Friday, November 20, 2015

An Interview with Julie Hedlund

by Leslie Colin Tribble

We have a treat for all our GROG friends today - an interview with the amazing Julie Hedlund. If you don't know who Julie is, then you either live where Internet access is nil, or you just joined the KidLit community yesterday. Julie is a powerhouse in the children's literature arena and she has a true desire to see writers succeed. 

Julie is the author of two print books, My Love for You is the Sun and A Troop is a Group of Monkeys. She also has two storybook apps for Ipad, Troop and its companion book, A Shiver of Sharks. I caught up with Julie over a lovely email exchange. Read on to get better acquainted with this giving lady.

Q: What did you do before you started writing? How long after you started writing did you quit your "day job?"

JH: I worked in electronic banking and payments - a far cry from children's writing! It was a rewarding job in a lot of ways, but not my passion. Once I found my love of writing picture books, it was three years before I quit the day job.

Q: Why did you want to start writing picture books? Have you considered writing other genre?

JH: That's a great question! All my life I imagined myself writing the "Great American Novel," mostly because that's what I love to read. Then my kids came along and I rediscovered the magic of picture books. I started getting tons of ideas and, truthfully, I haven't looked back. I DO hope to write novels someday, but I suspect that won't be until my kids have left the nest and I have time to learn the craft of novel-writing.

Q: You have an impressive number of income streams. Can you talk to us about those?

JH: I am a single mother of two children and no day job. As such, my choices are either to have multiple income streams or go get a real job. I love the flexibility that comes from working for myself AND the fact that everything I do outside of my own writing is dedicated to helping other writers. I derive so much reward from helping others in their journeys. 

The 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, a year-long event, is my primary source of income, but I've recently added a product I co-created with Emma Walton Hamilton called The Complete Picture Book Submissions System. We also worked together with two other partners to produce the first-ever Picture Book Summit, and in 2016 I'll be releasing a new course called, appropriately, How to Make Money as a Writer.

Q: 12x12 is coming up, again. Tell us where the idea came from, about organizing such a huge undertaking, and any other great info about it.

JH: I got the idea for 12 x 12 because I wanted to increase my own writing output. In 2012, I challenged myself to write one picture book draft a month for each month of the year. I was quite surprised when 200+ people joined me that first year. The challenge has been growing both in participation and in features ever since. The best part about it is that it's a big giant family of picture book authors and illustrators at all stages in their careers working together and supporting each other. Yes, the bells and whistles are popular (submitting to agents, monthly webinars), but its core is the community and the collective desire to write more.

Q: Talk to us about your writing retreat in Italy. How did that come about?

JH: Ah, Writer's Renaissance. Italy inspires me like no other place on earth. After spending a summer in Italy in 2011, I decided I had to bring the experience to my fellow women writers. I chose Florence because it oozes beauty and inspiration down to the very last cobblestone. I designed the whole retreat to be exactly like one I would like to take. And secretly (although not so secret after this post publishes :-)), I needed to find a way to pay for my "Italy habit." :-)

Q: You offer several workshops/classes with Emma Walton Hamilton. How did the two of you start your collaboration?

JH: I am so lucky to work with Emma! She is not only a treasure trove of wisdom and compassion, she's now a dear friend. Our collaboration began in 2012, the first year I ran the 12 x 12 challenge. She reached out to me offering to help in some way since at the time she was running the Children's Book Hub and many of her members were interested in 12 x 12. She was one of my first feature authors for the challenge and the rest, as they say, is history.  

Q: What was your favorite picture book when you were a child? What was your favorite picture book you read to your own children?

JH: My favorite picture book was Eloise. Growing up in a small town in Northern Michigan, the idea of living in the Plaza Hotel in NYC with no parents was 'rawther' glamorous. I pored over those illustrations and read it hundreds of times.

I loved reading "quiet" books to my own kids. Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen. Time for Bed, by Mem Fox. I also loved Piggies, by Audrey & Don Wood because making the voices and hand motions was so fun!

Q: When you're not writing or teaching or reading, what do you like to do?

JH: Obviously spending time with my kids is my priority. I also love hiking, jogging, skiing, cooking, and going to the movies. Also travel, of course. If I'm not doing any of the above things you can bet I'm in pursuit of planning the next perfect vacation.

Q: You have a lot of irons in the fire. How do you make time for everything? What does a typical day in the life of Julie Hedlund look like? Any time management tips?

JH: There is no typical day for me, honestly. I'm always juggling and having to adapt. I share custody of the kids, for example, so the days I have my kids look completely different from the ones I don't. As far as time management, I'm not sure this is a tip so much as just some advice. There is no such thing as permanent balance. There is only prioritizing as best you can and then forgiving yourself when life gets in the way. I've always found that the things that must get done, get done. If you keep achieving that over time, you'll be just fine.

Q: What goals do you have for 2016?

JH: Write more! Then more! Also, 2016 is the five-year anniversary of 12 x 12, so I really want to blow the roof off the challenge and make it an epic year for the participants.

Q: Julie, thanks so much for taking time out of your busy day to answer my questions so we can get to know you a little better.

Readers interested in any of Julie's books, challenges, retreats or her blog should visit her website. Julie's passion for picture books and helping others is evident in the wealth of information for all writers. 


  1. Great interview ABOUT Julie and her story, Leslie!

  2. Leslie, thanks for this interview. She has helped so many writers, and is one of many generous authors who gives back.

  3. Such a great interview - thanks for sharing more of Julie's inspiring writer's journey!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Thanks for your comment, Kathryn. It was a fun interview!

  4. Great questions, Leslie--just what I wanted to know. Julie is one amazing person--even when she explains how she does it--I still don't get how she does it!

    1. Aww, thanks Pat! I honestly don't know how I do stuff either, which is why it's always hard to answer that question. :-)

  5. Great post, great interview, great children's-writing booster! Thank you Leslie and Julie.

    1. Thank you, Christy! AND Leslie for interviewing me.

  6. Oh. My. God! Putting this on my wall! "There is no such thing as permanent balance. There is only prioritizing as best you can and then forgiving yourself when life gets in the way. I've always found that the things that must get done, get done. If you keep achieving that over time, you'll be just fine." Thank you for allowing me to forgive myself and be human, Julie!

  7. AND Julie is so much fun to be with!!

  8. Brava! Brava! Nice interview ladies. However you do it Julie, blessings for continued success. ❤

  9. Brava! Brava! Nice interview ladies. However you do it Julie, blessings for continued success. ❤

  10. Great interview. The 12x12 Challenge is fabulous because Julie organizes it so well. I have to say the idea of no "permanent balance" is true with writing, with schedules, with kids, with everything. I'd never thought of it like that before, but it's perfect. Thanks!

  11. Great interview, Julie and Leslie. Thank you for the inspiration and 12X12 Julie!

  12. Thanks for the terrific interview with Julie, Leslie. Her energy is boundless!

  13. Leslie - I appreciate this visit with Julie. I am inhaling much about it, but especially the eyedear that perfect balance is not a reality, but making priorities, is. Also I feel Julie's verve & moxie. Reading it is kidlit vitamins.
    Julie - I squealed when you said ELOISE, 'cause I am just packing up for my college room, a book I bought her - the Sam Irvin bio of Kay Thompson (title is her name) great photos & stories about when she lived at The Plaza & created that character. My college roomie is a huge Eloise fan who was able to stay in the Eloise room there, with her daughter, so it's headed to her. Knowing this is your fave sez much about your perky, can-do nature. BRAVA! Looking forward to many more titles from you.