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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Here a Bunny, There a Bunny: Interview with Children's Book Author, Russell Whitehead

You’ve now written two books about Easter and bunnies. What made you decide to write on this topic?
I suppose by looking at my current portfolio one might assume I'm obsessed with bunnies. Although I do love the little critters, I can assure you that''s not the case. Or is it?

How did you come up with the idea for the first book?
An Easter Bunny's Journey is a story about a little Easter bunny who's forgotten what Easter is all about. He goes searching for the answer and along the way meets several characters who represent what I perceive as the general attitudes one encounters when presenting the gospel.

Could you give a short synopsis of the story for my readers?
There's of course the little bunny, who to me represents a Christian who's been there and done that, but really doesn't know why they're doing it anymore. There's an owl, who doesn't understand what the big deal is and quite frankly is just annoyed by the whole prospect. Next there's a little field mouse who's excited to follow along and find out what it all means, and an apathetic cow, too busy munching grass to pay much attention. The story ends with a presentation of the gospel given by the little bunny's Granddaddy rabbit. As to why Easter bunnies hide their eggs... Well, you'll just have to read the book.

How long did it take you to write it?
The book was originally written as a script for a shadow puppetry performance. I was approached on rather short notice by the children's pastor of a local church and asked if I could do a short program before their annual Easter egg hunt. The idea was that it would keep the kids occupied while the grownups hid the eggs. I agreed to do it and over the next two weeks I wrote the script, built the puppets and the set, met with the piano player at the church and recorded the music and script for the play. It went very well. The kids really seemed to enjoy it and I performed it three times that year for a couple of different churches.

How did it go from a play to a book?
I rewrote the script into a storybook and enlisted the help of an illustrator. A co-worker friend of mine introduced me to Carol Metz. Carol happened to be the mother-in-law of of his sister-in-law (or something like that). Anyway, Carol agreed to do the illustrations for next to nothing as a ministry offering of sorts, which was great because I had very little money spend on the project.

I had several family members proof-read the text, a couple of which are very well read or have a degree in English. The arrangement worked out pretty well, and over the next four months I was able to put the whole thing together. Just in time for Easter last year. So far it's traveled to several foreign countries with different missionary groups. China, Haiti, India, Mali.

Where did the idea for the second Easter book come from?
The Blue Bunny book literally came "out of the blue". One day while taking a drive with my granddaughter, who was three years old at the time asked the question. "Papa? Have you ever see a blue bunny?"

To which I answered. "Well, no I haven't...I have seen a green bunny. But, I've never, ever seen a blue bunny." The conversation went on like that, back and forth through all the colors we could think of. By the time we got home I had the beginnings of my next children's book, Have you ever seen a Blue Bunny?

What was your writing background prior to writing these books?
I've written dozens of puppetry scripts over the years, although I've never had anything published until now. I've been active on Wattpad since October 2013. I've published a few of my works on there and received a fair amount of reads, votes and some pretty good reviews. That's been an encouragement to me. Most recently I've tried to become more active on Goodreads.

I'm not familiar with Wattpad. Could you tell me about it?
I had never heard of Wattpad either until last October when I saw someone mention it in a twitter post. Wattpad is a Canadian based website where readers and writers connect, similar to Goodreads. It's been a good resource for learning how things work and getting feedback on my stories. I've had comments from folks as far away as Thailand and Russia!

Did you try the normal route and try to find a traditional publisher to handle your book?
I have tried. However, I can't say that I've tried very hard. I sent out a few query letters to no avail. My impression of agents right now is that they are understandably, very busy people. I realize they are inundated with material and my story isn't the only one they need to consider.

Still I hate the thought of taking time to send off my manuscript only to have it sit in a pile on someone's desk and I may not even hear back from them. I can handle criticism, and I'm pretty easy to work with. But, one thing I can't stand is to be ignored, especially when I think I have something to say. I haven't given up on the idea of being published in the traditional sense. I do plan to make more of an effort to make that happen and hopefully I'll be successful at it. Meanwhile, I think the books I've already self-published could only be positively impacted by any book deal I may manage to get in the future.

When did you decide to self-publish?
When I wrote An Easter Bunny's Journey I did so with the clear intention of self-publishing it, mainly because I wanted control over the project and I wanted it to be available that Easter. After a fairly quick search I settled on Amazon's CreateSpace Self-Publishing platform. I've also started using Smashwords for publishing. I must admit there's been a considerable amount of time spent learning how to format books for print and for use with different apps like Kindle and Nook.

What do you think is the most common misconception about self-publishing?
I think the most common misconception about self-publishing is that if you publish a book and it's a good book it will automatically sell. I don't think most people realize the amount of marketing necessary to sell your books once they're published. Of course, those are things you don't have to consider with a traditional agent/publisher relationship which is why it's so attractive.

What type of publicity do you do to promote your book? What has worked best for you in generating sales?
I've done one interview for a local paper, but I'm mostly using the various social media outlets to get the word out. I'm familiar with sites like Facebook and Twitter, so I use them as much as possible. I know it's not enough though. That's why I plan to arrange a few book signings in the near future. Also, I've started a couple giveaways on Goodreads hoping that will generate some interest. This is all very new to me. So I'm learning as I go along. I'm concentrating mainly on improving my writing skills while getting up the nerve to do the work of marketing what've written.

What do you know now about writing/publishing now that you wished you had known sooner?
My background as a writer has been mostly writing scripts and performing puppetry for children. It's something I've really enjoyed doing for many years. But,it wasn't until I wrote An Easter Bunny's Journey that I realized which part of the process I enjoy the most. The artistry and the mechanics involved with creating characters and making them come to life for an audience is a wonderful experience. But, in the end I found the part I love the most...the part that's most important to the story. I wish I had realized that a lot sooner.

What other projects do you have in the works?
I'm currently working on The Sparrow Princess. It's an original fairytale intended for a middle grade audience and explores the consequences of jealousy and revenge as it relates to certain family dynamics. The story is a stand alone project. But, I have outlines for both a prequel and a sequel making it a trilogy. You can read the unedited beta version free for a limited time on Wattpad.

What is the best advice you’ve been given about writing or that you’ve learned that you would like to pass along?Know your audience! Your motivation for writing should be to connect with the reader in some way. Don't go looking for inspiration...just keep an open mind and it will find you wherever you are.

Thanks for the interview! If you would like to know more about Russell's writing or getting a sneak peak at it, here's how you can...

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