K.J. Hales is the founder of Open Door Press, Inc. and the author of the children’s book series “Life’s Little Lessons by Ellie the Wienerdog.”
After a career in the corporate business world, Kim was inspired to return to her passion for story and art, by of all things – her wiener dog. Shortly after Ellie came into her life, Kim picked up a yellow note pad and began writing humorous stories and doodles about the daily problems and perils of being a “wiener dog.” The author was born.
As the number of stories grew so did Kim’s desire to share “Life’s Little Lessons” with the world. She established Open Door Press to do just that.
Kim lives in Southern California with her husband, her muse Ellie the Wienerdog, and Ellie’s little sisters, Ruby and Pepper.
A FEW QUESTIONS FOR KJ HALES
Q: Readers might already know about the real-life Ellie, the Wienerdog that inspired “It’s Hard to Be Good,” but tell us something about the moment you realized you would write a children’s book about her.
A: I will never forget the moment! It was in the morning and the dogs were, of course, following me everywhere as I went through my usual routine.
At the time, we had a beautiful Doberman, Nikki, and had only had Ellie for a couple of weeks. I couldn’t help but notice the huge differences between the two dogs—their size, attitude, viewpoint, etc.— and it made me laugh. Rhyming words to describe my observations started popping into my head.They were all about how Ellie’s perspective on life must be so different compared to Nikki’s.
So right then and there I sat down on the couch, picked up a yellow notepad and started writing and doodling all about Ellie. I was chuckling away at how funny all these musings were and how much I enjoyed the time I spent taking notice of the world according to a wiener dog. I looked down at Ellie and said out loud, “This would be a great children’s book.”
The stories just kept coming, and a new journey in my life began.
Q: Ellie’s struggle to be good is mostly within her during this story. As the book was being illustrated, how did you collaborate with the artist to get that “struggle” into pictures?
A: Literally, I used pictures. I shared photographs of Ellie’s escapades and the stories behind them to help Serene, the illustrator, visualize Ellie’s personality.
We began collaborating by email and then progressed to meeting via Skype. (Serene is located on the East Coast and I am in California.) However, all the pictures and stories in the world couldn’t describe Ellie any better than she did herself during one of our Skype
I was drinking coffee and eating an English muffin as Serene and I talked via Skype. Ellie was watching me intently. I thought, oh, she’s so cute! She should come on up on my lap and say hello to Serene herself! I picked Ellie up and was looking at Serene on screen when, as fast as a striking cobra, Ellie snatched my English muffin off my plate and tried to devour it in one bite. What Ellie didn’t count on was the peanut butter on the muffin, which stuck to the roof of her mouth. There she was, caught on camera, with a sticky English muffin the size of her head stuck in her mouth. Serene’s eyes turned into owl eyes and she gasped, “Oh my God! I can’t believe she just did that!” My reply was simply, “Okay, NOW you have met Ellie!”
From that point forward Ellie became her own character and we just let our imaginations go with it. Serene is amazing to work with and talented beyond words. We have so much fun working together!
Q: Children are expected to “be good” and surely struggle with many of the same sorts of temptation as Ellie does. Did you have parents in mind while writing this book?
A: Absolutely! Because I am the parent! Well, doggy parent and Ellie is the child doing her best to “be good”. When the idea struck me that these would be good children book stories, it was because everything I see Ellie go through mirrors much of what a child goes through growing up. Who else better to teach Life’s Little Lessons than an adorable dog trying her best, too?
Q: This was your first book for children. How did you begin?
A: Ever since I was young I’ve enjoyed reading and writing poetry. When Ellie came into my life she reignited my creative spark and one day I just started writing and doodling on yellow notepads. And I couldn’t stop. The stories wrote themselves, which many authors say and I now understand intimately.
The who, what, where, when, or why that inspires each of us to “create” is unique and completely personal. I encourage people to let their mind go where their heart leads and see what wonderful things will happen. Never in a million years did I think a wiener dog would be the impetus for me to become a writer!
Q: What did you edit OUT of this book? Perhaps it was difficult for you?
A: It’s not so much what I edited out as what I had to re-work. When the stories come to me, I just have to write. I can’t stop and think of correct grammar or spelling, I simply have to get the story down. Often I don’t finish a story completely at first. Then days or weeks later I return to it, re-read it, add to it, fill in blanks, re-work the storyline, and spend hours on just the right rhyming words. It’s amazing how just the right rhyming word can change the whole storyline and take you in a different direction. Perhaps that’s why Dr. Seuss made up his own words? I try to keep an open mind in every way!
Q:Is any of what we see in Ellie the Wiener Dog reminiscent of you as a child?
A: Um, that’s a question probably better answered by my parents.
Q:What books inspired you to write? Is there an author you would identify as your favorite? Why?
A: Dr. Seuss! I love Dr. Seuss!
I love his rhymes. I love the silliness, the fun, the possibilities, the imagination, the ideas, the dreams, the inspiration, the colors, the words of his own invention, the creatures and trees he drew from his own imagination, the places beyond, the places within, the world that he sees, the world he shares with us.
I have a Dr. Seuss illustration stuck to my computer screen that I look at everyday. “Oh! The places you’ll go!” And I do, every time I step into Ellie’s world.
Q: When you write, do you prefer to be alone and quiet or in a more stimulating environment?
A: I write when the moment hits me. I never know exactly when that will be so I keep note pads everywhere…next to the bed, in the bathroom, kitchen, hallway, even the car. If I don’t write down the thoughts and ideas as they come to me, I will lose them.
Most of the time I’m by myself (although Ellie is usually keeping me company). Often I find the mornings when I’m getting ready for the day or at night when I go to bed are the times when inspiration hits. A notepad or journal next to my bed is required! In fact, I wrote one of Ellie’s books in one night and didn’t realize it until six months later when I read through my journal and found it there, start to finish. Now that was weird!