BookView Interview with Author Regan W.H. Macaulay

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we talked to Regan W.H. Macaulay, about her writing and her book, Libby the Lobivia Jajoiana, a children’s picture book that celebrates individualism and acceptence, (read the review here).

Regan writes novels, short stories, children’s literature, and scripts. Writing is her passion, but she’s also a producer and director of theatre, film, and television. She is an animal enthusiast as well, which led her to become a Certified Canine (and Feline) Massage Therapist. Award-winning books for children include her picture storybooks “Beverlee Beaz the Brown Burmese”, “Sloth the Lazy Dragon”, “Tamara Turtle’s Life So Far”. Recent picture books include “Merry Myrrh: The Christmas Bat”, “Mixter Twizzle’s Breakfast”, as well as a new edition of “Beverlee Beaz the Brown Burmese” and most recently, “Libby the Lobivia Jajoiana”. Coming soon — “Dog Band” and middle-grade novel “Peter Little Wing” (Book 1). Her books for adults include novelette adaptation of her feature film (available on iTunes and on DVD), “Space Zombies!” and horror/comedy novellas, “They Suck” and “Horror at Terror Creek” (Books 1 – 3 of the “Trilogy of Horrifically Half-Baked Ham”).

Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?

It all began with a funny chat I had with my husband many years ago—we were in a restaurant and I jokingly asked Kevin to pitch me an anthropomorphic picture book with an unusual character. He came back with a cactus plant. Over our conversation, it developed into a story about a cactus with self-esteem issues. We were just having fun at the time, but it really struck us both and we decided to write it together.

What do you hope readers will take away from this story?

It’s really about getting across that different isn’t a bad thing. Your differences are what make you YOU—differences are what’s beautiful about you. As it says in the press kit, “Beauty comes in many different forms. What you think is your worst flaw may very well be your greatest asset.”

What makes this book important right now?

With all the unrealistic imagery kids are exposed to now more than ever before, via social media and online in general, but also still in print images in magazines etc., it’s important that kids know that there are many different kinds of beauty. Beauty comes from inside, it comes from what makes us different from others (this is why each of us is special, after all)—it isn’t one particular look or a very narrow view that is aesthetic alone. I hope this book shows kids that two very different kinds of plants can BOTH be beautiful, as well as all the different kinds of plants in between! This goes for animals and people as well.

Has this picture book changed drastically as you created it?

We worked on it over many years on and off, with many different editors and beta readers giving us helpful notes and advice. So it changed multiple times over the years as we chipped away at it. Then I met Gordon Bagshaw on Twitter and discovered he was Canadian, too (but living in Brazil) and eventually got around to asking him about his rates as an illustrator. I had noticed that not only did he do his own comic strip, Frodo the Sheltie, he was also illustrating his first picture book with another writer. I pitched him our idea for Libby the Lobivia Jajoiana and he loved it! We’ve been on the same page throughout the process…and what an amazing process it was! The way he illustrated the book via computer, vector drawing, was absolutely stunning. But the drawings themselves also shaped our writing—we made many adjustments based on new ideas from Gord. It’s a picture book, after all, so the pictures do a heavy share of the storytelling and are bound to influence the text, as well as being influenced by the writing.

How did you decide on this title?

The title was a risk we all took, especially our publisher, Mirror World Publishing, as it’s difficult to pronounce. It is the scientific name of Libby’s species of cactus plant. It’s a rather integral part of the story—Libby at first feels she’s not good enough for such a fancy name and prefers to simply go by “Libby.” But in the end, she discovers she very much deserves her special name, so it was important to include it in the title. Fortunately, we have a couple opportunities—once right in the story, near the end of the book, and once in the title page just below the title—to show how Lobivia Jajoiana is pronounced phonetically (Low-BIV-ee-uh Jah-joee-AHN-nuh).

And why did we decide on making Libby a Lobivia Jajoiana? When searching different kinds of cacti online, what struck us about the Lobivia Jajoiana is how plain and extremely spiky Lobivia Jajoiana are, as well as how lovely the blossoms are! This made for the perfect transformation that Libby needed to experience in the story…but it was also important to show how protective her spines are, too.

How did you decide which form or genre was right for you?

One of the things I love best about writing picture books is that they are short, concise stories, where the text shares the storytelling effort with the images on each page. I also love having an illustrator partner to help me tell the tale. These two things are why I know that picture books are definitely one of “my genres”. I’ve had the privilege of working with four gifted illustrators on my seven picture books so far. With Libby the Lobivia Jajoiana, I was blessed with a truly unique collaborative experience. I worked with a co-writer, my husband, Kevin Risk. Our publisher, Justine Alley Dowsett, was even more closely involved than she usually is with the completion of the book over the last year prior to publication. And Gord, our illustrator constructed a 360 degree digital “set”—the kitchen, in which most of the story takes place—in minute detail and with breathtaking art that straddles the line between photorealistic and fantastical illustration with digital painting. This set was something he worked on with Kev and I—we all collaborated on what the kitchen would look like, what to put in the kitchen, and then, of course, what the characters should look like.

Does your family support your career as a writer?

They do, and I’m incredibly grateful! My mom in particular is wonderful. She is an actual partner in what I’ll call the administrative end of my work. She helps me with designing and developing school visit materials, does the bookkeeping, helps to design and plan promotional materials, and we budget together for each book’s development, launch, marketing, and beyond. She is also one of my sounding boards, whether it’s brainstorming ideas for stories or finding ways to finance events (when we’re able to actually do events in non-COVID times). Then my husband, of course, is my co-writer on a number of projects, including this book! And he is one of my beta readers. It doesn’t get much more supportive than that! And most of the rest of my family is there for me for launches, and to support me by buying my books (for themselves and for gifts).

Is there anything you want to unlearn?

I want to very much unlearn overthinking. This applies more to my other writing than it does picture books. I think it’s gotten me into trouble sometimes—I’ve actually ended up doing more “telling” than “showing” in early drafts of stories because I was paranoid about showing the story through the main character’s point of view. By overdoing it, I ended up telling too much of the story to my readers. I’m sure I could also save myself some time in other aspects of writing by not overthinking everything. But as a writer, it’s difficult to get out of one’s head. It’s important to step away and take breaks from your work and go do something else (take a walk, do a different chore altogether, or switch to another project) and then come back to your writing with fresh eyes. Sometimes you need only a few hours, or days, but sometimes when you’re at a particular stage with your project, perhaps about to launch into a new phase, you want to put it away for weeks or even months. Otherwise, you need to turn to beta readers or editors—a fresh pair of eyes (or more!) who can help you see where you might need to do more work, and where you might be overthinking something to the detriment of your own story.

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