**Please note**This is from 2011! I can hardly believe it. Time to update!**
Since doing the Red River Writers BlogTalkRadio show, Dellani’s Tea Time yesterday, I decided to go ahead and post my questions and answers to inquiries about me and writing and about my book series. Some of these were talked about on the show. I think these answers will give great insight into me for anyone that is curious.
Introducing Erin Al-Mehairi, author of this blog and aspiring author:
I am a mother of 3 young children in mid-Ohio. My fiancé Tim Busbey and I own a writing and public relations business that we work out of our home called Addison’s Compass Public Relations and a fine art nature photography business called Breathe Beauty Art and Photography. We are both coming back to our dreams of being creative writers and I am working on my first children’s book series as well as my poetry, and he is halfway through his adult religious history thriller. If you want to know more about me, click on the tab at the top of the blog.
When did you start writing?
I remember writing all through childhood. I won a local children’s writing contest in my tween years; it was a Christmas essay contest in our local newspaper. I wrote stories, essays, lots of poetry and have always been an avid reader. I was mentored and encouraged by many of my English teachers from elementary on. I became engrossed in Journalism in high school and then obtained a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and English (as well as History) from Ashland University. I was mentored by many fabulous and distinguished English teachers and edited for the university group Poetry Press. I was encouraged in my writing by one of the most phenomenal Journalism and English professors ever, Dr. Daniel Lehman. I was always writing articles and essays, many times about children in my life or causes that laid on my heart. I continued this writing in various forms along with my newspaper articles for the college paper. During and directly after college, I kept up with my poetry. In 2002 I took a job in public relations and for the next 7 years wrote consistently technical and newsletter type articles, as well as copy writing for web and advertising. I was so busy working so many hours a week that I lost my time for creative writing, and in many ways lost myself. I was in an abusive marriage and trying to raise 2 children. In 2004, I left my marriage. Later on I met the man who is my world today. In 2007, I was pregnant with my third child and though a joy for us together, I was also very ill with both pulmonary and fighting several autoimmune diseases. Taking a risk in hopes of getting my life back, I quit my job. The last year and half at home with my children, while doing freelance article and copy writing and photography, has allowed me to take the long and healing journey back to writing creatively, reading, art, and photography. I’ve come back to myself and it feels really good. I think if I hadn’t done this, hadn’t rid myself of all that way tying me down, I would never have been quiet enough in my mind for my children’s book idea to percolate and summon me. I am so happy to be writing again!
How did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t know if there was ever really one special moment. I’ve always read and I’ve always written. If there was paper in front of me, and a little time, my pencil would move and create poetry without me even trying. It would move and create essays and stories on children and or nature. I’m excited to say that in the past 6 months, my pencil has been moving that way on paper again. I think it is something that possesses me without me even deciding to do it. Writing isn’t something I decided to do, it is just something that is me.
What gave you the idea for your first book?
I always knew I wanted to write a children’s book, but never had a specific idea. As I began turning my love for fine art nature and historical photography (and repurposing old wooden furniture) into a business while being home with my children, who are 11, 7 and 3, for the past almost 2 years, my creative juices seemed to start working. Before the winter (winter of 2010/2011) we went on many long walks around the older parts of the neighborhood, taking photo pieces of historic houses, an abandoned train depot, old barns and doors and windows. We wanted to know the history behind those places. As we had these mini-adventures and I watched the interactions of the kids, especially those between my two young daughters, my idea sprang to mind. My daughters are opposite personalities and that can become really hilarious at times. I saw using their personalities for humor in the book, while some of our adventures and photographs gave me ideas for the plot of the books.
What is your latest release?
Continuing on with my last answer, I’m just in the starting phase of my book series. I am writing a fiction novel for young first or second graders with two young girls as the main characters, slightly modeled after my own two girls. I had spent time listening to their conversations and I really saw how different their interests are and how unique it makes each of them. And it came to me, I could write a book stemming loosely from their relationship. A 7 to 9-year-old girl who is girly, yet likes sparkly skulls, black, jeans, art, mystery, pop songs, and is super subdued unless spiked by her sister compared to a girl age 3 to 5 who is the total princess package including pink and more pink, dresses, dance and ballet, classical music and song who is really confident. Stemming from their personalities, I’ve come up with the name Monster Princess and Little Diva. My rough outline of the entire series includes the girls having to move with their single mother to a new town and/or state in New England. Since Mom is very busy, the girls start to head-off for walks and in each book of the series, they end up at an old building or house or area. There they find a special item that transports them into an adventure or chaotic happening where they are able to help the people they encounter. For instance, when they find a paintbrush, they are transported into a world they enter that is all one color. They will be able to use the magic brush to show the people how to put color into their lives, embracing diversity. The moral of the story is to embrace the many different “colors” of life. Another story has them helping a cupcake store who has no sugar because a naughty squirrel has stolen and hoarded it. The moral is about sharing.
What age group are your books intended for?
I had wanted to write a hardcover picture book and I think that is because of my love for art as well. I’ve always been an avid collector of picture books for children. Finding a first printing of an old Madeline book in a used book store was so exciting for me! I see just how Monster Princess and Little Diva would look in a book and how cute they would be. However, for right now for my own books I’m trending toward doing the series first for about a first or second grade level. I may take the characters up in age a few years from my own in order to gain the first grade audience. I want to make a book for that age that takes the readers into a different type of adventure that is outside the box, outside of the normal school related adventures that seem to saturate the market. What made you decide to write books for children? As I mentioned before, I think just my own love for children’s books of any age and watching my own children grow up. When I see children’s books, I fall in love. I want to create one to make children’s happy about reading. My daughters are very excited about my series and when I see the gleam in their eyes, I hope that other children might get that too.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your work?
I think just learning what age my characters should be to relate to certain readers. Even children of the same age are at all different reading levels. For the first half of the school year I went every Tuesday for over 2 hours to listen and help the first graders in my daughter’s class read individually. The reading levels were all over the place. Beyond that, my main challenges are fitting the writing into my schedule with 3 kids and finding quiet time to write. I must have quiet to be able to think or I don’t even know what I’m typing!!
What experiences have inspired you?
Certainly, the experiences with my children and in my art and photography hobby and work have inspired me with the story. Sometimes when you look at art or a photograph you can either see it as a flat surface, a flat perception, or you can look FURTHER into the photograph and begin to think about might be behind the door, behind the scene, behind the history. I love to come up with stories that lead you from that first flat look. My illness and other life hardships have inspired me to remember that life is short and we must spend the time with those we love, doing what we love. Otherwise, why live?
What other authors/ artists have influenced you?
Dandi Daley Mackall (www.dandibooks.com) is a children’s author who has inspired me since I was young. She lives in my area and is a friend who I have always looked up to from the moment I met her. She has written over 400 books while living a simple life in rural Ohio. She writes because she loves to do it and she writes wonderful books with great moral guidelines for children. In my talks with her, I’ve really been encouraged to want to be a children’s writer myself. I’ve also always enjoyed the writing and art in Jan Brett’s books. Growing up, and even still, I enjoyed Madeline L’Engle, Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis, and all the Grimm Fairy Tales. Right now I really like Victoria Kann, who writes the Pinkalicious series.
Do you find that you “collect” people? In other words, you meet or see someone who eventually finds their way into a book?
I think we first learn about attributes people have from someone we may have encountered in our real lives. Of course with the main characters being molded after my daughters’, I suppose I’ve done that. Do you have any advice to aspiring authors/ illustrators? Don’t be afraid that you can’t write or don’t have the time. Give yourself some quiet time to discover your creative side. If you can only write 15 minutes most days, then that is at least a start. Just write for yourself first. Everyone should make their dreams a priority and not feel they are being selfish. There are many more opportunities out there today for anyone who wants to write.
Tell us about your publication journey.
I’ve just started so I haven’t found a publisher yet, or even looked that much into publishing. I want to get my story out on paper right now since my main motivation is to tell the story. Then I pray the publishing comes. I want to create a legacy for my children.
Please share with our listeners where they can purchase your book(s).
Of course I don’t have a book done yet, but you can follow my journey on writing and read my book reviews of books for all ages at http://www.hookofabook.wordpress.com and my group for children’s books on Facebook called Teaching Kids Through Books. I sell Kane/Miller and Usborne Books at www.ubah.com/z2837.
If you could ask your favorite author a question, who would it be & what question would you ask? How would you answer that question yourself?
I don’t know if it would be about asking just one, but to many authors in general I would ask first, how do you stay focused and secondly, how do you handle any rejection to something you present that is such a part of you? In answering this myself, again I say that you have to make writing a priority and schedule time for it. The only thing I can say about rejection is that you have to be strong enough to love your own story for what it brings you, even if someone else doesn’t agree.
To hear me, as well as mystery writer Beth Groundwater, children’s author Amanda Thrasher, and illustrator Wade Zahares on our BlogTalkRadio show, click on this link: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/rrradio/2011/02/14/dellanis-tea and it will start playing. Put on your headphones and listen while you work, or just listen through the speakers.