a peek inside the fishbowl

11 Nov, 2009

Q & A with creative powerhouse, Amanda Sage

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Oh! Things!|Ottawa

Some time ago I received an email from a local lass named Amanda Sage. She was wondering if I’d be interested in reading a children’s book she’d written.

I took a wander through her website and immediately wondered if she was my long lost sister. Amanda is a dynamo … and has successfully taken on the kind of projects that make my heart go ping (as many of you will know!): writing, photography, film-making. (Have you ever met someone whose interests parallel your own in such a big way that it gives you the chills? Well, that’s how I felt peeking into Amanda’s life.)

I was really impressed by the effort she poured into her children’s book – called Dinostory – and I thought you would find her story pretty interesting too. So I asked her if I could ask her a few questions and publish it here. She kindly agreed.

Read on!

You’ve done something that many people would love to do – write a children’s book and see it in people’s hands! Can you summarize Dinostory and tell us about the inspiration behind it?
Dinostory tells the true tale of what happened to the dinosaurs. I wrote it in 2008 as a 6th birthday gift for my eldest nephew, Jonathan. He learned about the story of the ice age in school and decided he didn’t like it. So I promised I’d write him a story about what really happened. I never intended for it to be anything more than a birthday gift, “illustrated” with pictures from the internet. But the book went over so well with my nephew and everyone else who read it that I decided to self-publish and share it with other readers. One of the best parts of creating Dinostory – besides seeing Jonathan’s joy at receiving the book and finding it for sale in stores – has been hearing other children’s reactions to the book. One woman ordered Dinostory after reading about it in Ottawa Life Magazine. She told me that she’d be giving it as a birthday gift to her nephew, and I thought that was such beautiful symmetry – I wrote Dinostory as a side project for Jon and now other people’s nephews are enjoying it as their bedtime story.

Some people assume that it’s easy to write a children’s book. Can you describe your writing process? Did the final product reflect what you started out to do?
Writing Dinostory was quite easy for me. I already had the premise in mind as soon as I got off the phone with Jonathan after he’d told me he didn’t like the story of the ice age. I ran the idea around in my head over the next few weeks, and by the time I sat down to write Dinostory I already knew pretty much what I wanted to say. The only research I had to do was into the names of the dinosaurs. However, since publishing Dinostory, I’ve launched a small publishing shingle called Wonderpress (www.wonderpress.ca) through which I’ll be putting out two more children’s books for my youngest nephews: Astrorocket, due out in late November of this year, for Isaac; and Zootopia, due in late 2010, for David. Both Astrorocket and Zootopia required a lot more research – into the planets, and the various animals and their natural habitats. I’m also having the second and third books edited, which makes for a longer process. Dinostory, on the other hand, was proofread but not edited.

And yes, Dinostory does reflect what I set out to do. But it’s a learning process and I hope I’m improving as I move forward with future books!

Can you talk about the publishing route you chose to take?
I decided to self-publish for various reasons. I wrote a children’s book several years ago which I tried to get published. But I found that very few publishers were accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Also, I wanted my sister to illustrate Dinostory and the publishers that were accepting manuscripts already had a roster of illustrators they wanted to work with. I chose to go through a local printer (The Printing House) rather than going through one of the many pay-per-order self-publishing websites because I knew I would be submitting many copies to libraries, book centres and other organizations/initiatives, so paying the cost to print each book individually didn’t make sense for me. However, I think many of those sites can work for people who don’t plan to distribute their books and just want to direct people to a website to order their own copies. That eliminates the start-up printing cost, which is a huge savings!

What came easily to you? What did you find difficult?
I enjoy the writing process, and I absolutely love collaborating with other artists. I have a film background and one of the best parts of filmmaking is seeing the talent other people bring to the table. I’ll write a script and come up with a storyboard, but then the actors bring their performances, the musicians the score, the editor a whole other set of skills and ideas, and suddenly there are so many new dimensions to the project. It’s thrilling and invigorating to see it all come together. I had a similar experience with making a children’s book. I was happy with my story as a manuscript, but it was an absolute pleasure to see my sister’s interpretation of the visuals I described, and to see the finished product from my designer, Lee-Ann Hall. So although it requires time and effort, I guess you could say the creative and directive process came relatively “easily.”

I don’t enjoy the publishing or marketing end nearly as much. I have experience in production and management, so as far as being organized and taking initiative, I don’t have a problem there. But I much prefer the creative process. And I had little to no experience in marketing and distribution before Dinostory, so it’s been a steep learning curve. One I’m still very much on!! I’ve heard from many people that distributing is the hardest part of self-publishing, and that has definitely been my experience. If you don’t have your finger on the pulse of the industry, it’s hard to get your books noticed.

The illustration in this book has a wonderful dreamy quality to it – can you tell us more about the illustrator and why you decided to illustrate your story in this way?
Louisa Sage is the illustrator (and my younger sister). She has been drawing and painting since we were kids, and has also studied film animation. I’ve seen so many wonderful things from her and I thought Dinostory would be a great opportunity to showcase her talent. I wanted illustrations that were a bit darker than the ones you’d find in most children’s books, and that had a slightly unfinished look. I asked Louisa to leave brush strokes in so we could see the process in the finished product. The illustrations are painted with acrylics, which Louisa likes using because she can work over different parts if she wants to change something. As to why I wanted that look, I like things that are unique and go against the grain somewhat, and both my sister and I always preferred somewhat darker, edgier stories when we were kids.

You have such interesting projects on the go … can you tell us more about them, and more about your new book?
Thank you! People can learn more about all my projects by visiting www.amandasage.ca.

I’ve touched on Astrorocket a bit already. That one is about my nephew Isaac and his bear Frank. In “real life,” Isaac is always collecting and hording shiny things. (I mentioned this in Dinostory. In fact, there are allusions to the series all three of the books – some subtle, others more obvious. Kids can have fun trying to find them, both in the text and illustrations.) So I wanted to create a story that revolved around Isaac’s tendency to be a packrat. Without giving away too much, Isaac and Frank somehow find a way to get to space that involves their secret collection of shiny, silver treasures. Astrorocket is nearly finished and will be available in late November/early December at www.wonderpress.ca. Zootopia is being edited right now and will be illustrated over the next several months, to be released in October or November 2010. Again, I won’t say much, but it involves David’s trip to the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg (the city where all the stories are set) where he finds a way to visit the animals in their natural habitats. Both books will also be available in French (Astrorocket will have the same title, and Zootopia will be Zootopie).

As for my short film, Bliss, I’m applying to various arts councils for funding and hope to shoot the movie in early September 2010. Bliss will be approximately 15 minutes long, and exposes a couple’s dysfunctional relationship during a beach getaway. I’m still seeking additional funding, so if anyone is interested in getting involved they can contact me at amanda@amandasage.ca. My earlier film, Sight Lines, can be seen at www.amandasage.ca/film. (Please note that Sight Lines is not appropriate for younger audiences.)

As for my photography, I recently had a showing at The Manx Pub in Ottawa, which went over well. And a big thank you again to Andy for putting it on! I’d like to show my photos in a gallery at some point, but have nothing scheduled at the moment. Eventually I want to move further into creating vignettes, portraiture and abstract images.

What advice would you give people who’d like to publish their own children’s book?
I don’t have much advice for the publishing side of things, other than to be aggressive when it comes to submitting your book and marketing yourself, and to ask other people in the know. I am still in the dark and trying to work my way out, so I’m afraid I’m not much of a resource on that subject just yet! But trying to get into the library system is a good first step. I contacted every public library in Canada and sold Dinostory to quite a few. Also look into book fairs, children’s festivals, elementary school authors’ weeks (Rockcliffe Public School was great to me). Blogs are another great way to generate talk :-) Tap into the social marketing stream – go the Facebook and Twitter route (though I haven’t been able to bring myself to join Twitter). Contact local stores about selling your book on consignment. Create a website for your book/publishing shingle. Donate copies to schools, medical waiting rooms, hospitals (CHEO has a children’s library). Try to get coverage in local papers. Look into The Canadian Children’s Book Centre (www.bookcentre.ca). But I guess the biggest thing is to try to get advice from people in the industry.

How can people can obtain a copy of Dinostory?
Dinostory is available online at www.wonderpress.ca, and also at several area stores: Kaleidoscope Kids, Buttercream Bakery, Books on Beechwood, Brittons, Tickled Pink and the Museum of Nature Boutique in Ottawa: Solstice and the Chamberlain’s Lookout in Wakefield; and The Miller’s Tale in Almonte. Very soon, both Astrorocket and the French version of Dinostory (Dinostoire) will also be available through www.wonderpress.ca. Keep checking the site!

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3 Responses to "Q & A with creative powerhouse, Amanda Sage"

1 | Chantal

November 11th, 2009 at 9:21 am

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Very interesting. I love supporting local talent, I will be looking for these books for sure.

2 | Andrea Tomkins offers a peek into the world of Wonderpress · Amanda Sage

June 22nd, 2010 at 1:43 pm

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[…] out Andrea’s review of Dinostory on her awesome blog, a peek inside the […]

3 | A bit about some Kickass Canadians… who care >> a peek inside the fishbowl

September 9th, 2011 at 10:16 am

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[…] Sage (who I previously wrote about here) contacted me recently about a really interesting event she’s organizing and I thought […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (18) and Sarah (16). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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