children can learn about them too. I’ve had adults who’ve lived in Minnesota all their lives tell me they learned something new about loons. When I started promoting my books in my home state of Arizona, they didn’t sell as well as in Minnesota. That’s when I thought of writing a series about Quincy the Quail. I love watching the little quail covey run down the street in my neighborhood, so I tried to incorporate that visual in my books. I’ve had a lot of interest in my quail books here in Arizona and am enthusiastic about writing three more books about Quincy. My Quincy books have facts about quail also. I love reading my books to elementary school classes so they can learn about loons and quail – and receive a little geography lesson too.
Do you hand draw the images or are they computer generated? I doubt most of our readers are familiar with how children’s books come about, so what is the process for that?
I’m not sure how my illustrators create their images. I’m pretty sure Davina Kinney, illustrator of my Lonnie the Loon books, does all her illustrations digitally. I think my Quincy the Quail illustrator, Amanda Wells, makes sketches by hand first and then transfers them to the computer. Davina lives in Florida, but Amanda lives here in Arizona. It would be fun to have a book signing with her some time so she can explain the process to our customers. I think the illustrations are fantastic – and I’ve had a lot of compliments about both Lonnie and Quincy.
What authors have inspired you to write?
I enjoyed reading Mercer Mayer and Stan & Jan Berenstain books to my children. I also love Shel Silverstein, all of Dr. Seuss’s books, and all of the Amelia Bedelia books. I guess that tells you what era I’m from!
What age were you when you started writing?
I wrote goofy little stories and melodramas when I was in elementary school, and my friends and I acted them out. I took a creative writing class in high school, but didn’t pursue my writing then. During my career hopping as an adult, I wrote and edited a variety of newsletters and journals. I started blogging when I was 61 because it was the thing to do! When I retired from teaching at age 63 I was bored to tears. That’s when I wrote and published my first two Lonnie the Loon books.
Do you ever experience writer’s block?
All the time!! I don’t write enough – that’s the key. I need to write every day to keep the creative juices flowing.
Do you work with an outline, or just write?
I outline in my head – crazy. Then I sit down at the computer and hammer it out. That’s when what I thought I was going to write about changes directions and the story takes a different path. I haven’t written anything longer than 5,000 words, so if I write a novel, which I plan on doing one of these days, I may have to outline my story on paper or post-it-notes first.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
The only challenges I had were trying to decipher the 30-page contract with the publishing company; learning all the buzz acronyms like POD; and writing the book blurb! I jumped in with both feet and didn’t do enough research about publishing; but it turned out okay and I’m pretty happy with who I chose. However, what I thought was going to be a hardcover book the size of “Make Way for Ducklings” turned out to be a paperback the size of the Berenstain Bears.
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
My first three books aren’t written using a typical storybook model. They don’t have a conflict or a climax or a solution to a problem. They are more educational. But, I’m okay with that; I’ve sold over 200 copies of each book. If I had to do it over, I probably would have written a better “story” and get involved with a critique group. Instead of asking my hubby and friends for feedback, I should have joined a critique group. I thought I could do it all by myself. As far as publishing goes, I’ve learned that it’s very important to have a spine on your books, which mine don’t. Libraries and bookstores don’t like to display your books on a shelf without the title and publisher printed on the spine. I would have found a different publisher to ensure my books had spines.
Can you tell us about your upcoming book?
I’m continuing with my Quincy the Quail series, and they will have sounds that the readers can listen to. In the next book a hummingbird bullies and scares Quincy’s chicks.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
I guess the toughest criticism comes from Arizona residents when they ask “Why loons?” My friend told me, “I don’t get it.” I look at rejection as criticism also. I sent copies of my Lonnie the Loon books to The Audubon Society and The Loon Preservation Committee to see if they would carry them in their online gift shops. I never heard back from them. Other than compliments on the illustrations, the best compliment I received as an author was from a librarian when I showed her my first book. She said she liked the fact that there weren’t a lot of words on each page because fewer words were better for children ages 3-5. She said a lot of picture books are too wordy for small children.
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
I guess I would say to read a lot and write a lot, whether it’s writing stories, blogs, newsletter articles, etc. The cliché is “practice makes perfect.” Nothing is perfect, but practicing will make everything you write a little bit better. Also, become involved with a critique group. You can read the works of other writers as well as have them give you critical feedback on your own writing.
Do you have any strange writing habits?
Well, I don’t have any good luck charms like blue Smurfs sitting on my desk. Sometimes I get my story inspirations when I walk or hike, then I type the story on my computer. After I type it out, I let it rest or “cure” for a couple of days and then go back to it to revise it.
What others are saying about Barbara Renner:
“Getting my niece to last to the end of the book is usually a miracle. With this, she wanted me to read it again. She was mesmerized by the birds and the way they’re portrayed. It was really great to see.”
“Lonnie the Loon Learns to Fly is a great book for a small child to read as they start to take notice of the world around them.”
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