For those of you that may follow me on Instagram or Tumblr, you may have seen pictures from my photo shoot for The Shark Handed Girl and Hairy Momma, written by Julia M. Wendt. I got in touch with her and asked if she'd be interested in talking a bit more about her inspiration, and her experiences as a newly published author.
TBC (The Book Carousel): What was your inspiration for The Shark Handed Girl?
JMW (Julia M. Wendt): Every story I write comes from personal experience, granted, I never technically met anyone with sharks for hands. The idea for Shark Handed Girl stemmed from my own childhood experience of being developmental delayed (I had a speech impediment was diagnosed emotionally and physically “immature”) and also from my experience in raising one of my step-daughters, Sylar. Sylar and I have a lot in common, and our childhoods seem eerily alike. Sylar is sweet, smart and conscientious, but she has trouble sometimes fitting in and making friends. I can feel her struggles day-to-day, as she struggles with a speech impediment and minor physical coordination problems. Adults and children who don’t have difficulty with speech or other social and development factors can sometimes, intentionally or not, be cruel and/or not understanding of those who do have these problems.
One day, I was thinking randomly of Sylar and I thought, “Man, you’d think we had sharks for hands the way people treated us.” In this way, Shark Handed Girl became, in my mind, an allegory for children living with disability or certain physical and emotional obstacles that make it difficult to make friends. At the heart of it, it’s my hope that children who are suffering don’t feel alone or alienated from their peers. Instead, I hope children can follow their hearts and instincts and find fulfilling and fun relationships – recognizing their own value and worth and not basing their identities on a disability or malady.
TBC: How was your experience in writing your first book?
JMW: Shark Handed Girl is my first published book, but I’ve been writing odd stories for years. The experience is often the same - I have an idea and I have to write it down immediately. I usually can’t focus on anything else until I get out what’s in my heart. It’s a pretty inconvenient way to write, but over time, I’ve learned to try my best to just “go with the flow” with my ideas, allowing myself to express myself as I need to. It feels like it’s good for my heart.
I think something that I felt that was unique to Shark Handed Girl was my adoration of how the illustrator brought the story to life. Brianna Carter did brilliant work, and it was a joy to see what she would come up with page to page.
TBC: What was your inspiration for writing Hairy Momma?
JMW: Yet again, this story stemmed from personal experience. I was at the Mall with my family, and I usually walk through Malls at a fast pace. Maybe it’s my social anxiety, but I don’t like walking slow through stores. As I was plugging along, my husband, Ryan, yelled “STOP JULIA!” I stopped and saw I was about to run into something really weird. There was a woman to my left, and she had hair down to her ankles. One of her children, a little girl, was off to my right, and was holding a long rope-like branch of her hair. Had I of kept walking, I would have surely tripped myself on the hair and probably would have taken the mom and the daughter down with me. From what I could tell, the mom wanted her daughter to be holding her hair – she didn’t want her daughter to get lost or get too far away from her.
Though my first reaction to this was disbelief, I started thinking of my own daughters and how protective I am of them. I thought, “Gosh, if I had hair that long, would I ask them to hold onto it in stores so they wouldn’t get lost?” If anything, I, like many millennial parents, have been highly protective and attached to our kids. There’s a reason that phrase, “The helicopter parents,” is so prevalent today. We love our children above all else, which in itself can be admirable, but the sentiment can be taken too far. If anything, Hairy Momma is a cautionary tale, with different messages to parents and children. For parents (like myself no doubt), it’s important that children be allowed to do some things for themselves, it helps build self-esteem and is important for their growth and development into maturity. Obviously, there will be some things they should not do and we need to be cognizant of that (let’s not have them lighting fires in the streets, stealing the car, etc), but certainly there are many opportunities to allow children autonomy to make choices, try new things – as Ms. Frizzle would say: “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”
TBC: What is your motivation for writing children's books?
JMW: I love children, and empathize with their struggles. Though I had every kind of comfort and support from my parents as a child, I hated being a kid. I was high maintenance, and I had a storm going on in my head that no one seemed to be able to quell. I was always looking for someone to save me from myself. My thoughts were often scary and confusing. I think this is why I write primarily – I don’t want children to suffer and I don’t want children to feel alone. If there were a way I could be there for any child, anywhere who is suffering, I would. I think some children who struggle would benefit greatly from speaking with those who have had the same problems before them and were able to overcome.
TBC: What has been the most rewarding part of publishing your own work?
JMW: I think my favorite part is getting to meet with children and asking them what they thought of the story. I love reading to children, and I’ve had the opportunity to read to various classrooms and age groups. I like seeing which pages surprise them or interest them in some way. I’ve also enjoyed watching children read the book out loud. The books are pretty good for children learning to read, and I’ve always thought it was magical to watch someone learn to read – there’s that moment between them focusing on reading and pronouncing the words properly, and then the next moment where they begin to understand what they are reading – it’s brilliant to watch.
TBC: When and where is your next “meet and greet” book signing?
JMW: I don’t know at the moment, but I’ll keep you posted. We're on-target to be releasing two new books by Christmas, so I’m sure there will be some events coming up.
TBC: Do you see yourself publishing more books in the future?
JMW: Definitely. I have more than a dozen written, just waiting for edit and illustration.
Aside from children’s books, I also write short stories, and I’m hoping to have some of these published as well. My short stories are more geared towards adults, but I think my same silliness comes through regardless the drama or seriousness of my stories
TBC: Anything else you want to add?
JMW: I’m just so grateful to have the opportunity to write children’s books, and very thankful to my fans for their support.
I am extremely grateful Julia was able to take the time to share her thought process behind her adorable books. I bought both books for my 3 year old niece and she has her mom read them to her every morning. I can't wait to see the next two books coming out!
If you're interested in reading The Shark Handed Girl or Hairy Momma, they are currently available on Amazon. Follow The Book Carousel on Facebook for the latest updates for Julia's next book signing.
If you're an author, or you know an author, and might be interested in being featured, let me know! I'd love to make featuring an author a regular thing!