Friday, October 14, 2016

Raise Your Paws for Hazel Mitchell and a Prize!

Hazel G. Mitchell likes her dog Toby a little bit. Maybe a lot bit. Okay she loves Toby heaps and heaps! It takes this kind of love to write a story that tells a tale as beautiful as Toby's. Hazel's story just came out yesterday, so be sure to be one of the first to buy her book!

If you missed it, Hazel did a wonderful interview with Mark G. Mitchell. If you missed the interview you can see Mark's blog post here: http://howtobeachildrensbookillustrator.com/hazels-new-picture-book/ There is a link to the 90 minute Google Hangout recording there as well!


Dani: When did you decide to create picture books?


Hazel: I always wanted to make books, or had it in my head to so do, since I was about seven. I didn't get round to doing much about it until 2009 when I hit my mid 40's. I worked was a graphic designer for many years and then as a commercial illustrator. I'd no idea about the children's publishing world. For years I'd noodled around with stories and illustrating self published books for people, but I wanted to be in trade publishing, but had no idea how. Thankfully I found the SCBWI.org, which is most people's entry into the professional aspect of publishing. Actually my first workshop was not SCBWI. I attended a locally organized event in Maine with the awesome author Lisa Wheeler and I was hooked and inspired. In 2010 I went to my first major SCBWI conference in NYC and began the steep and long learning curve to getting published.


Dani: In the past you've mostly been an illustrator. How do you feel about writing Toby as well as illustrating the story?


Hazel: LOVE IT! I've always written stories since I was a child. But I always drew and drawing took over my life (and career) for a long time. It's only now that I'm letting the writing side of me have some airtime. Writing and illustrating a story is twice the joy and twice the pain! When you're collaborating with an author and illustrating their story it comes ready formed in a manuscript. The challenge is to weave your illustrations around the words which is a fun and interesting process in itself. But when it's YOUR STORY it's completely different. It can take you anywhere and everywhere and you have no idea what will happen when you think of the characters, or first line, or the ending. It's a mystery. That's a lot of freedom which can be exhilarating and also nullifying! But, to answer your question, I enjoyed the process very much even the hard parts and killing my darlings and all that (after it was finished!). The process of writing and illustration happened together for me, I didn't just sit down and write a manuscript and then do a dummy to accompany it, I drew a lot of the sketches first and then fitted them together to make the story ... and added more bits ... and changed bits ... and cut bits ... and revised. Hey, you get the picture. It's always a work in progress. Until the finals are sent to the publisher. Then it's - on to the next story.


Dani: How does planning a story change when you are working from actual events?

Hazel: It's interesting. When I first decided to write about Toby I knew I'd place him in a fictional setting. (There was no story arc with me and my husband as the secondary characters!). So just what was going to happen to Toby? Who'd adopt him? What'd they be like and what was THEIR story. I already knew Toby's - fearful, adopted dog learning trust and friendship. Toby's adoptive family turned out to be a young boy and his Dad who've just moved house. Originally it was going to be Mom and Dad, but a single parent was more interesting. I really like the emotional triangle between the three of them. I took a lot of the things that Toby did in real life and inserted them into the story (not eating treats, messing in the house, hiding under the table, collecting shoes!). That part was fairly easy; I had lots of content. The story arc was harder, figuring out the problem, how to fix the problem and how not to have the adult as the person fixing the problem! The other thing that's different in Toby's fictional journey, from fearful dog to trusting dog, is the time scale. Toby's still on his journey in real life, but for a picture book it would have been difficult for a young child to comprehend, especially reading alone, so we spread it over a season (fall).


Dani: What's the story behind the story of Toby?

Hazel: The real story of Toby is that of a very fearful poodle rescued with eight of his poodle family from a puppy mill in Aroostook County, Maine. Kept in totes in a basement, they were hardly let out and I doubt Toby had been outside. He'd certainly had never been socialized. He was pretty much frozen when he arrived to be fostered by us. After a few weeks we decided we couldn't let him go to another home, he would have been sent back to the shelter many times. We adopted him. That was in November 2013 just before Thanksgiving. I wrote the book in spring 2014 and (my now) agent, Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown Ltd, NYC, signed me and sold it to Liz Bicknell at Candlewick Press very shortly after! It was a whirlwind. But during the joy of selling the book, I was faced with tragedy - Toby escaped and was lost for eight days, until finally he returned back to the place he escaped from. It was a hard time and I didn't know if I'd be able to bring myself to finish the book if I didn't find him. It almost seemed like the world held it's breath as the saga of Toby Lost was followed by people internationally on social media. But all's well that ends well. Thank goodness!


Dani: Do you have more stories you plan to write and illustrate?


Hazel: I do! I have a couple of picture books in progress. And I have a sequel to 'Toby in mind' (he has an adopted sister now, Lucy, a white standard poodle). Besides that I am also venturing into the world of middle grade novels, that's a whole different world for me!


Dani: Is there anything else you want to share with those creating their dummies?


Hazel: Don't get too set in your ideas. Be flexible and open. Keep your work loose so you can make changes easily if you get feedback. (If you work in a very tight manner, sometimes the thought of even attempting changes can be daunting and put an editor or agent off asking you to do it and therefore possibly not acquiring the book). I would also say don't look for too much crit or look for it too early in a story. Let things sit. Look at them again. I guarantee you will have changed your mind! Crit is great, but too much can 'distill' your ideas. Protect your creative bubble. Write about what you love .. yep we hear it all the time .. and chasing trends is tempting. Do your thing. It's YOUR thing and no one else can do it. If your heart is in your work, with persistence and effort you WILL touch someone else's heart and they won't be able to live without buying your story. And, lastly, don't give up!

Synopsis:

When a young boy and his father move from one house to another, they decide to adopt a dog from the local rescue shelter. But their chosen dog, Toby, is having a tough time adjusting to his new life outside the shelter—howling all night, hiding fearfully from his new humans, forgetting where to go to the bathroom, and chasing a ball through the flower bed. The boy has promised to train his new companion, and he’s trying his best, but Dad is starting to get exasperated. Will Toby ever feel comfortable with his new family and settle into his forever home, or will Dad decide he’s not the right dog for them after all?

A heartwarming story about the growing bond between a child and a new pet—inspired by the author’s experience with a rescue dog of the same name.


Follow Hazel:

Website: http://www.hazelmitchell.com/toby

Twitter: @meetToby

Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/meettoby/

Book Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TgIF-6Yo1o


Buy it here http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780763680930 and here http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/toby-hazel-mitchell/1123282586.

PRIZE

One lucky winner will receive a review copy of "Toby"

In order to win this prize you must comment on this post.
Toby would love if you shared this post with the dog owners/pet lovers in your life

28 comments:

  1. Hazel, I like your choice of colour in the story. The limited palette helps set the mood.

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    1. Thanks, Lynette ... I thought hard about the colours! Hazel and Toby

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  2. Great advice .... go slow, be flexible and protect the creative bubble until your project has had time to formulate. Toby is one of your best books yet!

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    1. Thanks, Phyllis! love, Hazel and Toby xo

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  3. Thank you so much for hosting us, Dani! love Hazel and Toby xx

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  4. "Write about what you love" I simply love that you say that. That's my gut instinct for now. I hope people will see this when my work is finally out there. Thanks for sharing Hazel!

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    1. I think it is the best instinct! Good luck. Hazel and Toby xx

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  5. This sounds like a wonderful book! As a rescuer and foster for over 20 years, I have seen that journey many times. Thank you you for giving Toby a chance to blossom and thank you for telling his story in a compassionate and accessible way. I can't wait to buy this book!

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    1. Hi Shelly, thanks for rescuing! Hope you enjoy our book. Hazel and Toby xx

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  6. I am not entering for the prize, but I agree, we must do our thing, find our voice, be true to ourselves, pursue what's important to us instead of trends. Well said, Hazel. Very cute dog.

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    1. Thank you Sussu, and Toby says WOOF! Hazel and Toby xx

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  7. Be flexible, Do your thing, Don't give up. Great thing to here over and over. Thanks so much, Hazel!

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    1. Thank you! Persistence is all. Hazel and Toby xx

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  8. Thanks Hazel! The part about the work being a living, morphing entity until it's printed is so true. I have to remind myself that I can still make changes even after the story or layout solidifies into a concrete form. It sounds like "Toby" transformed many times to become a masterful example of a fully developed work. It would be a wonderful bookshelf reminder of patient perseverance and the importance of caring friendship. dianegronas@zoomtown.com -- I also need to think more seriously about agents as apposed to self publishing. Marketing your own work is harder than you think.

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    1. Thank you, awesome insight :-) And yes, I know, marketing is VERY hard and time consuming. Good luck! Hazel and Toby xx

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  9. The illustrations are beautiful!! It's also encouraging to hear that you didn't start writing children's books until later in life. It's never too late to start a new adventure or follow an old dream. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks so much, Karan! We are wiser the older we get. Hazel and Toby xx

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  10. Thank you for the post. Toby's story (both the real Toby & the fictional one) are very interesting.

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    1. You are welcome! Glad you enjoyed. Hazel and Toby xx

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  11. Thanks for the great advice - especially protecting your creative bubble!

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  12. WHat a great interview! I enjoyed the story behind the story because it reminded me of my beloved dog whom we rescued from the shelter. Thanks for spreading the important message of love, Hazel!
    -Romelle

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  13. That's pretty awesome advice from Hazel about being flexible and not too tight at the start and also not seeking critiques too soon! I've read a couple of interview of Hazel, bu I never tire of her and Toby's stories!

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  14. Inspiring post! Hazel I love your illustrations in Toby. It looks like a very sweet book. Would love to read it!

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  15. I love your illustrations and adoration for your canine, Hazel! Thank for for the advice and inspiration, both here and on the webcast with Mark. Please don't enter me in the drawing as I live in Thailand and overseas shipping rates are high!

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  16. Love your story and the trailer was fantastic. How wonderful to be able to write and illustrate your own books. I would love a copy of "toby."

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  17. Thank you for your experience. It is so nice to hear that you started later in life. I just started this process and loving what I have learned. It is true working on your own project makes a big difference. Thank You!

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  18. Hi Hazel! I liked reading about your story, that you didn't get around to pursuing your dream of making books until you were in your mid 40's. I love hearing stories like that! Also, I love your sweet dog illustrations!

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