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Extended Feature: Local author and illustrator team up for new children’s book series

Jan 20, 2015 12:20PM, Published by Kevin, Categories: In Print, Today Spotlight




Mansfield is home to a literary dynamic duo - a creative author and an illustrator - who have just published a new children’s book series that kicks off with the title Gracie Lou and the Bad Dream Eater. Author Danielle Vann and illustrator Amy Zelder have teamed up to create a fun, whimsical and ongoing tale that they hope will have kids – and parents – reading for enjoyment.

We caught up with Vann, a former news journalist and public relations manager, and Zelder, a local artist, teacher, illustrator and mom of 6. They were excited about their latest creation and eager to share about themselves.

by Kerry Pipes 

In Print

Tell us more about what you do for a living and how you spend your time?

DV: Writing is my profession. I started my career as a television news writer and worked my way up to anchor. Creativity and writing has always been a part of my professional life. After my children were born, I earned my floral license. I had worked for a florist throughout high school and my first year of college and that creative passion never left me. With the certificate under my belt, I opened a floral business that catered to high-end weddings and events. I enjoyed it immensely, but running a successful business took away any extra time I had to write. My truest passion won, and I got back to writing. I spend my time writing, and with my husband, children, family and dear friends. I also serve on the Cora Spencer Elementary PTA as Vice President of Fundraising—a nod to my love of creating events. Additionally, I am an Assistant Girl Scout Leader. My plate is generally running over, but I like it that way. It keeps me on my toes. 

AZ: One of my most favorite things I get to do is teach painting classes in homes, churches and even some local businesses such as Vintage Vibe. I provide all the supplies and have a blast meeting new people in the community and creating art together. I also do custom artwork on wood and canvass, inspirational portraits of animals and family illustrating.  

How did you get interested in writing?

DV: From a very early age, I realized I enjoyed telling stories. I loved dreaming up people, events and places. I wrote short stories and poems the majority of my childhood. When I was a freshman in high school, I had an English teacher who had a passion for great writing and her enthusiasm spurred my desire to be a writer.

How did you get interested in illustrating?

AZ: As an artist I have no limit to what and where I get to use my gift. Being able to illustrate is an honor.

Have you written any other books? Tell us about them.

DV: I have written several books prior to Gracie Lou and the Bad Dream Eater; however, this is the first to be published. We are revisiting several of those books, mostly young adult and adult novels, to see what our next step will look like.

AZ: Yes. Little Essie Learns To Hope.

Tell us about the new book, Gracie Lou and the Bad Dream Eater.

DV: It’s one in a series starring the darling, spunky six-year-old Gracie Lou. Like most kids her age, she is downright terrified of the bad dream monsters that creep into her room every night. She is so frightened that she simply cannot honk-shoo, otherwise known as sleep. After many sleepless nights, her daddy turns himself into the one and only Bad Dream Eater. The monster-hunting duo set a trap that makes the monsters shake with all their might. What the Bad Dream Eater does next becomes legendary in the monster world. You have to read the book to find out if Gracie Lou and Daddy finally get to honk-shoo. 

AZ: Gracie Lou is full of spunk, life and personality.

How long does it take to write and publish a book from beginning to end?

DV: The idea for Gracie Lou and the Bad Dream Eater came about after our youngest daughter had trouble sleeping. My husband, Todd, was walking down the stairs when I heard him tell her to stay in her room, and if the bad dream monsters came knocking all she had to do was send them down to him. He would take care of them. I was in my office working on a novel when I heard this conversation transpire. I stopped what I was writing and began outlining, Gracie Lou and the Bad Dream Eater. To me, the story was pure magic. The idea kept popping in my head, but remained an outline for nearly eight months. Finally, once I knew exactly who Gracie Lou was, I wrote the story in about two days. It went through ten edits before I was ready to share it with anyone. That process took a few months. I mentioned to a close friend, Kacey Tate, that I had written a children’s book. She immediately responded saying, “You needed to meet Amy Zelder.” About three weeks after her comment, Amy and I met. It took about three months of back and forth for us to land on exactly where we wanted Gracie Lou to go. After that process, it took another three to make everything publisher ready. While it felt much longer, it was a relatively short process compared to how long it often takes to get most books off the ground.

What challenges did you face during the project?

DV: Amy and I dug our heels in and began to work. When you do not know someone well, you have a short period of getting to know how they work. Our styles are different, and yet, I think that is what makes us such a great team. As far as challenges, I would say, just making sure that we were giving the reader consistency through both the written word and the illustrations. 

AZ: I originally illustrated using all different mediums. As the deadline came on I discovered I needed to use one medium throughout.

Are you involved in the marketing/promotion of the book?

DV: Yes. You can find us on Facebook – Author Danielle A. Vann and Twitter @AuthorDanielleV. I also created my own website: www.authordanielleavann.com. In addition, I’ve placed us on www.goodreads.com and many other book review sites. That is something our publisher offered to us, but I’ve personally handled each of these aspects. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter! We also list all of our upcoming appearances and events on our website, Facebook and Twitter. Our E-book is available everywhere E-books are sold. Barnes & Noble and Amazon’s Kindle are the most notable.

What else can you tell us about the new book?

DV: Kids from ages 3 to 12 have enjoyed Gracie Lou. It is a longer book so the older reader feels challenged in reading, whereas the younger reader generally deals with the topic of the book.

AZ: This book will make you laugh and is entertaining for all ages.

Tell us more about how your relationship.

DV: Our mutual friend, Kacey Tate, facilitated the introduction between Amy and me. It started out with a text, “Hey, I hear you are an illustrator,” or something to that effect, and that text took us to Starbucks on Broad where we met, talked about our goals, life and the project. We grew to know each better as we began working together. Amy is truly a dear, close friend, who not only is my business partner, but someone I know has my best interest at heart, and I have hers. 

AZ: A mutual friend gave each other our contact info we met over a cup of coffee and immediately became kindred spirits.

Describe your working relationship.

DV: It is fun. That is so simple to say, but truly, that is what it is—fun. Amy is so creative. To be able to watch someone take your words and bring them to life on paper is such a surreal feeling. We get into each other’s heads. With very little conversation between us, Amy can create what I was envisioning when writing. Since finishing this first book, as I write other Gracie Lou adventures, I write to how I know Amy will see the action on the page. I truly believe her creativity has made me a stronger writer.

AZ: I love Danielle! She understands how I work and think. We have fun and share lots of laughter. We are both “Go Getters,” silly and dream big literally!

Do you spend time together outside of the working relationship?

DV: Friends first, business partners second, even though the relationship started off as partners. It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while you meet someone that you instantly connect with. That is how I felt when I met Amy. I knew immediately that not only did we have a great deal of work to do to bring my idea to life, but also we would have a bond as friends in doing it.  

AZ: Danielle’s family has become dear friends of our family.

What’s next for you two?

DV: Well, another book in this series, of course. We have eight books with the ink drying from both writing and editing, and several other adventures are outlined. Like I said, our hope is to produce at least ten published books starring Gracie Lou. We want this to be a series that kids read repeatedly. While not every book has a lesson at its core, some do. We want kids to enjoy reading them, laugh, and think about how Gracie Lou handled the situation. Was it wrong or right? Good or bad? The next title we are working on is Gracie Lou is a Mismatched Cootie Pants. We are hoping to have that finished and in our readers hands by the middle of 2015.

Tell us a little about your families.

DV: My family includes my husband Todd, our oldest daughter Delaney (10) (Laney for short), daughter Madison (8) (Madie), and our youngest, our son, Chappell (2) (Chap). Todd and I have been married for nearly 12 years. Todd is a finance manager for BMW of Arlington. Delaney is a 4th grader and Madison is in 2nd grade.

AZ: We have a large blended family and we have lots of fun!

Describe how your family has supported your time invested in writing and illustrating?

DV: My family supports the time I spend in my office 100 percent. I do try my best to respect their home time as much as they respect my time writing. I do my best writing when the house is quiet. That often means when the kids are at school, Mothers Day Out or late at night when the crew has gone to bed. Every once in awhile something hits me and I rush to my office to write before it flees.  If my family sees me rushing off, they generally let me write undisturbed.

AZ: When it comes to deadlines my family has helped me stay awake by bringing me snacks and coffee.

Do you have other interests/hobbies?

DV: Yes, I love to cook from scratch. We are pretty much a dairy-free, organic family due to allergies. I enjoy building meals that are not only healthy, but also are a nod to how my grandparents and father cooked. I love to garden. I have a vegetable garden and several varieties of fruit trees in our backyard. Our backyard was a blank canvas with only one immature tree when we purchased the property. Now I feel like it is moving into a place that I thoroughly enjoy. Digging in the dirt is part of my stress-relief program. That is something Amy and I share as common ground. We’ve talked about taking this passion into print too. I love to read, but do not get to do it as often as I would like. I also am a runner. I love antiques and home design. I think my Pinterest pages could solve any home repair or design problem–ever!

AZ: Yes! I love being outside in nature and rescuing wild baby animals, woodwork and singing.

What do you like about living in the Mansfield area?

DV: I <love> Mansfield! We moved here from Houston two summers ago. I love the friendliness of the people, the small-town feel without the loss of amenities, the easy-going nature of the community, and I especially love that this is a place where I know my children are growing up with the same values we hold. This is a community that rallies around family, a faith-based home and supports hometown pride. We feel fortunate to call Mansfield our home. 

AZ: I love the close community in Mansfield and wouldn’t want to raise my children anywhere else!

What did you want to be when you grew up?

DV: An author.

AZ: I’m living my dream of being a mommy and artist! 

Web-Only Exclusive

Talking Book

Mansfield residents Danielle Vann and Amy Zelder are part of a small group of people who can say they have had a book published. The business partners and friends have recently written and published the children’s book Gracie Lou and the Bad Dream Eater.

We interviewed them in the January-February issue of Mansfield Magazine. They were candid and insightful and had so much to share that we are featuring the additional notes from their interviews here.

Who have been some inspirations in your life?

DV: My parents have always been a source of inspiration. So too are, my high school English teacher, Mrs. LaPorte, and my former boss, news director, Kerry Anderson. All of these people exhibited the true meaning of hard work, belief in yourself and the ability to put your mind to a task and do it without fail. Understand, that isn’t to say I haven’t failed, because I have. It is to say I have been wise enough due to my role models to know that failing is just a bump and a lesson to try harder. I admire what each of them has taught me and try my hardest to live up to the standards they have exuded in my life.

AZ: My parents. My father was severally handicapped and wheel chair bound yet was as capable as most men. My parents taught us to be grateful and value life.

Best advice anyone ever gave you:

DV: Two pieces: From my mother: Never do anything that doesn’t speak to the quality of your character. From my father: Work hard. Work so hard that when you are finished you are proud to put your name on it.

AZ: Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Best advice you ever gave anyone:

DV: I’m not sure. I feel like I give advice often, probably more often than my friends and family would like.  

AZ: Peace doesn’t come from circumstances.

Biggest project for the year:

DV: Biggest project of the year: Gracie Lou and the Mismatched Cootie Pants, as well as tweaking and editing my young adult novel under the working title: We Could’ve Had It All. We hope to see both on shelves in 2015!

AZ: The continuing series of Gracie Lou.

What do you do to unwind?

DV: Spend time with my kiddos, cook and spend time in my garden.

AZ: Time at home with my family and a glass of red wine!

Favorite place to travel?

DV: Hmmm, I don’t know. I love to travel, but I tend to find something beautiful, remarkable and memorable in every place I go. I cannot pinpoint one location per se, just that I love to travel, and the individual experiences I have when I am away from home.

AZ: I have family in Virginia and California so traveling to see them is a priority. Sun and sand is wonderful too!

How would you describe your personality?

DV: This one is a bit harder. Let’s see. I’m a doer. I see something I want or have a goal, and I just do it. The old adage, “Fake it until you make it,” I feel like that comes into play in my life more times than not. I’m headstrong. I don’t take no for an answer. I love to laugh and hope my friends and family find me funny and witty. I think of myself as smart, but in a way that sees something and knows how to do it quickly. I feel like I am a giver. I would rather do for someone else than myself. Lastly, I’m grounded. While I am a dreamer, I do not place all my hopes in wishing; instead, I go out and try my best to make things happen, and therefore I feel like that makes me grounded.

AZ: I’m passionate about life! Love people and animals and I always look for the silver lining and find it.

What’s been your secret to a happy well-balanced life?

DV: I do what I love, and am with the ones I love. Writing makes my soul happy. It fulfills me.

My family isn’t just those within my walls or in my bloodline, my family includes my very close friends and that keeps be both happy and well balanced. 

AZ: God first! Knowing that each day is a gift!

Anything else you think people might find interesting about you?

DV:  I grew up in Oklahoma City. When I first started in the news business, I storm chased. I have been very close to tornadoes and have stood outside in a hurricane. Obviously, tornadoes were in Oklahoma City, and the hurricane was in Louisiana when I was working for Fox 29 News. I do not feel like authors should be stuck in one book genre. I’ve written children’s books, young adult novels, adult novels and a non-fiction novel. The more you write the better you are. We are big supports of March of Dimes. Our youngest child was born early and weighed 2 pounds 13 ounces. I hold two Bachelor degrees. The first is in Journalism with a minor in English. The second is in Marketing. I earned both degrees from the University of Central Oklahoma. The first degree took me three years to earn. The second was earned a few years later.

AZ: I’m an identical twin from a large family. I love taking care of our children and 21 animals including our chickens and ducks.

Most memorable moment in your career thus far?

DV: This one is easy! When our books arrived, Amy and I opened the first copy together. Both of our hands were trembling. The moment the cover was revealed, we both screamed. I thought in that instant that this was the top of the top for me. However, I was wrong. The most memorable moment was when I found out our book had hit Barnes and Noble. Amy and I had been waiting for the email saying it had been accepted. I’ll admit I was growing more nervous each day as we were still not hearing any news from our publisher about availability dates. Several days after the email was due to arrive, my daughter Delaney, who is an avid reader, charged her NOOK after school. A few hours later, she came to me, and said, “Mom, can I buy this?” I turned to look at her. She was holding her NOOK up in the air, and there staring back at me was Gracie Lou. My stomach flipped. There it was. The moment I knew I had accomplished something big in terms of my writing career. There is something very satisfying and extremely humbling about seeing your name on a mega-giant bookstore like Barnes and Noble.

AZ: Connecting with children throughout Mansfield.

What is your secret indulgence?

DV:  Then it wouldn’t be a secret! Ha, ha! Well, let’s see, I don’t really have one. I’m an open book. What you see is what you get, as the saying goes.

AZ: Good chips and salsa!


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