Monday, August 19, 2013

ONE WORD with Hazel Mitchell and Nicole Groeneweg: an interview

Writers are lovers of words. We admire them.  We collect them.  We savor them.  Words are powerful, and writers know that every word counts.  But what if our words were limited and had the possibility to run out?

 In One Word Pearl (by Nicole Groeneweg and illustrated by Hazel Mitchell) that is exactly what happens.

Pearl loves words. All kinds of words. Words make up songs, stories, poems . . . and what does a lover of words do? She collects them, of course!

But one day, most of Pearl’s words are blown away, leaving her only a few which she keeps safely in her treasure chest. After that day, she uses each word carefully—one at a time, until she has no words left. When her teacher asks her questions at school, she doesn’t answer. When her friend wants to know what she has for lunch, she can’t respond. What will Pearl do without her precious words? Will she ever find them?

One Word Pearl is a wonderful story about choosing your words carefully—there is no better lesson to writers.  And today I am happy to introduce a very special interview with both Nicole and Hazel.

Welcome to you both!

Nicole, what was the inspiration behind ONE WORD PEARL?

I love words and when I was brainstorming for the  NAESP fiction contest, I knew the story had to be about a little girl who loved words, too. The NAESP (National Association for Elementary School Principals) Foundation has an annual fiction contest with two winners: one picture book and one chapter book.  One Word Pearl  and Seers by Kristine Bowe were the winners for 2012, the second year for the contest.  Entries are due March 15 each year.  The winners of the contest win a contract with Charlesbridge Publishing. You can find contest guidelines at

Can you share a little about Pearl’s journey, from first draft to publication?

Writing Pearl was different than writing any of my other stories. I knew I wanted to submit a story for the NAESP and had thought of writing about a 'word girl'. It was early February when I checked to see the deadline for submitting.  The website had posted the wrong date (2/15), so I got to work. I wrote One Word Pearl in three days! Most of my stories take me months to write and even longer to revise.   I had already sent off the story when I saw the real due date (3/15). I decided there was nothing I could do and maybe it was even meant to be. I was thrilled when I received the phone call that I'd won!  At the time of submission, the story was set in Pearl’s home with her mom, dad, and little brother. My editor suggested setting the story in a school. So I revised and revised and revised...and voila One Word Pearl was reborn.

Hazel, what was it that inspired you to take on the illustrations for One Word Pearl?

I loved the manuscript and immediately related to Pearl. I used to cut words out of magazines and newspapers and make up my own comics when I was a kid. And I saw a lot of potential for interesting illustrations.

Pearl is absolutely adorable.  Hazel, can you describe a little bit about your process in creating such delightful characters?

Sure. I immediately saw Pearl as kind of Asian (because of her name I think) and as sassy, quirky and a little geeky. She is DEFINITELY not a Princess. My first port of call was to google Asian children and take a look at their features. Pearl has great hair and it has a bit of a life of its own! I also wanted to give her fun clothes and big ‘ol shoes. I did a lot of rough sketches, which I showed to the publisher and after a couple of tweaks Pearl was with us. I also wanted her to have a sidekick friend. A lot of the pictures show Pearl on her own, so I wanted her to have a companion. And maybe it was the Asian connection, but I thought of a colourful bird who would supplement her emotional reactions in the story. I really love that little bird!

After several rounds of rough drawings, that got more finished every time, the finals are in pencil. I then scan them into photoshop and use digital colour. I DID use a lot of collage and scanned in watercolour textures I made by hand. Some of the pages have over 150 layers in them. It can be confusing if you don’t know where you have put something! But a lot of fun to do. I also cut out a lot of words (just like Pearl) and used them in the book.

The genre of picture books is so unique.  Nicole, can you describe a bit of your experience with “leaving room for the illustrations”?

A picture book is a marriage between text and illustrations. A writer wants the illustrator to add her own spin to the story, so she doesn’t include every little detail. Some of the story is even told in the illustrations.  One art note in the One Word Pearl manuscript suggested that the treasure chest read 'Pearl's Word Chest.' Instead of making the story to wordy, details like that can be shown in the pictures.

Hazel, as the illustrator, added her own touches to the story. She included the story starters and phrases in the illustrations. Her favorite words pop up all over the book. Hazel's addition of the parrot, a bird that also likes words, is genius!  These are the details that make a picture book sing.

What was it like to see Hazel’s illustrations for the first time?

I was nervous while I waited.  You never know if the illustrator is going to make your little girl a rhinoceros or a panda or some other imaginative creature.  When I saw Pearl the first time, I fell in love with her all over again.  Hazel did an amazing job capturing the heart of the story!  I don’t think anyone else could have depicted the story better.

Was there any communication between the two of you during the production process?
Nicole:  No.  I knew Hazel was going to be the illustrator.  I congratulated her, but never made suggestions about the illustrations.  She’s the expert on that. 

Hazel  I communicated directly with the publisher on the illustrations and had no notes on anything, it was a pretty much free rein for me! But made easy by Nicole’s writing.

I am always fascinated by the daily routines of creative people.  So, imagine it’s a random work day.  What’s on the agenda?

Nicole: Since I’m a 1st and 2nd grade teacher, I have to squeeze my writing in to my day. I teach all day and then tutor.  After that I spend a little time brainstorming ideas.  When I have an idea that I like, I research and write. This can happen during the week, but it usually happens on weekends. I often bounce ideas off my students when we share our writing in class.  In the summer, I attend writing workshops and writers’ conferences. I guess I don’t have a real routine.

Hazel: I work in my home on the first floor, so it’s only a step to my studio. Depending on what my work schedule is like dictates when I get up. If I am deep into a project I get up in the early hours, because it is on my mind and then sometimes sit down and keep going and going. But usually that’s when deadlines are coming close. Usually I get up about 7am, feed the dog, pick up the house, send the hubby to work and make my tea. Then I check email, answer stuff, do social networking for a bit and check my list for the day. After a shower I’m ready to do whatever is on the schedule. I break for something eat about 1pm and usually am straight back into it afterwards until my hubby gets home. I do work in the evenings at times. Somewhere in the day I try to do some exercise and leave the studio. Ha! But routine tends to be different some weeks, you may have school or bookstore visits and occasionally you’re at a conference or speaking. I am very lucky to have a career I enjoy so much.

One Word Pearl is the winner of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) Children’s Book Competition in the Picture Book category.  What do you see as the take-away for children reading Pearl’s story? 

Nicole: I want the readers of One Word Pearl to love words, too.  I hope they will look and listen to the world around them and learn new words every day. Maybe they’ll even make their own word collection, too.  I also think teachers will be able to use this book in their writing workshops to inspire young writers.

Hazel: I think one of the great things about this story is that encourages children to think about words and stories and what fun they can be!

In the spirit of ONE WORD PEARL, let’s have a little fun with one word answers.   

Your favorite word?

Nicole: Love

Hazel: Tosh

Your least favorite word?

Nicole: Mucus

Hazel: Rejection

A word that makes you laugh?

Nicole: Pickle

Hazel: Persnickety

A word that makes you cry?

Nicole: War

Hazel: Goodbye

A juicy word?

Nicole: Electrify

Hazel: Superlicious

A word you would like struck from the English language?

Nicole: Very

Hazel: Actually

A word to describe who you are?

Nicole: Resourceful

Hazel: Wacky

A word to describe what you want to be in 10 years?

Nicole: Wise

Hazel: Productive

Advice for pre-published writers and illustrators?

Nicole: Read. Read every day. Read all kinds of stories. Then write. Write every day. Write all kinds of stories….and then revise, revise, revise…

Hazel: Practice

Thank you both for stopping by.  We wish One Word Pearl the greatest success.  In a word, CHEERS!


  1. Super cute interview! I can't wait to read One Word Pearl. Love Hazel and Nicole's favorite words, what a fun idea. :)

  2. What a fabulous theme for a picture book. I love having an interview with both the author and illustrator, and especially enjoyed the 'one word answer' section! Thanks, ladies!

  3. Great interview! Nice that such a contest exists. Always glad to hear about Hazel's process too - thanks for sharing. Super questions, Marcie! Thanks, ladies!

    1. Thanks for your kind words and comment :-)

  4. Great interview! Thanks, for sharing how One Word Pearl came to be!

  5. I love the one word answer portion of the interview! Ha!

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