I want to introduce you to my incredible illustrator, Svitlana Holovchenko!
The publisher I had signed with asked me if there was anyone in particular I wanted to work with on illustrations for my story after the entire clipart debacle. I knew this was my opportunity to find my dream illustrator and send her information to the editor.
I scoured the internet for websites and portfolios over the weekend so that I could submit four illustrators I'd be happy to work with. I spoke in depth with each illustrator about the scope of this project, the timeline, and that they would have to be ok with the author (me) being very involved with the vision. I wanted to leave space for the professional to take over on the creativity front, but as far as the basis of the story, my own children as the characters, the fact that this picture book is based on a true story, it had to be somewhat accurate. After finding four amazing illustrators, it was clear that Svitlana was the one I had fallen in love with her illustrations... and I wouldn't be satisfied with anything else. My daughters, Sadie and Josie, also selected Svitlana as their top choice. It was completely unanimous.
After the publisher told me they didn't want to pay for illustrations (another story for another time), I had my agent get my rights back immediately, and out of the deal, immediately.
I knew I had to work with Svitlana... so I took a leap of faith and hired her, signed her onto the project, and I have never looked back. I have been so incredibly happy working with her.
Even though we do not speak each other's language, we have found a way to use google translator to communicate and share the vision of the project. She and I have bonded over motherhood and our care for the environment, particularly the ocean. She is Ukrainian and has been living in Germany over the past few years. She is one of the most talented illustrators I've ever seen, ever. I am so lucky to have her illustrate this very special story... after all, it is the illustrations that make a book come to life, and trust me, she has made my story come to life.
We are getting close to the finish line... and will have a pre-order link for the book in the next few weeks. Sneak peeks of her illustrations will also be coming soon. In the meantime... here are some of the illustrations that made us completely fall in love with her work...
HUGE shoutout to Svitlana... Thank you for making this dream become a reality for me!
You can follow her on instagram @svitlanaholovchenko and twitter @sholovchenko or find her online: https://hotarudesign.jimdosite.com/art/
That's all for now...
I was asked to speak as a Featured Author at the Palmetto State Literary Association Conference in February in Hilton Head, SC and Plastic Ocean Project is sponsoring me! Wahoo!
I'm so honored that people believe in the power of ISLAND GIRLS, my little picture book that started as a dream. ISLAND GIRLS is really becoming a very real reality. A reality I am so proud of for sticking up for my vision and being strong enough to be patient and publish it the right way. I hope to share a sneak peek of a spread or two in the coming weeks.
So, for all who are asking, what is happening behind the scenes? Here is a small snapshot of what I am working on:
Those are the bigger pieces right now... there are so many little details that I need to include and I am just getting really organized because it's a lot.
If you have any ideas for PR / news outlet leads / book launch signings, contact me please.
Thank you for the continued support and excitement! It's all happening...
Wow, guys. This summer has been WILD. The kids are finally back in school so I have a minute to update the blog on all of the ups and downs of the past few weeks.
MAY: I took my time going back and forth discussing at length the illustration process, how the illustrator would be selected, negotiating that I would get a say in the illustrations. Afterall, this book is about my family and has my own children in it SO I really care about what the illustrations look like!
JUNE: After weeks of back and forth discussion, I signed the deal.
JULY: I waited a little over 3 weeks and I got the first spread from an "illustrator" that was in
fact from FIVERR and computer generated graphics, aka CLIP ART. It was completely unacceptable.
I wanted to throw up. This is awful! The illustration above is of a box turtle on land near a lake and a forest. This book is about plastics in the OCEAN with sea turtles.
My agent and I freaked out and had words back and forth with the publisher. His response:
"Do you have the contact information of an illustrator you would like to work with?"
So we spent hours talking to illustrators over the weekend and came up with a top 4 list to send to the publisher, with one of them being Svitlana... who submitted her turtles below:
YES. THATS A LOT MORE LIKE IT. 100%! Totally magical and what we had envisioned for this project.
The kids and I totally fell in love with her. She is lovely and from Ukraine but living in Germany. She is a mom too and loves the ocean. She was available for immediate hire. I had set the scene and was THRILLED.
I waited for a response from the publisher... hoping and praying one of the four illustrators I submitted would work out.
"Ladies, we have lost our way. Usually author provides the publisher with a complete, edited manuscript complete with illustrations. In this event it is evident that the publisher is to pay for the pictures, an honor I feel necessary to decline."
It goes on and on... but, no, this is not the case at all. Left furious again and unsure of what to do, the one thing I did know is that I did not want to publish my story that is so near and dear to my heart with this publisher who decided they all of a sudden didn't want to pay for the illustrations.
SO I CHANGED GEARS.
I allowed myself time to be mad and time to be sad and time to think. I couldn't get Svitlana out of my head... I knew she had to illustrate my book.
AUGUST: Amidst the chaos of a family reunion in Louisville, Kentucky I decided to go for it and sign Svitlana to the project and INDIE PUBLISH this manuscript. That is a newer term for self publishing. But I'm not doing it all on my own, I've enlisted the help from an amazing team at Gatekeeper Press and the book will be published under my own imprint. Name TBD.
SO, I ditched the publishing house, I did not renew my contract with my agent and I'm feeling great and BACK ON TRACK.
The book will be available for pre-order by Halloween and books will be in hand by Christmas (as long as we don't have any delays). The indie publishing house will help with distribution and a little marketing as well. My illustrator Svitlana is simply amazing and she is working very hard to get the illustrations completed for me by beginning to middle of October. Once we have the complete spreads, we can finalize the interior design and layout for printing and will have a date to publish.
SEPTEMBER: It's been a long journey but I am so proud have found my feet again. I have had a lot of help from critique partners and experts in the industry leading the way for me and I am very thankful to them. I hope to share more frequent updates as we are getting closer and closer to "go time" and I cannot thank you all enough for your continued interest and support on this journey of mine. We currently have 3 complete spreads of the 12. I'm in love with her work.
If there is one thing i've learned from this, never settle and trust your gut!
Blair Northen Williamson’s Island Girls – Turtles in Danger has been acquired.
Blair Northen Williamson’s picture book, Island Girls – Turtles in Danger, is an environmentally conscious story that is pertinent for today’s children and adults. The story introduces to the very young and reminds the adult readers that plastic bags, seen as jellyfish to sea turtles, are eaten, causing harm to the animals who consume them.
Island Girls: Turtles in Danger shows that even kids can be conscious protectors of the ocean and make a big difference through small actions.
She also has several other picture books available for acquisition: Healthy Eating Habits: Queen Braina and the Tastebud Knights, Screen Time Awareness: Mermaid Princesses, Living in Harmony with differences: Parrot's Boat Disaster, Importance of Imaginative Play: Blue, Blue, Where are You?, Be True to Who You Are: Red.
Blair Northen Williamson is from Richmond, Virginia but spent much of her childhood off the coast of Wilmington, North Carolina where she developed a passion for life at sea. Her love of nature, the ocean, and relating to others led her to work for Global Expeditions Group for over a decade. Blair has lived and traveled all over the world, following her desire to explore, meet new people, and immerse herself in new cultures. She is a wife, dedicated mother to two daughters, Collegiate Hall of Fame athlete, sailing IYT 200-ton captain, and PADI master scuba diver trainer. Her incredible imagination and love of teaching has brought Blair to realize her dream of writing stories for children inspired by her exciting global adventures.
WHEN A VISION BECOMES A REALITY...
I spent a lot of time at sea and working underwater as a scuba diving instructor. I vividly remember a moment in 2009 when I first learned about how much plastic bags look like jellyfish underwater. And, a jellyfish is a turtles favorite food. I could NOT stop thinking about all the poor turtles that were eating plastic bags (WHAT?) and how much of a problem this was.
It really stuck with me.
Through my travels in the BVI, I saw plastic in the water.
Through my time working on M/Y Peaceful Fish in the Bahamas, I saw plastic in the water.
Through the time I lived and worked on S/Y Yanneke Too in Thailand, I saw plastic in the water.
Then I moved to Florida and plastic bags were all over the beach.
I couldn't stop thinking about the turtles.
Through my time at Figure 8 Island and Wrightsville Beach, plastic would wash ashore.
We traveled to the Dominican Republic and Sadie and Josie witnessed a turtle swimming towards a plastic bag while we were snorkeling. They were 3 and 5 years old. They looked at me with their bright blue eyes with tears in them asking what we can do to save them.
Another moment that really stuck with me.
I had time.
I had to do something about this.
I got creative.
I followed a long time passion of mine to write children's books.
I wrote a children's picture book specifically on this problem with plastic bags in our oceans. (More excitement to come on that, SOON).
People really liked my books.
I got an agent.
I am on submission... and that takes a long time.
I am not someone who can sit around and wait.
I had to get this image out into the world.
So, I worked with Kate Ackerly, my cousin, and Dick Fowlkes, my cousin and god father who owns Peter Blair and we got to work.
A tie for men? A scarf for women? Maybe both. But I wanted to do something for the strong women of the world first. So we designed the scarf.
The result is absolutely beautiful and something I hope women will feel proud wearing. If it had this much of an impact on me, maybe it would impact others as well. Yes, my second home is the ocean, but still, people love turtles and I know no one is intentionally trying to hurt a turtle. I hope maybe just maybe this project will help start the conversation to ban single-use plastic bags. In a polite way. And in some really important places. Awareness is half the battle.
So, the sample for my FREE THE SEA OF PLASTICS scarf arrived yesterday and I'm very excited about how it turned out. I'll have a better "photo shoot" of it later, but you can get the idea of it's beauty :)
Thank you for taking the time to read this message. If you'd like to purchase a scarf to wear around your neck, as a belt, as a tie on your handbag, or to hang in your office or room as a beautiful piece of art, all proceeds will be donated to Plastic Pollution Coalition and Plastic Ocean Project. Message me for details. Taking pre-orders now.
I'm having a lot of fun making little waves of change!
THE "FREE THE SEA OF PLASTICS" SCARF by the island writer.
Not sure if you know this about me or not, but I am a fiercely independent person. And that means I personally really need my alone time every now and then. Being a mom to two young kids, it's nearly impossible to get that time anymore but, my incredibly supportive husband took over kid-duty for the weekend and sent me on my way on a solo writers retreat. I was itching to get started on my middle grade novel. The "MG" novel that has been sitting in my brain for over a decade is finally a WIP (Work-in-Progress) and I am 5,220 words in. There is a lot for me to figure out on "how" to exactly polish a Middle Grade Novel, but the words being out of my brain and on paper is a HUGE step in the right direction and it is very exciting.
I stayed local at the Linden Row Inn downtown and made sure I visited some of the "hip" new coffee spots. I went to Roastology coffee and wrote in their awesome warehouse type cafe for the entire morning. After I had my caffeine fix, I relocated to my hotel for the weekend where I wrote by the fire in the Linden Row Inn lobby. The Inn has a black cat who sat on the couch and watched me type for hours. This was equally creepy and sweet. Many people have asked what I listen to when I write as they have seen me around town with earbuds in tip tapping away on the keyboard in my own little flow state world. The answer, classical music. I listen to the same 10 songs on repeat. In short, the weekend provided me with the opportunity to focus on writing which is a great outlet for me.
While the traditional publishing route is proving to take even longer than I originally expected, I am filling my time in other ways, trying not to sit around and wait.
Lots of more excitement on the way, thank you again to my friends and family for your constant support and interest in my path to become a children's author.
I grew up spending a lot of time on an island.
Some of my best memories are from time spent on the ocean.
I have lived and worked on yachts all over the world off and on since 2006.
I have been on hundreds of scuba dives for pleasure and for teaching.
I have logged thousands of miles sailing the oceans...
All of this time at sea equates to many, many, many, hours observing what is happening on and beneath the surface.
...and I've just seen too much plastic and pollution. I don't know what else to say other than this is a massive problem for our beautiful sea creatures and animals that live under the sea. Without awareness, we don't know we are a part of the problem. So I'm on a mission to spread awareness. "The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it" - Robert Swan.
Thankful to Plastic Ocean Project, The Ocean Project, Save Our Seas Foundation, Animal Ocean, Global Expeditions Group, EASE PADI Dive Center, AsiaPacific Superyachts, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Georgia Sea Turtle Center and many more who have supported my efforts already. If you'd like to help, please shoot me an email or comment below. I have come up with some very creative projects to spread awareness of this issue. More to come soon.
Thanks for all the support to date, ALL!
There seem to be writing contests and pitch parties everywhere in the picture book world! I just entered my first contest hosted by Vivian Kirkfield called #50 Precious Words. The contest is a picture book in 50 words or less with a beginning, middle, and end. This challenge was equally fun and difficult for me as this was a bigger concept of a story for a PB. Inspired by some of our night's living on the boat and the surprises that happen at sunrise.
So, without further ado, I present to you my entry, PIRATES DON'T SLEEP, coming in at exactly 50 words...
PIRATES DON’T SLEEP
by BLAIR NORTHEN WILLIAMSON
What is it like to sleep at sea? Leah wondered.
She ran down below.
The boat rocked.
“HOTT!” Leah whined.
ERRRRRK the hatch lifted.
“Better,” she whispered.
CLUNK. The hatch closed.
Leah was restless.
WAAAAAAAH! Goats called.
The sun’s rising?
“You’re a real pirate now,” Dad declared.
A few tidbits of "news" for February...
Very exciting, my new website address is www.theislandwriter.com with a new blog name: Making Waves.
Plastic Ocean Project update:
The connection I made with Plastic Ocean Project is going really well. I helped them secure a boat out of Oriental, NC (land of Camp Seafarer and Camp SeaGull where I have a lot of history and very connected friends in that area). Thank you to those who helped point me in the right direction to help me help them! They leave on Sunday for their first 3-night research trip into the Gulf Stream to track the migration of the Right whales! They have beautiful weather in the forecast and I hope they are able to have a few whale encounters bringing them a safe and successful trip! They will have a film crew onboard using 360 and a research team taking samples of surface sargasm. This is all for the completion of their documentary, If the Ocean Could Talk...
If you are interested, here is a link to read more about it. This group is based out of Wilmington / Wrightsville Beach, NC right off of Figure 8 Island where I spend a lot of time, so it means a lot to me to help out such great people who share a passion of mine.
I really want to support their organization because they are doing such a great job educating communities about the problem with plastics in our oceans what what they can do now to help. One of my books, ISLAND GIRLS: TURTLES IN DANGER aligns directly with their mission of spreading awareness about plastic pollution and what is happening beneath the surface. As a dive instructor, I have seen it all first hand and it's really sad to witness. Check out their page, What Can You Do? for lots of information on what you can do now to help from home. I look forward to future projects with Plastic Ocean Project and hope to have a few exciting announcements on this front in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, check out my reviews & endorsements page. There are quite a few new ones that have come in from some incredible people and organizations and it's all very exciting!
On the publishing front, no news to share here, still waiting. Apparently editors are very backlogged from the submission surge and publishing shut down of 2020 and are still trying to recover. I'll share updates when I have them. Thank you all for your continued support and interest.
Stay tuned :)
Blair has travelled extensively all over the world. She and her husband enjoy taking their kids on big adventures together. Blair writes children's picture books for all ages! Most of her stories are inspired by life events. They feature kid’s curiosity, love of the environment, laughter, and fantasy.