One of the lessons I learned early on in my “writing” career is that there is no right way to do it. With the growth of technology, we’ve seen significant variations in the ability for writers to create and publish their works. As such, I’m thrilled to have Mallory Friese on the blog today to talk about her unique approach to this hobby we all seem to enjoy. So, without further ado, allow me to introduce you all to the lovely and talented Mallory Friese!
JR: Welcome, Mallory! You recently published a children’s book, What if Animals Ruled the School. What inspired you to write it?
MF: I suppose you could say I was inspired by a “true story” – mine. When I was a child, just about anything could push the “time to play make believe” button for me. As I was jotting down some ideas for stories, I kept picturing a child sitting in his desk at school, starting to daydream about something the teacher said, just as I admittedly often did. I decided to go with that starting point and see where it went. Funny enough, as with most of my story ideas, the child I picture is a little boy. I have no doubt this is because of my son – I always try to imagine a story I want to read to my son (even if it’s for when he’s older) and that he would love.
JR: What can you tell us about the story, without giving away too much, of course?
MF: The story is all about a little boy using his imagination to the nines. As he listens to his teacher read to his class about animals, he starts to imagine animals having run of the school. The book takes kids on a safari of all the silly things that would happen if all the adults in the school were animals. Though the rhyming prose is written for children between five and eight years old, anyone, kid or adult, who has ever been in a public school can probably have a chuckle over some of the things the character thinks of. Also, while I have heard that kids love to read the story themselves, I personally have found it to be so much fun to read it to them.
JR: I, for one, am completely unfamiliar with the children’s book world and can’t begin to contemplate how a person gets into the business. Were there any challenges specific to writing a kid’s book, verses say a historical romance, that you hadn’t expected?
MF: Yes, I would say there are some unique challenges to children’s books. I’ve found that it is very important to figure out what age group I want to focus on before any writing takes place. That’s really what dictates the writing style, word usage, and even sentence structure and length. My mom, a 30+ year elementary school teacher with a recent master’s in early childhood education was a huge help with many of these elements. Also, I found that it was important that there be a balance of humor and simplicity – in the case of this story, I wanted it to be funny, but not go over their heads. I had to think about not what’s funny or silly to me, but to a six-year-old. I actually consulted frequently with my seven and four-year-old niece and nephew – what better resource than the target audience themselves! We also “field-tested” the book with several of the kids where my mom teaches. These were both really helpful steps in the process.
JR: Not only did you write the story, you illustrated it as well. Was this something you’d planned all along or something that you decided as you were building the story? What kind of challenges did you face with the illustration part of the book?
MF: Honestly, I initially had no intention of illustrating the book myself. I currently have two other upcoming books with illustrators and I had every intention of that being the way I do every book. The reason being is it has been a very long time since I have done any artwork of my own, though I enjoyed painting years ago. What I pictured in my head for the characters of this book were definitely a cartoony style. This is such a silly and fun story, I thought that if any book is suited to a cartoony style, it’s this one. So I just decided to try my hand at creating the characters I was imagining, and I was ultimately happy with the direction it started going. Next thing I knew, I was scanning in the pages!
One major challenge with the illustration was honestly figuring out how to logistically go about it – hand drawn? digital? a combination? best way to get from paper to digital file to printer? how do I make it “print-ready’? These were all things that were completely foreign to me. It was an entirely different animal to actually do the illustrations once I had all of those questions answered. I enjoyed creating the scenes and characters, but it is certainly a lot more work than I expected. I will likely continue some illustrating of future books, but I also plan to work with other illustrators as well – I have a much deeper appreciation for them now!
JR: You also opened up your own small press, ACG Books. What motivated you to do so and what has that experience been like?
MF: Up until this last year, I had been writing mostly in a PR and marketing capacity, but hoped to move into writing fiction at some point. After becoming a parent though, I knew children’s literature was where I wanted to be. I find it to be such a challenging but equally rewarding genre. It encompasses such a broad audience, so there is so much that can be explored – from alphabet board books, to rhyming picture books, to chapter books, to full-on novels for young adults. (I hope to dabble in all of these areas in coming years). Once I decided this was the direction I wanted to go, I began loads of research and found that I was just as interested in the publishing side of the book industry as the writing. I ultimately decided that I would like to try producing children’s literature myself, but would love to work with other authors too. With the help of a few wonderful people, ACG Books was born! So far, so busy! It has been a major learning experience and certainly still is. Admittedly there have been times when I’ve thought, “Why on earth did I decide to do this”, but I am so glad I did! It really has been a great experience and it’s such a thrill to see the fruits of the labor!
JR: What’s a typical “writing day” like for you? Are you an outliner or a pantser? Any special techniques you use to get the creative juices flowing?
MF: I’d love to tell you I have a highly organized, methodical process for writing, but presently that just isn’t the case! While I have definitely been an outliner in the past when working on the preliminaries for novels (that have yet to see the light of day), my focus right now is on material for a much younger audience, and that formula just hasn’t worked for me here. For the books I currently have in play (published or forthcoming), the ideas for them came from one of the many I am constantly jotting down in my little notebook that I carry around in my pocket. Once I had decided on which ideas to work on and the age groups they were best suited for, I just began writing the stories, no outlining, and I did it whenever I could dedicate a solid block of time to it.
And special techniques to get the juices flowing – nope! I’m open to suggestions!
JR: Is there one character that is more “Mallory” than the rest?
MF: Well, like I mentioned before, this kind of stemmed from me thinking about what I used to do when I was a kid, so I suppose the little boy main character would represent me. (The little cartoon guy himself though was definitely inspired by my son.)
JR: What projects are you currently working on that you can tell us about?
MF: Right now I have two other books in different stages. One is a story developed around a character that a dear friend of mine created, who then illustrated the whole book. It is for a little bit older audience than What if Animals Ruled the School, in the six to nine years range. It’s a story with what I think are some very endearing characters, illustrating a universal moral. This is actually in the final phases of illustration and hopefully will be released early next year. The other is one that is in the illustration phase with another illustrator I’m working with. It is a fun little story about two neighbor kids who are best friends and though hoping for some outside fun, find it storming outside that day. They wind up going on a surprise indoor adventure, orchestrated by a mystery helper. I’m hoping to develop both of these into series in the not-too-distant future.
One other project that I’m working on is creating some companion resources with the books. I’m hoping to soon give kids, parents, and teachers the opportunity to download free coloring pages, activity sheets, and other fun stuff with characters from the books, and each character to have their own interactive webpages. I’m also planning to soon start a “story time”-type page on my website where I’ll be posting short stories and the like for kids to (hopefully) enjoy.
JR: When you’re not writing, how do you occupy your time? Hobbies? Obsessions? Base Jumping? Solving String Theory?
MF: Well who doesn’t love string theory? So besides that, right now I spend most of my time at home with my family, playing with my very adventurous toddler. I also am a HUGE Auburn Tigers fan (and SEC college football fan in general) so every Saturday night during the fall after the kiddo is in bed, we have to turn on the DVR’ed Auburn game from earlier in the day (there is no watching a full football game live with an 18-month-old.) In a past life (aka before children), I also loved cake decorating and baking. I still love it, just have little time for it!
JR: Last Question: What sort of advice do you have for newbie writers or people who are looking to write a children’s book? Any Do and Don’ts or words of wisdom you’d like to impart?
MF: Well, I still consider myself a newbie to the world of children’s lit, but from what I’ve learned so far, I would just reiterate what I mentioned before: Before you start actually writing, be sure to have a firm grasp on the age range you’re creating for because it has such a huge bearing on all the major writing elements. One other thing I’d say is to learn as much as you can from other, more experienced authors. I have gotten a wealth of awesome advice that can only come from those who have “been there” and have navigated the waters before. Join writers groups, read blogs of authors you like, find articles about related trends, and any other info you can get your hands on. And do these things around your own genre and others. I have learned so much even from writers groups, for example, that are not youth-oriented at all. In my opinion, other authors are by far your best resource!
Thank you, Mallory, for visiting the blog today. And if any of you are interested in her, her book(s), and/or ACG Books, please check them out at the links below.
Mallory Friese is a native of Mobile, Alabama, where she finds much wonderful inspiration for children’s stories. She loves to bring stories to life that have positive and encouraging messages for kids and strives for her characters to demonstrate morals, illustrate concepts, or simply inspire fun and creativity. Her first book What if Animals Ruled the School? is available at Amazon.com.