I know some of the neatest people. I truly do and I’d like to introduce you to one of them. Meet Jeanna Kunce. She’s a funny and creative mom of two active and imaginative kids. She’s an author; her husband is an illustrator. Convenient don’t you think?
She is the author of “Darien and the Lost Paints of Telinoria” and “Darien and the Seed of Obreget” as well as her newest book, Hope’s Melody. She shares a little more about Hope’s Melody below. We very much enjoyed this adorable book as a read a loud at bedtime. My kids were sad when it came to an end.
Jeanna generously took some time to answer our questions about being an author. Pretty neat, right? Well, let’s get to it.
You shared some of Abigail’s favorite things in the back of the book. What are some of your favorite things?
Color: Green (check out the apple-y green in the Windhill Books logo, it is one of my faves)
Food: Chiles rellenos (thanks to Pati Jinich, you rock!)
TV show: Once Upon a Time
Song: are you kidding? I can’t even pick a genre. Showtunes? 80s pop? Singer/songwriters?! Aaaahhh! But I’ll give a few favorites: “Always Starting Over” from If/Then, “When I Look at You” from The Scarlet Pimpernel, “I’m Free” by Kenny Loggins, “We Belong” by Pat Benetar, “Dark Side” by Kelly Clarkson, “Shatter Me” by Lindsey Stirling, almost anything by Phil Collins or Colbie Caillat, and “Mahna Mahna” by the Muppets (because what is a car ride without my family’s rendition of “Mahna Mahna”? Seriously, you can’t fight and sing “Mahna Mahna” at the same time.)
Sport: bike riding
Book: no way, I can’t pick just one. Tops include: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the Reckless series and Inkheart series by Cornelia Funke, The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, the Oz books by L. Frank Baum. Also, Writer to Writer and Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine, because I do, on occasion, read something non-fiction. If I have to.
Share a little bit about your newest book, Hope’s Melody. I was definitely inspired by my daughter’s love of stuffed animals, especially lions. And her pink ukulele; she really has one of those. The main character, Abigail, is struggling to decide whether to continue with public school or go to a private music school. One night she wakes to find that her favorite stuffed animal lion has come to life! She learns that he must go on a quest to find his other magical friends in order to save the world of imagination. They decide to journey together to find the other friends and along the way Abigail discovers the answer to her school dilemma. I wanted to create a fun story with magical elements, animals, and only a hint of a bigger theme that doesn’t overwhelm the adventurous storyline. It also has additional activities in the back, like lion cupcakes and crossword puzzles, which I enjoyed creating for a little extra surprise at the end.
Have you always liked writing? Well, I’ve always liked reading but whenever my good books ran out I would turn to writing to fill in my free time. I always liked imagining things and creating made-up worlds/situations. I do remember walking around with a notebook when I was a kid and telling grownups that I was going to be a writer. I wrote my first “book” in fourth grade, a sequel to “The Goonies.”
What other books have you written? “Darien and the Lost Paints of Telinoria” and “Darien and the Seed of Obreget” are books one and two in a series about a creative young girl who adventures in another land called Telinoria, rescuing dragons, meeting elves, and avoiding the evil King Radburn.
Where do you find your inspiration? Everywhere! Sometimes I look back to my own childhood, sometimes to my children. Quite often I am inspired by things I am reading or learning or doing. I try to be observant of the world around me whether I’m at the store or a park or out for a walk in my neighborhood. I try to ask myself “what if” questions, like “what if you were shrunk down really small?” or “what if you woke up as your favorite animal?” or “what if you fell through a magic portal in the park?” to get my ideas started. You have to have the time to daydream without a lot of distractions—but being a mom, I’ve had to make those times work, whether it’s imagining my next scene while doing the dishes or jotting down notes while “in the loo,” as another mom/writer from England put it. Pretty glamorous, huh? No, but worth it if it’s something you’re passionate about doing.
Are any of your characters based on your kids? No, not specifically. The “Darien” books were born before my son was! But Abigail from Hope’s Melody has similar interests as my daughter, as mentioned earlier. I do sometimes slip in a family member’s name, even if the character is not actually based on that person—for example, the name Telinoria is a mix-up of my grandmother’s name, Lenora, and King Dex is named from my grandfather’s middle name, Dexter. I would say more so that the stories are FOR my children, things I think they would like to read. I am working on a choose-your-adventure story that is really up my son’s alley, full of spooky monsters and riddles. It’s fun and I love to see their reactions when I first complete a new story to read to them.
What advice would you give to others about writing? Just DO it. It doesn’t take any special talents to start. Yes, it’s a learning process and you will get better and better the more you do it. But you can’t improve until you start from somewhere. There are lots of different kinds of writing, so experiment to see what you like. Don’t worry too much about what to do with it or if it’s “good enough” just keep the creativity flowing. I have to turn off those inner voices that say “what if nobody likes it?” or “who will want to publish this?” because it’s too easy to let that stuff block you up. Equally important is to READ. Read, read, read. Figure out what you like and don’t like. If you’re stuck while writing, try starting with fan fiction (take a favorite character, or maybe a minor character, from one of your favorite books and give them a history or a new story).
I’m going to share a passage from “Writer to Writer” by Gail Carson Levine that I think really sums things up nicely:
“1. The best way to write better is to write more.
- The best way to write better is to write more.
- The best way to write better is to write more.
- The best way to write more is to write whenever you have five minutes and wherever you find a chair and a pen and paper or your computer.
- Reread! There’s nothing wrong with reading a book you love over and over. When you do, the words get inside you, become part of you, in a way that words in a book you’ve read only once can’t.
- Save everything you write, whether you like or not.”
What inspiration would you offer to encourage others about learning new things and achieving new goals? It’s true that you’re never too old to learn something new. If you always keep your eyes and heart open you will find so many opportunities to learn new things about the world, about others, and about yourself. There are so many ways to learn these days, you are bound to find something that works. For example, my daughter wants to learn Irish step-dancing. Ok. I know nothing about step-dancing. But we got a book at the library. We rented a DVD. We watched Riverdance and other videos posted to YouTube. And we started learning something new. Perhaps one day we’ll seek out a local class to take things to another level. Or she’ll decide to take ukulele lessons. Who knows? But the thing is to try and not be held back by your fears or limitations.
How would a newbie writer get her book published? Be a celebrity, then write a book. Ha ha, oh sorry, am I being sarcastic? Start with a fantastic story that is well-written, proofread, and completed to an approximate industry word count (YA [young adult] runs about 60k, sci-fi can run over 100k just for examples). Format it to a manuscript standard, which can be found many places online and mostly involves using a basic (readable) font like Times and using double-spacing to save people’s eyes while reading. Research which agents might be looking for material in your same genre and how they prefer to be contacted, then send your manuscript following their directions. After that, the process can be complicated and is mostly out of your hands (an agent might want revisions first or it can take a while to find one who clicks with your material, then it would be sent on to potentially be bought by a publisher and you would have to decide whether that deal is right for you. Or unfortunately you might just get a lot of rejection notices—it’s a reality, but even in a rejection sometimes the agents/editors will give helpful feedback for you to improve.) Some authors have found it easier to get a book deal if they have a successful blog or followers on social media or they are a speaker or expert in their field, but a newbie most likely won’t have everything perfectly in place like that. On the other hand, if you’ve really got an original, interesting, and unique story that just strikes a chord with the right people… voila! Then maybe you get published. A young person might try adding other writing credits to his/her name before trying to publish a book, like entering writing contests or submitting articles to magazines or newspapers. Some people attend writing conferences and workshops where they meet agents or editors. There are lots of different paths, I guess.
How do you find an illustrator to work with, if you don’t happen to be married to one? Ha! Well, I certainly don’t recommend marriage as the best way to set up a business partnership. I am fortunate to have a talented illustrator/designer as my husband, but seriously, it can be a rather delicate matter to work with someone you’re close to. To start with, I would not partner up with someone who is not a professional—no family members who “can kinda draw” or someone you know who “does a little illustrating on the side” because you want your work to look as good as it can. If you want to self-publish, there are many good websites where you can research freelance illustrators, look at their work to see their style, see their references, and find out their rates. But you won’t need an illustrator if you’re going to submit for example a children’s picture book to an agent or publisher because they will take care of that for you (and most likely will prefer that.) As far as I know, most publishers want to pair up a manuscript with their choice of illustrator and designers; as the author, you might not even have any contact or say in the process, though I’m sure there are exceptions.
How would someone find out more about your books? The best place would be our website windhillbooks.com where you can find lots of information, download fun activities, and sign up for our e-newsletter. We also have a Facebook page under Windhill Books and we both have author pages on Goodreads under Jeanna Kunce and Craig Kunce.
Wow! Thank you Jeanna! So much good stuff. Everyone can feel your enthusiam just from this interview. So, ya’ll need to check our her books for even more fun and adventure.
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