Life, family and growing up: hard lessons you learn as you get older

Life, family and growing up: hard lessons you learn as you get older

Change may be inevitable in life, but how we tackle it defines our legacy to our children

A month from now, it’ll be five years since my mother passed away, suddenly, unexpectedly, but given her suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s, a blessing of sorts, particularly for my father, whose own life had been put on pause as Mom got sick. Five years is a long time. While my son met his grandmother a couple of times during the first few months of his life and we have a few treasured photos from those meetings, he has no memory of her. A couple of weeks ago, we were in Switzerland, on our annual visit to my hometown. My mother grew up there, so did my dad, my grandparents lived and died there, and I spent most of my summers there, and I moved there, the day after I graduated from high school. St. Gallen’s annual fall fair is a city tradition, and–of course–a family get-together, as aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends descend upon the city every year. You never know who you’re going to meet.

What am I to do with you? It was clear that Mom was no longer able to form a bond with her only grandson.

What am I to do with you? It was clear that Mom was no longer able to form a bond with her only grandson.

Yet things change, at times imperceptibly, at times almost like earthquakes, suddenly, shifting family tectonic plates. And you become aware of how fragile things like family really are, you’re reminded of our own mortality, aging and the depth of the human experience. As I grew up, my immediate family was always closer to my mother’s side than my father’s, for reasons I may not fully understand. Maybe my dad didn’t get along with his siblings, maybe my mother had a better relationship with hers. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just my memory that suggests as much, because looking over old family pictures, they’re all there, every aunt, every uncle, with very few exceptions (one who disappeared into the Jehovah’s witnesses for three decades and never attended any family gatherings, and one who was intellectually challenged and just never really fit.)

Phase 1 – Child- and Young Adulthood

Growing up, I lost my first grandparent in 1981, the next in 1993, another in 1998 and finally, my grandma on Dad’s side in 2012. Some losses were profound, particularly my maternal grandparents, as we were very close, and they represented my childhood (summers.) Not to mention that I was an adult by then, realizing what it meant. Yet I was young enough that it didn’t really affect my own views on my own aging, my own mortality. I was in my twenties when most humans believe they’re invincible… I’ve also lost a cousin (to whom I had no relationship), an aunt and two uncles. But in absence of a really close relationship, they had no lasting impact on me.

That changed when Mom died. Suddenly I was one heartbeat away from being my family’s oldest, to be all alone. We often say that we grow up when we’re children, but is that really true? At fifty-one, am I really done growing up? I am glad in a way that it was my mother who left this plane of existence first because I’m so much more dependent on my dad (which btw wasn’t always the case.) Losing him will have a much more profound impact on my life. Yet even with him, the equilibrium of our relationship (and that of my brother) has been changing, subtly, for years. He relies on me for advice of the heart and soul, and on my brother for financial stuff. We talk almost daily and I’m not sure how I will handle the day when he’ll no longer pick up the phone. Luckily, we’re not there yet.

Phase X – You’re it, kid!

Not that there will be any question about it. I know I will. I know myself well enough that some sort of automation will take over and simply make sure that life goes on, functionally, even without Dad. But we’re not there yet. Oddly though, I was reminded of the fragile state of family a while ago, while we were in Switzerland. My dad has a new woman by his side. Well, new may not be the right term. They’ve known each other for a long time. They have a history. Enough said. Prior to coming to the family gathering, he’d visited her and while he had always made sure to organize dinners and gatherings with our local family and friends, this year, for the very first time, nothing. I can feel he’s drifting, away from his “old” family, to his woman’s family, her daughters and their kids. I get to hear stories about them, where I may have heard the latest gossip from his siblings and in-laws in the past.

It fell to me to organize things this year, and amidst it all, I remembered a question he’d asked me a long while ago: “would you mind if I weren’t there this year?” I had told him that his grandson would greatly miss him and he’d acquiesced, but in hindsight, I start to wonder. Is he ashamed of moving on with his life, of seeing the old in-laws? I may be wrong, it’s a sensitive topic. Five years, enough of a waiting time? And how do you deal with all that knowing there is ‘history’ and are former in-laws still, really family? Are fifty-six years as part of a family so easily erased by five years as a widower?

Adapting to the change. Not that I have much of a choice…

I’m growing up, and I begin to realize that it will be up to me from now on to keep in touch with my mother’s side of the family, my three aunts and their families. No one else will. No more natural gatherings at a grandparent’s round birthday. And to be honest, I am not really interested in funerals and seeing people there, as they are such sad occasions to catch up (although, naturally, it’s all we’ve got left) And so I put on my big boy pants and grow up, take charge. Not just for my own sake but that of my son, too. I want him to realized that he has family back in Switzerland. Living abroad, we don’t get to spend a lot of time back home, and those roots are meaningful, they explain a lot of things you’ll see in our house that you might not see elsewhere (from the odd cowbell to Swiss liquor and many dishes on our dinner table.) This is no migration post, but I truly feel that those of us who have “migrated” (stupid word, it used to be “emigrated”) to another culture have a responsibility not just to embrace the culture of our new home, but to retain a connection to the old, for our own benefit, to provide roots to our children, but also to foster amicable relationships between the two cultures, something that has become more and more important of late.

All the while I’ve contemplated and written this post, I have also had my own family to think about. The very own creation of my husband and I, the bond of two very different families. I have my own in-laws, and I remember how difficult it was to “break up” with my in-laws when my ex and I broke up. Losing the family was part of the more difficult things I had to do. Now, my husband is trying to keep alive the very same relationships, in some instances re-building them, after his parents had broken a lot of porcelain due to their alcohol addiction. Life, family, they are so complex, so intricately intertwined. There is so much to consider, so much to think about, and I realize that even at fifty-one, I’m still growing up, still learning new tricks, still finding it hard to let go, adapt to change, accept it, and move on.

The Jonathan Trilogy, is the saga of MY generation, a tale where even the worst background and the most hateful parents won’t keep you from finding love, success, start a dynasty! It’s about Hope come to life across four generations.

A constant topic in my writing as well…

Life, and family, have always been great sources of inspiration in my writing, and quite frequently, when I write, the big questions such as the one above, find their way into my books. Here are but a couple of examples:

  • The Jonathan Trilogy: Not intended as such, but books two and three really are all about family, the “Hope” of the first book come to fruition. Probably the world’s first and only gay family saga…
  • Family Ties: Focusing on the core family in a very dense format, this story is all about our core family, our relationship with our partners and our children.
  • Spanish Bay: I think this is a great example of how we look after our own, how we step up to the plate, no matter what.

But families are at the core of many of my other books, and family members often play pivotal roles, that is also true for my coming fantasy series, in more ways than one. As always, your insightful comments are more than welcome. And before I let you go for the day, have a look at the YouTube trailer for the first book in The Golden One Series, Blooming. To learn more, click here. Join me on Facebook for further discussions about this topic, my books, my family, or whatever else is on your mind…

Hans

Words matter, words are having a real-world impact

Words matter, words are having a real-world impact

When words haunt you, change you

I needed to take a break from writing. I’m currently writing one of the most difficult scenes I’ve ever had to write. No, wait. Not “had to”, but I’ll get back to that later. The reason I wanted to talk about this today is because–magically–events in the real world have begun to coincide with my own life. I’m of course talking about recent events stateside where a man accused of groping a woman on a plane claimed that the President said it was okay and the bombs sent to people that same President has been mocking for years. Words matter. Words have an impact. It goes without saying that the person who’s responsible for the groping, as well as the bomb-maker, are raving lunatics, most likely failing any sanity tests. They need help. While that may excuse their behavior, it does not excuse a regime hell-bent on “divide and conquering” the country they’re set to govern.

Sometimes, it takes time for the words to take hold…

Four years ago, I wrote a post about the fact that people around me, from my publisher to readers and reviewers, had begun calling me a “serial killer”, at least within my books. While hurtful even back then, it wasn’t until the last year or so that the label began to affect my writing in earnest. But unlike so many authors around me who write romance (where death is a bit of a mood killer), I write about life, reality, and in it, death is very much the ultimate consequence of life. One does not exist without the other.

It’s been four years since that blog post, and while I bit back against my friends about a year ago, telling them to give the joke a “rest”, the effects have continued to affect me, and my writing. When my mind suggests that it’s time for a character to ‘go’, I no longer let my fingers type the words. I stop. I contemplate, I rationalize, weighing pros against cons, and it usually puts a damper on my creativity.

This time it’s different

I don’t shy away from difficult topics, call them taboos, things most authors wouldn’t even contemplate to write about, child abuse, the death of children, serious illnesses etc. I write about these subject for several reasons: a) they’re on my mind as a father, a husband, a human, b) there are few/no stories for Christopher’s kind out there who tackle such topics, even though we are affected by them as much as anyone else. We deserve those stories, too. And finally, c) these big and admittedly difficult questions make for great stories to tell. It’s never enough though, and I would never tell a story just because it would make a great story. There has to be more.

When I set out to write my current fantasy series, I had no clue in what direction this would take me. The straw that had broken my camel’s back, i.e. the resistance to writing fantasy, was a radio interview on my publisher’s radio station with a reviewer. At some point, she mentioned that I’d be great at it. Now, she thinks everything I do is great, but somewhere in my subconscious, cogwheels began to churn, and a couple of months later, my resistance was broken. Yet given my writing style, I was afraid where this might lead me.

I know where this shit is coming from…

I’ve just begun writing the final book of the series. The ending of book two is a pretty heavy punch straight in the readers’ gut, yet I felt that in order to continue in the final installment, I had to up the antics. And my subconscious had the answers all ready for me. There are two characters in that book that need to go. One of them was close to it already in the second book, but I hesitated. It was too soon. I still needed her. Yesterday, this suddenly appeared on my screen:

“Jason,” he cried out of breath, “you have to come with me! It’s your mother…”

I stopped writing for the day. I couldn’t continue. Because I knew that there would be consequences if I did. Instead, I wrote it this morning, but I struggled, and I had to take several breaks. This is a serious topic. The only way this death makes sense is as a suicide. Unlike the TV show we’re watching on Netflix right now, where they killed off the President’s wife because the actress quit the show, a freak accident made absolutely no sense, and I could tell by the following episode after this mid-season cliff-hanger that they had a hard time explaining her passing. It was indeed senseless and unnecessary. I couldn’t get away with anything like that.

Yet suicide has been on my mind for some time. No, I’m not suicidal, although I’ve loosely thought about it, like most, at some point. I had the scare of my life earlier this summer when a good friend left with a “bang” and we didn’t know if he was alright for more than a day. The emotional turmoil I (and many others went through), is still lingering. And that wasn’t the first incident of mine.

In the end, I “persisted”…

So you contemplate things, you wonder: why? As an author, I’m afforded the luxury of being able to use my creativity, my storytelling to explore the depths of the human psyche. The Golden One is a young adult series. It’s targeted toward teens, which makes the topic of suicide all the more complex and sensitive. How often are the media accused of inciting people to “do it” if they openly report about a celebrity’s passing? And yes, there is research that suggests that hearing or reading about a suicide might push someone over the proverbial edge. However, if that nudge isn’t provided in today’s paper, it’ll come the next time a classmate yells “why don’t you jump off a bridge already?” or they see it on TV or what not. The problem isn’t when we talk openly about suicide, it’s the fact that we do so far too rarely, and treat it as some big taboo. Probably the biggest one of them all.

Just this morning, the same reviewer who got me to write fantasy asked for advice (retrospectively, she’d already done it) about whether to talk to children honestly about her own father’s suicide. This is a topic that needs discussing. Mental health, suicide thoughts are quite common in teens, and even more so in LGBT youth. To write these chapters, these scenes is anything but easy, and I have a hunch I’ll be spending a lot of time editing them, making sure I get it right. But I trust my subconscious to get it right, now that I’ve finally shown the “serial killer” a serious middle finger.

So why did I hesitate? And what does it mean?

Words matter. When people keep calling you that, even as a joke, and even though it may no longer hurt or sting, it still sits there, in the back of your mind, always, a reminder, nagging, eating away at your self-worth, the belief that you can pull it off, that you can write something good and powerful.

Words have a great impact, far beyond the immediate insult they may cause. Unfortunately, it’s unavoidable that sometimes we get it wrong, be it as a misfired joke or just a thoughtless comment. Let’s not even mention social media, where leaving a snide comment is oh so very easily done… Once out there, it can’t be taken back. Once the words are said, they’re out. Forever. Yes, you may apologize and feel remorse, but the pain they cause on the receiving end won’t go away just because you did. That’ll take time.

I’m human, and like the rest of you, I know that I’ve caused pain, recklessly, with my words. This post isn’t about asking for forgiveness. I hope to have done that where and when needed. Nor am I asking for people to apologize. If anything, I’d like us all to do two things: a) be more careful in how and what we say and b) not to be so easily offended by things people say. Looking back on my post from 2014, I find the tone of the post relatively light-hearted. Back then, I didn’t take the epithet seriously. Rather, I used it to highlight my work. It was only last year when it was hurled at me repeatedly from several corners that I began to feel the effect it had on me.

Why this post?

You might wonder why I even bother to write this. Well, it’s on my mind, and writing about it helps me focus. it helps me realize where I come from and where I need to go, and why. Just going back over these paragraphs strengthens my resolve and confirms that I ultimately made the right decision. In the end, how we react to words spoken, how we allow them to unfold and take effect is entirely up to us. Yes, words are powerful and they may be hurtful, but when push comes to shove, it’s entirely up to each and every one of us to allow them to turn us into tools. Words are just that, words. Nothing else.

Returning to the examples at the beginning, dozens of millions of the President’s most ardent supporters have not taken to sending bombs to democratic opponents, despite incendiary language by 45 and his regime. They know better. But one individual allowed themself to be turned into a tool. A tool for words. How crazy is that?

As always, your insightful comments are more than welcome. And before I let you go for the day, remember that later today, October 25th, at six pm Eastern, I’ll release the YouTube trailer for my coming novel, the first book in The Golden One Series, Blooming. To learn more, click here. Join me on Facebook for further discussions about the book, or whatever else is on my mind…

Hans

Why female authors choose male pen names

Why female authors choose male pen names

The answer is – sadly – still the same. A more important question would be: will this (ever) change?

I’ve written about pen names in the past. Pen names can be necessary for authors to protect their lives, their families and loved ones. Pen names can differ for authors who span across different genres, to keep audiences separate. Or they can be used to dip their toes in a new direction. Sadly, there are also criminal elements out there (there is no other way to describe them), people who know that their writing either isn’t good enough or not popular enough, and who use their pen names to catfish for money. There is a new case of this almost every month. It never ends. To use a pen name, let me be crystal clear, is totally okay. As I’ve said countless times before, people have good reasons why they choose a pen name.

The Cover of my coming fantasy novel The Golden One - Blooming, the first in a trilogy about seventeen-year-old Jason Mendez.

The Cover of my coming fantasy novel The Golden One – Blooming, the first in a trilogy about seventeen-year-old Jason Mendez. The book releases in exactly one month, November 15th.

But why would women choose a male pen name?

However, one thing that puzzles me is this: so many female authors choosing male pen names. Why? When Karen Blixen couldn’t publish her first book in the U.S., she was forced to choose the male pen name Isak Dinesen to get it out. That was 1934. Almost a century ago. Today, when the majority of readers are women, and the majority of authors, too, and no publisher would refuse a woman to be published under a female pen name, why is this still a ‘thing’? Mind you, this isn’t about trans or gender queer people. I would never presume to question their right to choose a pen name that better fits their gender identity.

But just last week I was asked about this again, since yet another female author was ‘caught’ using a male pen name, despite identifying as female. Sadly, the answer is as simple as it is sad: “male is better than female”. Or so it is still perceived by society, which includes most women. That makes me sad, very sad because as a gay man, I’m all too familiar with that axiom. My worth as a human is considered less because many of my “gay traits” are considered female, and the typical homosexual is still viewed as effeminate, weak, passive. Needless to say, I disagree with that assessment.

What message do they send girls?

It’s sad that readers will rather read a book from a male author than a book written by a female author. VERY sad. Pathetic even. And for women to choose a male author over a female author? What did Madeleine Albright say about that special place in hell? I can understand how an author might deliberately choose that male pen name to be more attractive to their potential readership. Money. But they are doing their gender a huge disservice, cementing the status quo.

What message do these authors send to girls? Male is safer? Male is more financially rewarding? Male is better? Even women prefer male? Is that really the message a mother wants her daughter to hear? Surely not? Unless you’re a Christaliban, of course…

Will this change? Ever?

It is frustrating that we still, in 2018, must talk about this. Despite great strides we’ve made toward gender equality in recent decades, despite the energy from the #MeToo movement, and the lessons we should heed from the Trump election and the Kavanaugh hearings. How can women ever expect to achieve true equality if they themselves keep betraying their own?

I wonder. I have no answers. Do you? What is your take? Why do so many women choose male pen names?

What world, what future, are we leaving to our children?

What world, what future, are we leaving to our children?

More and more often, I question the wisdom of having brought a child into this world…

I love my son, more than anything else on this planet. And like most parents out there, I’d gladly give my life to make sure he got to live. I needed to say this before I go into today’s blog post. Because given the way we are treating this planet, I worry. I worry about the state of the planet, where we’re hading, and what kind of world I will be able to leave behind for my son, what future he’ll have. My husband and I live unusual lives. We try hard to reduce our negative impact on the planet’s ecosystem. We drive an electric vehicle, we have modern efficient heating systems, we turn off our LED lamps when they’re not needed, we buy organic food and we have reduced our consumption of red meats to a minimum. We teach our son the value of life, all life, from the tiniest bug to kindness to other people.

My son and I on the highest point of our island. I try to teach him respect for Mother Nature's creation in all aspects of life.

My son and I on the highest point of our island. I try to teach him respect for Mother Nature’s creation in all aspects of life.

We are but three in nearing ten billion people…

Yet what are we? A family of three in one of the world’s wealthiest countries. We still eat plenty every day, we can afford to buy organic, despite the price point. We do all those things at a great extra cost for our wallets, for what? To soothe our conscience? What good does it do if the eggs I buy are organic if the next mom buys the cheapest eggs for her family, from hens who live caged all their lives before being destroyed?

What good does it do if we pay extra for an EV if the Fords, the GMs, the Toyotas and the Volvos of the world continue to produce huge SUVs and sell them to people who really don’t need them?

And what good do all of our combined efforts accomplish if entire nations, e.g. the U.S., actively work to increase carbon emissions by rolling back laws and regulations to levels from the nineties, leave the Paris accords, allow the break-up of Natural Parks and the pollution of rivers, lakes and entire oceans?

Willem of the Tafel deals with the ultimate consequences of climate change. Not a future I want for our planet.

Willem of the Tafel deals with the ultimate consequences of climate change. Not a future I want for our planet.

The new IPCC report is brutal reading

I woke up this morning to the release of the latest report from the UN climate panel, the IPCC, and their highly anticipated report on the effects of 1.5 C degree target on our climate. It is horrific reading. We’re already past 1 C and unless we take action now, we’re heading toward 2 degrees, which will see e.g. 70-90% of all coral reefs gone. If we go to 2 degrees, we’ll lose 99%! I’m a scuba diver. I have scuba dived among some of the most beautiful coral reefs we have. The thought that they’d be all gone, along with all the species of fish, shrimp etc that live in those stunning ecosystems is heartbreaking. Even more heartbreaking is the fact that my son might not get to see them.

We are way past doubting the effect humankind has on global climate when 17 of the 18 warmest years in the past 136 years have occurred since 2001!

Add to that the way our world is changing politically, philosophically: Brexit, Trump, along with the upheavals taking place in Poland, Hungary, the Philippines, Italy, and now Brasil? To name a few. Why does war feel like something that could happen any day? Is this the future I had envisioned for my child?

What can I do? What can you do?

 

My coming fantasy novel is the first book in a planned series of three. A story for youths and teens primarily dealing with the big threats our planet is dealing with today, climate change above all else.

I can’t stop Trump. Nor can I stop Brexit. Or any of the madness going on around the world. I can’t. I can only vote here in Sweden, and I did my best to make sure to vote for a political party that is a guarantee for an open-minded society, an ecological future. You can do that, too. In your country.

 

I’ll continue to buy healthy and organic foods for our family, cooking healthy meals, making sure we don’t throw away food. All of that we’ll obviously continue to do. As an author, I also have the privilege to have a voice that is louder than most people’s. It’s still a whisper, sadly, but nevertheless. And I feel as if I have to use that voice to scream about global warming and the effects thereof. Which is one of the reasons why the fantasy trilogy I’m working on is about a group of environmental warriors, the Byeonsin. And I think I know how the series will end, and that makes me both hopeful and frustrated, all rolled up in one. *no spoilers, nothing is written yet* I’ve also tried to spell out the effects of Global Warming in my novel Willem of the Tafel. Not a future I want to happen, despite the utopian feel of the book.

We have no planet B!

I don’t actually know who first said that but it’s a true statement, and we are still decades away from being able to reach other stars, planets. This Earth, our Earth, is it! We can’t keep going at the rate we are, we simply can’t. We ended this year’s “supply” of Earth on August 1. Sadly, the overshoot date is moving in the wrong direction, year after year. We behave as if nothing were wrong as if all the above were merely fairy tales.

Picture your child, your granddaughter or grandson! Picture them in a world where Miami is four feet under water, where many of the Pacific Islands, and the Maldives, are gone forever. Where billions of people are on the move from Africa and South Asia because of severe drought and famines. Picture the wars, the carnage when embattled Americans and Europeans try to keep them away, out. It’ll be our children, your granddaughters and grandsons holding those guns, protecting their homes from our mistakes.

“I don’t doubt the scientists, but it’s so far away, this thing, this climate change…”

My son's future is pretty much the most important thing I care about. All else is secondary.

My son’s future is pretty much the most important thing I care about. All else is secondary.

Actually, it isn’t. To even reach the 1.5-degree target, the entire planet must stop emissions of CO2 by 2030. That’s twelve years from now. And we have no clue how. Well, that’s not entirely true. We do know how, but our politics are heading in the wrong direction. And to claim that climate change isn’t happening now? Every year, the planet is warmer, every year, storms are deadlier, droughts are longer, wildfires rage in more places, the Arctic sea ice melts more and more. It IS happening, right now. To deny that, or to claim it’s the weather or the sun, is naïve at best. You’re playing Russian roulette with your children’s future, and unlike in real Russian roulette, where there’s only one bullet in the chamber, this one’s fully loaded!

Time to act is now. Let’s make sure that our children and grandchildren have a planet left to live on, happily. Please?

No, I don’t regret my son, but I am worried sick about his chances for a happy and fulfilled life. It is his future I fight for. Will you do the same for your kids and grandkids?

Hans M Hirschi
Father, author

 

Release Day: The Dragon Princess, a children’s fairytale

Release Day: The Dragon Princess, a children’s fairytale

My first children’s book, a book about love, available today

I had to redesign my website the other day, specifically the book-page. I don’t even remember off hand how many books I’ve released since my first in July 2013. Let me go check: nineteen. Today marks my twentieth release. Wow. Twelve novels, two non-fiction, one short story collection, and three anthologies. Today, I embark into new territory: children’s books. With the release of The Dragon Princess, I give you a book, unlike anything I’ve written before. To write for children is radically different than writing for adults.

The blurb

Love is love and dragons are evil or are they really? The Dragon Princess is a story about love and how it holds the power to transform even the coldest of hearts. A classic bedtime story for children of all ages.

Background

My son and I.

My son and I.

When my son was little, my husband and I were actively looking for books. Reading had been important to me when I was a child, and we wanted Sascha to be read to and to read by himself, too. We began to buy books, we were gifted lots of books and his bookshelf is well filled. But there are, at this stage, only two books that portray rainbow families and diverse love. Our son is five years old and he is starting to understand the differences between moms and dads. To him, having two dads is totally okay. It’s just the natural state for him, but just this morning he asked me if his mother was still alive. I know that he is trying to make sense of things, subconsciously. Ever now and then he’ll ask a question, and we’ve talked about this repeatedly.

Sometimes, it helps to have children’s books to help parents explain things. That was my starting point when I began to write about Valerius and Evander, the heroes in the book, two years ago. I wanted to create a series of children’s books where I could explore LGBT themes for kids, on a level they would understand.

Easier said than done

First, I wrote a text that encompassed sixteen scenes. I wanted to try and tell a classic fairytale. There are a lot of kids who love dragons and the struggle between good and evil. It needs to be a relatively simple plot, with clear-cut roles. And it needs to end well. Writing the first draft took a couple of hours, but I wasn’t happy with it. I don’t think I’ve ever edited and rewritten a text as many times as I’ve worked on The Dragon Princess. Sometimes I would edit the text several times in a day, then let it simmer for months. All in all, it took me over two years from the first draft to a final manuscript.

One of the amazing illustrations by Felicity Swan in the Dragon Princess.

One of the amazing illustrations by Felicity Swan in the Dragon Princess.

When you write for small children, pictures, illustrations are a given. Kids like to read along, and when they can’t read, the pictures is where they ‘read’. They see the words in the picture, and as you read, they try to find those words in the illustration. My son is beginning to read for real, and it’s only now, at the age of five that he’s showing interest in the letters for the first time, asking me things like: “does this mean…?” pointing at the words on the page. In Felicity Swan, I was lucky to find a great illustrator to work with.

A new genre, new audience, a new approach

Yeah, how do you market a children’s book? I live in a country where marketing toward children is strictly forbidden and frowned upon. I have always been a genre hopper. Maybe it’s the Gemini in me that always sees new and shiny objects everywhere. From romantic love stories to gruesome books about child abuse, discrimination against first nations to debilitating dementia, I’ve covered new topics in every book.

To me, branching out into children’s book was a small step. Difficult, but small. The biggest challenge for me is to find my audience. We’ll see how that goes. For now, my take is simple, hoping that my existing audience buys the book for the children around them, from their own offspring to grandchildren, bonus kids, nieces, nephews etc.

Front cover of my coming children’s book The Dragon Princess, releasing September 20, 2018

A great big thank you to my publisher…

It’s no secret that I am very happy with my publisher. They’re a small house, but they treat every book as a gem in its own right. I felt that The Dragon Princess was handled even more carefully than my adult writing. Working with me and the illustrator, they put in a ton of time to make sure the book would be as perfect as humanly possible.

There is so much work going into even something as seemingly trivial as a forty-page kids book, from web pages, publishing, paginating, layout, proofing, editing, to making sure it’s available on release day on every single of the dozens of sites (and distribution) that sell books.

Beaten Track Publishing has that little extra love for children’s books. As an author, having my work treated that way makes my heart skip a beat. Thank you! Have a look at their catalog of children’s books.

Valerius and Evander are now yours to treasure, I hope you enjoy their first adventure in The Dragon Princess!

Hans M Hirschi

My first children’s book: The Dragon princess comes this week

My first children’s book: The Dragon princess comes this week

Meet Felicity Swan, the illustrator who made it possible

Writing a children’s book has been my dream ever since my son was born. I just wanted to add something to his life that we as rainbow parents are hard-pressed to find. Our son already owns a good hundred books, and some of them are positively archaic, with moms by the stove and handy dads. Horrifying! He also owns two books out of a hundred where rainbow families or being LGBT are mentioned. One is And Tango Makes Three (of course!), the other one is Marlon Bundo (the good version.) I began writing The Dragon Princess a couple of years ago (!) when we only had the book about Tango, and I’m finally able to get it out. This week. Thursday. To make it possible, I needed a great illustrator. Dozens applied for the job, I finally decided to work with Felicity Swan. You’ll understand why. Let’s get to know this amazing artist. I sent her a few questions, and she’s generously answered those for us:

The Interview

Q: Who is Felicity Swan in her own words?

I’m a freelance writer and artist. I draw comics, illustrations, and write books.

Q: What is one thing you would like the world to remember you for?

When someone closes a book I’ve written, I want them to feel a connection to it. Whether its hopeful or feeling like they’re not alone in their struggles or even feel understood in some way. I hope they feel the same way I do when I read my favorite books.

Q: What got you into illustrating?

I’ve always been drawing from the time I could hold a pencil. I started taking it seriously after I got my associates degree and realized university life wasn’t for me. I wanted to find what made me happy, not what I thought others expected of me. I was good at writing and drawing, so I pursued those instead.

Q: What inspires you? Do you have any specific “style”?

When it comes to style, it depends on the work and the tone I’m going for. I don’t believe in being tied to any one style, but it’s all about effectively communicating with your audience. I’m influenced by a variety of artists: Art Spiegleman, Aaron Alexovich, Jason Brubaker, Hiayao Miyazaki, Yun Koga, and a variety of independent artists.

Front cover of my coming children’s book The Dragon Princess, releasing September 20, 2018

“First time I’ve collaborated on an illustrated book”

Q: One of the reasons why I absolutely fell for your style is the multi-faceted it is. I remember when you first sent me your sketches and how there was so much depth, so many layers or what I would call sub-text, but I guess it would be better to refer to just layers. How do you go about when you work with e.g. an author?

This is the first time I’ve collaborated on an illustrated book. When it comes to commissions and this collaboration, I’m usually given an idea of what someone wants – either a description or a set of images to work with. From there, I do my best to capture what the client wants, either through what they’ve unconsciously strung together through the images provided or from what I can get from their descriptions. For your writing, I was really drawn in by your use of contrasts in your descriptions – hot vs cold, young vs old, small vs large. So I used that as a base for everything – from colors to silhouettes. The parents have sharper edges than Valarius and Evander, both who have softer and sleeker designs. I wanted to have a contrast in warm vibrant colors for the protagonists and cold, darker colors for those affected by the curse.

“Ideas come from everywhere”

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the process you work with, from idea to sketch to final rendering?

My ideas come from everywhere, to be honest – dreams, a simple idea, a “what if” thought, or even just a certain image or the way items are placed together. Heck, me misinterpreting a scene cut out of a show or game can lead to a cool story. Lately, I’ve been recycling old ideas in order to help flesh out new stories. When it comes to my comics, I’ll have a few ideas, I’ll write a summary, a few outlines, and then start the sketching phase where I start piecing things together or clearing up ideas and figuring out what I want the style to be. Some comics, I’ve had to leave off to the side and allow the idea to mature because I couldn’t think of an ending or I didn’t like the middle. Then I work on thumbnails (small mock-ups) of the pages, then I put my nose to the grindstone. Its a similar process for illustrations.

Q: Do you work exclusively with a computer or do you also illustrate on physical materials, e.g. paper, canvas?

I work mainly on my computer. When it comes to sketching or making “ugly sketches” I work on physical paper. My main medium is dry mediums. Thankfully, I was able to purchase a display tablet this time and my output has almost doubled.

One of the amazing illustrations by Felicity Swan in the Dragon Princess.

One of the amazing illustrations by Felicity Swan in the Dragon Princess.

Q: Toward the very end of our collaboration, you mentioned that you were visually impaired, which – if possible – increased my admiration for your work. Does your impairment influence your artistic expression, the work-flow?

All my life, I’ve had going blind hanging over my head. I’ve also had horrible depth perception and ocular migraines (lights and colors over my vision; not painful aside from eye strain). I think my first encounter with near-retinal detachment at the age of ten was a real wake up call for me and I started really pursuing writing.

“Four surgeries to prevent blindness in my right eye”

Before you commissioned me, I’d had four surgeries to prevent blindness in my right eye. There’s a cataract over that eye now and I’ll have surgery number five in the near future. It’s likely that, in ten years, I’ll lose that eye due to scar tissue. So, yes, it does influence my artistic expression – I feel a pressure to hurry and tell my stories. Not only that, but my near-nearsightedness makes seeing things far away difficult, so backgrounds and landscapes are tough for me. And having one eye to look through has done a number on my ocular migraines and made it harder to read books with normal sized text. I haven’t noticed too much of a difference with my drawing, though.

“It was about the shooting of Abraham Lincoln…”

Q: Was this your first project to work on a children’s book? If so, what is the takeaway for you? Did you learn something?

When I was a child, I drew a picture book called “Pikachu Goes to the Moon” haha! I wrote and drew a children’s historical fiction book when I was in junior high/middle school as an assignment for history class. It was about the shooting of Abraham Lincoln from the perspective of an orphan who overhears the shooter’s plans and tries to stop the shooting. Ever since my family has been telling me I should do more children’s books in the historical fiction genre. Once I’m done with the work I’m currently doing, I might look into it. Who knows?

Q: What is next for you? Any projects you can/wish to mention?

I have a long form comic called Final Break and I’m doing short comics on the side when I’m not doing commissions.

Q: Where/how can people find you?

Find me on social media:
Instagram / Twitter
Here’s a hub for all my links to my works, as well as my portfolio:
Portfolio
Feel free to feed my cat and help with cataract surgery:
Patreon (monthly subscription)
Ko-Fi (tip jar)

The Dragon Princess in what might become the “Valerius and Evander” series is published by Beaten Track Publishing and releases this week on Thursday. It is available as an ebook and on paperback from all your regular sources, including Amazon. Check it out, and read it with your kids, grandkids, nephews, nieces etc.

Here are the sales links:

Thank you!

Hans