Three Random Questions Interview with Deborah Bruss and Matt Forrest Esenwine

Bonnie Ferrante: Today I am trying something new in my Three Random Questions Interview. I’m chatting with the joint authors of a children’s picture book entitled Don’t Ask a Dinosaur, Deborah Bruss and Matt Forrest Esenwine. Welcome to you both.

My first question is for Deborah. Your book was originally entitled Don’t Ask a Porcupine. When you couldn’t get a publisher for that, you changed it to dinosaurs. Why that particular animal? You also enlisted the aid of a poet. What made you decide to turn it into a rhyming book?

Deborah Bruss: The original title might have been, Wild, Wild Birthday, though I wrote so many versions I’m totally confused. The original characters were popular zoo animals; the porcupine tried to blow a balloon up, the snake tried to tie ribbons. After countless revisions and attempts to sell the story, I stashed it in my file cabinet. Then one day, I thought, “What genre of picture books never goes out of style?” Dinosaurs! At that time I was also working on a story that wove many Mother Goose poems into one rhyming tale about Little Bo Peep’s sheep. Matt and I, who attended the same children’s writers’ group, began emailing altered Mother Goose (some of which were not appropriate for children) to each other. Matt impressed me with his quick wit, creativity and talent for writing poems. I brought the dinosaur version of the story to the writers’ group because I was stuck. From their I steered the the story into Matt’s hands, and it took off from there.

Ferrante: I’d like a peek at those Mother Goose rhymes.

You have written several children’s books and you contributed to the non-fiction series America’s Notable Women. I imagine that required a good deal of research. Did you find that helpful when you decided to write a book about dinosaurs? Surprisingly, the facts about dinosaurs change over time as more discoveries and corrections are made. What strategies did you use to be completely up to date on these fascinating animals?

Bruss: I loved doing the research for the America’s Notable Women series, so much so, that I put off writing until deadlines loomed. With “Don’t Ask a Dinosaur,” I kept the research fairly simple, googling “weirdest” and “most popular” dinosaurs. Matt became the research fanatic – he wanted to include dinosaurs that had been recently discovered and came up with some wacky looking ones, such as the Therezinosaurus with it’s wicked long claws.

Ferrante: Matt, you are a well-established poet whose works have appeared in a number of publications suited for adults. In 2017 you made the jump to writing a picture book called The Flashlight Night. Why did you decide to take this new route?

Matt Forrest Esenwine: It was actually around 2009 or so that I decided I wanted to make a concerted effort to become a published children’s writer, so I joined an SCBWI critique group, then joined SCBWI itself, and then eventually attended my first conference, where I learned a great deal about the children’s lit industry and community. One thing led to another, and I ended up with my first published children’s poem, “First Tooth,” which was featured in Lee Bennett Hopkins’ board book anthology, Lullaby & Kisses Sweet (Abrams, 2015).

Interestingly, I met my Flashlight Night editor, Rebecca Davis, through Lee – and signed the contract for the book the very same month that “First Tooth” was published!

Ferrante: Critique groups are essential, especially when trying a new genre. I believe there are a number of similarities between writing poetry and writing picture books, precise, clear and vivid writing is needed in both. Have you found your poetry experiences affect your picture book writing?

Esenwine: Absolutely! Although I never refer to myself as a poet, I always approach my writing from a poet’s perspective: trying to think in abstract terms, staying away from “easy” rhymes and tired phrases, and utilizing poetic devices like internal rhyme and unusual words. But every book is different and requires its own unique style. I never try to force rhyme upon a story; while most of my manuscripts are rhyming, a few are written in prose and I have at least three poetry collections I’m submitting, as well.

Ferrante: Any one or both can answer the following.

What are you most proud of about Don’t Ask a Dinosaur?

Esenwine: That our editor, Jordan Nielson, loved what we worked so hard to do – which was to incorporate the dinosaur species’ names into the text as seamlessly as possible, while still maintaining a structured rhythm and rhyme scheme without any of it feeling forced. There’s a reason this thing went through 20 revisions before we started sending it out.

Bruss: That Matt and I pulled this off with never an argument, though maybe he secretly pulled his hair out over some of my ideas.

Ferrante: Who do you think will most enjoy this book?

Esewine: Any child who loves dinosaurs! We have some very familiar faces like T-Rex along with several very unusual ones like Therezinosaurus.

Bruss: Dinosaur fanatics, of course, but also kids (and adults) who like a rip-roaring disaster of a tale.

Ferrante: How did you structure working together? What were the rewards and challenges?

Esenwine: After I wrote the initial first draft, I sent it to Deb, who made some revision of her own. From there, we worked via Google Docs (now Google Drive) which allowed us to make change in real time and see what each of us was doing. The fact that we knew each other via the SCBWI critique group helped, because we were close enough geographically that we could call each other up or even visit in person to talk about things.

Deborah: Structure? My life operates on the squeaky-wheel-gets-the-grease system, and it seems Matt’s does, too, except he is adept at greasing several squeaky wheels at one time. (Matt, I do apologize if I’ve blown your Zen-like cover). Fortunately, our humor clicks, but we also brought our own strengths, which complimented each other. I had already created the story arc, and then Matt added his talent for writing poems. Also, what Matt said is true. As far as challenges, I love having the constant and quick feedback when writing with someone else. Bouncing ideas off one another seems to create more ideas and enthusiasm, keeping writers’ block at bay. The downside? To be honest, feeling that my co-author is more competent than me.

Ferrante: Is it more difficult to write with a partner? What advice would you give writers considering this? What do you wish you had known before you started?

Bruss: It all depends on the partner. If you don’t click, it won’t work. Even if you do click, it might fall apart. Matt and I didn’t create a signed document that spelled out how we made decisions, though I’m sure there are many cases where this would be a really good idea.

Esenwine: Well, as Jane Yolen has said, writing with a co-author is twice the work for half the pay! Which is true, because one cannot simply be happy with one’s own edits – both writers need to be happy! – and ultimately, you end up splitting the advance and royalties. But this was definitely twice the fun, too, because Deb and I had the same vision for the book and were constantly improving the manuscript every time we revised it.

Ferrante: Both of you please answer the following questions. Don’t look at each other’s answers until you are done.

If you could invent a new ride for a theme park, what would it be?

Bruss: I love the wet and wild rides, so perhaps a raft ride through herds and packs of dinosaurs. Just think of the splashes a dinosaur tail could make!

Esenwine: As long as it involved getting drenched with water, I’d ride it all day long. They already have roller coasters that splash through water – why not a Scrambler that sends you into a wall of water?

Ferrante: If you could go back to any age for one day what age would you choose? Why?

Bruss: I’m not sure. All ages have their ups and downs. There are several specific days I’d happily repeat, including the day I got married, a hot summer day on my favorite lake, the day my family of four adopted twin girls.  But since the question is about age, not a day, I’d chose a 21-year-old body but not the confused mind that went with it. Or maybe 7-years-old, when I had a new best friend, a teacher I adored, and not a care in the world. 

Esenwine: Great question! There are so many things one could do or change at different ages, but I think I’d spend a day when I was about 6, either at the beach with my folks or on Christmas Day. Six is the age where you’re able to do lots of things for yourself, you’re starting to grow and mature more, but you have no responsibilities and you still believe in the honesty of the world, the infallibility of your parents, and magic.

Ferrante: What animal would you choose for your totem or spirit animal? Why?

Bruss: Either a turtle or an elephant. Or maybe a telephant or a elurtle. One is quietly determined; the other is wise and compassionate. 

Esenwine: A house cat. I’m a cat person, anyway, but I really appreciate their independent nature. When a dog comes over to you to be petted, I get the feeling it’s because that’s all they know how to do; when a cat comes over to you, it’s because you’re special!


Ferrante: I’m a cat person too but a telephant sounds pretty intriguing. Thank you, Matt and Deborah, for your interesting responses. I loved the book, by the  way. My review was posted April 18th. Good luck with all your endeavors.

Don’t Ask a Dinosaur” (Pow! Kids Books) in stores April 17, 2018!

Three Random Questions Interview with Author Joy Heyer.

Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome Joy Heyer to my blog. Duck, Duck, Moose seems to be your first book. If that is correct, what inspired you to use animals in your book and feature such an unusual take on a child’s game?

Joy Heyer: I love puns and word play so when the phrase “Duck, Duck, Moose” popped into my head, I immediately pictured a fearful duck riding on the back of a moose. How did the duck get to the moose? Where was goose? What would it be like to play duck, duck, goose with a moose instead? Or a pig? Or a porcupine? And suddenly I had a picture book.

Ferrante: When did you begin writing and why have you chosen children’s picture books as your genre?

Heyer: I studied writing and illustrating children’s books when I was in college but it wasn’t until 2009, when a friend invited me to join her writing group, that I really started seriously writing and illustrating.

Ferrante: You have four children and are now a grandmother as well. Have you used your family as inspiration for your book?

Heyer: Oh yes! My children have been sad, grumpy, and lonely many times because their best friends were out of town. Watching them decide to be happy and make new friends is always a delight.

Ferrante: I see we have similar interest in reading, writing, painting, sewing, and dreaming up home-improvement projects. How do you balance these interests? Do you switch for a break after a long period working on one craft or do you do several at a time? How does this impact your writing?

Heyer: Drawing and painting are my favorite things to do so I have to make sure I set aside time for all the other things that need doing, including reading and writing. Fortunately, reading, writing, and drawing are interconnected so I find myself doing at least a little of each every day. As for home-improvement projects…well, maybe someday I will get to them.

Ferrante: Your bio mentioned that you have a dog that goes crazy whenever you leave the house. Do you think this pet might show up in one of your future books?

Heyer: Definitely. He provides me with lots of great story ideas—so many I hope to create a whole series of books with him as the main character.

Ferrante: That sounds fun. As a new author, what have you learned the hard way that you wish you had known earlier?

Heyer: It takes a lot of hard work and practice to be good at writing and illustrating. Who knows? Maybe I would be discussing my tenth book instead of my first book if I had started practicing earlier!

Ferrante: Absolutely. What are you working on now?

Heyer: I continue to draw and write everyday (practice, practice, practice!) so when the next project comes, I’m ready. In the meantime, I’m enjoying sharing Duck, Duck, Moose with everyone. Maybe I could start a home-improvement project…

Ferrante: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like to share?

Heyer: I would encourage everyone to find someone who is lonely and be their friend, even if at first they are grumpy. Just like moose and duck.

Ferrante: If you could MC any television show which one would you choose?

Heyer: PBS Masterpiece Mystery! I LOVE mystery shows and books. It all started with my first Nancy Drew book. Maybe one day I will write a mystery book, maybe a dog who solves crimes…

Ferrante: Go for it! If you could compete at an Olympic level, which sport would you pick?

Heyer: Snowboard Half-Pipe. I would love to have that talent. I can’t even handle little rollercoasters so all that twisting and spinning they do is doubly impressive to me.

Ferrante: That’s a gusty choice. What is your favourite children song and why?

Heyer: The Itsy-Bitsy Spider, though in our home it is the Eeby-Beeby Spider because that is how one of my daughters sang it when she was little. It reminds me of the happiness one little song sung by a child can bring.

Ferrante: There’s nothing sweeter, that’s for sure. Thank you for answering my questions and sharing your experience with us. Best of luck with Duck, Duck, Moose and your future writing.

Book review of Duck, Duck, Moose

Recycled Sundays – Writers’ Ten Commandments

  1. Writing is your career and your destiny and you shall put no other jobs before it… Except what you need to get paid the bills.
  2. You shall not take the spelling of your craft in vain, but be sure to use both a spell check and grammar check. There is also nothing wrong with cracking open a dictionary.
  3. Remember your deadline day to keep it prompt, exceptions made for destructive forces of nature such as hurricanes and sick children.
  4. Honor your editor and illustrator, without them your work would be smoke.
  5. You shall not sleep with your editor until after your work has been published unless s/he is your spouse then, by all means, make that person happy.
  6. You shall not commit plagiarism, but may quote, and on occasion misquote, in order to fill your word content.
  7. You shall not malign your fellow writers even if they malign you. Just keep writing and improving until you pass them on the best seller list.
  8. You shall not covet the marriages of other professionals. The artistic are seldom understood. There’s nothing wrong with a cat. Or a dog. Or a cat and a dog. Rescued, of course.
  9. You shall not permanently delete today’s work for tomorrow you may need it.
  10. You shall not covet the bank accounts of other professionals, you are a bloody writer after all.

October 1993

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Kindle Book Awards – Are They Worth It?

Site –

Deadline – February to May each year

For Independent and small press authors


There are seven categories:

  1. Mystery/Thriller
  2. Romance
  3. Y/A
  4. Sci-fi/Fantasy
  5. Literary Fiction
  6. Horror/Suspense
  7. Non-Fiction

Each category winner receives $345 and publicity packages.


Submit online.

Entry fee is $29.00.

Books must be 25,000 words.


Winner’s lists from previous years are kept on the website.

Goodreads and Library Thing both feature a list of winners.

$200 in Free Promotion from The Kindle Book Review.

$200 Giveaway compliments of The Kindle Book Review

$120 in Free Promotion from Digital Book Today

$85 Free Promotion from


All Semi-finalsts (a maximum of 20 per category), Top-5 Finalists, and 7 Winners receive a Contest Badge. According to a winner, this was a jpg to display on the book. Stickers must be purchased.

Correction: “Badges have never been for sale, and are always given FREE of charge to all Semi-finalists, Finalists, and Winners. It’s a png, high quality image. If someone wants to pay a 3rd party to create a “Sticker” for their print books, we are more than happy to allow that (as far as trade mark is concerned) but we do not sell them–never have. That’s just an author preference. We are The Kindle Book Review. We only review, and judge “Kindle” books, so providing physical stickers doesn’t fit what we do.”


One winner who responded to my survey said it did not help increase sales.

If you have entered this contest, please leave a comment about your experience.


Unfortunately there are no children or poetry categories.

It is recommended by the Self Publishing Advise Center  (which is rare)

The entry fee is so inexpensive and the prize money is decent, so I think this would be worth entering.


The Award blog articles are based on Survey Monkey responses, emails, and comments I received on social media as well as research and some personal experience.

If you have entered any of the contests I have/will blog about and would like to share your experience, please either:

  • write to me at Be sure to say if you wish to be anonymous.
  • or
  • make a comment the day the blog post is published.

Mom’s Choice Award

Reader’s Favorite Award

The next  award covered will be:

  • October 25 – Children’s Choice Book Awards

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Writers’ Awards – Are They Worth It?

Every Wednesday, beginning October 4, I wish be discussing Writers’ Awards. I won’t be discussing the tried and true like the Caldecott. There has been an explosion of available awards since the arrival of indie publishing.  These are the topics:

  1. Are they worth the time and money to enter?
  2. Do they result in increased exposure, recognition, and sales?
  3. Are they valid or are they a spin-off of vanity publishing?
  4. Are some more reputable than others?

If you have entered any of the contests listed below and would like to share your experience, please either:

  • write to me at Be sure to say if you wish to be anonymous.
  • or
  • make a comment the day the blog post is published.

The awards covered  in October will be:

  • October 4 – Reader’s Favorite
  • October 11 – Mom’s Choice Award
  • October 18 – Kindle book awards
  • October 25 – Children’s Choice Book Awards

Depending on the response, I may continue into November. If you feel strongly about an award being included, let me know.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Surf’s Up! Rebecca Heller is Hitting the Waves – Three Random Questions Interview

Rebecca  Heller is the quintessential surfer girl. The bio on her website begins “Rebecca Heller is a Los Angeles-based high school counselor. She like totally lives in the Valley with her surfer husband and precocious daughter. She occasionally ditches school to go surfing.” She even has long blonde hair.

Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Rebecca. It’s not surprising that your first book, published in 2005, was Surf Like a Girl. How old were you when you started surfing?

Rebecca Heller: In 2001, I moved from New York City to Los Angeles, within the month I had taken my first surf lesson and have been in the water ever since. I was 28 at the time—an old lady by surfing standards, but you are never too old to learn!

Ferrante: The book includes practical information on surfing, such as how to ride the waves and safety, but it also includes etiquette and what to wear. Basically, it explains the whole package of the surfer girl persona. Was this based on personal experience or observation?

Heller: Definitely personal experience. When I was learning, I was asking a million questions. There were very few books and this was in the early internet days and there was just very little information out there. Especially for girls.

Ferrante: Skater Girl is in a similar style. It includes the basics and advanced techniques with step by step instruction. When did you start skateboarding? Do you still participate?

Heller: I skated a bit as a kid and got back on a board around the same time as I started surfing. The two activities have a lot in common. My skateboarding skills are nowhere near my surf skills so I co-authored Skater Girl with an expert, Patty Segovia, who runs the All Girl Skate Jam.

Ferrante: Are these two books mostly read by young people beginning the sports or the sports audience? How do you prepare yourself to write for that particular readership?

Heller: When I wrote Surf Like a Girl, I was in a way writing for myself when I was a beginner. It’s funny, my voice just skews towards a young audience. It is no surprise that I continued writing for young people. I also work with young people as a high school college counselor. It is definitely my comfort zone!

Ferrante: Kids must  think you’re the coolest counselor ever.

Your publishing company is called “Like a Girl” press. I assume you are poking fun at the denigrating saying “she throws/runs/etc. like a girl.” Would you tell us about your mandate to empower girls?

Heller: Absolutely. I have never once in my life thought there was something boys could do that girls could not. (Okay, maybe peeing standing up, but otherwise…) I feel passionately about empowering women to do whatever they set their mind to, whether that is athletic, academic, or creative.  For me, “Like a Girl” translates to “Like a Badass!”

Ferrante: You have a fiction book, Gilbert and Louis Rule the Universe for middle grade readers. Why did you choose that age level and that topic?

Heller: : Gilbert and Louis Rule the Universe had been in my heart for a long time. It is a semi-autobiographical story about me and my best friend in middle school. (We really did call ourselves Gilbert and Louis)  As the saying goes, “God writes poor fiction.” So I had to give it structure. I love Jane Austin and the plotline of Pride and Prejudice fit with my story and gave it a stronger narrative.

Ferrante: You also have two picture books, Falling Rock and your latest book Elephants. Why did you change from chapter books to this style?

Heller: The sweet spot for Falling Rock is second grade. I wrote Falling Rock over 18 years ago, and my mother did the artwork.  The story was based on a tale my camp counselor once told us about how Falling Rock was a Native American and wherever he was spotted they put up a sign with his name. Once my daughter was born I pulled out the story, dusted it off, rewrote it, re-photographed the artwork, and created the book. 

I have been reading tons of picture books with my daughter and I am absolutely in love with them. I have always been drawn to visuals (I was an Art History major in college and my mother is an artist), so I love the combination of a good story and great artwork. I also love animals and feel very strongly about animals in the wild being conserved and protected.

Ferrante: The illustrations are wonderful? How did you connect with Susie Mason? Did you collaborate or did you just hand over the words to her?

Heller: I found Suzie on the internet while searching for illustrators. I had a very strong vision for the book. If you ask anyone who knows me they know I have a real sense of what I like and don’t like. I saw Suzie’s work online and was like “this is it.” I sent her an email asking if she wanted to illustrate Elephants and happily she said yes. She is based in the U.K. so we have never met in person, but we collaborated on it greatly. She brought a lot of wonderful ideas to the table that made it better than I had even imagined, and all the time we stayed true to my initial vision. She is amazing.

Ferrante: Part of the proceeds from Elephants goes toward the Amboseli Trust for Elephants ( Why did you choose that particular charity out of all the elephant charities?

Heller: The Amboseli Trust for Elephants aligns perfectly with my goals of elephant conservation and protection as they are a non-profit organization that aims to ensure the long-term conservation and welfare of Africa’s elephants. I was turned onto ATE by Colleen Kinzley, Director of Animal Care, Conservation, and Research at the Oakland Zoo, who helped me fact check Elephants. The Amboseli Trust for Elephants is also the legal entity that administers the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, the longest-running study of wild elephants in the world. Since 1972, they have followed the lives of the Amboseli elephants; the results of their research has profoundly altered the way we think about, conserve, and manage elephant populations. They are doing fantastic work.

Ferrante: Are you working on another book? Would you like to share?

Heller: Yes! Suzie Mason and I are currently working on a series that feature threatened or endangered animals. The next up is an animal that is close to my heart, Dolphins! We are also working on books on Polar Bears and Whales.

Ferrante: Now for your three random questions:

If you were a natural disaster, what would you be, and why?

Heller: As a surfer girl, I would have to say a tsunami.

Ferrante: As a teenager, who was your idol?

Heller: Hmm, I am not sure I had one. I would say though that my idol since childhood and still has to be Eloise from the Kay Thompson series.

Ferrante: Is there a childhood keepsakes that you treasure or wish you had saved?

Heller: I am rather sentimental although also a minimalist, which is a tough combination. Two of my favorites are Skinny Bunny (a stuffed rabbit that looks exactly like the name implies), that is now in my daughter’s room, and my “Becca Books” a series of books my aunt made for me that feature photographs of me and my family along with fantastical stories that my aunt created.

Ferrante: It’s wonderful when we can pass on something precious from childhood to our own children. Thank you for answering my questions. Best of luck with your animal picture books in the works. I hope all your waves are perfect.

Social media links

Twitter: @rebeccaheller

Instagram: @rebecca.heller

Facebook: rebeccaheller.549

Elephants was reviewed on this blog.

Click  on the covers for the information and buy links.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages


Damned If I Do and Damned If I Don’t

I understand why so many bloggers are refusing to review indie books. You get tired of this kind of stuff. I think I’ll be taking a break soon. It’s hard to be energetic and positive when I get this kind of hate. I’m not sure where she’s reviewed me but I think revenge reviewers should be outted. (I didn’t even review her for cripes sake.) This is what happened. I see why bloggers burn out.

From: Alma Hammond (I won’t post her email)
Sent: September 10, 2017 8:45 AM
Subject: New Picture Book to Review

Hi Bonnie,

I popped by your website on a google search and was impressed by your blog of picture books.  I published a picture book a couple months ago that I would love to have you review on your site.  The book, in .pdf form is attached, along with a marketing piece I use to sell the books to stores (currently carried in 8 stores in the USA).

Let me know if you could be interested.


Alma R. Hammond


On Sun, Sep 10, 2017 at 6:52 PM, B.Ferrante <> wrote:

Hi Alma,

There is a lot I liked about the book but I felt the ending was a bit of a let-down. It was a little too passive. I’ll pass on this book but keep me in mind for the next.




Thanks B.  I left a review of Amida as well.  After reading it ( I bought it) I thought, what makes you an expert?  You have no talent in writing children’s books, so unoriginal and stupid frankly.

Celebrity Writers – Do We Need Them?

Most of the books reviewed for the next couple of weeks are written by celebrities. This is my theme for July I was interested to see if celebrity written picture books were better because they could afford great editors and illustrators or worse because they were resting on their reputations.

The celebrities I have included are: Sarah Ferguson the Duchess of York, Jerry Seinfeld, Jamie Lee Curtis, Julie Andrews, Steve Martin, Billy Crystal, John Lithgow, and Will Smith. Some of the styles were entirely predictable, such as Jerry Seinfeld’s foray into Halloween memoir and Steve Martin’s zany alphabet. John Lithgow’s work was odd, not unexpected. Will Smith and Billy Crystal were sentimental and genuine. Julie Andrews wrote old-fashioned fantastical work. Jamie Lee Curtis was clever and deep. Sarah Ferguson was the most unpredictable after her little helicopter book was such a disaster. I think you’ll find some good reads and some books to avoid.

I was surprised there weren’t more in my public library as I felt as though we were being inundated with celebrity writing. Once I began researching, I realized most of them are written for adults and a lot are memoir. Perhaps this is a testament to the incredible difficulty of writing a good quality picture book.

I must admit I am not up-to-date on celebrities. I don’t read celebrity magazines. I seldom click on websites about the beautiful and famous. I don’t watch television shows where the rich and adored interview each other. So I googled who were the most famous people of 2016. There were a surprising number in the top 50 that I did not recognize. It will be interesting to see if any of these foray into writing. It seems to be a quick and easy way to make a buck, especially if you’re writing a tell-all. The sad thing is, the market is already glutted with more writers than readers and struggling authors have little chance of competing with brand names. Just how much of the pie do the ultra rich need to feel complete? Will Smith, for example, has been the highest or one of the highest-paid actors several years in a row. Does he really need the money from a picture book, one that could have been created by someone whose entire focus is writing?

How do you feel about celebrity authors? Do you think they are crowding the market and making it more difficult for beginning writers to be recognized? Do you feel their writing stands out in any way? I’d love to hear your opinions.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Author Timothy Gwyn Three Random Questions Interview

Timothy Gwyn writes science fiction stories and has recently finished his first novel, Avians.

Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome Timothy. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your novel, Avians. It is quite apparent that you are extremely knowledgeable about flying and can discuss gliders and airships with great expertise. Can you tell us a little about your experience with flying?

Timothy Gwyn: I first rode in an airliner, a Pan-Am Boeing 707, when I was six, and my brother took me up in a glider before I was eleven or so. I learned to fly when I was eighteen, and quickly took it up as a career. On the fun side, anytime I can get a ride in a balloon, a helicopter or a hovercraft, I’m having a good day.

Ferrante: I was very impressed with the world building in Avians. Both the environment and the social structure were unique and interesting. Can you tell us how you went about creating this fascinating world?

Gwyn: I wanted to write about aviation that was greener than the kind of flying I do, so I set out to create a world that had low technology, but needed flight. The lack of metals and complete absence of fossil fuels – both of which could stem from Celadon not having a moon – oblige the inhabitants to build gliders. Putting the settlements high on mountain sides makes them ideal for launching sailplanes, and also creates a scarcity of habitable land that leads to all sorts of social consequences.

Ferrante: You chose to write from the point of view of several women, most young teenagers. Why did you choose girls instead of boys as your protagonists?

Gwyn: I wanted a utopian society with gender equality, but that begs a fundamental question: if everything is so perfect, why would a fourteen-year-old run away from home? Because the landowners consolidate their grip on their property not just through trade alliances, but also with strategic marriages, and Raisa wants no part of that. Also, I wanted characters who were not the biggest or strongest, but who have to accomplish their goals despite that, by finding courage and determination within themselves.

Ferrante: I don’t want to give away too much of the book but I really want to know why you made Raisa anorexic. You make it quite clear why she refuses to eat and it suits the narrative perfectly but what was the impetus for your decision to give her an eating disorder? How did you research this?

Gwyn: I don’t like to apply the term anorexic to Raisa, because I’m sure she’s never heard the word. She would claim her reluctance to eat is a protest, a hunger strike. It seemed the perfect flaw for Raisa: she has no idea how privileged she is, and she is a rebellious and contrary character. But yes, her attitude towards food is distorted, and experience with anorexia in my own family shows through in some of her specific issues.

Ferrante: Because this is such a rich and well thought-out world, I could easily see you setting more books in it. Do you have any plans for a sequel or other novels that take place in this world?

Gwyn: I do! There are already two prequel short stories published: “Far Gone” at is about the trip to Celadon, and “Freezer Burn” at Antipodean SF is about one of Raisa’s ancestors coming out of the long sleep. I’m working on the first sequel to Avians, in which bandits worsen a refugee crisis, and Mel and Raisa must work together in new ways to prevent a disaster. I’d like to create a series of novels that follow Raisa and Mel’s adventures as they mature in different ways.

Ferrante: You live in a fairly small town in northern Ontario, Canada. I know you belong to the NOWW, Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop, and that there is an active writing community in Kenora. What else do you do to connect with other writers, improve your writing skills, and gather feedback on your work?

Gwyn: Since attending my first workshops in Kenora, I’ve become a regular at conventions in Winnipeg, Ottawa, and now Calgary. I put a lot of work into an Odyssey online course one winter, and I also belong to a speculative fiction critique group in Winnipeg; I get a lot of mental writing done on the drive home.

Ferrante: What advice would you give to new authors who are writing their first science fiction book?

Gwyn: Make connections. Start with Beta readers. Then, if you can manage to get to a convention or workshop, put your brave face on and sign up for a Blue Pencil Café because those short critiques often go straight to the heart of the matter. Look into online courses such as Odyssey’s, because they teach you to critique. Follow the Prix Aurora Awards: enrolling to vote is just ten bucks each year and you get to read all the shortlisted works.

Ferrante: What you working on now? What are your future plans? Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers?

Gwyn: I’m working on that first sequel, Bandits, and roughing out some plots for later books. I have enough ideas to keep me going for many years. I have two blogs that can be reached through Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol displays aerial photographs to chronicle the spring thaw in Kenora’s cottage country, and Timothy Gwyn Writes covers my adventures and misadventures pursuing writing and publication.

Three Random Questions

Ferrante: If you were a science-fiction character, who would you be?

Gwyn: Nausicaä from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. This Hiyao Miyazaki anime is perhaps my favourite movie ever. Princess Nausicaä is brave but pacifistic, and strives to understand nature to better her world. And she’s a pilot!

Ferrante:  The morning after a nuclear catastrophe, what would you be able to reinvent or re-create?

Gwyn: Coffee. There will be no civilization rising from the ashes until I have coffee. I’ll get around to building a printing press out of the slag and putting out a newspaper in the afternoon.

Ferrante: What kind of clothes would you absolutely never wear?

Gwyn: High socks, with or without shorts. I fold my socks down to below the shin. And flood pants: I’m still traumatized from my growth spurt in junior high. Captain Kirk’s uniform pants that end with a flare above the ankle make me cringe.

Ferrante: Thank you so much for participating in my interview series. It was a pleasure getting to know you.

Timothy Gwyn can be found through his website at, and Twitter @timothygwyn

Haunted by a Bad Review

(There will not be a recycled humor column today.)

There are a lot of articles out there on how to handle bad book reviews. Generally authors will give three to six points but they almost always include “Don’t respond.” I have stuck to that premise faithfully.

The only time I ever responded was when I realized my book must have been garbled by Caliber when I turned it into an EPUB format. I sent it to the reviewer by email. The unfortunate reviewer thought English was my second language. LOL. I asked her if she would look again at the book in a different format and she agreed. She changed the review to four stars after reading the properly formatted one. I appreciated her kindness.

However, one review has haunted me and another writer has told me I should have responded to the review. I didn’t feel she would be open to what I was trying to say and I didn’t want it to become a flame and bring other people on board. Fat shaming is a volatile subject these days. Perhaps, now that a lot of time is past, she might be more open.

I will explain how this came about and would appreciate your opinion.

I wrote a book called Leya in which a girl was being bullied for her weight by another girl and her sidekick. The bullied girl had friends who stood up for her, in fact one girl almost killed the bully trying to teach her a lesson. The bully never changed and evolved into a truly evil character. I thought my message was stand up for your friends but don’t do it in foolish and dangerous ways. I also thought when this character became super evil it would be totally believable because she was such an awful person as to say mean things about someone’s weight. If she was that horrible as a teen who knows what she would be when she grew up.

Unfortunately, the reviewer took this as an assault on bigger girls. First, let me say, I am no Twiggy. Neither are several members of my family and friends. I would sooner cut out my tongue than belittle someone for their appearance. I was bullied as a child and would never condone, support, or participate in any type of bullying through my writing. Perhaps if this person had read my picture books she would have had a better understanding of who I am.

Maybe I didn’t write it clearly enough. Maybe she had recently been bullied and was feeling overly sensitive. Maybe using verbal bullying as a prediction of future evil was not a good idea. I know that no other reviewer or reader who spoke or wrote to me saw the scene the way she did. A member of my family who has struggled with weight problems her whole life read the book and loved it. When I was invited to a book club of a dozen women, they responded favorably. They understood that I was trying to paint this girl, the bully, as a diehard nasty piece of work as well as emphasize that bystanders need to support the victims of bullies.

Now, if the reviewer had just written this to me in a private message, I would have responded with an apology for perhaps not making my intentions clearly understood. But to put that as a reply to her review would be opening a whole can of worms. However, the review still stands on Goodreads and Amazon and I suspect influences people negatively towards my work and especially toward buying it.

So here’s my question? Should I let sleeping dogs lie? Should I write a private message to her? Should I reply to the review? Should I put a link to this article? What’s your opinion?