In the world of
An Interview with Erin Whalen
Erin Whalen lives in a small town in Rhode Island with her husband and three children and is the author of the Charlie’s Head book series. The character of Charlie is molded directly from son Anthony's daily actions. She is available by request to give talks at schools, libraries, and any organization that supports youth. Please feel free to e-mail Erin with any requests for fundraising. She is happy to help out wherever she can and she recently took time out of her hectic schedule to talk about her work with Gray Haven Magazine.
AG: Tell us about your stories, for those of us who may not be as familiar with your work.
EW: My stories are ones of great imagination. I am currently working on The Charlie's Head picture book series. This series is designed to help young imaginations grow. With each story comes a lesson to be learned about the imagination. The first, "Charlie's Head…a series" introduces you to Charlie. In this story Charlie discovers that he has an imagination and realizes what a wonderful thing it is! In book #2 "Charlie Goes To Sea!" he learns that when you use your imagination, great treasure can be found. The final book in the series, "Charlie Gets Spooked" teaches him that the imagination is a very powerful thing and sometimes it can get the best of you however, it can be controlled by you. These stories are fully illustrated and written in verse. The Children's Book Review Services stated that "the Seuss-like rhyming text is overlaid on brilliantly illustrated pages"
AG: Where do you draw your inspiration for your stories?
EW: Funny you should ask that question. On the dedication page of "Charlie's Head…a series" it reads…."For Anthony…my son, my inspiration." All three of my children continue to inspire me; they restore my youth.
AG: What were you doing before you started writing?
EW: I really wasn't doing anything before because in actuality I have always written When I was a little girl I used to write stories, illustrate them and then actually bind and cover them as best as I could. So before I was writing I guess you could say I was learning my alphabet along with the English language.
AG: What compelled you to become a writer?
EW: I have always felt compelled to write. As I grew older and watched various movies, I noticed that when characters appeared as writers I got chills up my spine. I knew that was where I belonged. Of course there were those doubts all along the way that I could never be privileged enough to live that life so I opted for a more "down to earth" career. I went to school for interior design and became a professional artist for an international interior design firm. Of course this didn't stop me from passing my children's illustrations and stories around the office for all to see. I still dreamt of being published one day. The book dummy I happened to be passing around the office that day has not yet made it print but was at that time in the hands of an agent in California. I soon found out that I was pregnant with my second child. After she was born my husband and I decided that I stay home with her because a child is best to be in the care of their mother if the situation allows…so that is how it all began. As I stayed awake all night with my new bundle of joy I illustrated my latest manuscript…"Charlie's Head…a series" I had been tired of waiting for my agent to call regarding the book he was agenting, so I decided to go it alone on this project. I vowed that this one would be mine, to write, illustrate, and publish. I opened my own publishing company in April of 1999 and have been working on the Charlie's Head series ever since. I have since had another baby girl Ariel.
AG: What occurred to make you take that first step and start writing?
EW: There was a point in my sleepless nights when I was turning the idea over and over in my head to self publish. I wrote out a list of projects I had in my studio that had never become finished products for one reason or another. This disturbed me so I decided that night to make sure that Charlie's Head became a finished product. To this day, when I run out of will to keep going, I think of that list that I wrote that night, and trudge even further into the wonderful world of writing and publishing.
AG: How did the idea for Charlie's Head first come about?
EW: In my last month of pregnancy when I could no longer work, or walk for that matter (laughs). I would sit on the couch and just watch every one around me clean and run and jump and play. Boy was I jealous. I am not very good at relaxing you know. I am a very active person and to just sit there really bugged me. Anyway, I was sitting there with my under active very large body when my over active very large imagination began to kick in. My son stepped out of his room to talk with me when I imagined that right in front of him the floor was cracked down the middle and flowers and vines were growing out of it. (This illustration can be found on page 12 of "Charlie's Head…a series" as well as at www.charlieshead.com ) I grabbed the nearest sketchbook and immediately began writing verse. (I always have a sketch pad on hand…. something I learned I needed at all times the hard way…I have lost many wonderful ideas without this) The entire book was forming in my head at that moment. I couldn't write fast enough! It chills me to think what would have become, or not become, of The Charlie's Head Series if that sketch book was not beside me at that time…I certainly would not have gotten up to locate one at that point in my pregnancy (laughs).
AG: Did you decide early on to make the site and the stories work together or did the web site idea come after the books were already published?
EW: I decided on the web site while the books were on the printing press in Hong Kong. It came to me out of the blue just as the story itself did.
AG: How did you come up with the idea for the web site, and the interactive features?
EW: I am not too sure how the idea came about, it just came to me as the book did.
AG: What was the process like?
EW: The process was like writing a whole other book. I had to learn a whole new system. I had just learned the world of publishing and printing through my own research while writing and illustrating this book…now I had dove into this whole other project of web creation. "What have I done???" I thought to myself. But just like The Charlie's Head series creation the web creation took on a life of its own. I put in even more hours and learned the ins and outs of web site design. I am really glad I did it because I believe that all the work I have put into the series certainly deserves to have a web site dedicated just for its sole purpose…helping young imaginations grow.
AG: Do you think that the Internet has made publishing easier?
EW: The Internet has definitely made writing so much easier. You see, writing is such a lonely thing. It can get real depressing. Although while writing and creating many characters surround you, there is still the missing element of real human contact. When a project nears the middle it begins to feel lonely, almost any writer will tell you this. With the Internet, it gives writers a whole community to talk with while they are at work… just like any other profession. It is very comforting, almost like the computer is an actual window to the outside world when the studio becomes too quiet. Not only is it great for that but also for research. No more long and tiring hours spent at the local library.Many writers' questions can be answered with the simple click of the mouse. Very convenient, this leaves more time for creativity. And of course there are the new forms of publishing going on which is just absolutely wonderful. I believe that authors now have a chance to be judged on the quality of their work rather than the salability.
AG: Do you find yourself doing something different in your writing because of the net?
EW: Certainly, if I did not have the net as a tool I would not be able to interact with my readers as I do now. Because of the net I am able to run the contests that I run so often with the entire world as opposed to just the local readers. I visit local schools throughout the year and enter the children in special Charlie's Head contests. The net allows me to involve children from all around in these contests.
AG: Are you interested in writing other types of stories or staying with young reader themed books?
EW: Writing for children is where my heart is and always has been. It is an area that I truly enjoy and wouldn't trade for the world. However, I absolutely love to learn new things and am constantly trying new things so I guess the answer to this question would be that in the future I will surely be trying my hand at other genres.
AG: Do you think the market for your books has been opened up more with the success of the Harry Potter books?
EW: Yes. Children's book series seem to be something that is quite popular today. The wonderful thing about a series is that the children have a character posing as a role model that they can follow. The major difference between Harry potter and Charlie is that Harry has a power only he holds and that his readers can only dream of harnessing. Charlie has a power that all of his readers hold that they can harness if they learn how. This gives Charlie's readers a greater connection to the character they are reading about and experiencing.
AG: Do you have an overall plan for Charlie's Head? Would you like to see it go the way of other popular children's stories: merchandising …etc??
EW: I do have an overall plan for Charlie's Head and that is to let it be formed by his readers. By saying this I mean that I listen to their input. I recently ran a contest where children wrote essays stating why they would be the best character in "Charlie Goes To Sea" (book #2) The winners were judged on how imaginative their essays were. A little girl by the name of Marissa Norman from Peace Dale Rhode Island won and will be featured as a character in this next book. Not only do I include Charlie's readers in various ongoing contests but I also take their requests seriously. For instance…many children requested to me that I create chapter books for Charlie. I thought long and hard about this and decided to give the children what they want. After all … it is them that I work for right? I would like to see the series become a teacher’s helper…activities etc…many local teachers have created a "Charlie Frenzy" and they include all of their students in the ongoing monthly contests during the school year. As for merchandising, well, certainly…what better way could the series help young imaginations grow than involving them in activities???
AG: What is your day-to-day process like for writing?
EW: (Laughing) There is really no such thing as day-to-day process for me. One day I am more of a mother than a writer while other days I am the president of Lily & Co. Publishing. On any given day … or night for that matter, inspiration could hit me and I could begin writing. Most of my stories begin in my head while I am busy doing something else. I don't have enough time to write out the idea so I sketch it as quickly as possible. If I cannot sketch it I record it till I can get back to it. All of my ideas usually take the form of a drawing before anything else. You have heard the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words right? Well, which is faster to do…a sketch or write out a thousand words? (Laughs) To answer your question a little better…I wake up about 8 am with Angelica and Ariel…Anthony gets up at his own leisure…he is 11 and it is summer. Anthony and I feed and play with the girls until nap-time. As soon as they go down for a nap I get to Lily & Co. Publishing. Make any calls…prepare any mailings etc…when the girls wake up I feed them lunch then we run our daily house errands along with my husbands business errands (he owns a transmission shop) along with Lily & Co. errands. When we get home it is time to prepare supper that is when I usually do any extra cleaning and laundry. Then it is bath time for the girls and play-time once again. They go to bed around 8 o'clock, and then I spend time alone with Anthony playing games or talking. After Anthony goes to bed I spend some quality time with my husband Eric. After he falls asleep around 11 or 12 mid. I go back to work. This is when I do my writing and drawing although since I have the publishing Co and web site to deal with I often spend this time wrapping up anything that hasn't gotten finished that day. Because I don't get too much drawing accomplished at this time I carry around a sketchbook during the day. I do my drawings every spare second I get. I go to bed about 2 or 3 am then its back up at 8am again to do the same routine again. It is real tough but I muddle through it … or should I say plow through it somehow.
AG: How do you balance writing with being a wife mother and friend?
EW: Well I believe I answered that above but as for being a friend I am really not one to anyone else but my family. Although I would love to have one, I cannot seem to find the time for a friend.
AG: What advice would you give other aspiring writers out there?
EW: Stop and play at least once a day.
AG: What projects are in the works or do you have coming out now?
EW: I am currently working on The Charlie's Head picture book series along with Charlie's Chapters. "Charlie Goes To Sea" is the major project at this time and is to be published in the summer of 2001. While working on this project I am also working on "Charlie Gets Spooked" when the inspiration hits. Charlie's Chapters have just been formed and are now underway. The Chapter books are also expected to arrive in 2001. "Charlie Gets Spooked" publication date is to be announced. Unfortunately I cannot put all of my time into creating as I have other duties to attend to.
AG: How can people find out more about your work?
EW: The best way would be via www.charlieshead.com.
On a more personal level they are welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
They can also write to Lily & Co. Publishing and request a Charlie's Head catalogue and an author brochure.
The address is;
or call 1-888-444-8295
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