Author Interview: Rachel Dillon
Here’s her bio:
Rachel Dillon was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. She attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison and graduated in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science in Art, emphasizing in Graphic Design. Outside of art, Dillon held a special interest in evolution and extinction and took several classes in paleontology, and geology. Her passion for animals grew as she learned more about endangered species.
Her book is beautiful, so check it out. Now onto the interview:
Rachel, I read that you were in marketing. Did you always want to be a children’s book writer/illustrator, or is it something you stumbled on?
Stumbling is a great analogy. I hadn’t ever thought about writing a children’s book and most certainly not doing illustrations. It all just seemed to fall in place. My book combines all the things I love: children, animals, painting and writing. I went to UW-Madison, for art and graphic design. I was in marketing for many years after college. I think my goal now is to say, when someone asks what I do for a living, “I am an author and artist.”
Poetry is an amazing form of writing — one I’m terrible at, so I’m in awe of those who can write it. Did you study poetry before you wrote the poems for this book or is poetry something that comes easy to you?
I really haven’t had formal training in writing and poetry, other than college classes in English Literature. I know when I was growing up, I would express myself with poems and lyrics. As a mom, I love books with clever rhymes. I can’t stand rhymes that don’t quite sound right. There is a rhythm, a cadence, and a rhyming poem flows or it doesn’t. I wrote what sounded right to me.
Your book is about endangered animals. What is it about endangered animals that inspires you?
My sadness inspires me. My heart aches when I hear stories about animals and what has happened to make them endangered. There is something so innocent about animals. They are driven to survive. I also believe that everything has a purpose on Earth. Each species is unique and interesting, and when you eliminate one species, others will be affected. I know that extinction is part of nature, but I have read the rate of extinction is occuring at an unnatural rate.
Your painting style was inspired during a trip to Australia. Could you tell us more about that?
When I was 19, I took my third trip to Eastern Australia. My aunt and uncle live in a town called Ulladula, the sweetest place on the coast. We travelled south to Canberra, where I was inspired by all the Aboriginal Acrylic Dot Paintings. They were in galleries; on the sides of buses; in museums; and even on sidewalks. I loved the colors, patterns and textures. I learned more about the dot painting technique in books, although resources were slim in the U.S. I decided to try out the technique on some of my own art projects and loved it. Painting in dots is soothing and meditative and after 16 years, my technique is still evolving.
How did you go about designing the book? Were there specific things you wanted to achieve?
I wanted to create something unique, that children had never seen before. I wrote the text first and painted the animals second, so they were consistant with the poems. It is important to me that the children understand the issues that endangered animals face, as well as how each species is unique and has a job to do on the planet. The facts help to break down the poem for the child or reader, so it can make a real impact. I wanted to create something beautiful that people would want to take with them as they grew up.
I read that many of your poems were written on scraps of paper at a stoplight while you were taking your daughter to daycare. As a writer or illustrator with a day-job, it can sometimes be difficult to fit in your passion, and even more difficult to keep it going long enough to finish the work and see it through to publication. What kept you going? And in what ways did you make the time to finish Through Endangered Eyes?
I am a Taurus. 😉 I am stubborn, and when I get an idea in my head, I do my best to see it through. I also had a lot of people that believed I could do it, and a lot who didn’t think I could — which motivated me more. Most of all, I believed that what I was creating was important for kids to read. I want to make a difference for animals, and this was one way I thought I could help.
Creating the book was my creative escape. It was time for me. I fit writing and painting in any time and place that I can. It is so easy to for me to pay attention to the needs of others and forget myself. My book and the commitment to my publisher was the motivation I needed to complete the project.
Talking about publishers, please tell us about your journey to publication after your book was finished.
It took a LONG time to get published. I started writing the book “Through Endangered Eyes” in 2002.
I submitted to 3 publishers in 2003. With 2 illustrations and all of my text for nine species + human.
My first publisher, Stemmer House, sent me a contract in 2004. After I thought I completed the book, they asked me in 2005 to take the book from 9 species, to twenty. Many drafts later, I thought I completed the book again in 2006.
My first editor, Craig Thorn sadly passed away in 2006. 🙁 I was released from my contract from Stemmer House in February 2007. After which, I submitted to 14 publishers. I lost count of rejections.
In February 2008, I got a call from Windward Publishing, and they wanted my book! I signed the contract with them that month. A new draft, with their suggested changes was sent to them in April 2008. After three more drafts, my book was completed in December of 2008 and published in January 2009.
What a rollar coaster ride, especially when I have a hard time being patient.
Wow! That must have been emotional. I understand you’re working on a second book, again about the wild kingdom. Please tell us about it.
My second book has a working title of “Through Desert Eyes.” I have chosen 21 desert species that are endangered from all over the world. I will include a couple of pages about desert ecosystems and how species are adapted to a dry environment. I want to talk to more specialists for this book and not rely as much on the internet research. I am very exciting about the paintings too. I have matured as an artist through this publishing process.
Could you tell us a bit about the types of things you’re doing to market Through Endangered Eyes?
At each reading I give away bookmarks, so if the kids are interested in the book, my Web address is on it, so their parents have a place to buy the book. For the teachers or event coordinators, I give out a notecard and a magnet with an image from the book on it. I have my blog, my Web site, business cards, a facebook page, and I always carry a box of my books in my car, ready to sell! I am building a mailing list from the checks I receive, so I can mail out postcards if I have a new painting out, or have an event coming up. I also have a large email list that I use to promote things. I send out a press release to the local papers and add to their online calendar, if I have an event coming up. For events that are unique, I will contact the local TV stations and see if I can do a morning show visit. I would love to be a part of a local NPR giveaway, during their fundraising event. So many options.
In the future, I want to add video of me reading my book, and audio of me reading the book; keep posting images from the classrooms I visit, and events I do. I want my blog and site to remain interesting so that people return for more information.
My favorite thing to do as a marketer is to do readings and visit schools. The comments and enthusiasm, makes the book all worth while!
What advice do you have for first-time writers and illustrators pursuing their dream?
1. Be patient.
2. Research. You’ll cut your rejections if you find out what the publisher wants.
3. Stay positive during editing. I have probably gone through hundreds of manuscript changes, not to mention changes to my illustrations before my final book was completed.
4. Lastly, believe in your work. If you believe what you have created is amazing, someone else will agree.
Thanks so much for joining us today, Rachel. Good luck with Through Endangered Eyes, and we look forward to seeing Through Desert Eyes on shelves soon. You can read more about Rachel on her website, RachelDillon.com, and her blog.