Monday, October 8, 2018

Interview with Raven Howell Author of My Community

Today let's welcome Author Raven Howell to the blog.

Hi Sarah, and thanks for having me!

My name is Raven Howell. I’m a children’s author and poet. My sixth and brand new picture book titled My Community celebrates diversity within our communities, and I’m excited to share it. Besides writing kids’ books, I also write poetry for various children’s magazines such as Ladybug, Highlights for Children and Jack and Jill.

I enjoy presenting poetry writing workshops in elementary schools and libraries, and am the Creative and Publishing Advisor with Red Clover Reader.

I’m a mom to two grown sons, a lover of dawn and everything whimsical, and enjoy nothing more than warm sunshine and the seashore.

Raven, what brought about the idea for your new book?

I wanted to write a book that was not just an abstract idea of acceptance and lessons of tolerance to young kids, but to format it into the picture book with the type of real life characters of everyone in our communities – from the crossing guard to the town pizza maker and policeman. I also wanted to showcase various ethnic backgrounds and gender, shapes and sizes of all of us who make up our world in a loving, positive light of hope.

What a neat idea, can you tell us a little bit about the main character in the book?

The main character is a young girl, waking up in the morning and beginning her day, moving in synch with community members in the environment of her town. With gratitude she notices the sound of the distant trash trucks doing their job, happily peers at her pile of pancakes mom has stacked for her before she skips to the bus, meeting mailman Juan and the helpful crossing guard on her way. And so the day begins!

With gentle interaction, there’s a sense of thankfulness for the various roles, careers and jobs that provide a piece of the community’s whole, in addition to the community members themselves. I wrote a specific diversity themed surprise for the ending, and the message is one of peace, kindness, acceptance and love.

That's great, I think we need more of that in the world and what a better way to bring it about than teaching our children when they are young. How did the illustrations by Yeng Yang come about?

My publisher suggested several other illustrators but as soon as I saw Yeng’s work, I knew her art would be a perfect fit for this book. I desired a more modern approach, a more digital feel, while presenting simple images that provided positive reinforcement and reflected hope.

It’s interesting how Yeng’s main character morphed from a more traditional, conservative looking girl, to a fun and funky, bright red-haired elementary student -how she ended up!

What’s your favorite scene or page from the book?

The page before the very last one is beautiful, with a strong impact on the page-turner. It’s a full page illustration of both mom and dad and our main character, a multi-racial family.

Raven, what kind of research do you do before you start a book?

I usually research my own poetry files and see which poems are stand out, and which ones are tuck away-s for more revision, and which poems are best suited for magazine submissions. Often I find a clear large group of verse befitting of a single theme for a whole book of poetry. Then I research to see if there are books on the subject or poetry form I’m considering, how many, when they were published, how they sold, etc. to see if my own work could end up on a bookstore shelf next to those, if any.

What has been the most difficult thing you have struggled with in your writing career?

It’s definitely being patient and forgiving when you end up waiting for a response from an e-mail, a letter or correspondence of some type. There are times you never end up receiving just an affirmation of receipt. I would love it if when inquiring or reaching out for any reason to someone it would result in a response of some type within a few days. For instance, it would only take seconds to write back: “Sorry I don’t have time to respond properly now. I’m too busy. I’ll be in touch next month!” That would be great. But sometimes you just don’t hear anything at all –and it can be disheartening.

I know the feeling, and I completely agree. Raven, how do you handle criticism?

I enjoy reading criticism when it comes from someone who is clearly familiar with the exact line of work my book is stoked in. For instance, I was recently criticized for “always good rhyme, most of the time good rhythm”. Ok. That’s certainly not terrible criticism, but it’s someone who is unfamiliar with poetry writing the critique of my book. The same week, the infamous poetry anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins emails me and says – “Raven, stop right now and please remember your use of the word ‘the’ throughout this verse. You can pick it up a notch!” That criticism I enjoy examining and working on. Plus, I’m learning something by being open minded to someone who is experienced and familiar with poetry (in this case).

I agree, I enjoy getting helpful criticism. Anything that I can learn something from is great. Writing a book is a lot of work. How many times do you think you read your book before going to print?

That’s a good question! With poetry and rhyme, it’s important to read it out loud, whether just a stanza or a line, or the entire thing. It gives a musicality and dance you need to know is in tune or not. Having said that, I’d say I read my manuscripts easily about one hundred times before giving a final approval. I’m a stickler for edits!

That's a few more times than I do. Lol. Raven, where do you see yourself in five years?

I see more of my books in libraries and schools. It’s also where I present my poetry & writing workshops and enjoy making a special educational as well as entertaining contribution. I’m on a path toward traditional publishing, but will still be working with smaller, independent publishers as well I hope. In five years. Plus I will have found success with an a-typical genre: non-fiction for young children!

What are you working on now?

Besides getting out and about on my book tour for My Community, this year is about working closely with several illustrators who I’m collaborating with. In 2019 I have four new picture books scheduled for release! It’s a “fun busy” time!

 Congratulations on your newest book Raven! Be Sure to check out My Community and all of Raven's Books. Happy Reading!!

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