Meet the Halloweenie Team: An Interview

Amanda McCann – Author

Simone Föhl – Illustrator

Purchase Halloweenie on Bookshop

Halloweenie is an endearing tale that allows children to experience the magic of Halloween, and reminds adults what makes the holiday so very special. A top seller this season, it’s a beautifully told story and is filled with warm illustrations. More than a book, it’s a timeless celebration of Halloween filled with impactful lessons about caring for others. Creating a children’s book like this is no easy feat. It takes true mastery of your craft. Author Amanda McCann and illustrator Simone Föhl are tremendous talents, and they were kind enough to share some insight into the detailed processes that made this project a reality. Meet the Halloweenie team and get a behind the scenes understanding of what it takes to create a successful children’s book!

Joe: Amanda, your writing resume is already quite impressive. So, what inspired you to write a children’s book? And what made you want to write a Halloween story?

Amanda: My dad read to me a lot when I was a kid, so the idea of writing a children’s book that could bring families together like that was a passion of mine. Also, I am big into Halloween, so it was a no-brainer I wanted my first independent book themed around my favorite time of year!

Joe: When did you first realize you wanted to write this book?

Amanda: It was early on in the pandemic, when we were staying home, and I had a lot more free time on my hands to create something. I spent a career making other people’s dreams come to life in the animation industry, so I decided I would take this time to make my own dreams come true. Also, the pandemic was so tough on us all, especially kids, so I wanted to create something fun and positive to put out into the world. I wanted to bring joy to families in a time of hardship.

One of Simone Föhl’s many wonderful illustrations.

Joe: Can you talk about the writing process? How long did it take you to write the story?

Amanda: From start to finish it took about 6 months to write the manuscript for Halloweenie. In all honesty, I first visualized it as an animated short, but then pivoted to making my story a children’s book. I hope to one day still make Halloweenie into an animated short, but was so happy with how the book turned out. I’m really glad we started my story as a book first!

Joe: Where do you get your inspiration or ideas from?

Amanda: I feel like I grew up in the renaissance of children’s content in the late 80s/90s, with so many incredible shows, books, and movies. From Disney afternoons to Nickelodeon’s original animation block, to the Scholastic Book Fairs, to Disney and Studio Ghibli features, to The Muppets, to Don Bluth animated movies, and Reading Rainbow, we had it all! Children’s content was in its prime, so inspiring, and I grew up in the heart of that. A time when it wasn’t only about selling toys or marketing to children, but making actual good content with heart for kids to sink their baby teeth into. All of this was a big influence on me, and made me chomp at the bit to be a part of creating amazing stories for children.

Joe: I love your social media presence! How important has social media been as a tool to promote the book?

Amanda: Quite literally, it’s everything! Social media has been an incredible resource to an independent children’s book author, since I don’t have the backing of a huge publisher machine to promote Halloweenie. We wanted to create a big online presence to get the word out there about our book, so we started with our website and then created a Halloweenie Instagram account and Facebook page. Simi created all the beautiful designs and animations for them, and really created something fun.

A cute and strategic promotional post on the Halloweenie Instagram.

Joe: Did you learn anything about yourself when writing Halloweenie?

Amanda: I learned that writing my own children’s book, although rewarding, was also very challenging for me. It takes a lot of focus, dedication, and care. I wanted Halloweenie to be fun, but thoughtful in how I told this story. There are a million children books out there, and lots about Halloween, so I really had to find what set my story apart from the rest. One way I did that was by featuring a cast of characters who were mostly female. I think it’s important to create stories with great female characters, as the heroes and the villains.

Joe: If you had to share one piece of advice with other writers thinking about publishing a children’s book, what would it be?

Amanda: Make it happen for yourself! If you want to, then do it! Self-publishing through BookBaby has been an awesome experience. If you have the drive to make something, don’t wait for someone’s permission. Also, remember what inspires you about children’s books, and use that as a way to bring your story to life.

Joe: What is something you would like readers to know about you – as an author and a person?

Amanda: As an author, that I am in no way revolutionary but what matters is I have the drive, and my heart is fully invested in my writing. As a person, I put people first. It’s about elevating each other, opening the door and providing a seat at the table for all voices. Opportunity is about those who create it. In my life and career, a driving force for me was mentoring and helping other people achieve their dreams. Also, everyone should know I have a corgi-husky named, Dobby, and the dog in Halloweenie is based on her. She even has her own Instagram account.

Joe: What were some of your favorite Halloween stories to read when growing up? Did you think about any of them when writing Halloweenie?

Amanda: I was really into the Goosebumps series growing up, and those really influenced my work on Halloweenie. I also loved Roald Dahl’s book, Matilda, and how offbeat it was. It really spoke to my sensibilities as a kid, and even now as an adult. I think the cuter, more sweet side of my book comes for my love of the Little Golden Books, which just ooze with sweetness! Lastly, I really love the 1952 Disney animated short, Trick or Treat, and Halloweenie is heavily influenced by that short. I love its awesome mixture of fun and fright!

Joe: What do you hope families will take away from reading your book?

Amanda: I hope Halloweenie brings families lots of joy for many Halloween seasons to come. Also, our book is about helping the vulnerable and doing the right thing, even when it’s scary. We believe in acts of kindness and love, and hope Halloweenie spreads this positive message.

Joe: Now Simone, how did you become the illustrator of this book?

Simone: I had already worked with Amanda on the character designs for the story since it was her plan to turn it into an animated short film. I was thrilled when she asked me if I would like to illustrate the picture book as well!

Joe: What was it like to illustrate your first children’s book? What types of challenges came with it?

Simone: It was a wonderful experience for me, as I got to do so many different things! Amanda and I worked out everything ourselves. We did it all, from the creation of the title font, to designing the cover, pattern of the inside pages, and of course, the illustrations themselves, as well as the editing and website design.

The biggest challenge was capturing the mood of the story, which slowly shifts from nostalgic and cozy to scary, and then to the heroic climax and sweet ending. Amanda did such a wonderful job creating rich emotion and iconic moments, and I wanted to express that by a subtle color shift that happens over the course of the story. We start in the evening with a peaceful purple sky, but as the night progresses, the colors get cooler and darker, until the street lights take over and the story regains a warm glow. We made sure to depict all this in a storyboard of sketches before we started to work on the final illustrations.

Joe: How did you come up with the overall style of the Halloweenie illustrations?

Simone I usually work in a cartoony style in which outlines are the foundation of the drawings. For Halloweenie, I wanted to tap into a softer, more painterly style, as it fits the timeless narration. The story has its scary moments, but is sweet at its core, and so I tried to create a warm feeling by using mostly soft edges and subtly textured brushwork for the characters and scenery.

Joe: What is your favorite illustration in the book and why?

Simone: My favorite illustration is the one I created first, as a style test. It is the one of the Little Girl carrying the friendly pumpkin to her cart. I painted it a couple of times before we agreed on a style that was both soft and stylized but also semi realistic in lighting. I remember I was very proud of it because I had never worked in that style before. I also think the colors are pleasing, with purple and orange hues complementing each other.

Joe: How do you get inspired to produce your artwork?    

Simone: Inspiration can be found everywhere: in books, images, movies, songs, personal experiences. I always search for things that touch my heart, so I let my emotional reaction guide me. I usually do a good amount of reference gathering before I start painting. I don’t want to create generic characters or scenes, so I pay special attention to details and oddities found in references.

An example of McCann’s powerful storytelling and Föhl’s artistic talent.

Joe: How did your own love of Fall and Halloween help you when working on this project?

Simone: There is a special atmosphere I love about Fall that comes from the change of light and weather. Nature is so bold and poetic at this time. I loved looking out my window at the mist and rains, wind, and orange leaves while creating the illustrations. I wanted to capture that mix of warm glowing windows and street lights and the cool blue nights that I love about Fall.

Joe: What is your favorite illustrated children’s book? It can be a favorite from childhood, or one now!

Simone: I love all the children’s books illustrated by the genius Annette Marnat. Her work is charming and warm, and flawlessly executed through its structure of shape and color. Her work is beautiful just from an abstract design standpoint, but the characters she depicts also have a humanity to them that is very touching.

Joe: What advice do you have for other illustrators out there looking to break into the scene and work on children’s books

Simone: I’d advise them to cultivate a love for drawing and painting that makes them happy and helps them explore their own views of the world. It shouldn’t matter whether you can monetize your skills or not – you are an artist either way. I was lucky to get to work with Amanda on this wonderful project, but I’m not actively searching for future clients at this point in my life, because there is the danger of giving up your artistic integrity and getting exploited if you are too dependent on selling your craft.

If I wanted to make another children’s book, I’d either team up with Amanda again, who is a person of integrity, kindness, and good ideas, or I’d make my own and explore styles and concepts that help me grow. So this is my advice: don’t compromise your values in order to get jobs; only work on books that will make the world a little better. If you can’t find any clients and still want to illustrate a children’s book, you can create your own.

The poor little pumpkin!

Joe: Let’s end with some questions for both of you! Have you heard feedback from readers yet? If so, what has it been like?

Simone: The feedback has been warm and kind. I noticed kids really rooting for the Friendly Pumpkin, while adults chuckle at the homages to classic horror elements that are, of course, depicted in a kid-friendly way.

Amanda: Everyone has been so positive and encouraging. We are very grateful to our supporters, and happy to hear they’re enjoying our book!

Joe: What was the collaboration process like when working on the project?

Simone: Although we’ve never met in real life, the internet made the back and forth surprisingly easy. Amanda is great to work with, as she gives a lot of creative freedom, but also has a unique sense for storytelling and visuals.

Many of the genius details that we see in the illustrations are actually her ideas. One of my favorites she came up with is the bat with the cat beanie that we see at the beginning and end of the book. She always pushed my sketches with this kind of input. I think we were literally on the same page with our vision for the book and her beautiful writing as well as feedback inspired me a lot. It was an awesome to collaborate!

Amanda: Simi is the absolute best! She is an endlessly talented artist, and has been such an incredible collaborative illustrator. I was consistently blown away by her work throughout making Halloweenie. Simi has been the most amazing partner on this journey, and I am so grateful she said yes! She really brought my story to life on the pages.

Joe: How many revisions of the book did you both work through?

Amanda: Honestly, not that many. Simi would do rough sketches that I would note once, she’d clean it up and then I would maybe have one or two small tweaks to the clean pages. We were so aligned on the vision of this book; it made it an incredibly smooth process.

Simone: Amanda’s answer sums it up perfectly!

Joe: Can you both share your respective favorite part of the book?

Simone: I love when the Little Girl courageously defends the pumpkin. It is such a heroic moment, followed by some funny moments that mark the end of the dramatic tension.

Amanda: My favorite moment actually comes in the last story pages when the characters are walking away. It’s such a calm scene, and completely radiates with a cozy, warm feeling. I love it!

Joe: Are either of you working on future projects or have any events/news to share with your community of readers?

Both: Nothing yet, we are still putting all of our energy and focus on promoting Halloweenie throughout the Fall season this year!

Joe: Please share your social media handles so readers know where to find you to stay up to date with your work and Halloweenie!

Both: You can find us on Instagram – Amanda McCann (@amandamccann_2022), Simone Föhl (@willowwaves_art) and Halloweenie (@halloweeniebook).

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