The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Hannah Holt
I imagine most of you know my next guest - Hannah Holt. I had the privilege of getting to know Hannah over the past few years at the NESCBWI and SCBWI Oregon conferences. She is gracious, encouraging, and wicked smart.
But for any of you who don't know her, Hannah is a children’s author with an engineering degree. Her books, The Diamond & The Boy (2018, Balzer & Bray) and A Father’s Love (2019, Philomel) weave together her love of language and science. She lives in Oregon with her husband, four children, and a very patient cat named Zephyr. She and her family enjoy reading, hiking, and eating chocolate chip cookies.
Welcome Hannah, thank you for stopping by on your blog tour.
ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? How did you get started? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
HANNAH: I write from home, mostly while my kids are at school. I have twin 2nd graders, a fifth grader, and a seventh grader. I started writing when my oldest was a toddler, so I’ve been at it for about a decade.
When my children were younger, and their needs circled the clock, I envied those with the luxury of writing full-time. While I still can’t write full-time, my schedule today allows for much greater flexibility.
I applaud writers caring for elderly parents or young children or working several jobs to make ends meet. I don’t know all the demands on your time, but I know you make sacrifices. Be kind to yourself. It’s okay to take breaks. You are worth it!
That may be the hardest piece of advice to take. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I leash trained my cat.
What an adorable cat! Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
As a child, my favorite illustrator was Maurice Sendak. His characters were as beautiful as angles, but those angels seemed to wink at me. It made it easy to connect with them.
My favorite author was Judith Viorst. I was a quiet child, who felt things strongly and her work spoke straight to me. I still remember sitting in kindergarten while the librarian read us Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. I remember feeling relieved that someone else felt the same way I did sometimes. Then I realized that meant other people felt things. Sitting in the library that day, I experienced a new type of feeling—empathy.
That is the goal for all literature, to make us think and feel outside ourselves. And, occasionally, shine a mirror on parts we want to hide. Your debut picture book The Diamond and the Boy: The Rock Cycle of Graphite & The Life of H. Tracy Hall releases next Tuesday, October 2nd. Where did the idea for this story come from? (How did you learn about this story?)
The boy in this story, Tracy Hall, is my grandfather. I first heard his story as a small child in my mother’s arms. Whenever I visited Grandpa Hall’s home, I loved looking at the models of diamond presses. This story has been beating in my heart for as long as I can remember.
Such a wonderful story to have as your debut book, both an unknown tale and deeply personal. What was the most rewarding part of the publishing process for The Diamond and the Boy?
There have been so many wonderful things about working on this book. However, if I’m honest, the most rewarding is holding the physical book itself. There’s a lot about writing that can make you feel like an impostor, lunatic, windmill-tilting person. It’s validating to have something I can finally hold in my hands after all those year of work.
I can imagine how great that feels. What's something you want your readers to know about The Diamond and the Boy?
My grandfather came from very humble beginnings. For a while, he lived in a tent. He rarely had enough to eat. He went to a school that didn’t meet his educational or emotional needs.
Yet despite these obstacles, he found a way to thrive. He taught himself new things by checking out books from the library. He worked several jobs to afford more schooling. Eventually, he found a bigger and broader world where he could make a difference with his special talents.
It doesn’t matter where you start. Chase your dreams and seek out places where you can stretch and shine.
This will be a great message for school visits. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child or now as a writer.)
My husband is my greatest encourager and supporter. I’ve dedicated my second book to him.
A Father's Love (releasing April 9, 2019), looks like a beautiful photographic nonfiction on animal dads. Would you say that you are primarily focused on writing nonfiction?
I love writing science themed stories, but I don’t exclusively write non-fiction. I have several informational fiction books in the works. I also sometimes dabble in pure fiction just for the fun of it!
You’ve worked with two different publishers. Has there been much of a difference in working with each of them?
Sure, there have been a few differences. The Diamond & the Boy went through a title change (requested by marketing). A Father’s Love did not.
The Diamond & the Boy publisher [Balzer & Bray] hired an expert reader to review the final text and illustrations. My second publisher [Philomel Books] depended on me to be the expert. I always like to have more eyes on things, so I asked if I could bring in my own experts. The publisher agreed.
With both publishers, I went through rounds of editorial and copy editing changes. Both editors respected of my artistic vision through these changes. I feel very lucky to work with such great people.
Thank you for your candor. Though different, it sounds like they were both good experiences. Did you have any input into the illustrations of your books? Either at the beginning or in a later review stage?
I was more involved in the illustration development for The Diamond & the Boy, partially because I had access to reference photos that the illustrator requested help finding. I saw digital illustrations much sooner with my first book. However, I saw printed material earlier with my second book.
I reviewed the illustrations of both books prior to printing. I requested a few fact-based art changes, and changes were made to the illustrations of both books.
The style and work of Jay Fleck (illustrator for The Diamond & the Boy) and Yee Von Chan (illustrator for A Father’s Love) are very different, but they are both perfectly suited for the text! I love the finished version of both books!
Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I have two submission ready picture books: one fiction and one nonfiction. My agent and I are exploring options for these.
In the background, I have 41 picture books and two chapter books in my “Active WIP” folder. I’m always plunking away at something, and I try to start something new at least every other month. I also have an “Old and Dead” folder. That’s my WIP graveyard. It has about sixty stories in it, so for every hundred stories I write—I publish one or two.
Interesting statistic. Not sure if that's encouraging or scary. Is there anything about getting an agent, writing, or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or maybe something you are glad you hadn’t known at the time?
I had a lot of doubts in the beginning. For a long time, I wasn’t sure if I would ever be good enough. Somewhere along the line, I changed my thinking from “if” to “when” and just settled in for however long and wherever the ride took me.
I’d say, don’t waste your energy wondering whether or not you will make it. Instead, pour yourself into creating the best work you can. The rest will follow...eventually!
I like that way of approaching it. What is your favorite animal? Why?
Emus. Male emus hatch and raise the chicks on their own. They are a beautiful example of devoted dads. Also my Aussie friends laugh at the American way I say emu. (I say ee-moo. They say, eem-you.) I think we can all use more laughter.
Be sure to check out Vivian Kirkfield's blog Picture Books Help Kids Soar on October 5th for the Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF post on The Diamond and the Boy: The Rock Cycle of Graphite & The Life of H. Tracy Hall.
To find out more about Hannah Holt, or get in touch with her: Website: https://hannahholt.com/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hannah.w.holt?ref=br_rs Twitter: https://twitter.com/hannahwholt?lang=en
If you're in the Portland, Oregon area, check out Hannah's Book Launch Party:
Barnes & Noble Tanasbourne
18300 NW Evergreen Pkwy
Beaverton, OR 97006503-645-3046
Tuesday October 02, 2018 3:00 PM "Hannah's debut children's book The Diamond and the Boy is being released today and we are throwing a big party! Join us for a special Storytime and get a signed first edition of this great book! "